On 26 January Australians celebrated Australia Day with festivals, parades, outdoor concerts and community barbeques. The public holiday commemorates the day the British First Fleet arrived at Sydney Cove in 1788 and proclaimed British sovereignty over the eastern seaboard of what was then known as New Holland.
Since the 1980s there has been a concerted, if unsuccessful, effort to re-label Australia Day as Invasion Day, in recognition of the genocidal consequences the British arrival had for Australia’s indigenous people at the time and for the crimes that have been visited on Aborigines in the 223 years since.
Directed and narrated by Sinem Saban, Our Generation shines a light on the dire situation of the indigenous population of Australia today. Numbering approximately 2.5 percent of the total population, Aborigines makes up 24 percent of the prison population. Shockingly, a 2009 report by the National Indigenous Drug and Alcohol Committee found that the rate of imprisonment of Aborigines in Australia was five times higher than that of black people in Apartheid South Africa. The documentary goes on to highlight the extreme health inequalities Aborigines face, such as the difference in life expectancy – 17 years – between indigenous and non-indigenous people and how Australia is the only developed country in the world that has not eradicated trachoma, an eye disease that can lead to blindness.
From the ‘Stolen Generation’, where over 100,000 Aboriginal children were taken from their families to be brought up in white society, to the Government’s official apology in 2009, Saban gives a voice to Aboriginal community elders and leaders, aswell as interviewing academics and medical professionals. And although Saban focuses her attention on the Yolnyu people in the Northern Territory, the film has much to say about white Australia’s relationship to all of the over 400 Aboriginal nations in the land.
The documentary’s central section concerns the Government’s controversial ‘intervention’ in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory in 2007. On the pretext of stopping endemic levels of child abuse, the Government, using the army for logistical support, seized control of indigenous communities, banning alcohol and pornography. Weeks later, this action was condemned by the UN human rights envoy as “incompatible with Australia’s obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”. What lay behind the Government’s action? “We believe that this Government is using child sexual abuse as the Trojan horse to resume total control of our lands”, argues Pat Turner of the National Indigenous Television. Saban goes on to note Australia holds vast mineral resources, including 40 percent of the world’s uranium, with mining the Northern Territory’s largest industry.
Accessible, positive and mainstream in intent, the film deserves to become as popular and influential as documentaries such as An Inconvenient Truth and Michael Moore’s Sicko. Including an impressive, often exciting musical soundtrack and footage of poverty-ridden communities reminiscent of sub-Saharan Africa, Our Generation is a shameful indictment of white Australia and its Government.
Our Generation is showing at the Frontline Club at 16:00 on 13 February and the Royal Geographical Society at 19:00 on 16 February. www.ourgeneration.org.au.
*Ian Sinclair is a freelance writer based in London, UK. [email protected].