Brett Goodes reflects on brother Adam’s Australian nightmare
Adam Goodes will walk the red carpet at the opening of the Melbourne International Film Festival on Thursday night, but don't go expecting him to say too much about The Australian Dream; the feature documentary written by Stan Grant in response to the vilification of the former Sydney Swans great throughout his final three seasons in the AFL. In fact, he may not even watch it.
Adam Goodes in a reflective moment in The Australian Dream. Credit:Madman
"We've seen it once," says younger brother Brett Goodes, the former Bulldogs player who now works as manager of Indigenous programs at the club. "Sometimes it's too hurtful to put yourself through that again. We want to surround ourselves with positivity, not negativity."
That's not intended as a slight on English director Daniel Gordon's film – the Goodes brothers think both it and The Final Quarter, the documentary comprising only archival material, do the story great justice. It's just that the memories they dredge up are extremely painful.
It is generally agreed that the campaign of booing that plagued dual Brownlow winner Adam in his last three seasons had its genesis in the Indigenous round in 2013, when he called out a 13-year-old Collingwood fan for calling him an ape. At a press conference the following day, Goodes made it clear he didn't hold her personally responsible, saying she was merely a product of the culture in which she'd been raised.
But for many in the media, and the broader public, the only part of his media performance that resonated was the line that the teenager was "the face of racism". It was a gross (and arguably deliberate) reduction of the point he was trying to make, but an enormously powerful one.
"The media played a huge role in what happened in my opinion," says Brett. "They could have got behind what Adam was trying to do, to start that conversation." Instead, it became a "media frenzy", with antogonistic commentators "pulling out pieces of what he said to add fuel to the fire. It was just completely incorrect".
The Australian Dream makes a compelling case, though, that the true roots of the vilification of Goodes are to be found years earlier, in his belated engagement with his Indigenous identity, in response to a Swans culture that encouraged self-exploration.
That led to an awareness of the history of dispossession and dehumanisation of Aboriginal Australians under white settlement.
When he was made Australian of the Year in 2014, it was only natural that Goodes would use the platform to address those issues. He had no easy answers, he said repeatedly; he just wanted to start a conversation about the less salubrious parts of our past, and our present.
"We were proud of Adam and what he was doing, he was Australian of the Year, being a strong Aboriginal man, standing up for our people and our rights with the Recognise and Racism Stops With Me campaigns," says Brett. "That's all Adam was doing, trying to voice the concerns of Aboriginal people and being a leader within our community."
Adam (rear), with brothers Jake and Brett and mother Lisa May.
But for many football fans, he had crossed a line. A blackfella who was a prodigiously talented player was acceptable; a prodigiously talented blackfella demanding to have a voice in the national debate, not so much.
To our collective shame, the film argues, the booing effectively silenced Goodes. Since his retirement from the game at the end of the 2015 season, he has kept a low profile. He speaks in The Australian Dream, but he's unlikely to suddenly hit the publicity trail in support of the film, which is released nationally on August 14.
"It's been very deliberate that Adam hasn't been in the media speaking openly about it," says Brett, "because we just want that conversation to be had, and we feel like he doesn't need to be part of that."
Call it racism or simply bullying, what Goodes went through was shameful. But it may yet prove to have an upside.
Brett Goodes.Credit:Justin McManus
"I think now we're seeing that conversation being had a lot better on the back of the documentaries, and I know that's something Adam wants, and we want, and the Aboriginal community wants, is that conversation," says Brett.
The younger Goodes has learnt from the films, too. Throughout his brother's ordeal, he says, there were times when "you wanted to support and throw your arms around him and tell him it would be all right, but you just couldn't". Even so, it was through the movies that he realised for the first time the full extent of his brother's suffering.
"It's very unfortunate Adam had to go through what he went through," he says. "He's had to pay a massive price.
"My hope is one day we can get him back to footy. I think it would be great for us as a family, and more broadly for the Aboriginal community and the footballing community.
"My hope is one day that will happen. But a lot of work needs to happen, for sure."
The Australian Dream opens the Melbourne International Film Festival on Thursday August 1, and screens on Saturday at 11.30am and 6.30pm. It releases nationally on August 22.
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