Adam Goodes, in retrospectives

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Last year, two documentaries regarding the Adam Goodes booing fiasco were released mere weeks apart: Shark Island Productions’ The Final Quarter and Madman Films’ The Australian Dream, anchored by Stan Grant. These two films took different tacts reflecting on this public example of racialised harassment and how it manifested using the power of retrospect. While The Final Quarter relied entirely on archival footage to construct the narrative, The Australian Dream primarily relied upon interviews and talking heads to set the scene.

Adam Goodes farewelling crowd at the SCG (Matt King/Getty Images)

Both have now aired on Australian television, leading to heightened discussion on racism and the role it plays within the sporting world. Given the topic and timing of both of the films, I couldn’t help but compare the two films as an Aboriginal viewer who spends a lot of time dissecting Australia’s racism in her own analysis. As I watched both of them, my reaction to each was markedly different.

The Australian Dream, through its use of interviews, set the scene with regards to Goodes’ backstory. It gave viewers an insight into how Goodes, a man of humble beginnings, came to be one of the greatest players on the ground. It is inspirational both to watch Goodes’ skills grow but also to see him come into his own identity as an Aboriginal man.

The film also features interviews from past players such as Nicky Winmar and Gilbert McAdam, giving some insight into how racism has manifested on the ground over the years. This was valuable as it showed the 'it’s just because Goodes is a flog; other Aboriginal players didn’t face racism' argument for the complete fallacy it was. These interviews were then interspersed with other talking heads such as family members, conservative commentators and fellow Indigenous sports people.

Rather than gaining insight, however, I found myself perturbed by the interviews. A lot of my reaction has to do with who Stan Grant chose to interview for the film and just how entry level some of the discussion around racism was. It was correctly pointed out to me on social media that as an Aboriginal woman with demonstrated progressive politics, I was not the film’s intended audience, rather it was made to appeal to those who aren’t across the Black history of this country, who don’t find their humanity questioned on a daily basis, and who don’t understand that collectively acting against an Aboriginal man because he dares to not put up with racial slurs is indeed vilification.

That being said though, I don’t think understandings of racism are gained by listening to Andrew Bolt reframe his countless columns demonising Goodes so they look perfectly reasonable. I don’t believe giving Eddie McGuire another opportunity to state that his racist comment about King Kong was a 'mistake' assists. I wondered why these white men, who still have strong media careers long after Goodes retired from AFL, got so much airtime yet the Aboriginal people who documented this at the time, or the allies who took a stand on the ground, hardly got space.

 

'Seeing an Aboriginal man like Goodes treated that way was deeply confronting. I had always seen Goodes as the role model type who, through his focus on collaboration and individual achievement was less threatening to the mainstream than our other activists.'

 

Perhaps that’s why I personally found The Final Quarter the more powerful documentary. Through its use of archival footage, it was able to show how this saga was constructed, brick-by-brick, in a way that was impossible to deny. We saw how the voices trying to highlight racism were consistently drowned out by those insisting it was not. From the commentators misrepresenting Goodes’ statement after he was called an 'ape', to them cowering in a corner over a war dance, to them lying about him 'staging for free kicks' — they were rabid and constant. And how an unthinking public absorbed, then projected this.

The Final Quarter also highlighted the many failures to identify and deal with racism as it was playing out on the field. Far from individuals failing to identify that their choice to boo might, in fact, have racist tones, I was left wondering why it was that the AFL consistently failed to do something or even name it. I wondered why the AFL Players Association didn’t take measures to ensure their members were working in a safe environment. The film showed me just how hard the mainstream media works to reinforce the status quo and promote those voices who ensure Aboriginal people don’t get too uppity. Racism is so much more than calling someone bad names, it’s the structures which work together to exclude Aboriginal people from society.

One of my own headlines from an article I wrote responding to this vilification was featured in The Final Quarter and seeing it again, in the context of both these films, caused me to reflect on what had driven me to write that piece in the first place. I remember when I wrote it, I was shocked at how bad things had gotten because only a couple of years prior, I felt that the AFL had done a lot more to counteract racism than they had sexism, and I wrote as such.

Seeing an Aboriginal man like Goodes treated that way was deeply confronting. I had always seen Goodes as the role model type who, through his focus on collaboration and individual achievement was less threatening to the mainstream than our other activists. Goodes, for example, was promoting the government’s Recognise campaign at a time other Indigenous activists were rejecting this in favour of treaties and recognition of Indigenous sovereignty.

Goodes did everything right by the mainstream. He educated and called for calm when he was racially vilified. He played on when he was being booed and kept holding his head high. Yet Goodes was still treated this way. If an Aboriginal man who is this respectable, this dedicated and this much of a role model can be vilified this badly, what chance do other Aboriginal people who reside more on the margins of mainstream society have?

