The new Adam Goodes documentary The Final Quarter is retrospectively having more of an impact than the words and actions of Adam Goodes, or any other rational person, at the time of his confronting booing saga.
Rather than providing talking heads or narration, the film tells the story through archival vision only. The footage itself is kind of like a cluster of warts and the way its played-back to audiences is the mirror reflection that many people need, in order to see how ugly they actually are.
Playing sport in Australia as an Indigenous person has levels of discrimination. There’s low-level stuff, like being picked first because everyone just assumes you’re good at playing, to the medium-to-high level stuff, like dealing with racist teammates, clubs or supporters. In Australian football, these scenarios are as inevitable as being asked to play on your cousin in the opposing team.
But never had we seen anything on the scale of the treatment that Adam Goodes faced in the final years of his AFL career.
The AFL has since apologised for not doing enough to stand with Goodes and support him in the midst of the booing, the racial slurs and the media pile on. And in true Australian fashion, is overcompensating its guilty conscience by having loud and rowdy supporters thrown out by security at football games. There are rumoured plans to have large “R” stickers stuck on their chests on the second offence.
Over time, I’ve realised that defending the booing of Adam Goodes generally falls into a few categories of excuses (most, if not all, of which can be very easily countered).
“That dance was aggressive and threatening” (So, are you scared of the Haka?)
“He’s a dirty player” (Out of 372 games, he’s been reported eight times and suspended for a total of three games — ever.)
“He’s a flog” (2 Brownlows, 2 Premierships, a Games record holder for one of the oldest clubs in AFL, Indigenous Team of the Century, 4 times All-Australian.)
“He’s a sook” (Shut your hole.)
The final one, possibly the most obnoxious, is the failure to recognise that amplified booing at an Aboriginal player isn't racially motivated. It’s one that is so quickly dispelled simply because it lacks narrative.
What I mean is: when the booing continued beyond the 2015 Swans game against Carlton, it became clear it was racist.
When Adam Goodes “terrified” Carlton supporters with his war cry, it was the first time they'd felt emotion other than misery in nearly 20 years. It was their only fleeting moments of joy since 1995, knowing that they had the first pick of the draft. So, who could blame them for this sudden surge of emotion? It prompted the only response any opposing supporter can do — boo.
For the duration of that game, it would have been fine — acceptable, even — because there was a narrative in that moment that said, “Goodsey had a go at us, so we had a go back”. The End.
But it was the proceeding, ongoing months of boos from people who weren’t at the SCG that night. Who weren’t War Cried against, who weren’t challenged, who had no narrative to justify behaving aggressively towards Adam Goodes. It was those people; those who had no incident during the game they were watching, who had no reason other than the made-up ones above, those without a catalyst to justify their outrage. They were simply booing the Aboriginal player they didn’t like and that’s just racist. The End.
At the time of these events, I was a journalist for NITV as WA correspondent. I was also a lifelong Eagles supporter who shuddered at the sight of West Coast fans (barrackers for a team in a state which has a significantly high Aboriginal population), booing Adam Goodes, one of the sport’s greatest players.
Later on, that same year I would cover a story of a bus trip, a story I thought was charming and cute. When the Eagles made it to the 2015 Grand Final, I wanted to tell the story of the West Australian AFL fans and the literal lengths they’ll go to in order to support their club. They were headed to Melbourne to watch the game live and they were prepared to drive across the country to do so.
It was all systems go. The trip was approved and once I had jumped on the coach to begin the journey, it quickly dawned on me that I had just signed up for a 24-hour road trip — over 4000kms — with a large number of Adam Goodes’ booers.
We had made it to Ceduna, SA just before things kicked off.
My fellow passengers were justifying their actions and my professionalism and working capacity limited my options as far as I could go (meaning there is only so far you can take a disagreement as a member of the media, especially while filming and wearing the network badge on your chest).
Arguing on that bus was kind of like going to a dinner party as a couple, then having a massive ‘break-up level’ argument. The kind of argument where you should absolutely leave the public space and go argue in the privacy of the carpark outside. But unfortunately, this dinner party was a moving house, currently crossing the Nullarbor and the furthest you can get away from your soon-to-be-ex is three meters and you would hide in the toilet, but it’s been blocked for the past 1000 km.
That’s kinda how it felt to argue on that bus … awkward and trapped.
Those same fans would take their seats at the MCG on Grand final day 2015, a day where retiring players are honoured with a lap in a Hilux tray to be applauded for their contribution to the game. Regardless of their playing career or past indiscretions, they’re shown respect by all supporters. However, on that Grand Final day in 2015, one of the greatest players to ever hold a Sherrin never got that lap of honour. I can’t help but wonder if there may have been some trust issues between Adam and the crowd?
As far as the game? At the time, I felt rather traumatised, combining the lack of sleep with the angst of the Goodes saga, coupled with an embarrassing on-field display from the team I supported.
In what I can only describe as the most poetic piece of universally-aligned, karmic justice, West Coast had the absolutely living snot kicked out of them by Hawthorn in one of the biggest whoopings ever handed out on Grand Final day. Which as a supporter, I have to admit at the time it was hard to watch. But looking back on it now, as a Noongar man from WA, I’m really glad the last group of supporters to boo Adam Goodes didn’t get to celebrate winning a flag that year.
Goodes waited until the Sydney derby before he could feel safe enough to go on a field again. In hindsight, it was a brilliant decision because even if the 43 Giants fans attending did boo, they would have been drowned out.
He was honoured, applauded and revered as someone with his list of achievements should. If you bother to revisit this vision on the internet you still won’t really get to enjoy the moment completely, because it’s narrated by Collingwood President and the man who suggested using Goodesy to promote the stage production of King Kong, Eddie Maguire. I’d call this ironic, but from being called an “Ape” by a young Collingwood supporter to have the President of that same club making jokes about a Big Monkey feels like it needs its own definition — ‘Ape shit’, perhaps? Or simply, ‘Modern Australia’.
With Eddie Maguire’s voice ape-shitting over that final moment of Goodesy’s career, it almost still feels like Adam Goodes hasn’t had his moment, his chance to completely express himself.
And maybe the new documentary is that opportunity?
As we grow, shift and learn as a society the fact this film has made captured the attention of many over its screening at the Sydney Film Festival and will go on to have screenings around WA and country Victoria before it airs on TV is huge. And more importantly, the fact schools are already planning to use it as an educational resource for students is even bigger.
There are some people who will never be swayed, the kind of people who don’t make eye contact, point their heads up the air and repeat themselves during arguments. The kind of people who feel attacked by a gesture aimed nowhere near them. They’ll probably never see the film, but thankfully their kids might.
Craig Quartermaine is a Noongar comedian, journalist and television presenter & producer from Western Australia. Follow Craig @CSQuartermaine