Adam Goodes and a divided country

Adam Goodes is an Australian Football player who has won the Brownlow medal twice, a medal given to the “fairest and best”, and was Australian of the Year in 2014. These are hallmarks of a hero but he is a hero that is singled out for boos from opposing fans and deeply divides opinion.

One of his most controversial moments was in 2013, when he asked stewards to deal with a 13 year old girl in the crowd who shouted “ape” at him as he ran past. She was escorted from her seat, to her obvious embarrassment. Despite the wrongdoing by her, he was criticised for causing distress to the girl.

There’s a few interesting things to notice when you watch the video. Firstly, the steward that Goodes alerts to what has just happened is right beside the girl; must have heard her; does not appear to have thought that anything wrong happened; and appears wholly unsure whether he should act or not. If a steward in a position of authority hears nothing wrong and is unwilling to act when it is pointed out, how many other times in everyday life does racism happen without any response? That the crowd appeared to boo the stewards’ actions does not inspire confidence.

The second thing to notice is that the girl leaves by herself. None of the people sitting beside her go with her or even speak to her as she leaves. It seems doubtful that a 13 year old girl would be at the game by herself, so what were her friends/family doing? It is this question that Goodes himself is asking when he explains how he felt and how he doesn’t blame the girl but her family and friends, and wider society which allows racism to persist – allows it go unchallenged, like the steward.

Ironically, that episode happened during the Indigenous Round (a weekend of AFL games) to celebrate indigenous culture and indigenous players’ contribution to the AFL. So maybe it shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise when during this year’s Indigenous Round, Adam Goodes divided opinion yet again. After scoring a goal, Goodes ran towards the opposing fans enacting what was described as a war cry. The opposing fans didn’t like this too much, and it was confrontational in nature, began booing him and had to be calmed down by stewards. However, the anger persisted and was displayed by people in the media who weren’t even in the ground.

Adam Goodes doing his

Adam Goodes doing his “war cry”. He learnt it from an under 16s team that he had helped in 2009.

Goodes said that rather than being angry, people should respond with curiosity seeking to understand what it was that he just did and why. I wonder whether this lack of understanding is indicative of the lack of understanding within Australia of indigenous culture or affairs. The division is not being caused by Goodes; the controversy is an indication of the division that already exists between indigenous and modern Australia.

We have found it strange that Australians refer to the lack of history and appear apologetic for its relative youth compared to the UK and Europe. Phrases like “as far as Australian history goes, it’s one of the most important pieces/sites/stories we’ve got”. This is in a country with indigenous rock art that is 30,000 years old, but it appears that this kind of history is not thought of as Australian history.

Such thinking, sub-consciousness or not, is repeated when people refer to the Port Arthur shooting in 1996 as being the worst massacre in Australian history, discounting the massacres of indigenous people during the 1800s. In cases like this, it is not that people would belittle such massacres, it is more that there appears to be a sense, perhaps unrecognised, that it happened in a different country. Not just at a different time in the same place, but that the place in which it happened is different to this place now, different to modern Australia. Time has separated a single place.

Time, however, cannot separate Australia from indigenous culture alone; there is a lack of embrace for indigenous culture to be part of Australia. This absence can be as simple as the absence of aboriginal restaurants, as a Dutch character noted in the show featured in my first blog. Or it can be noted in the stories that Australia tells itself.

Australia’s cultural heritage stems from things like being a penal colony, bushrangers and the outback, sports, World War 1 and ANZAC Day. Its historical figures are Ned Kelly, Burke & Wills, and Banjo Paterson who in this list of great Australians is credited as the bush poet who “told our tale”. The use of language like “our tale” only make sense when sitting beside “their tale”. At the moment, the tales of modern Australia and the tales of aboriginal Australians are different and exist separately. There are two different tales for the people living in this land.

Years ago, I heard Germaine Greer talk about how she too was an aboriginal person. I admit that my usual instinctive response to her was disagreement and this was one of those occasions. However, part of what she was saying was that Australians should realise that they live in a country which has indigenous culture and that they should accept that as part of themselves. Australians should see indigenous culture as part of who they are.

The reaction to Adam Goodes shows that there are many in Australia who do not see indigenous culture as part of who they are; they still see it as something different to themselves and to what Australia is. Adam Goodes divides opinion because he is from a divided land.


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One Response to Adam Goodes and a divided country

  1. Pingback: NT: a place of home and racism for Aboriginal people | Stories of Australia

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