23 Mar WHAT DID ADAM GOODES TEACH US?
The AFL has recently apologised to Adam Goodes for the treatment he received throughout 2015. In their own words it was a case of “too little, too late”.
Last year I watched the Adam Goodes story unfold with great interest. Media commentators and many “ordinary Australians” were divided in their opinions about Goodes himself, his actions on and off the field, and the response of AFL fans all around the country who were “booing” him at each game. To be honest, I was stunned by the level of attention the matter gained across the nation and the polarisation that took place.
Then again, I shouldn’t have been. Prior to coming to live on the northern beaches of Sydney I lived in the NSW Central-Western town of Dubbo. In a town of some 40 000 people around 12% were of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent. I saw the ugly face of racism and bigotry every day of my seven years living there and this experience allowed me the opportunity to face my own ill-informed prejudices and presuppositions.
Living in Dubbo, I saw Aboriginal families in crisis and lives destroyed by drugs and alcohol. I saw the terrible effects of poverty and long-term unemployment. I saw young people continually in trouble with the law. I saw daily examples of anger and violence. In an environment where I was confronted by these issues on a daily basis it was hard to fight against racist attitudes. I struggled to help my own children understand the “back story” and the plight of Aboriginal people.
I made it my goal to learn about the story of the Aboriginal people of Dubbo. I attended professional development courses run by Aboriginal leaders, and met with them and listened attentively to their stories. I forged connections between my school and the local aboriginal elders. I invited local Aboriginal people to my school and had them speak to the students. My school established scholarships so we could equip and train young Aboriginal leaders to make a difference in the community; and it worked.
Through my journey I discovered that Aboriginal people have a rich cultural heritage; one that we as a nation need to understand and celebrate. I discovered a people who are largely misunderstood; a people who are proud and who deserve to be heard. The most important things I discovered were these: we fear what we don’t understand, and fear breeds hatred, bigotry and division. I also discovered that understanding brings acceptance, compassion and a desire to make things better.
I now live on Sydney’s northern beaches; one one of the most naturally beautiful places in Australia. It is also a very affluent community and we are, in many ways, insulated from the confronting issues I discussed above. Our children are also very insulated, and we want them to be caring, compassionate young people who are moved to action by the plight of our Aboriginal people. I believe that education is the key.
This is why it is important for our schools to further infuse the curriculum with Aboriginal perspectives; for schools to bring in Aboriginal leaders to speak with our children, so they can learn about aboriginal culture and issues. As an educator I will be very proud if our schools are able to play a proactive and leading role in the reconciliation process.
Adam Goodes was chosen as Australian of the Year. This is one of the greatest honours we as a nation can bestow upon one of our own. Whether we are sympathisers or detractors, we should honour what Adam Goodes has achieved; his example as an Aboriginal Australian role model, what he has achieved in his chosen sport, and his courage to remain true to what he believes.
Aussies love to boo and cheer at sporting events. For the vast majority of people it is good, innocent fun. However what happened to Adam Goodes was neither good, nor innocent, and it revealed something ugly and unhealthy in what is otherwise a wonderfully tolerant country.
Adam Goodes can teach us a lot about ourselves, and I hope and pray that our national response to racism is not too little, too late.