Renowned journalist John Pilger has called on Australians to “speak out and don’t stop until they are heard’ after it was revealed the Aboriginal community at the centre of his internationally acclaimed documentary Utopia has gone without water for nearly three months, leading to an outbreak of scabies and other serious health concerns in the region.
The 20-year-old bore at the community of Amengernterneh, situated in the middle of the vast Utopia region, collapsed 12 weeks ago, during routine maintenance by the local Barkley Shire Council.
Despite appeals from the community, neither the Barkley Shire nor the NT Department of Communities has announced any solutions to fix the urgent problem, with the Shire trucking in water from Tennant Creek for the past three months.
The bore supplied water to the Urapuntja Health Service, which services 16 outstations around the community, and which is relied upon by almost 800 residents.
The situation is so dire that the health service has closed its washing machine facilities and showers, meaning many residents of neighbouring outstations have not been able to wash their clothes for nearly three months.
This has lead to an outbreak of scabies in the community, and has also complicated the visit of crucial mobile health teams servicing some of the most disadvantaged and sickest people in Australia.
The water also supplied the local Utopia homelands primary school.
Mr Pilger told New Matilda there was no excuse for Australians to plead ignorance on the human rights abuses happening in their own backyard, especially as Prime Minister Tony Abbott continues his ‘media stunt’ in the Northern Territory.
“While the stunt of Tony Abbott taking Australia illegally into a ridiculous war is blended with the stunt of patting black children on the head in the Gove Peninsula, the people of Utopia are denied water and the right to basic health,” Mr Pilger told New Matilda.
“The scenes in my film, ‘Utopia’, already depicted this; so Abbott and his circus know the facts, just as the media, currently disported at his feet, know the facts, just as swathes of the Australian public know the facts – it’s highly likely more people saw ‘Utopia’ than any documentary shown in Australia.
“Yet, no children with scabies, no children going blind with trachoma, no thirsty children in the heart of modern Australia fill the front pages and the TV news.”
Mr Pilger said it was now urgent for Australians to make a stand.
“I am often asked by decent people, ‘What can we do?’ Now is your moment. If your decency is real, speak out, and don’t stop until you are heard, and there’s action.”
The CEO of the Urapuntja Health Service Linda Keating told New Matilda that, tired of waiting, the community is considering new avenues to solve the water crisis, including crowd sourcing the money.
A Facebook campaign Water for Utopia, not affiliated with the health service, has been running for a number of weeks, aiming to raise awareness about the community’s plight.
The health service estimates it will cost $35 000 to reconstruct the bore.
But the water shortages aren’t just afflicting remote communities.
Earlier this week, NT Department of Communities minister Bess Price was the subject of a protest in Alice Springs after her department turned off the water to the Whitegate town camp in Alice Springs, a community situated on the outskirts of the small tourist-haven.
Whitegate remains the only one of 17 town camps in Alice Springs not serviced by government, because the community does not have a ‘special purpose lease’ over the lands (the other 16 camps do).
Water has been supplied by the Tangentyere Council – the peak body for town campers – for decades, despite Tangentyere receiving no government funding for the Whitegate community.
The Lhere Artpe Aboriginal Corporation – the native title representative body for Alice Springs – has recently agreed to supply water for the next 12 months, but troubling questions still exist about whether government will address the critical lack of infrastructure in the town camp, where some of the key residents are traditional owners of the area.
DECLARATION: Amy McQuire worked as a researcher on Utopia. New Matilda editor and owner Chris Graham was Associate Producer of the film.