Who was Adam Goodes talking to on Friday night?

I haven’t watched Friday Night Football for a while.  Macramé classes seem to have taken priority over ritual disembowellings of the Blues.

But there was no escaping the ongoing controversy surrounding Adam Goodes.  The previous week’s controversy over being booed at the MCG seemed to be dwindling, and there had generally been useful community debate (particularly on the Almanac website) about racism in sport and wider society.  And beyond race (if that was not the dominant cause) we all had to reflect on the things that shape our attitudes and how far we should let them determine our behaviour.

Goodes’ war dance after his first goal on Friday night reignited that debate and seemed to harden the lines of both his supporters and detractors.  Watching the TV replays (particularly from the Carlton crowd perspective) it certainly looked like a strange and intimidatory action to me.

I was on the record in the excellent discussion thread following Joe Moore’s piece last week, saying that I hold Goodes in the highest regard as a footballer and a man.  So I was scratching my head in a “what the hell is he on about?” sort of way.

As Grant Fraser repeatedly reminds us it is fraught to assign motive to another’s actions, but at least now we are only concerned with one man’s action not the disparate collection of opposition booers.  In my work and my life and in my writing I find that the most interesting and engaging question is not what someone is doing, but: “Why are they doing that? What are the forces that shape their behaviour?”  It is always a question that requires some personal insight and context about the other’s circumstances.  Without it there is no way of helping someone, particularly if they have behaviours they are struggling to change.

So let me speculate indirectly about some of Goode’s underlying motivations, by way of telling a little of how my attitude to Anthony Mundine has changed in recent years.

I grew up in the understated, laconic, stoic school of only ever showing your feelings in a self-deprecating and understated way.  Otherwise you were a “show pony” with “tickets on yourself”.  My dad still thinks that Ken Rosewall was the archetypal Australian sportsman.  When Rosewall netted a backhand (about once each set) he would let the racquet drop disbelievingly from his hands.  Then pick it up resignedly and hang-dog walk to the other side of the court debating whether an imperceptible earth tremor had mysteriously pushed the net up a quarter inch.  That was the limits of emotional demonstrativeness in our house.

I was Borg against McEnroe.  Mallett and Hadlee over Thommo or Roberts.  Tests over T20.  Monet before Picasso.

So Anthony Mundine was anathema to everything I admired in a sportsman or a person.  I was a keen follower of boxing up to the Sugar Ray Leonard; Hitman Hearns and Marvellous Marvin Hagler era.  After that the multiple title belts; over-hyped combatants and over-promoted fights has left me cold.

The Danny Green and Anthony Mundine fight was one of the last I have ever bothered to journey to a pub to watch, and I left despondent that the white hat had been clearly outpointed by the stronger and more creative man in the black hat.  My only subsequent exposure to “The Man” was his regular extravagant statements that seemed to be talked up in the media as a way of diminishing him.

A poor man’s Ali without the record to back up his claims, and without the wit to make his more provocative messages palatable to a wider audience.

About 2 years ago I started working with a community centre and sometimes a street medical service that help the homeless.  My work is mainly around getting to know people with addiction and mental health problems to get them connected with services.  You have to get to know a little of each other’s story both to establish trust and credibility, and to understand what sort of help might be most useful.  One of my favourite questions is “what help helps”?  A lot of it doesn’t, particularly where people are further disempowered as passive welfare recipients.

While it is not a major part of my own work I found it particularly troubling looking at the out-of-control kids and young people gravitating around parents even more out-of-control in their own drug and alcohol dominated worlds.  These kids were often (not always) but disproportionately indigenous.

I would ask myself “what hope have these kids got”?  Isn’t there an uncle, aunt, grandma or community leader somewhere that can at least offer some stability and hope?  Looking at the passing parade it often didn’t seem that there was.  That is the way inter-generational dysfunction works (black or white) – the abused become abusers – because they lack the basic human bonding and healthy trust relationships to know any different.

I could see wise, mature indigenous elders in the local community but they seemed understandably overwhelmed by the scale of the problem.  There are only so many you can help, particularly when most initially think that help is the last thing they need.  All their problems can be solved with a quid for a feed or a fix or a drink.  “Just going through a bad patch, brother”.

Still I would look around for the sort of strong, wise, self-assured indigenous person (particularly a man) who could be an ongoing mentor or role model for these lost kids.

Around this time I happened upon a profile of Anthony Mundine outside of the ring.  He placed great importance on family, fitness and striving (tick).  He was a Muslim (no drink or drugs – big tick in his community), but he abhorred violence in pursuing any cause – religious or otherwise.  Murdering for God or Allah was anathema (devotion has its limits – very wise and balanced).

