Stan Grant leads an ambitious documentary that works to place Adam Goodes’ retirement from AFL football, and the racism that precipitated it, in the wider context of Australian history and Goodes’ own experience as an Indigenous man.
Adam Goodes holds one of the most remarkable resumes in the history of Australian Rules football. He should have left the sport lauded as one of the greatest players the game has seen, with a send off befitting such an illustrious and award-filled career. Instead he chose to end his career as quietly as possible, worn down by years of racial vilification from fans, the media and inaction from the League.
The Australian Dream is a new documentary exploring the incidents that led to Adam Goodes’ retirement from the AFL in 2015, and what his experiences say about the country as a whole. Written by Stan Grant, The Australian Dream draws heavily on the journalist and Wiradjuri man’s powerful speech ‘I can tell you how Adam Goodes feels. Every Indigenous person has felt it’, which gave voice to the historical weight behind the booing from the crowd.
The film uses archival footage to take the audience from Goodes as a shy kid from Wallaroo, to one of the biggest stars in the league. Goodes grew up not knowing his history and what it means to be Aboriginal, and took time throughout his career to study and learn about his past. But just as he was connecting to his skin, thousands of Australians were booing him for it week after week.
Like Grant’s speech, the film is sobering in the lines it draws from the noise from the stands to colonisation, genocide and intergenerational trauma. The film tackles these open wounds – we see Goodes and his cousin (and former team mate) Michael O’Loughlin attend an Invasion Day rally with their families – but ultimately it is an overly ambitious conversation within the confines of this film.
Whereas another recent film, The Final Quarter, uses purely archival footage to piece together its narrative of the Goodes saga, The Australian Dream draws heavily on interviews conducted purely for the film. While the slicing between footage and use of voiceovers lacks cohesion at times (Grant’s voiceover is particularly jolting), this allows Indigenous voices an opportunity to tell the story, whereas The Final Quarter simply ‘shows’ it using media which largely excludes Aboriginal people.
However The Australian Dream also gives a voice to two of the men who helped fuel the fire that turned Goodes’ career to dust. Eddie Maguire again fumbles over his words, Andrew Bolt again spews forth hatred in the name of “free speech”, and together they take away screen time from the key person without a voice since the incidents reached a head: Goodes himself.
A key success of the film, however, is that it acknowledges the importance of Indigenous voices and culture in all facets of contemporary Australian life. A powerful scene sees Goodes return to country to ‘put his feet in the dirt’, and the visible relief and emotion on his face gives non-Indigenous audiences an insight into Aboriginal people’s connection to the earth.
The lessons of the Goodes saga are left for the audience to connect, but what is clearly visible is the physical and mental toll the last few years of his career took on the man himself. The Australian dream remains unavailable to the owners of the land, and it remains no more evident than in the ongoing vilification Indigenous athletes face today.
The Australian Dream (MA) is in cinemas from August 22