Encountering John Pilger

It was through a friend that I heard that John Pilger was coming to Dublin.

I don’t follow the news. Never have really. I don’t own a TV and rarely turn on a radio, except to hear the weather forecast. It would have been hard for me to write that, up until last Tuesday night when I went to Dublin to hear John Pilger speaking.

When I was younger I was made to feel somehow inadequate because I wasn’t able to comment on some news event or other. But now I couldn’t care less about that. I always seem to hear about the things I need to. And I don’t trust the media to inform me accurately about the big issues anyway.

Most newspaper articles I’ve read leave me with a feeling that there is more to the story than what is being presented. What’s the point in hearing only half the story? I had enough of that in Australian History classes at school. And why should I only read about the things going on in the world that the media select for me to hear about?

There are other ways of reading the world news, apart from relying on the media to tell me. I can see it in the landscapes around where I live. I can read it on my neighbours faces.  The temperature is still 17 degrees and it’s November. There were flies on the faces of my pet cattle yesterday, as if it were summer.

And friends always tell me of things they know I’d be interested in or care deeply about. Or I hear by accident. And of course now there’s the world wide web.

So when one of my hero’s walked out onto the stage and sat down beside Colm O’Gorman of the Irish branch of Amnesty International on Tuesday night, I was grateful to my friend Cathy Fitzgerald who told me John Pilger is coming to Dublin. Now that was news.

The title of the event was Decoding the News. And when John Pilger opened by telling the 300 plus people in the audience that he doesn’t read newspapers or watch the television news, something deep inside me smiled broadly. Years of feeling pressured to conform to the newspaper-reading school of knowing, fell away. How important it is to have elders/heroes in our lives.

And then, in his distinctive voice with it’s Australian accent like mine, he told us that when he grew up in Australia, there were two societal groups that weren’t represented by the media at all. “It was as if they simply didn’t exist” he said. Women were one and Australian Aboriginal people were the other. And that’s exactly what I remember from growing up there too.

John spoke about the so called wars of our time and of human rights violations and how it comes about that the media falls so short of reporting the truth. He said to get to the truth you often have to turn around the message being presented. I thought of how useful that same principle has been for me in trying to learn the other side of the version of Australian history that I was fed during my brief school years, that has somehow resulted in white Australia now perceiving that it has ‘an Aboriginal problem“.

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to put a question to John and he gave time and great care answering it. He concluded by saying that not only the First Nation people from Australia, but all First Nation peoples must be given respect above all and that their immense knowledge should be taught by them across the world.

John said that in making Utopia he was trying to bring the message to an international audience to try to spotlight what continues for Aboriginal people in their own land. Looking directly at me from across the sea of heads, he said “Find ways to help.”

Many people came over to me later to tell me that they were unaware of the  appalling situation in Australia for the Aboriginal people.  I encouraged everyone I met to see Utopia by John Pilger and his team.

Gabriel and I went walking along by the canal after the event finished, to ease out of our stimulated state into a more drowsy sleep mode.  It was a novelty to be out walking late at night under an urban sky.

As I looked back at all the people dispersing after John Pilger’s talk I thought of the many thousands of Irish people who have recently moved to live in Australia because of the downturn in the Irish economy (Pilger had plenty to say about ‘austerity measures’ too!!)

I wondered how many Irish people, if any, realise whose land they are actually moving onto. Did any of them think that their visa application should have been made to Aboriginal Elders, instead of representatives of Her Majesty the Queen of England? Do any of them realise the broad and unhappy consequences of the reality of ‘the Commonwealth of Australia’ for its First People?

John Pilgers website is well worth a visit. And if you want to ‘find ways to help’ a good place to start is to follow his guidelines to write to Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott:

I recommend that people write to Prime Minister Tony Abbott, calling on him to start, without delay, negotiations for a fully constituted Treaty between the Commonwealth of Australia and all the First Nations of Australia. This would include long overdue restitution and universal land rights.
The Hon. Tony Abbott, MP
Prime Minister
Parliament House
I suggest you copy your message to the Australian press.
John Pilger

Yep. Direct action. – That’s John Pilger for you.
Jan Alexander with John Pilger