Pilger in Australia

“Our West was never really won and the great cities like Sydney, hanging on the very edge of a largely un-pioneered country, are confessions of that failure. No Thomas Jefferson ever lived here. Australian heroes have always been measured by how many Olympic gold medals they can win or how many Pommy wickets they can smash.”

For his first hour-long documentary, in 1976, John Pilger travels back to his homeland. Since leaving Australia 14 years earlier to carve out a career in British journalism, he had returned half a dozen times. Now, for television viewers, he seeks to debunk some of the myths about “the lucky country”, such as Australia’s reputation as a truly classless society and its loyalty to the Queen. 

At the time, Australia was settling down after the dismissal of reforming Prime Minister Gough Whitlam by the Governor-General. (In a later documentary, Pilger would add evidence to the theories that British and American intelligence agencies had manipulated the sacking because of their fears for the future of American nuclear bases in Australia.) 

Whitlam and his successor, Malcolm Fraser, are among those interviewed for Pilger in Australia, along with authors, journalists, Turkish-Australians, Italian-Australians and many others. This reflects the fact that the country has one of the largest cosmopolitan populations in the world. But, says Pilger, the media are owned by just three families – Murdoch, Fairfax and Packer – and Australia has “probably more censorship by the press than in any Western country”.

In Alice Springs, tourists are seen being told “the same old lies” about the outback and the First Australians, before throwing boomerangs. Pilger reports that a recent survey showed that 70 to 80 per cent of young Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory suffer from malnutrition, partial blindness, ear and mouth infections, dysentery and other preventable diseases. “That could be a statistic from Africa or India,” he says, “but it’s not – it’s from ‘lucky’ Australia.”

Pilger in Australia (ATV), ITV, 27 April 1976

Producer-director: John Ingram (51 mins)

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The John Pilger archive is held at the British Library