Adam – he’s the Goodes…


When the players file out onto the field tonight for the AFL match between the Swans and the Adelaide Crows – there will be one key player missing. It’s a sad day for the game and for Australia, writes Candida Baker.

It seems to me that there is irony of extraordinary proportions being played out in Australian public life at the moment.

In one corner we have Bronwyn Bishop, caught red-handed over a continual and massive misuse of taxpayers funds to take her to weddings, parties – anything, and it seems as if, apart from a gentle slap on the wrist, this most biased of Speakers will retain her job and continue, Hyacinth Bucket-like, a silver spoon firmly planted in her mouth, and an attitude that strongly suggests she is not actually sorry, she’s just sorry she got caught.

In the other corner we have Adam Goodes. Goodes was born in South Australia to a father of Celtic ancestry and a mother who is an Indigenous Australian, of the Adnyamathanha and Narungga people. He is one of Australia’s most successful sporting stars of all time – dual Brownlow medallist, Australian of the Year for 2014, co-founder with his cousin Michael O’Loughlin of the GO Foundation, an organization that helps support younger Indigenous people. Goodes is a regular visitor to youth detention centres, and is heavily involved in Indigenous sporting programs, and yet this most extraordinary man, who has lived the past two years of his high-profile, successful life surrounded by a murky haze of racism, is stepping down – possibly permanently – because of the continued stress.


In this decision, The Swans are 100% behind him, and have taken the extraordinary step of giving Goodes extended leave for as long as he needs so that he can come to a decision about his playing future.

To put the importance of this decision into context it is not just the ‘war dance’ incident that is at play here. In May 2013 a 13-year-old girl called him an ‘ape’ during a match against Collingwood in the Indigenous Round – Goodes didn’t let it go. He called the girl out on the incident and watched as she was removed from the ground. Afterwards he told reporters he was “gutted…the win, the first in 13 years, to be up 47 points against Collingwood, to play such a pivotal role, just sort of means nothing. To come to the boundary line and hear a 13-year-old girl call me an ape – and it’s not the first time on a footy field that I’ve been referred to as a ‘monkey’ or an ape, it was shattering.”

In that particular case, closure seemed swift with Goodes announcing on Twitter only an hour and a half later that the girl had been in touch. “Just received a phone call from a young girl apologizing for her actions. Lets support her please#racismitstopswithme #IndigenousRound,” he tweeted.

Adam Goodes with his Australian of the Year award.

Adam Goodes with his Australian of the Year award.

Everything seemed to go quiet for a while – Goodes Australian of the Year award was (or seemed to be) universally accepted as well-deserved honour, and if there was a murmur of dissent it was more from the Left, who wondered how Goodes could accept an honour announced on the very day that is so loaded for Indigenous people. At the same time, I’m sure nobody doubted that the award would add much-needed support for Goodes and his strong anti-racism advocacy.

Then in May 2014, Essendon revoked the membership of a supporter accused of making racist comments toward Goodes at Etihad Stadium, although Goodes was not aware of the incident until after the game. “To have Essendon members alert stadium security to the incident is a great indication that people in the football community will not tolerate racial vilification,” he said.

But then came the war cry – a powerful, electric moment if ever there was one, and simply, according to Goodes who adopted the cry from the underage Indigenous Boomerangs his way of displaying his pride in the AFL’s Indigenous Round.

What’s happened since is so ugly, so divisive, so wrong, culminating in the game-long booing towards Goodes from the West Coast Eagles last weekend, that it’s hard, even with a Pollyanna hat on, to find any positive outcome.

The War Dance catches on: Sydney Swans player Lewis Jetta celbrated an early goal against the West Coast Eagles with a dance in support of Adam Goodes.

The War Dance catches on: Sydney Swans player Lewis Jetta celbrated an early goal against the West Coast Eagles with a dance in support of Adam Goodes.

I came to Australia forty years ago, travelling around country New South Wales and Queensland on a theatre tour. I was 20 years old, straight from the London of the mid-1970s – a multicultural mixing pot if ever there was one. To say that I, and the company I was with, was surprised by the racism we encountered in Australia would be an understatement. We were shocked to our collective core to find such a divide between Indigenous and non-Indigenous, and it was only reinforced a few years later when I travelled around Australia reporting on a car rally. Separate laws for black and white, segregated pubs, a general disdain bordering on disgust by white people towards Aborigines, and a racism reserved, it often seemed, solely for the first inhabitants of this land.

What I saw on those, and subsequent travels, was mitigated somewhat by being lucky enough to have some wonderful experiences – including a visit to the Garma festival in north-east Arnhem Land. The 2015 Festival started yesterday, and unsurprisingly, the Booing Saga, as it’s become known, dominated the first day. Several of the Yunupingu clan were vocal in their support: “Players like Goodes are gods out here,” said Gabirri Yunupingu, “they’re very high up. Keep going brother – we’re all behind you.” Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion put it simply and succinctly: “Our mate Goodesy. He needs our support.”

For me the river of mystification around the issue of racism has always run deep. I simply don’t understand why any prejudice should be based on the colour of someone’s skin, and more specifically why Indigenous people are or ever have been ever subjected to any form of racism. They were here first. Simple. They hold the collective cultural dreaming of this massive continent deep in their hearts; they are the keepers and the guardians of the songlines, and of every physical and spiritual facet of this massive continent, which I am privileged to call home.


Of course, being a fairly frequent Facebook user, there have been many of my friends and colleagues who have had plenty to say on the subject. Adelaide-based writer and footy-fan Kerryn Goldsworthy posted this: “They’re frightened of him. (Goodes) They’re frightened of him physically because he’s a big strong fit athlete, they’re frightened of him psychologically because he is Other, and they’re frightened of him morally because he has been the occasion of them having to think about whether or not they are scumbags. Of course they’ve decided they’re not, but they resent having had to think about it.”

Goldsworthy, I think, hit the nail on the head with her ‘Other’ comment, but yet again it begs the question – who is really the ‘other’? Surely, it’s us – or it should be.


Closer to home, here in the Northern Rivers, our own Rhoda Roberts, a member of the Bundjalung Nation, festival director and head of Indigenous Programming at Sydney Opera House, made a simple and powerful statement when she changed her profile pic to one of Goodes, with the words I’m with you Goodes across the image. Sunshine Coast Indigenous artist Jandamarra Cadd told me: “it’s a sad reflection of how much division is actually alive and accepted in this country.”

And Annie Chapelle, owner of the Byron Bay Coffee Company pretty much summed it up for me when she wrote: “Adam Goodes, you are a hero not just because you do so much for Australia, not just because you are an indigenous man, not just because you do so much for indigenous folk, not just because you do so much for youth, not just because you do so much for the game, not just because you were Australian of the year!, not just because of the work you do with health, education and employment and the charity you run with others to place kids into school, but because you are one hell of a decent bloke and a footy hero to boot. I am so saddened that this incredible human is being treated this way. Power to you Adam Goodes.”












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