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7th May 2013 12:18pm | By Carol Driver
“You Aboriginal people, you don’t exist in this country. You should go.” These are the words of abuse hurled by a passenger at a group of actors forced to take a tram in Melbourne last week after being ignored by cabbies.
Four taxi drivers had refused to pick up Jada Alberts and her three colleagues as they waited outside the Malthouse Theatre after rehearsing for an upcoming indigenous production of Shakespeare’s King Lear.
“For those things to happen within a space of 24 hours was just heartbreaking for all of us to have to deal with,” Alberts said.
It’s the latest in a string of racist incidents on public transport in the city, and not the first time taxi drivers have refused to take Aboriginal customers. In December last year, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu was also blanked by cabbies while there on tour.
The blind indigenous singer’s manager Mark Grose said the artist had been refused cabs elsewhere in Australia and it was common for black performers.
It’s the type of behaviour that has spurred John Pilger to be fiercely critical about the treatment of the indigenous population in Australia.
The award-winning TV journalist, who has lived in Britain since 1962, is now shining a light on the topic in his latest film Utopia, due for broadcast in the UK on ITV in September before its worldwide release.
For it, Pilger flew to Western Australia, to Rottnest Island, home to the world’s biggest resources boom where profits are in the multiple billions, and in stark contrast “barely a fraction of mining, oil and gas revenue has benefited Aboriginal communities, whose poverty is an enduring shock”, he says.
In the film, the 73-year-old compares how WA’s “premier tourist destination” is promoted to visitors, with the truth of its harrowing history.
“At airports, arriving passengers are greeted by banners with smiling Aboriginal faces in hard hats, promoting the plunderers of their land. ‘This is our story’ says the slogan. It isn’t,” he writes on his website.
Instead, the reality is “an insidious genocide that divided and emasculated the indigenous nations”. Pilger checks into Rottnest Lodge, which has a spa and double bunks for kids. It was once a prison, known as The Quod where 167 Aboriginals were locked in 28 tiny cells.
Tourists sunbathe where gallows once stood, and visitors are encouraged to follow the Vincent Way Heritage Trail. It’s named after the “psychopath” who ran the Quod, Henry Vincent, “who liked to whip prisoners and murdered two of them”. None of the guests Pilger spoke to had a clue.