Prove your humanity

Booed into submission for speaking his truth in a language intrinsically Aussie—football, Adam Goodes’ final three seasons of the game became an echo chamber of bigots, racists and anyone on their high horse ready to talk about the AFL great’s experience; those with the loudest voices were awarded with the media’s microphone. Countless newspaper columns, talk-back radio shows and press conferences centred around the star with his actions, on and off the field, becoming fodder for speculation that divided a nation.

The Sydney Swans star’s 17-year career was much bigger than the headlines, and yet Twitter trolls, social media campaigns and the deafening boos reverberating at football stadiums around the nation for three years. Goodes’ Final Quarter is forever marred by this media circus.

In 2013, a teenage girl became the face of racism in Australia when she hurled a comment that stung Aboriginal Australians during the indigenous round of the season. It was not the comment nor the person that it came from (though it did strengthen the “newsworthiness” of the Goodes’ media saga), but rather the sentiment that echoed her society. People then had a realisation that Australia had been and still is hurting.

The following year, Goodes was dubbed the 2014 Australian of the Year on invasion day —a day which holds great sorrow for many. Throughout the documentary he speaks of his pride to be Aboriginal, to have made it to the AFL in his own right. It became his mission to do more than kick a ball through the goal posts, however, cheers became racial slurs as he held the mirror to racism in sport and a wider Australia.

A jersey designed by Goodes’ mother, a celebratory war-cry and a movement of solidarity across the AFL should have all been things we, as a nation, were proud of. And yet these marks of Indigenous pride splayed the edges of our white-nation “Indigenous culture box” and became clout for the media moguls. Commentators like Sam Newman, Alan Bond, Eddie Macguire, Andrew Bolt and Miranda Devine leached off the booing and did anything they could to twist the narrative; the naysayers of those opinions would write pieces with their polarising views. However, none of it was telling the story, the story that belongs to Adam Goodes’ and the generations of Aboriginal Australians who hear the jeers from thousands of football fans as a nation of people who hounded their culture for centuries.

These are the voices that matter in this conversation, yet when someone bares their scars to show the gaping wounds our country still bleeds from, we turn away from our shame and boo.

“They’re booing their discomfort,” – Waleed Aly, The Final Quarter

This booing—though often silent—still happens at local football clubs, our supermarkets, coffee shops, on public transport and in our neighbourhoods. An AFL giant was bullied into retirement after seventeen years of stellar football and three enduring years as a voice of our country’s pain— a broken spirit. What lessons will we take from future voices?

Ian Darling’s sobering depiction of Indigenous pain on and off the football field can be seen at Luna Leederville on 14-15 July as part of the 2019 season of Revelation Perth International Film Festival.