Stan Grant's Goodes’ doco shows racism alive and well

August 8, 2019
Adam Goodes.

The Australian Dream

Written by Stan Grant & Directed by Daniel Gordan 
Starring Adam Goodes
Good Things Production Company, 2019
Showing in cinemas from August 22.

Adam Goodes, an Aboriginal footballer of the Adnyamathanha and Narrungga people in South Australia, had won every accolade possible in his 372-game career with the Sydney Swans in the Australian Football League (AFL).

However, this would all be overshadowed by the aftermath of a match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground against Collingwood on May 24, 2013, when Goodes heard someone in the crowd refer to him as “an ape”. When he turned around Goodes was shocked to realise that the offender was a 13-year-old year girl.

He said later “to hear a 13 year old girl call me ‘an ape’ … It was shattering. Racism has a face, it’s a 13-year-old girl.”

The Australian Dream, written by Wakely-award winning journalist and Wiradjuri man Stan Grant and directed by BAFTA award-winning filmmaker Daniel Gordan, skilfully traces Goodes’ life and career. It explores the issue of racism especially in the backlash that would result in Goodes being booed by crowds every time he went near the ball in the last years of his career.

Goodes’ success in the game enabled him to win great fame and he used that to help Indigenous youth throughout community. We also see how Goodes used this in the aftermath of the Collingwood game in 2013 to speak out against racism and the need for greater education of young people around the issue.

Goodes accepted the young girl’s apology, saying he didn’t blame her for what happened and called for the media to stop panning her.

Furthermore, in recognition of his community work, Goodes was named the 2014 Australian of the Year. Attending the ceremony on January 26, 2014, Goodes decided to use the platform to speak out against racism and described himself as a “proud Indigenous man keen to fight racism”. But, he also “finds it hard to buy into a celebratory notion of Australia Day ‘because of the sadness and mourning and the sorrow of our people and a culture that unfortunately has been lost to me through generations’”.

In The Australian Dream, Grant traces the life of Goodes from the difficulties of his childhood. He found that playing football helped him find acceptance all the way through his illustrious career. More importantly, the documentary uses Goodes’ story to tell a wider story of dispossession Aboriginal people have suffered and the racism and trauma that remains a legacy that continues to this day.

Importantly, experiences other Indigenous athletes, such as Michael O’Louglin, Nicky Winmar and Nova Peris Kneebone are included.

Grant also spoke to this legacy in a 2015 speech, stating: “It happened on the sporting field, it happened on the football field. Suddenly the front page was on the back page, it was in the grandstands. Thousands of voices rose to hound an Indigenous man, a man who was told he was an Australian, a man who was told he was an Australian of the year, and they hounded that man into submission.

“I can’t speak for what lay in the hearts of the people who booed Adam Goodes. But I can tell you what we heard, when we heard those boos. We heard a sound that was very familiar to us. We heard a howl.

“We heard a howl of humiliation that echoes across two centuries of dispossession, injustice, suffering and survival. We heard the howl of the ‘Australian dream’ and it said to us again, you’re not welcome.”

This legacy, and White Australia’s refusal to address it, was reflected in the fact that the booing only got worse when, during an Indigenous round game against Carlton in 2015, Goodes performed an Aboriginal war dance to celebrate a goal. The dance was a tribute to the Flying Boomerangs — a development and leadership program for Indigenous teenagers who created the dance and showed it to Goodes.

Right-wing media figures, such as former AFL player Sam Newman and Murdoch columnist Andrew Bolt, fanned the flames. This culminated with Goodes taking leave from the game, returning to his country to reconnect with his people and culture.

In his absence, we saw an outpouring of support for Goodes, as people from all walks of life took a stand against the racism. West Coast Eagles coach Adam Simpson and Fremantle Dockers coach Ross Lyons called upon fans to stop booing Goodes.

Goodes returned to play out the rest of the season, but retired at the end of the season — a dual Brownlow medal-winning and dual premiership-winning player calling time early.

In the Australian Dream, we see the shameful inaction from the AFL authorities during the worst of this booing, though it was acknowledged this year when the AFL and all 18 clubs offered Goodes an unreserved apology.

I would recommend this film because it shows not only the impact the booing had on Goodes, but also what Grant calls “the wider context of an examination of Australia’s national identity, including the uncomfortable truths that underlie the assertion that ‘Australians all’ are equally free”.

Goodes’ story shows that racism is well and truly alive.

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