Few people are as eloquent in the face of racism as renowned journalist Stan Grant and AFL legend Adam Goodes.
The Australian Dream showcases the best of these two voices and more as it explores racism and identity politics in Australia through the cultural lens of the sporting field and Adam Goodes’ exit from football in 2015.
“It was one of those pivotal moments in Australia … probably because it did happen on a sporting field … [a place] that’s become traditionally a very sacred space for Australians,” said Stan Grant, a writer and key player in the film.
“There’s the myth of the equality of the sporting field … and we know that’s not true.”
Mr Grant defines the moment in time that saw Adam Goodes booed for several consecutive weeks before retiring as a “perfect storm.”
He said a number of factors influenced this: Goodes being an extraordinary football player with a high profile, his awarding of Australian of the Year in 2014 and the intense coverage that AFL receives nationwide all lent themselves to the perfect storm that had a cataclysmic ending for one of Australia’s greatest players.
“Sometimes these things become a cultural moment, and I think it was a useful lens to be able to then say, ‘What led to that, when people boo Adam … where does that come from?’,” Mr Grant said.
“In my view, and I think this is the heart of the film, that comes from our history.”
“That’s the legacy of our history, that’s denial of the humanity of Indigenous people, that’s theft of our land, that’s the ongoing oppression of Indigenous people, the historical segregation of Indigenous people.”
“In a sense the film is as much about the history that led to that moment as it is about that moment when Adam was booed.”
The weight of voices
The Australian Dream creates space for polarising figures such as Andrew Bolt and Eddie McGuire who at times were far from allies to Adam Goodes.
Mr Bolt fiercely backed the 13-year-old girl who used a racial slur against Mr Goodes, and Mr McGuire allowed his casual racism to rear its ugly head and go to air across the nation’s radios.
“I think its disingenuous to pretend [those voices] don’t exist,” Mr Grant said.
“You need to see where the weight of voices [are] … Andrew Bolt spoke for and still speaks for … a proportion of people in Australia, and certainly those who were booing Adam Goodes.”
Other voices heard in the film include former Sydney Swans coach John Longmire, Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley, and former AFL greats Nicky Winmar, Gilbert McAdam, Michael O’Loughlin and Adam Goodes himself.
“If you set those voices against the power of the black voices that we hear in this documentary, I think anyone who watches it will know where the true power of the film and the true power of that story really lies,” Mr Grant said.
Bigger than Adam
While the film focuses on the politics of Adam Goodes’ career end, Mr Grant maintains that The Australian Dream is far from being the sole story of Adam Goodes.
“It wasn’t just about Adam … this was always a juxtaposition of Adam Goodes’ experience, the speech that I’d given around the Australian dream … and our history. What was the 200 years that led up to the booing of Adam Goodes?”
In 2015, Mr Grant delivered a speech as part of the Ethics Centre’s Intelligence Squared Debate series.
His speech, ‘The Australian Dream,’ namesake of the film, reached out to the audience and asked them to reflect on Australia’s past, receiving a thunderous applause at Sydney’s City Recital Hall upon its conclusion.
Mr Grant said what appealed to him when he was approached by producers to make this film, was that it was about more than the booing of Adam Goodes and that it was important black voices were heard.
Director Daniel Gordon said when he looks for a project, he looks for topics that will have an impact that is as large and far-reaching as possible.
“I make films and tell stories to move audiences,” Mr Gordon said.
“The Australian Dream offered me that opportunity in so many ways. The story was both engaging and enraging.”
Mr Gordon was filled with nothing but praise and kind words for both Stan Grant and Adam Goodes.
“Stan Grant is a modern-day Civil Rights hero. In his powerful and emotive words, we hear echoes of so many who have gone before him, iconic people like Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela,” Mr Gordon said.
“Stan Grant deserves his place alongside those men because Stan, like Adam, has lived the life of the oppressed and has risen above it. And like those inspirational men he bears no resentment or anger, he just wants people to listen and learn and for the plight of Australia’s Indigenous community to improve dramatically.”
Racism baked into Australia’s earth
According to Mr Grant, the principle of terra nullius and racism in Australia go hand in hand.
He said claiming a continent on these grounds fundamentally denied the rights of a culture and people that had thrived for tens of thousands of years, and that the persistence of these denied rights today is what embeds racism into Australian society.
“Racism is often about power and the expression of power,” Mr Grant said.
“The form that racism takes in Australia, it emerges out of our history … it’s baked in.”
Mr Grant said the fact that Australia has no treaties or constitutional recognition only serves to highlight how entrenched racism is in Australia.
“We have a very particular issue with the legacy of our history that underpins the racism that we see in this country,” Mr Grant said.
Regarding Australia’s current political battle with constitutional recognition, Mr Grant said that the politics of the moment suggests a symbolic voice will not be enough.
“Our community has very different opinions, and different views … but if there is one uniform and overwhelming view, it is that symbolism will not cut it. There has to be something significant,” Mr Grant said.
“Indigenous people have been told no over and over again, and continue to push for change and to find ways to bring about change. How many times was Eddie Mabo told no? He fought all the way to the High Court to change this country.”
Mr Grant said he believes constitutional recognition is possible, however the present politics is pushing back the timeline for achievement.
Opening up to other truths
A poignant moment of the film sees an Elder that Adam Goodes is out on country with say people can’t be educated until they’re ready to listen.
The simplicity of this man’s profound phrasing really drives home the entire crux of The Australian Dream.
“That is the essence of the film for me,” Mr Grant said.
“[Recently] one of my Uncles pulled me aside, he stopped me and said, ‘You know, life won’t find you until you wait for it.’”
“We have to be told that by our people, we have to be told that we have to stop, and we have to listen, and we have to open ourselves up to other truths. And that’s the journey Australia’s on.”
“Until we deal with the unfinished business of this nation, we’re never going to be the country we should or could be.”
Mr Grant said it’s not up to Indigenous Australians to help people on their journey to listening.
“Sometimes you have to just sit with the truth and let them find it,” Mr Grant said.
“We need to be able to tell our stories. We need to be able to speak with courage and dignity from our Australia … from our history.”
From Adam Goodes’ retirement, to the Uluru Statement from the Heart, to today’s struggle for constitutional recognition, Mr Grant believes a change in direction on Australia’s moral compass is beginning.
“I think there’s a shift in the country. Look at the number of Indigenous people we have in our parliaments now. Look at the proliferation of Indigenous literature, the writers, the filmmakers, the artists, the sportspeople, who are all bringing their voices to this country in their own way,” Mr Grant said.
That space is created and opened up, Mr Grant said, by standing up and telling the truth of the Indigenous experience in Australia.
“In doing that, we create a space for other people to find that story and to listen to that story, and I think that’s happening and I think … what Adam went through … did prise open that space.”
If there’s one thing Mr Grant wants every Australian to take from the film, it’s to listen.
“As the old bloke [in the film] said, be ready to listen … listen to people, listen to the stories of Indigenous people,” Mr Grant said.
“A nation is more than just our laws and our parliaments and our politics. I think a nation is a story. We can’t tell the story of our nation unless people are listening and are ready to hear.”
The Australian Dream is out in cinemas nationwide on August 22.
By Hannah Cross