Adam Goodes does not deserve to be Australian of the Year. The appointment was questionable in the first place, but has since become a joke. Last week, in the Fairfax media, Goodes maintained: ‘I now find it hard to say I am proud to be Australian.’
Australian of the Year is the most important symbolic annual appointment in Australia, an accolade that receives substantial sponsorship from private companies, extraordinary recognition and — with it — responsibility.
‘Nothing comes with this office except an inscribed chunk of green glass’, wrote David Marr about 2012 winner Geoffrey Rush. ‘There’s no title; no stipend; no uniform; no official residence; nothing to pin in the lapel; and only the haziest of duties.’ Pointing out that brains tended to outweigh brawn among recipients, that black leaders were more likely to be honoured than white, and that businessmen required a philanthropic bent in order to be selected, Marr also commented that there are ‘no footballers’.
As often happens, events conspired to prove Marr wrong, and Goodes was appointed our first ever footy-playing Aussie of the Year on 26 January — an occasion Goodes couldn’t resist, er, marring with his musings over ‘the sadness and mourning and sorrow’ of indigenous Australia. As Marr correctly observed: ‘What the winners are given is a voice.’
Last May Goodes had to rely on publicly shaming a 13-year-old girl in the full glare of the TV cameras, demanding she be escorted out of the football stadium and marched into a two-hour interrogation and a lifetime of humiliation, in order to get his message about racism across. No more. Now his every utterance is heard across the land.
So how has Adam Goodes employed this wonderful gift?
In the same week his fellow Australians did so well at the Oscars, Goodes also chose to spruik a film. Sounding like he was auditioning for a job on the ABC’s At the Movies, the AFL star described a certain piece of commercial celluloid as ‘must-see’. ‘This extraordinary film… should be required viewing for every Australian’, he proclaimed. Every Australian? Wow! That’d put it ahead of Crocodile Dundee and The Great Gatsby combined in terms of box office success. Must be some flick!
Putting aside the delicate question of whether or not the Australian of the Year should be advertising a commercial piece of work, the reason for Goodes wishing to inflict this particular cinematic event upon his fellow countrymen is not to unite us in some amazing celebration of Aussie pride, patriotism, goodwill or communal fellowship, but rather, Goodes wishes to shame certain racial groups within the community whilst encouraging other racial groups to wallow in self-pity and ancient grievances.
Put bluntly, our Australian of the Year wishes to divide us all into either the Oppressed or the Oppressor.
Personally, I have no interest in either promoting the film or discussing its artistic, historic or cinematic merits. It’s a film, and like any other relies on the director’s talent to manipulate the viewer’s emotions via dramatic camerawork, skilful editing, emotive music, concise story-telling and powerful performances. Indeed, Goodes himself admits ‘I was moved to tears. Three times.’ Terrific. So was I during Philomena, and I have no doubt I’d be weeping into my Maltesers over this one too.
The film — it calls itself a film, rather than a documentary — is the work of long-time hard Left activist John Pilger, and it concerns itself with the shocking way indigenous Australians have been treated since colonisation. Goodes admits that the ‘buzz’ around the film is largely among Aboriginal communities. Personally, I have no beef with the film, with its accuracy or with its subject matter. Undoubtedly, the stories told are horrendous and the suffering exposed unimaginable. I’m sure it’s a deeply distressing film.
Where Goodes steps not only over the mark but into loony tunes territory is that he imagines some ‘disturbing’ media conspiracy to ‘silence’ the film, before launching into a creepy guilt-through-ancestory diatribe against those descended from the perpetrators of Aboriginal maltreatment.
Goodes asks the rest of us (non-indigenous, presumably) Aussies to put ourselves in his shoes and imagine what it’s like to watch ‘a film that tells the truth about the terrible injustices committed over 225 years against [my] people, a film that reveals how Europeans, and the governments that have run our country, have raped, killed and stolen from [my] people for their own benefit.’
He goes on: ‘Now imagine how it feels when the people who benefited most from those rapes, those killings and that theft — the people in whose name the oppression was done — turn away in disgust when someone seeks to expose it.’
Huh? ‘The people who benefited most from those rapes’? What’s that mean? And why should I bother imagining what it felt like for Goodes or anyone else to watch such-and-such a film? He’s a famous footballer. I’m not. He’s descended from the first Australians. I’m descended from Scottish peasants. Do I expect him to imagine what it felt like for me to sit through Braveheart? These are the frothy-mouthed rantings of some student union political activist circa 1970, not the considered comments of 2014’s most honoured citizen.
It’s vile stuff. And I don’t just mean the past mistreatments of Aborigines, Irish single mothers, Scottish peasants or anyone else. I mean it’s vile that the Australian of the Year should seek to whip up hatred of a group of people (whom he loosely labels as Europeans, whatever that means) and lay at their feet responsibility for ongoing disadvantage within indigenous Australia. Worse, Goodes’s outrage is not based on protesting specific government legislation, policies or deeds, but rather, on the broad narrative of a film.
One of the requirements of being Australian of the Year is to act as ‘role model for us all’. So what role would Goodes have the rest of us play from now on? Must all Aborigines, in Goodes’s Australia, see themselves as the perpetual victims of unimaginable horrors, rather than individuals in their own right? Must all ‘Europeans’ see themselves as collectively guilty of inflicting endless pain and suffering on indigenous Australia?
When John Lennon felt disgusted by specific policies of the British government towards Northern Ireland, he protested by returning his MBE. The public, the media and the government duly sat up and took notice.
If Adam Goodes feels so aggrieved, he can do us all a favour and hand his chunk of green glass to somebody else; preferably someone who doesn’t struggle to be proud to be Australian.
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