[News] Australia’s Secret War on Aboriginal People

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Nov 6 11:28:12 EST 2013

November 06, 2013

*A Brutal Past and Present*

  Australia’s Secret War on Aboriginal People


The corridors of the Australian parliament are so white you squint. The 
sound is hushed; the smell is floor polish. The wooden floors shine so 
virtuously they reflect the cartoon portraits of prime ministers and 
rows of Aboriginal paintings, suspended on white walls, their blood and 
tears invisible.

The parliament stands in Barton, a suburb of Canberra named after the 
first prime minister of Australia, Edmund Barton, who drew up the White 
Australia Policy in 1901. “The doctrine of the equality of man,” said 
Barton, “was never intended to apply” to those not British and 

Barton’s concern was the Chinese, known as the Yellow Peril; he made no 
mention of the oldest, most enduring human presence on earth: the first 
Australians. They did not exist. Their sophisticated care of a harsh 
land was of no interest. Their epic resistance did not happen. Of those 
who fought the British invaders of Australia, the /Sydney Monitor/ 
reported in 1838: “It was resolved to exterminate the whole race of 
blacks in that quarter.”  Today, the survivors are a shaming national 

The town of Wilcannia, in New South Wales, is twice distinguished. It is 
a winner of a national Tidy Town award and its indigenous people have 
one of the lowest recorded life expectancies. They are usually dead by 
the age of 35. The Cuban government runs a literacy programme for them, 
as they do among the poorest of Africa. According to the Credit Suisse 
Global Wealth report, Australia is the richest place on earth.

Politicians in Canberra are among the wealthiest citizens. Their 
self-endowment is legendary. Last year, the then minister for indigenous 
affairs, Jenny Macklin, refurbished her office at a cost to the taxpayer 
of $331,144.

Macklin recently claimed that, in government, she had made a “huge 
difference”. This is true. During her tenure, the number of Aboriginal 
people living in slums increased by almost a third, and more than half 
the money spent on indigenous housing was pocketed by white contractors 
and a bureaucracy for which she was largely responsible. A typical, 
dilapidated house in an outback indigenous community must accommodate as 
many as 25 people. Families, the elderly and the disabled wait years for 
sanitation that works.

In 2009, Professor James Anaya, the respected UN Rapporteur on the 
rights of indigenous people, described as racist a “state of emergency” 
that stripped indigenous communities of their tenuous rights and 
services on the pretext that pedophile gangs were present in 
“unthinkable” numbers – a claim dismissed as false by police and the 
Australian Crime Commission.

The then opposition spokesman on indigenous affairs, Tony Abbott, told 
Anaya to “get a life” and not “just listen to the old victim brigade.” 
  Abbott is now the prime minister of Australia.

I drove into the red heart of central Australia and asked Dr. Janelle 
Trees about the “old victim brigade”. A GP whose indigenous patients 
live within a few miles of $1,000-a-night resorts serving Uluru (Ayers 
Rock), she said, “There is asbestos in Aboriginal homes, and when 
somebody gets a fibre of asbestos in their lungs and develops 
mesothelioma, [the government] doesn’t care. When the kids have chronic 
infections and end up adding to these incredible statistics of 
indigenous people dying of renal disease, and vulnerable to world record 
rates of rheumatic heart disease, nothing is done. I ask myself: why 
not? Malnutrition is common. I wanted to give a patient an 
anti-inflammatory for an infection that would have been preventable if 
living conditions were better, but I couldn’t treat her because she 
didn’t have enough food to eat and couldn’t ingest the tablets. I feel 
sometimes as if I’m dealing with similar conditions as the English 
working class at the beginning of the industrial revolution.”

In Canberra, in ministerial offices displaying yet more first-nation 
art, I was told repeatedly how “proud” politicians were of what “we have 
done for indigenous Australians”. When I asked Warren Snowdon — the 
minister for indigenous health in the Labor government recently replaced 
by Abbott’s conservative coalition — why after almost a quarter of a 
century representing the poorest, sickest Australians, he had not come 
up with a solution, he said, “What a stupid question. What a puerile 

At the end of Anzac Parade in Canberra rises the Australian National War 
Memorial, which historian Henry Reynolds calls “the sacred centre of 
white nationalism”. I was refused permission to film in this great 
public place. I had made the mistake of expressing an interest in the 
frontier wars in which black Australians fought the British invasion 
without guns but with ingenuity and courage – the epitome of the “Anzac 
tradition”.  Yet, in a country littered with cenotaphs not one 
officially commemorates those who fell resisting “one of the greatest 
appropriations of land in world history”, wrote Reynolds in his landmark 
book /Forgotten War/.  More first Australians were killed than Native 
Americans on the American frontier and Maoris in New Zealand. The state 
of Queensland was a slaughterhouse. An entire people became prisoners of 
war in their own country, with settlers calling for their extinction. 
The cattle industry prospered using indigenous men virtually as slave 
labour. The mining industry today makes profits of a billion dollars a 
week on indigenous land.

Suppressing these truths, while venerating Australia’s servile role in 
the colonial wars of Britain and the US, has almost cult status in 
Canberra today. Reynolds and the few who question it have been smeared 
with abuse. Australia’s unique first people are its /Intermenschen/. As 
you enter the National War Memorial, indigenous faces are depicted as 
stone gargoyles alongside kangaroos, reptiles, birds and other “native 

When I began filming this secret Australia 
30 years ago, a global campaign was under way to end apartheid in South 
Africa. Having reported from South Africa, I was struck by the 
similarity of white supremacy and the compliance and defensiveness of 
liberals.  Yet no international opprobrium, no boycotts, disturbed the 
surface of “lucky” Australia.  Watch security guards expel Aboriginal 
people from shopping malls in Alice Springs; drive the short distance 
from the suburban barbies of Cromwell Terrace to Whitegate camp, where 
the tin shacks have no reliable power and water. This is apartheid, or 
what Reynolds calls, “the whispering in our hearts”.

/John Pilger’s film, Utopia, 
about Australia, is released in cinemas on 15 November and broadcast on 
ITV in December. It is released in Australia in January./


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