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Magpies must listen to Lumumba and respond

  • 06 September 2017


Fair Game. Director: Jeff Daniels. Starring: Heritier Lumumba, Aamer Rahman, Mark Robinson, Nick Maxwell. 53 minutes

On Sunday I chaired a panel at Melbourne Writers Festival titled Dissent Within, exploring what happens when your beliefs go against the majority of those within your religion, culture or minority group. One person who was on our early hit list for the panel was Heritier Lumumba, the former AFL footballer for the Collingwood Magpies. In 2013 and 2014 Lumumba had been outspoken about racist and homophobic aspects of the club's culture, culminating in much-publicised run-ins with coach Nathan Buckley and president Eddie McGuire, and Lumumba's eventual departure from the club at the end of 2014.

We were in the end not able to secure Lumumba's participation. As it happens however, that same night SBS aired Fair Game, a documentary that explores Lumumba's youth and his career at Collingwood, his relationship to his Brazillian and Congolese heritage, his growth as a public proponent of equality and human rights, and the experiences that led him to take a stand against Buckley and their boss McGuire, one of the most imposing figures on the Australian sport and media landscapes. Directed by Australian documentarian Daniels, it is as powerful an extrapolation of 'dissent within' as you could hope to find.

Lumumba was born in Rio de Janeiro to a Brazilian mother and Congolese father. She later remarried after they came to Australia, and Lumumba found himself the sole dark-skinned member of a fair-skinned family, growing up in an overwhelmingly white community in Perth. His insecurities around his 'otherness' would later be a driving factor in a pilgrimage to the Democratic Republic of Congo — his father's country — which is captured in the film. These experiences, too, would fuel a passion for social justice, leading to him becoming one of the most outspoken advocates in the history of Australian football.

Inspired by the exploits of Aboriginal AFL stars, the young Lumumba quickly identified football as an arena in which a black man could flourish. This fact makes his treatment at Collingwood years later all the more galling. During his time at the club he was dubbed 'Chimp' by some of his teammates, and ridiculed by Buckley for his conscientious stance against homophobic attitudes at the club. He recalls that his public condemnation of McGuire's racist comments about Aboriginal footballer Adam Goodes in 2013 was the catalyst to a fracturing of his