The article said he was renowned for his loyalty to friends outside the ring, particularly when they were struggling.  He was a man of his word and integrity meant a lot to him (what’s not to like about this guy?)  He did a lot of unspoken, behind the scenes work to inspire and assist troubled indigenous young men.

It occurred to me that Mundine the Real Man (the sausage not the sizzle that seems to go along with being a publicity-seeking boxer) was being everything that I thought indigenous young people needed in a leader and role model.  They could be as mouthy and defiant as they liked if they followed the examples of his personal behaviour, and Australian society would be a better place for it.

I came to regard Mundine as being like the frill-necked lizard that has to puff out its collar to look twice its size to all its potential predators.  Who cares if it was in reality nowhere near as big and threatening as it presented itself, so long as this helped it survive and prosper in an otherwise hostile environment.

And that brings me back to Adam Goodes on Friday night.  Maybe he wasn’t talking to the 32,000 largely white fans in the crowd or the millions watching on TV in pubs and middle class homes.  Maybe he thinks we are big and rich and strong enough to look after ourselves.  Australians (of all colours) are the world’s wealthiest per capita by assets and third richest by income.  But there is a spiritual poverty and hopelessness that goes beyond money.

He had been taught the war dance by a troupe of young aboriginal dancers.  Maybe he was thinking more about them and the struggles and challenges they would find in a Jimmy Blacksmith culture where your family wants to drag you down by taking much of what you have worked for, and your employers and teachers doubt you can ever really amount to much anyway.

In my mind he was saying to indigenous people and particularly kids and young people: “We are a warrior people who stand here at the pinnacle of Australian sport because of how we work and train and never take a backward step.  Not just because we were born to run fast and catch slippery lizards with our bare hands when we were growing up.  Too many of us have lived up to the low expectations that white people have set for us, and tonight I want to show you that I am better than that, and you can aspire to be also.”

In my mind the soft racism of the MCG crowd and ensuing media debate had hardened his belief in the need to be a challenger not a bargainer in how he addressed the issue of race and intergenerational disadvantage in Australian sport and society.  And particularly in the AFL’s self-congratulatory Indigenous Round.  Maybe he was saying that indigenous people are tolerated if they are good sportsmen, not accepted as worthwhile human beings.  Maybe the indigenous spear dance was an opportunity to say to indigenous kids “I’m angry and I’m a proud indigenous man and I’m not taking a backward step.  You shouldn’t passively accept others (black or white) dragging you down either in your lives”.

I hope so anyway.


  1. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    Great thoughts PB. Thank you.

  2. Grant Fraser says

    Thank you Peter for the thought provoking article…and cap doff. We are all just a poster away from gaining better insight into our fellow non-gender, orientation or racially specific human type persons

  3. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Thanks Peter a interesting insight and dare I say education for the majority of us and thank you for the information re Anthony Mundine I will look at him differently from now on

  4. Rod Oaten says

    Great work Peter. Rod

  5. PB – an old nun once said to me “Sometimes to find the truth we need to get away from all the noise”

    This was a very peaceful piece.

  6. E.regnans says

    Excellent story PB.
    Love the frill-necked lizard analogy.

    Out and about over the weekend, I met someone whose professional life (academic) has been spent pondering indigenous Australia and its relationship with the rest of us. She opened yet another layer for me. (And I was aware that this issue has more layers than a sedimentary basin).

    Her book is called “Decolonizing Solidarities”. Suddenly I was being questioned over my support and empathy for indigenous Australia and their struggle.
    BLURB: “Decolonizing Solidarities is a thorough examination of the problems that can arise when activists from colonial backgrounds seek to be politically supportive of indigenous struggles.”
    The book argues that “the impulses that drive middle-class settler activists to support indigenous peoples will not lead to successful alliances and meaningful social change without an essential process of public political action and critical self-reflection.”

    I think it’s a crack at inner-city lefty do-gooders. Making no difference, but warming themselves by the glow of inner satisfaction gained from popping a “land rights” sticker on their car.
    So many layers.
    I like your thesis.

  7. PB

    As ever, thoughtful, insightful, honest and excellent.

    I am really struggling with this issue. Like you, I work with a group that is focussed on indigenous kids (in part) that works to help them with their unique struggles. I see hat happens, how they need role models, especially male ones.