Let’s hope the next chapter documented is one of acceptance and an Australia actually working to ensure this never happens again. It’s a nice dream.

 

 

Celeste LiddleCeleste Liddle is a trade unionist, a freelance opinion writer and social commentator. She blogs at Rantings of an Aboriginal Feminist.

Main image: Adam Goodes farewelling crowd at the SCG (Matt King/Getty Images) 

Topic tags: Celeste Liddle, Adam Goodes, The Final Quarter, The Australian Dream, racism

 

 

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Beautifully stated, Celeste. I've watched only The Australian Dream and so can't comment on The Final Quarter. Some thoughts from The Australian Dream: Adam Goodes' talent and dedication to the game of AFL, his deep love for, and pride in, his people and a tender, protective love for his mother and his wife. Plus his courageous determination to stand against racism. He is a softly spoken man with a gritty persona. He will always, always be one of my heroes. And thank you to Stan Grant and Michael O'Loughlin for being his true friends.
Pam | 27 February 2020


Thanks, Celeste. As yet, I have not seen The Final Quarter. So, I cannot comment on the comparisons you make. However, the impression I was left with regarding Bolt and McGuire is of saying and doing whatever suits their purposes for the time being. Whereas Goodes came across as a man of principle prepared to challenge those who scorned him. The juxtaposing of Goodes sensitivity to the ugliness of the crowds and the self-absorption of Bolt and McGuire was helpful to me.
Kimball Byron Chen | 27 February 2020


I absolutely agree with you, Celeste!!!! I got angry listening to Bolt! He shouldn't have been in this film. It was about Goodes and it should have stayed that way. When I did Indigenous Australians and the Law, at the ANU, the lecturer (a white Aussie woman who defended Aborigines in NT) told us from the beginning, the course would be about Aborigines only. If we didn't like it we could leave now. And the 50 odd students who stayed (me included) were glad! None of this "balancing" views, making it "fair" nonsense that can be so very 'English'. I come from a european background and I thought that was excellent! Congrats with your article, Celeste!
Nathalie Shepherd | 28 February 2020


There is probably little more we can gain from raking over the Adam Goodes saga. The AFL management and supporter base is quite diverse, and through the media, views were polarised. Perceptions are the basis of opinion, and rightly or wrongly, some people concluded that Adam, as Australian of the Year engendered a divisive element in his advocacy. Pulled with the partisan passions of AFL supporters this grew to an unwarranted response. We should just move on
Peter | 28 February 2020


I watched the documentary on Sunday evening on ABC and witnessed the performances of both Adam Goodes and the 'sporting public' react to Goode's professionalism. I was likewise appalled at the interviews with Andrew Bolt and Eddie Maguire. Bolt was his usual racist self using every trick to justify his usual agenda of righteousness and rhetoric, all expressed with that false sense of sincereiy which is his usual stock in trade. The least said about Eddie Maguire's duplicity the better. He simply didn't cover himself in glory. The best story was Goode's honesty in telling his story and explaining his background, nothing to hide just reality. He came out of the story with his credibility intact whilst the other two were shown up for the people they have proven to be, just media whores. I applaud Adam Goodes for his demeanour, he was there to play football and the others were there to use just another outlet to peddle their racist views.
Paul Rummery | 28 February 2020


I remember once when Ray Illingworth was the English cricket captain and his team was playing a test match at the SCG. John Snow, his fast bowler, was being booed by the crowd and cans were thrown on the ground. Ray Illingworth spoke to the umpires and ordered his players off the ground. Why didn’t Adam Goodes’ s captain lead his team off the ground? Why didn’t the Sydney Football Club coach give that order? Why didn’t the AFL act immediately? This was not just booing. This was totally unacceptable racial targeting by a mob that went on and on.
Steve Sinn | 28 February 2020


Thank you Celeste for your insight. I completely agree with you about the interviews with Bolt and McGuire. It made me feel angry hearing what they had to say. In saying that, both films were powerful and showed just how much courage Adam Goodes has, but also how much more needs to be done around racism in this country.
Doseda | 28 February 2020


I wouldnt dream of contesting the opinions expressed as to the value of one piece of work or the other; I have only seen The Australian Dream, and will perforce watch The Final Quarter. Even though I hate football, regard it as barbaric, I am forced to know a bit about it by grandchildren. I do indeed experience the grace of many of the players, particularly I enjoyed seeing the way the 'owners' of our land make it worth watching. Buddy Franklin, Adam Goodes, Michael Long and the rest of the mob, are so unusually graceful and elegant. In The Autralian Dream, what I enjoyed most was seeing Adam Goodes act with grace under pressure. His behaviour has much to teach all of us; he puts many of us to shame. Thanks for the piece.
helen donnellan | 28 February 2020


