Racism is the Schrödinger’s cat of Australian politics. A conversation that has been going on for decades and yet, because of continued insistence that racism isn’t a thing that happens around here, a conversation that no one is actually having. One particular figure that has repeatedly found himself in the spotlight of this non-conversation is Adam Goodes, former AFL player and Aussie sporting icon. Following in the footsteps of the recently-released The Final Quarter, The Australian Dream sets out to paint a picture of the man and, more importantly, his place within the cultures of his profession, his land and his people.
Using Goodes’ football career as a springboard to examine everything that occurred around it, director Daniel Gordon and writer/interviewee Stan Grant craft a flexible framework that allows Goodes’ genuine accomplishments to be celebrated, and the larger politique to wrap around without suffocating it. It’s definitely a fiery affair, one that wants to make the tragedy of this country’s recent Indigenous past and the frustration of Indigenous present as loud and clear as possible.
It highlights specific examples, both congratulatory like Nicky Winmar’s legendary photo and scandalous like Goodes’ ‘ape’ incident, as a means of providing a larger scope. A scope that includes the systemic oppression of Indigenous peoples and how even supposedly innocuous jokes can unearth cultural trauma. It’s little wonder why Australia Day remains a highly touchy subject to this day.
But simple muckraking would not only be too easy, it would also solidify the opinions of those who would outright avoid this documentary out of fear of being ‘lectured to’. Where this film ends up winning unexpected points is through the variety of interview subjects it has to offer. Alongside Goodes himself, we have other Aboriginal AFL stars like Gilbert McAdam, gold Olympian Nova Peris, and even Eddie McGuire and Andrew Bolt, public figures who themselves became part of the bigger Goodes story.
Rather than paint Bolt as an outright racist from the off, the interview format gives him a chance to tell his side of the story, not directly making any statements against him. Hell, McGuire ends up getting more of a third-degree than he does, and McGuire’s involvement gets written-off as someone seriously lacking in forethought; not hateful, just oblivious. This hasn’t stopped Bolt from going on the defensive concerning his portrayal here, but then again, his statements showing concern for the child at the centre of the ‘ape’ incident ring hollow, considering his staunch defence of Cardinal Pell over the years. Talk about “brought it on himself”.
This is not a pleasant film to watch by any stretch, but it’s certainly an impactful one. It highlights an ever-growing concern within Australian culture, regarding the treatment of Indigenous Aussies both then and now, and puts it on blast to create an informative and stomach-churning experience. Maybe now that the conversation surrounding Goodes has kicked up again, we can get past this fragility and actually start the larger discussion about racism and its existence in our culture.