    I am a huge Goodes fan as a man, find the treatment of him by crowds disgusting, think the idea he should be criticised for the 13 year old girl “dobbing’ issue bizarre and irrelevant and believe there is underlying racism in what is occurring. I subscribe in part to something you mentioned in a piece last week, and further explained by Waleed Aly, of the issue white Aust has with the ‘uppity black man’

    However, I do not agree with what he did Friday, think it was at least counter productive and at worst inflammatory. I think that there’s a view in parts that Goodes is beyond criticism, which is ironic as he is encouraging debate by his actions, not simple acceptance.

    I think it was unnecessary, threatening and if done by a non indigenous person, would have attracted a fine or worse. It is a war dance, which has its basis in going off to fight and kill opposing tribes. It is not the haka (which is extremely violent when translated anyway) as that is not directed to crowds.

    I reserve the right to look at Goode’s actions on a case by case basis. This is the first thing he has done I have doubted or objected to. I either wish he hadn’t done it, or don’t think he should have done it. But I am a bit lost in the idea, from parts away from the Almanac, that acceptance of his action means I believe in a just society and criticising it means I am blind to the issues of indigenous Australia.

    To use a dangerous phrase, this issue isn’t back and white. I feel uncomfortable that my thoughts on indigenous Australia are judged by my reaction to the war dance; i.e. I am either in or out.

    Like any sane person in this country, I think that racism, casual and aggressive, to indigenous Australians and other cultures, is widespread and part of the booing of Goode is mired in this.

    But I don’t think the dance should have happened


  8. ER – I’ve heard and read Noel Pearson arguing a similar point. He’s a very deep thinker and a bloke I respect enormously. I must read the book to which you refer. Thanks.

  9. E.regnans says

    Dips – also argued by Gary Foley.
    He gave the most powerful lecture along those lines to me & my fellow Dip Ed students.
    This book above written by Clare Land.
    For details google “university of chicago press clare land.”

  10. Steve Hodder says

    a nice thoughtful piece; isn’t life queer? Despite my previous article about Goodes I had no issues with Goodes’ dance, other than I liked it. Like you, I had no interest in watching Carlton get another Friday thumping and had switched off at Buddy’s third goal. When I switched on the wireless to get the result I thought all hell had broken loose, but when I saw the vision the next day I couldn’t work out the fuss.

    I wasn’t intimidated or provoked, I thought it excellent. It seemed appropriate given it was indigenous round and the debates that had been swirling the previous week. I presumed Goodes was talking to everyone, but indigenous people specifically with his dance. No doubt Goodes knew what he was doing, but if you can’t do a “dance” during the indigenous round, when can you?

    I always liked Mundine too; but then again I never really listened to his media performances. I just liked the way the ex-rugby player boxed in the ring.

    What struck me about the whole debate before and after the Goodes debate was the lack of explaining of racism. To make the point, I heard a radio caller complain that Goodes made fun of red heads. If we can’t understand what racism is then how can we combat it?


  11. Rick Kane says

    Thanks PB, this is a welcome addition to a discussion that will not and should not cease.

    I do not necessarily agree with your core argument, even though I think you have put forward a considered and well reasoned view. In fact I think Australian racism is deeper than we dare explore.

    I hope Adam Goodes was talking to an audience well beyond young Aboriginals who see him as a role model. I want Australians to see him as their role model.

    Mansel Aylward, a UK academic looked at the reasons why people with disability weren’t in employment. This was done through a peer reviewed longitudinal study. It found that less than 10 percent of the reason was the disability and over 70 percent of the reason was societal (stigma, discrimination, unconscious bias and so on). Closer to home, Graeme Innes, the former Australian Human Rights Commissioner for Disability has moved on to be the patron for The Attitude Foundation, an organisation who’s purpose is breaking down the attitudinal barrier that limits access for people with disability.

    The comparison I am drawing is that the greater issue Adam Goodes has highlighted is our engagement with the ‘other’. Be that gender, race, disability.

    Historian Clare Wright wrote an award winning history of women’s role in an Australian foundational story, the Eureka Stockade. In her research she uncovered countless stories of women’s deep involvement in that struggle. These stories had remained outside the telling of Eureka for over 150 years. Not because women didn’t tell their story but because they were denied access. And Australian men kept on telling their version of this founding story, excluding some actors.

    Gradually some Aboriginal actors have gained access to Australia’s national stage and are more able to tell their story. Adam Goodes is a case in point. The Aboriginal story is not a linear, one size fits all, story. It covers many nations, is multilayered and multidimensional and of course will include multiple contradictions.

    PB, you are right to say that young Aboriginals need to hear from people such as Adam Goodes but we (particularly white men) need to listen to the story and absorb it much, much more.

