The Final Quarter offered an unadorned documentary record of the abuse the Sydney Swans great endured in his last few seasons in the AFL, comprising audio and video from the archives. It showed what happened. The Australian Dream takes it further – it shows what it meant, why Goodes (and many, many others) interpreted it as racism, and it suggests how we might, possibly, find a way out of this unholy impasse.
To put it in more emotional terms, if The Final Quarter left you seething at how appalling this country sometimes is, The Australian Dream might have you feeling cautiously optimistic about how good it can be – if it has the will to try.
It’s a complex film, built on double foundations: the Goodes saga itself, which ran from 2013-15, and Stan Grant’s speech of the same name, delivered in January 2016 to an ethics symposium, the video of which went viral and the text of which was expanded into a Quarterly Essay.
But it goes beyond that too: it explores the fallacy of terra nullius, the lie at the heart of European settlement of this country, and the lasting impact of the Stolen Generations.
Goodes shares his slow and sometimes painful journey towards understanding his own identity as an indigenous man, and the trauma his mother suffered when she was taken from her parents as a five-year-old – a trauma she only shared with her son in the course of recording an episode of Who Do You Think You Are in 2014.
He shares, too, the growing sense of responsibility he felt to call out racism when and where he saw it.
This background is crucial in understanding why Goodes reported a Collingwood fan who yelled “you’re an ape” from the stands in 2013 – during a football match that was supposed to celebrate the indigenous contribution to the game. “I hadn’t been racially abused for eight years and it just rocked me,” he says in a fresh interview recorded for the film. “I walked into the medical room underneath [the ground] and I burst into tears.”
Much has been made of the fact the fan in question was a 13-year-old girl. As the booing campaign intensified – especially during the 2015 season – more was made of the claim that he was a cheat who “staged” for free kicks. Whatever skerrick of truth might lie in those claims, it’s clear the treatment he received was unforgivable.
“I came out and told people this had racial undertones and I would like it to stop,” says Goodes in the film. “And it didn’t stop.”
As former coach Paul Roos notes: “From that point forward, anyone that continued to boo was racist.”
There are, apparently, people who have seen The Final Quarter who still argue the booing was neither racist nor unjustified. It’s possible too that there will be people who see The Australian Dream and insist that any Aboriginal person who feels anything but gratitude for being allowed to participate in white society is somehow in the wrong.
Watch it with an open mind, though, and you might just feel something of the impact our history has had on indigenous people, even those as apparently “blessed” as Adam Goodes. And you might maybe also feel a little more hopeful about how we might move forward as we embrace a less rigid understanding of who we are as a nation.
“We are not just one thing, there are layers to who we are,” says Grant. “There’s a space to find each other. And Adam helped to find that space.”
Karl is a senior entertainment writer at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.