Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress member Rhanee Tsetsakos is an Adnyamathanha* woman from South Australia. She believes Sydney Swans player Adam Goodes should be celebrated for bringing Indigenous culture to those who might never be exposed to it.
“Seeing Aboriginal celebrities on the big stage showcasing Aboriginal culture in front of large audiences, gives me a sense of pride and belonging as a young Aboriginal person and makes me feel like I’m a part of this beautiful ancient culture,” Ms Tsetsakos said.
Unfortunately, Indigenous culture has not always been cause for celebration in the AFL.
Back in the 1980s, I sat in the crowd at Victoria Park watching a then-VFL game between Collingwood and North Melbourne. I was new to the game, so asked my friend why the crowd would boo every time either Phil or Jim Krakouer (two Indigenous players with North Melbourne) would touch the ball. My friend informed me that the crowd wasn’t booing. Speaking as one, spectators were baying a racial insult that echoed throughout the stadium.
Fast forward a couple of years, again at Victoria Park. St Kilda’s Nicky Winmar responded to an overtly racist Collingwood crowd by lifting his jumper and pointing proudly to his skin. The photograph of that action has become iconic. What followed was a movement led by Indigenous players such as Michael Long, Leon Davis, Gavin Wanganeen and others to raise public awareness of the abuse experienced every day by Indigenous players.
In some respects, the very-public arena of an AFL football match has mirrored social attitudes.
Writing in The Age on Thursday, authors Matthew Klugman and Gary Osmond suggest that Winmar’s action in 1993 was a catalyst for social change. The AFL led the way in vowing to stamp out racism, not only on the football field, but throughout society. Federal minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, Nick Bolkus, called for Winmar’s action to pave the way for improved racial relations in Australia.
Klugman and Osmond contrast the goodwill of two decades ago with what is happening to Goodes today.
Many have argued that the boos that accompany Goodes every time he goes near the ball are no different to those experienced by other players who display a level of arrogance in their game. Dermott Brereton, Wayne Carey and Jason Ackermanis are players who would use the jeers of spectators to energise their games.
But others see the crowd reaction to Goodes as one of ignorance at best, racial vilification at worst. That Goodes sees the boos as racially motivated should be enough for the crowd to stop. The AFL Players’ Association has released a statement calling the behaviour “racist in nature”.
“We believe that Adam has been vilified for calling out racism, for expressing his views on Aboriginal issues, and for celebrating and promoting his proud cultural background,” the AFLPA states.
“This is not something for which Adam should be vilified – it is something for which he should be celebrated.”
Ms Tsetsakos feels the controversy surrounding the treatment of Adam Goodes highlights wider concerns about how we treat each other in society.
“Whether or not racism comes into play in this situation, or just pure ignorance, Australia needs to start embracing, learning, respecting and celebrating the world’s oldest living culture. It’s a no brainer,” Ms Tsetsakos said.
“It’s about how we communicate, connect and relate to each other that really matters in the end and we need to respect each other and be kind in our words and actions.”
Have you been following the Goodes’ story? What do you think it tells us about society?
*Adam Goodes is an Adnyamathanha/Narungga man.