The Australian Dream shares the heartbreaking experiences of Adam Goodes and other iconic Indigenous footballers who, throughout their careers, have been racially vilified and shamed by the Australian public. While The Final Quarter—released in June this year—tells of the final stages of Goodes’ career, The Australian Dream speaks with those who were there, delving into the bigger picture of racism and identity politics in Australia.
The documentary begins by expressing how sport has a way of capturing what is going on in society because, in essence, it is ‘the thread that binds the nation’. While I am not an avid sports fan, myself—and likely most Australians—would probably agree with this notion: the sports that unite our society can also reveal where we’re at as a nation. So when a 13-year-old girl yelled “ape” at Goodes from the crowd of the AFL’s annual Indigenous Round in May 2013—an event that celebrates Indigenous players—it was evidence that Australia has not yet dealt with its ugly past in regard to its First Nation’s People.
White Australia—a country and a people still dealing with the tangible and systemic consequences of the White Australia Policy and a violent history of race wars—finds it hard to acknowledge racism, and yet it is ever-present; demonstrated by our politicians, television hosts, radio jockeys and of course, the average individual—in this case, a 13-year-old girl. Instead of condemning her, Goodes offered sympathy; he offered a hand, recognising that this young girl was the product of her environment.
Image Source: National Indigenous Television
Instead of taking the opportunity to address our nation’s systemic racism, instead of looking at ourselves and recognising that we had taught this girl that using slurs to describe an Indigenous person was okay, we shifted the blame. And the likes of Andrew Bolt—whose very ability to have a platform demonstrates that conservative politicians and media moguls continue to normalise and support racism—said that Goodes shouldn’t have let ‘racial politics’ get in the way of the fact he was dealing with a young girl; that in fact, Goodes owed her something. Forgetting the hypocrisy of Bolt’s claims,—having recently labelled 16-year-old activist, Greta Thunberg, a ‘deeply disturbed’ messiah—the notion that Goodes, or any individual for that matter, owes something to someone who has racially denigrated them, is ludicrous.
What followed these events was a social media storm that demonstrated the prevalence of Australia’s casual racism and eventually culminated in the retirement of Adam Goodes. Goodes: a man who is described as being “someone you could rely upon”; a man with the capacity to soldier on; an Australian of the Year; a football hero. So, when the very best our country has to offer, is booed and bullied into submission, what does that say about us?
“Casual racism is there, it’s alive and it’s flourishing in our community” – Adam Goodes.
In 2016, writer of The Australian Dream, Stan Grant, authored a Quarterly Essay of the same name. In it, he recalls a speech he made in Sydney after the above events, describing that while many of us heard boos, Indigenous Australians heard a howl: “a howl of humiliation that echoes across two centuries of dispossession, injustice, suffering and survival”. They heard the howl of the Australian Dream, “and it said … you’re not welcome”.
“The Australian dream is rooted in racism. It is the very foundation of the dream. It is there at the birth of the nation. It is there in terra nullius; an empty land; a land for the taking,” he writes.
“Sixty thousand years of occupation. A people who made the first seafaring journey in the history of mankind. A people of law, a people of lore, a people of music and art and dance and politics. [But] none of it mattered because our rights were extinguished because we were not here according to British law.”
We claim that our society is not racist, but perhaps that is because we don’t really understand what racism is and is not. Australian history was born out of the idea that Aboriginal people were subhuman. When Australia became a nation in 1901, their place in the constitution lay only in ‘racial provisions’ which allowed the Government to make laws that would take away the children of Aboriginal families, strip away their privacy and dictate who they could marry and where they could live. Such was their Australian dream.
“Identity for black people has always been front and centre,” says Grant.
This documentary is about more than football; it is about our failure as a nation to address our past and accept responsibility for the present. But it is also the story of the survival and strength of our First Nations people, and how as a society, we have the potential to be better—to stand up for and to stand with Goodes and the Aboriginal community. For many Aboriginal elders and communities, the way we can unite in this venture is having a First Nations voice present in the Federal Parliament. This has been outlined in the Voice, Treaty, Truth campaign and in the Uluru Statement From the Heart
Adam Goodes “shows others that there is a path from the worst of Australia to the best of Australia”. And if we are to move forward, if we are to overcome our history of violence and racism, we must first look inwards.
The Australian Dream will be released in independent and major cinemas from Wednesday 21 August. Ten per cent of all sales go to the Indigenous Players Alliance, who support Indigenous and Torres Strait Islanders in football.
If you would like to know more about Voice, Treaty, Truth and support the movement, head to their website.