Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Daniel Gordon.
For a long time, Australia has been considered the lucky country with its freedoms and largely tolerant society. And “the Australian dream” was something many, especially migrants after WWII, aspired towards. But for much of the indigenous population these ideals have been more of a nightmare, with a bleak and bloody history of brutality, displacement, and racism barely acknowledged.
This well constructed, confronting and passionate documentary looks at the divisive issue of racism through the prism of the experiences of Adam Goodes, a premiership AFL player with the Sydney Swans, a dual Brownlow Medalist and a former Australian of the Year, who was outspoken about the plight of aboriginals in this country. He was eventually driven from the game by the booing controversy that erupted in 2015. The flashpoint for the controversy was the night that Goodes had a young football fan removed from the MCG when she called him “an ape” during the Collingwood/Swans clash during the Indigenous Round. Goodes than remarked that “racism has a face and it is a 13-year old girl.”
The storm that followed divided people – there were many that argued that Goodes brought much of it on himself through his own actions, while others said that it showed the ugly face of the truth of racism here in Australia. It is certainly a controversial and divisive issue. This is the second film in as many months to explore the issue, following the made for tv movie The Final Quarter, but The Australian Dream uses Goodes’ story as a launching pad for an in-depth and insightful look at Australia’s shameful history of abuse and mistreatment of its indigenous population through two centuries. Some carefully chosen archival footage depicts the sad plight of the aboriginals, along with some startling statistics.
Goodes tells his side with emotion and gives us his personal journey through his history and his discovery of his aboriginal heritage and what it meant for him and lends context to the debate on race. We learn about his own journey and the challenges he faced in his youth and about how the controversy affected him. There are interviews with fellow footballers Gilbert McAdam and Michael O’Loughlin, as well as the likes of Collingwood president and media personality Eddie McGuire, coach John Longmuire and Paul Roos, Nathan Buckley, and Olympian Nova Peris. An alternate viewpoint is presented by the likes of conservative columnist Andrew Bolt and Sam Newman.
There are references to the Nicky Winmar incident from 1993 when the St Kilda star was being vilified by the feral Collingwood supporters during a match at Victoria Park, and he made his own defiant gesture.
Respected journalist Stan Grant, himself an indigenous man, gives us his own personal take on the issue and looks at how this country has never really come to terms with the murderous past of its early colonial history and the obliteration of the indigenous culture and traditions. He brings a sense of gravitas to the material with his eloquent and heartfelt plea for reconciliation and for the injustices of the past to be addressed and redressed.
The Australian Dream is timely and universal in its reflection on the casual racism that exists in Australia. The film has been directed by British documentary filmmaker Daniel Gordon (Hillsborough, etc), who is able to bring an outsider’s view to the material. Gordon and editor Matt Wyllie do a great job of shaping the material, drawing upon a wealth of footage of Goodes throughout his career and his rise to the top in the AFL.
Although AFL football is a large part of the film, the ironically titled documentary will appeal more to those with little interest in the sport itself but who are more interested in history and the issue of race in Australian society. The film explores a complex issue and shows that there is a lot still to be done. But the film will certainly spark plenty of intense discussion, and that was the explicit intention of Grant and co.
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