All credit to Goodes, Grant, Winmar, McAdam; those who have walked with them; Stan Grant - and to you Celeste for poking the crocodile of yobbo racist ignorance - dressed up as something palatable to AFL supporters whose bums on seats and $ are the real agenda for those who control AFL corporately. One crucial offender has not been mentioned here - the CEO of AFL who was constantly missing in action - whose self-serving actions showed him to be deeply shallow - devoid of conscience in this entire saga.
Wayne Sanderson | 28 February 2020


Thank you Celeste. There are many caring non Aboriginal Australians who agree with you that Adam Goodes has been treated in a shameful and vile manner and consider his withdrawal from playing in the AFL prematurely as being a huge disappointment. I too have only seen "The Australian Dream"and cannot comment on "The Final Quarter". However, I must say that I thought it good that Stan Grant put the spot light on Andrew Bolt and Eddy McGuire because it showed what shallow and unreliable people they are. It was amazing that despite the vile and racist statements made about Adam, Andrew Bolt concentrated on targeting him as the problem and totally ignored the way he was vilified. And then we saw Eddy McGuire offering him help and then attacking him on TV. along with his King Kong comment What an incredible chameleon! To all fair-minded Australians, the actions against Adam were very unfair. Despite what he endured, he held his head high and showed great dignity throughout this period when many Australians showed their bias and discrimination. A lot more needs to be done to honour the great contribution of Aboriginal people in the history of this nation, Our leaders need to acknowledge this in our Constitution, to have a treaty, to reinstate an Aboriginal national consultative body, to provide greater social services to Aboriginal communities, do more to stop black deaths in custody and to promote the Reconciliation process.
Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 29 February 2020


I agree, I am disgusted everytime the ABC and others have Bolt on trying to claim he is not racist when he very clearly is and has been convicted as a racist. He used to be on ABC Adelaide every day at 9.50 am to spout his racist nonsense about refugees and demonised families and children at will. I had a few goes at him on the radio about it but they still had him on.
Marilyn Shepherd | 29 February 2020


The incident which precipitated the Adam Goodes controversy should never have happened. It was inexcusable for a 13 year old to abuse him the way she did. Adam reacted correctly. That should have been the end of the story. In Britain and Europe soccer teams are walking off the pitch when racial abuse is levelled at any of their players. This should be the norm here, as well as severe bans for offenders. Neither Eddie McGuire nor Andrew Bolt come out of this well. Adam is a thoroughly honourable man and a worthy role model for all Australians. I think he retired early from professional football to preserve his mental health and take pressure off his family. He deserves a role in national life where he can inspire others. He is a torch bearer for his people and the whole nation. Australia should be proud of him.
Edward Fido | 02 March 2020


Watching the Australian Story film, I just couldn't understand why, when the booing started, the game wasn't simply stopped. The AFL, the umpires, and especially the Swans captain, should have just called a halt, a walk-off even. I can't understand how Goodes' team mates could have continued in the circumstances. The AFL should hang its head in shame. $$$ above decency and a marvellous chance missed to hit racism where it hurts—deprivation of our great game. Brendan
Brendan | 02 March 2020


I suppose if anything is to be gained from McGuire’s and Bolt’s and Sam Newman’s contributions to the documentary, it is to confirm that none of them really got at the time (and still don’t get) what Adam Goodes had to go through. It is the same attitude that criticises Latrell Mitchell for being draped in the Aboriginal flag in the recent NRL ad, or the Indigenous All Stars who refused to sing Advance Australia Fair last year. It is a lack of respect for people saying, “I’ve had enough” and making a statement about pride in their heritage. Indigenous people who call out racism have a target on their back. In Bolt’s case he turned the situation on its head and put the blame on Goodes while he (Bolt) claimed to be more concerned about the welfare of the 13-year-old girl. Goodes called out her behaviour but showed her more respect by giving the abuse some context in terms of her upbringing and education. He had compassion for her. In contrast, you could almost read an endorsement of the booing in some of the responses. I don’t know any other sports person who had to endure anything like that.
Brett | 05 March 2020


Celeste. I can only comment on "The Australian Dream". I thought it was powerful for several reasons. It showed that Aboriginal people in Australia have had to battle so many hurdles to live in our society. It showed Adam Goodes as a fantastic man, strong, dignified, intelligent and loyal. What more could you want in a person. It showed Andrew Bolt to be a "clever racist", with absolutely no empathy for an Aboriginal man facing up to one of the biggest issues in his life. Unfortunately, there are too many of these smirking racists in our shock jock media. It showed Eddie Maguire to be a shallow vessel of a man, with no clear moral code, just playing to his audience to make more money. The power of the film was the contrast it showed between these three people. Here's to you Adam Goodes.
Robert Harpham | 24 March 2020


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