THE AUSTRALIAN DREAM

★★★★

THE CONVERSATION AUSTRALIA NEEDS TO HAVE

MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW
By Jake Watt
2nd August 2019

Remember when Sydney Swans legend Adam Goodes was booed out of the AFL? It happened just four years ago.

The Adnyamathanha / Narungga man and AFL great stepped away from Aussie Rules in 2015 when he became the target of persistent, racially vilifying abuse. The former Australian of the Year and two-time Brownlow medallist even declined an opportunity to participate in that year’s AFL Grand Final parade, so toxic had the hectoring from “fans” become.

Ian Darling’s ‘The Final Quarter’, which premiered at the Sydney Film Festival and later screened nationally on Channel 10, combined match day footage from Goodes’ career with the Sydney Swans, clips from news broadcasts, press conferences and AFL panel shows, as well as incorporating article headlines and quotes, and snippets of talkback radio. With the events and commentary compiled into a coherent feature-length narrative, it was impossible not to be shocked at the campaign of harassment and apathy that Goodes endured.

‘The Final Quarter’ acted as a powerful reminder of the unsavoury events and attitudes leading up to Goodes’ retirement in 2015. That earlier film is complimented by the more traditional documentary style of ‘The Australian Dream’, written by Stan Grant and directed by Daniel Gordon. It premiered at the Melbourne International Film Festival, which is appropriate since Melbourne is considered to be the spiritual heartland of AFL.

‘The Australian Dream’ follows Goodes’ career from the time before he was drafted to his current state as an activist for Indigenous rights. We get interviews with Goodes, his family and closest allies, such as Nova Peris, Linda Burney, his younger brother Brett Goodes and former Sydney Swans teammate Michael O'Loughlin. Goodes discusses his reactions to the 13-year-old girl who called him an ape, Eddie McGuire's "King Kong" gaffe, and his refusal to accept McGuire's apology. The former Sydney Swans great talks openly and in detail for the first time about the emotional and psychological impact the persistent booing of his every move had on him.

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“Football, for me, was a place where I got accepted for being a good footballer,” Goodes says in the documentary. “It didn't matter where I came from, it was a safe place that helped me break down barriers.”

Incredibly, McGuire and Andrew Bolt, two of the men who helped to make that safe place uninhabitable for Goodes, also agreed to be interviewed for the documentary. Neither are persuasive in their continued justifications that there was no malice in their haranguing, but it’s important that they both make an appearance in the documentary because of what they embody: the glaring apathy of the corporate side of the AFL towards racism and the dangerous attack dog mentality of the media. These two factors spurred on not only the booing but a frenzy of venomous online attacks on social media and YouTube.

On the subject of venom, the documentary includes footage of Sam Newman, an outspoken critic of Goodes, when he smeared his face with shoe polish to impersonate Indigenous footy star Nicky Winmar on The Footy Show. This was in 1999, during another period when racial vilification was a particularly hot issue in the league. Winmar is often referred to as a pioneer for Indigenous footballers after his iconic 1993 gesture which saw him raise his shirt in front of thousands of jeering spectators saying: “I’m black - and I’m proud to be black!’’ He had refused to appear on The Footy Show, and wearing blackface was Newman’s rebuttal. Newman was forced to make a grudging public apology and Winmar was pressured to shake his tormentor’s hand. Eddie McGuire - in whose wake, to be fair to Newman, he has slavishly spent much of his TV shelf life - defended his friend by saying Newman donned blackface in the spirit of “vaudeville”.

“Football, for me, was a place where I got accepted for being a good footballer,” Goodes says in the documentary. “It didn't matter where I came from, it was a safe place that helped me break down barriers.”

Winmar and Gilbert McAdam talk about the historical prevalence of racist catcalls from footy fans, players and coaches alike.

Linking the various interviews and pieces of footage together is a voiceover from Stan Grant, a Wiradjuri man and journalist, who relates his own personal experiences of the racial vilification he endured during his childhood and as an adult. We get to listen to his iconic IQ2 Racism Debate speech from 2015. In his address Grant was asked to argue for or against the topic "Racism is destroying the Australian Dream", and said racism was at its heart. He opened his speech acknowledging the Goodes' booing saga: "When we heard those boos, we heard a sound that was very familiar to us ... we heard a howl of humiliation that echoes across two centuries of dispossession, injustice, suffering and survival," Grant said. "We heard the howl of the Australian dream, and it said to us again, you're not welcome."

The film explores Goodes’ engagement with his Indigenous identity, in response to a culture within the Sydney Swans that encouraged self-exploration. In turn, that led to an awareness of the history of dehumanisation of Aboriginal Australians under white settlement.

When he was made Australian of the Year in 2014, Goodes used his platform to address those issues. The documentary places Goodes’ story within the wider context of an examination of Australia's national identity, including the uncomfortable truths that underlie the assertion that “Australians all” are equally free. He had no easy answers, he said repeatedly; he just wanted to start a conversation about the realities of our country’s past and it’s present.

But for many footie fans, Goodes had crossed a line. An Indigenous athlete who was a talented AFL player and fun to watch was fine. An Indigenous athlete demanding to have a voice in the national debate? That made people uncomfortable.

To our collective shame, the film argues, the booing effectively silenced him. The AFL and all of its 18 clubs issued an acknowledgement in June this year of its “failures” during the period, but the conversations raised by ‘The Final Quarter’ and ‘The Australian Dream’ can do more towards rectifying the injustices endured by Goodes than a few hollow apologies ever could.

Watch this documentary. Talk about it. We need to re-evaluate how we acted during this extremely recent period of our history, and forge a better way forward.

Looking for more Melbourne International Film Festival reviews? Click here to check out our collection of this year's highlights.
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