    Isn’t it interesting that there has been such a reaction/backlash to Mark Williams, Andrew Krakouer and now Adam Goodes communicating, on their own terms, following a goal. My oh my, aren’t we faint of heart for such hard-nosed oppressors.

  12. Dave Brown says

    Great piece, PB, and comments all. I was out on Friday night but the lad stayed up and watched the game. When I asked him the next morning what had happened he said ‘it was great dad. He kicked a goal and then wiggled his bum like this’. I’m trying to take his lead and not taking the issue of a man dancing too seriously. I’d say if as a group you are going to go to a game in Indigenous Round and boo an Indigenous man (for whatever reason) you probably shouldn’t get too upset if he dances at you.

  13. I am absolutely conflicted by this. I have always held Adam Goodes in the highest regard but like some don’t really understand what his motives were in doing this.

    My take, for what it is worth, is that there was really no hidden agenda at all, it was an “on the spur of the moment” action perhaps brought on by some jeering in a footy, not a racial sense by the Carlton crowd.

  14. I was at the game, and I think Goodes actions were relatively simple. He heard the booing from Carlton section of the crowd, and decided to react to it as he saw fit.

    Nicky Winmar took a similar approach back at Victoria Park. Goodes actions were less of an inflamatory nature, and more of a ‘yep I’m black, and here I am.’

    Both Winmar and Goodes could have chosen more agressive paths to incite the opposition and the crowd. They didn’t, and just presented themselves as proud examples of their heritage.

    How will Goodes’s reaction stand in five or ten years time? I reckon it may be similar to Winmar’s.

  15. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Thoughtful piece PB,
    I felt like Goodes was trying to tell me a story I know way too little about. I want to find out more so that I can understand better.
    Ignorance: It starts with me.
    Thank you for writing arguably the best article I’ve read on the issue so far. Cheers

  16. Thanks Peter for a most thoughtful and excellent article.

    It is particularly pleasing that it received thoughtful responses, rather than the shoot from the hip responses far too often appearing in the blogosphere.

  17. John Butler says

    PB, a worthy crack at a subject with some murky twists and turns.

    The story of white Australia’s approach to aboriginal Australia is essentially a tale of understanding lacking, and the ongoing consequences of that lack. As such, I’m not about to try and attribute motivation to Goodes’ dance beyond that to which he spoke. I’ll take him at his word.

    But what I can’t cop is all this precious nonsense about people finding the gesture ‘threatening”. We’re not noticeably so delicate on any number of other issues, nor other peoples’ feelings.

    It was disappointing to see Carlton fans join the booing mindless mob. Given our complete inability to run our own affairs competently, I should have thought we were well advised to stay out of the affairs of others.

  18. Sean Gorman says

    JB JB JB ! (At the risk of sounding glib)

  19. Keiran Croker says

    Thanks for a thoughtful piece PB. I am a huge fan of Goodesy as a player and a person. However, I don’t feel like I need to approve of everything he does on the footy field or everything he says off of it. Though I mostly do!
    As a “challenger” I think his aim is to provoke and promote dialogue on these issues, and his recent actions and words have certainly done that.
    I’d prefer he was not booed so incessantly though I get the impression he is beyond letting it bother him.
    His response on Saturday morning was eloquent as always. I take him at his word that the dance was a celebration and a statement – “Here I am take me as I am”.

  20. Great piece Peter B.!

    I have to say, if a Maori rugby player on this side of the ditch had done a haka after scoring a crucial try, I doubt it would have attracted any press attention at all.

    (And, just coincidentally, we were at the MCG for last Saturday night’s game–as part of our semi-annual pilgrimage from Auckland. A friend had got us seats in the member’s stand, from whence I’m pretty sure boos never came. Still, I kept asking “Why are they booing Adam Goodes?” But nary a reply was heard.)

  21. I agree with sam newman;s comments which he made on the footy show tonight,enough said

  22. The genius of Goodes’s dance is that it’s not black and white anything. It’s right in the middle of a grey area that leaves it open to interpretation. And boy, haven’t those interpretations put a whole bunch of latent racists under a blowtorch this week.

  23. Paul Young says

    21 measured & though provoking comments and a brilliantly written piece by Peter. But we finally got a redneck reaction. Good for you Andrew. Sam Newman has form for espousing racist views. Enough said.

  24. so mr young,why did the majority of the footy show crowd applaude sam newman,s comments

  25. Rick Kane says

    https://newsroom.unsw.edu.au/news/general/adam-goodes-awarded-unsw’s-highest-honour – his actions and his words acknowledged in a forum that makes The Footy Show and its ilk seem like backwater rednecks!

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