★★★★ - STUFF
- Powerful, timely and heart-wrenching, The Australian Dream is a must watch -
He was one of the greatest players of modern AFL.
The North Ballarat Rebel who announced his talents with six-goals in an under-18 grand final, before going to play 372 games for the Sydney Swans.
Over 16 seasons of top-flight footy, Adam Goodes captured two Premierships, won two Brownlow Medals (as a particular season’s “best and fairest player”) and co-captained the side between 2009 and 2012. He became a hero to a generation of young Australians, cementing his place in Australian Rules folklore by kicking the winning goal in the 2012 Grand Final, despite having injured the posterior cruciate ligament of his left knee. Four months later, he still couldn’t run. Twelve months after that, he was named Australian of the Year. But, by then, the shy, quiet kid of Adnyamathanha, Narungga and Scots-Irish ancestry was starting to lose the love for the game he once adored.
While he had always been aware of an element of fans more than happy to vilify him for the colour of his skin, things came to ahead during a match in May 2013 against Melbourne rivals Collingwood. While celebrating scoring a six-pointer, Goodes overhead someone in the crowd call him an “ape”. To his shock, it was a barely teenage girl. Pointing her out to officials, he managed to get her ejected from the stadium.
Afterwards, rather than being angry, he publicly offered her his support and sympathy for the media storm that followed, but then was astounded to find himself being described as a bully (and worse) for calling her out. Then, when he discovered revelations about his own family while making an episode of celebrity genealogical show Who Do You Think You Are? (his mother was part of Australia’s “stolen generation”, where Aboriginal children were taken away from their families to be brought up in white society), Goodes decided he needed to start studying his country’s backstory.
What he learned shocked him and, using the platform of his Australian of the Year award acceptance speech, decided to ask all Australians to acknowledge “our fantastic Aboriginal history of more than 40,000 years”. But rather than provoking a response of unity, it saw opposition fans ramp up their hostile reception towards him week-after-week, until he could take no more.
Best known for his investigations into troubled Northern Ireland footballer George Best, the 1966 North Korean World Cup football team and Olympic scandals involving Ben Johnson, Mary Decker and Zola Budd, British documentarian Daniel Gordon has here crafted both a beautiful and haunting portrait of a sporting legend who lost his love for the game and an excellent primer on Australia’s continuing struggles with race relations.
This is uncomfortable, enlightening and compelling viewing, proof that America isn’t the only country with endemic and casual racism and how social media only makes such problems worse. Gordon pieces together this absorbing and harrowing tale via fabulous archival footage and extensive interviews with Goodes, his family, friends and foes.
There’s an argument that the likes of broadcaster and AFL lover Eddie Maguire (who infamously made an on-air “joke linking Goodes to King Kong) and Footy Show provocateur Sam Newman get too much time to mount their defences (a rival production telling the same story The Final Quarter uses only existing footage a la Senna), but they add colour and perspective that only heightens the viewer’s sense of the injustices Goodes and others have suffered.
Powerful, timely and heart-wrenching, The Australian Dream is a must watch for sports fans and all those who think “mere words” can’t hurt someone.
- James Croot, STUFF
The Australian Dream is now playing at Light House Cuba!