‘The Australian Dream’ Cuts To The Heart Of Our Racism, But Remains Optimistic About Our Future

If 'The Final Quarter' alone couldn't move the conversation along from 'was the way Australia treated Adam Goodes racist?', then perhaps the double whammy of it and 'The Australian Dream' can.

The Australian Dream, Adam Goodes documentary

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“The Australian Dream is rooted in racism. It is the very foundation of the dream. It is there at the birth of the nation. It is there in terra nullius.”

In October 2015, journalist and Wiradjuri man Stan Grant gave a stirring speech at The Ethics Centre as part of a debate on Australian racism. His starting point was the mass booing of Sydney Swans star Adam Goodes — a cultural moment which, for Grant, didn’t stand out as exceptional, but merely a moment where all of Australia could hear what First Nations people encounter daily.

“I can’t speak for what lay in the hearts of the people who booed Adam Goodes. But I can tell you what we heard when we heard those boos,” he said.

“We heard a sound that was very familiar to us. We heard a howl. We heard a howl of humiliation that echoes across two centuries of dispossession, injustice, suffering and survival. We heard the howl of the Australian dream and it said to us again, you’re not welcome.”

That last line echoes throughout The Australian Dream; a documentary produced and written by Grant, centred on Goodes. It’s the second documentary about Goodes this year: after premiering at Sydney Film Festival, Ian Darling’s The Final Quarter aired on Channel 10 last month. The two films complement one another.

Where Darling’s doco is entirely comprised of archival footage, The Australian Dream, directed by Daniel Gordon, is much more traditional in structure, featuring voiceovers and interviews from Goodes, Grant and other figures — including court-recognised racist Andrew Bolt, one of the media’s most oppositional voices to Goodes. The Final Quarter paints a picture of the Australian media’s active promotion of racism, and by providing no commentary, that incredibly damning picture is laid out by the media’s own brushstrokes.

Yet the day after The Final Quarter aired on C10, ran a poll asking whether the booing of Goodes was racist. The official line from defenders — now and back then — is that Goodes was booed for staging for free kicks, ‘bullying’ a thirteen-year-old girl, and for his ‘poor sportsmanship’ (by standing up against racism).

As The Footy Show‘s Sam Newman said at the time, “People are not booing you, Adam, because you’re an Aboriginal. They’re booing you because you’re acting like a jerk.”

It’s hard to believe that anyone who watched The Final Quarter could still think there’s an argument to have — or that it’s important to ‘hear both sides’, rather than shut down racist rhetoric.

But the poll shows that Australia’s stuck in a perpetual cycle — one stoked by conservative commentators like Andrew Bolt (who, incidentally, is currently hurling insults at 16-year-old climate crisis activist Greta Thunberg online), who have fired up cylinders against Goodes again.

The Australian Dream was clearly written to pre-empt the online polls, and is at times a little heavy-handed in showing that not only was Goodes’ career marred by racism, but so are the lives of Indigenous people. As Luke Buckmaster writes for The Guardian, “The Australian Dream tells rather than shows, going against the classic film-making dictum. But it speaks loudly and articulately, dropping the kind of truth bombs that smash your heart to pieces”.

Stretching out beyond Goodes to establish our country’s ingrained racism, The Australian Dream‘s howl is relentless. Evidently, it needs to be.

A Bigger Field

Since retiring in 2015, Adam Goodes has largely stayed away from the public eye. Unlike The Final Quarter, which had his support but not involvement, The Australian Dream confirms what we all assumed: that the booing saga took its toll on Goodes, who talks us through the saga.

We learn that after a 13-year-old girl hurled a racial epithet at him during the 2013 AFL Indigenous Round, Goodes broke down in the change rooms.

“I hadn’t been racially abused for eight years, and it just rocked me,” he says. “I walked into the medical room underneath [the ground], and I burst into tears.”

We also learn that he sunk into a deep depression as spectators booed him en masse whenever he held the ball in 2014-2015, inspiring a return to Adnyamathanha country in South Australia. It’s heartbreaking, especially given that the film details how much the sport means to Goodes and other Indigenous players, comparing it to Marngrook — an Indigenous sport widely believed to be the precursor to AFL.

But as the name implies, The Australian Dream is about much more than one person. It zigs and zags through our history, making sure the audience can hear Grant’s ‘howl’ for what it is. The film frames the booing of Goodes as a moment of both great pain and a chance for white Australia to tune into a frequency we, as a whole, refuse to hear — the constant buzzing of white supremacy.

With interviews with Nova Peris and Nicky Winmar — who in 1993 lifted his AFL guernsey to point towards his skin in defiance to racist cries from the stands — The Australian Dream establishes that sport might be our closest thing to an equalising field. But it doesn’t celebrate that, as Indigenous people shouldn’t have to be exceptional to evade racism.

If The Final Quarter alone couldn’t move the conversation along from ‘was the way Australia treated Adam Goodes racist?’, then perhaps the double whammy of it and The Australian Dream can.

In a slightly jarring shift, the film’s end moves away from Goodes to focus on Grant. There’s purpose: in a parallel to Goodes, he talks of his own successes in life as an acclaimed journalist but makes a point to says he stands here despite ‘the Australian dream’, not because of it.

Still, Grant and the film believe that the dream could be retooled — that Australia could become a place of healing. It begins, it suggests, by accepting that the booing of Adam Goodes was undeniably racist, regardless of whether individual boo-ers and columnists feel it.

If The Final Quarter alone couldn’t move the conversation along from ‘was the way Australia treated Adam Goodes racist?’, then perhaps the double whammy of it and The Australian Dream can.

It’s a small victory, in the scheme of things, but one which would move the dial in a country where the very name of Australia is an act of dispossession, a branding over the many nations that were here before — that are still here.

The Australian Dream premiered at MIFF on August 3, and will be released nationally August 22. 

Jared Richards is a staff writer at Junkee, and co-host of Sleepless In Sydney.