Celebrating Indigenous Round – but on whose terms?

As most of you will know, the game of rugby league is the game that I love. However, following the outcry after the Swans game this weekend, I felt it was time to write something AFL. Many thanks to an anonymous friend who helped me a bunch with this piece. Enjoy.

In Round 4 of the 1993 AFL season, two traditional Melbourne clubs went into battle – Collingwood and St Kilda. Collingwood, the powerhouse and St Kilda the perennial underachievers. The game was played at Collingwood’s fortress – Victoria Park in suburban Abbotsford – a fearful venue for opposition players and supporters alike.

On that day, St Kilda’s Nicky Winmar who, tired of the constant abuse from the parochial Collingwood crowd with such insults as, “go and sniff some petrol” and “go walkabout where you came from”, decided, along with his teammates to draw a line in the sand. To quote the popular vernacular, St Kilda “cracked in” and took it to their more fancied opponents on their home patch. At the end of the game, which St Kilda won, Winmar famously faced the Victoria Park crowd, lifted his jumper and pointed to his black skin.

Two years later, in 1995 and on ANZAC Day, Essendon and Collingwood fought it out at the MCG. Essendon’s champion, Michael Long, claimed he was racially abused by the giant Collingwood ruckman Damian Monkhorst. The AFL addressed the matter by initiating a mediation between the two players – the upshot, Monkhorst apologised and Long, dissatisfied, embarked on a campaign to rid racism from the game of AFL.

Ever the reactionary, the administration decided that to institute an annual Indigenous Round would quell the underlying aspect of racial discrimination and demonstrate their commitment to indigenous football.

And hasn’t it become such a splendid celebration. Now, we have such wonders as “Welcome to Country” ceremonies, traditional music, illustrative guernseys and the likes of Eddie Mcguire and his media cohorts, regaling us with platitudes, even before the first ball is bounced in the centre square.

And so it should be. Indigenous Round was a brainchild of the AFL to divert the footballing consumer from what *might* be a distasteful scenario. Let’s face it, we fans hate on the opposition in the heat of battle; we want more than anything to take the field with the players and ‘muck in’ as best we can so our team wins. But we can’t – so we’re consigned to the bleaches where our only weapons are words. And none of us are “racist” because we have, or know, Aboriginal friends or people.

In May 2013, the AFL’s theatrical mask of compassion unfortunately fell to the floor. It demonstrated itself to be impotent in dealing with the fall-out when Adam Goodes had the temerity to stand up for himself and his people, when labelled an ‘ape’ by a young Collingwood fan during Indigenous Round. Most unfortunately, Australian sport’s most powerful voice, Collingwood President Eddie McGuire, completely let himself and his code down after, initially vociferously supporting Goodes’ stance, two days subsequently he reiterated the same insult on Melbourne radio.

Friday 29 May 2015 marked this year’s annual AFL Indigenous Round. A round of football which, as previously stated, was commissioned to identify, acknowledge, commemorate and celebrate the input into Australia’s native game by indigenous men and women.

The AFL had made noises all week previously as to why it distanced itself from the unnecessary booing of Adam Goodes. The media, as ‘furious’ as they were, all seemed to draw complete blanks as to why such an ornament of the game would be constantly booed in Melbourne – particularly since 2014.

Even an indifferent observer, if he or she is being fair dinkum, must arrive at the conclusion that Adam Goodes is getting booed for having the audacity, the affront, to form himself into a public mouthpiece against discrimination, in all its forms, in the game of AFL and in society at large.

Last night the GWS Giants played the Western Bulldogs. For the Giants, Callan Ward and Ryan Griffen, two of the Bullies former favourite sons were wearing the ‘enemy’s’ guernsey. And they were booed. Commentators Anthony Hudson and Dermot Brereton declared that such reaction was fair and reasonable on account of the fact that the fans had “paid their money and had a right to boo”. No dramas with that – there was a reason why the crowd took issue with these two individuals – in the fans’ view, these two players were ‘traitors’ and were deserved of the abject derision of the faithful.

Adam Goodes hasn’t ‘deserted his team’ like those two seditious individuals, Ward and Griffen. Nor does Goodes get booed for the reasons perpetrated by serial offenders Ryan Crowley and Hayden Ballantyne of the Fremantle Dockers. Goodes wasn’t even booed after Hawks legend and, at the time Brisbane Lions coach Leigh Matthews, labelled Goodes as a “protected species” in 2008 after he evaded the ire of the match review panel.

He got booed after:

1. calling out and humiliating a young female Collingwood fan for calling him an ‘ape’; and

2. for being bequeathed the honour of ‘Australian of the Year’.

And you can put your house on the fact that the booing will be merciless after this weekend’s events.

Putting aside the fact that Adam Goodes chose to draw a line in the sand like his previous cohorts, Messrs Winmar and Long, by calling out a young female fan for calling him a lower level primate.  Putting aside the fact that the president of the club that said young female fan cheers for, at first instance, applauded and supported Goodes’ stance, yet two days later, glibly repeated the same insult on Melbourne radio. What strikes me as most virulent in these unfortunate proceedings is the fact that the media, led by Mr McGuire, have chosen to take such umbrage at Adam Goodes’ goal celebration on the grounds that it is divisive.

We applaud the All Blacks murderous throat slitting haka, we marvel at the Tongans’ Sipi Tau vs the Samoans Siva Tau. We laud the Fijians religious Cibi and we feel warm and fuzzy about ourselves when an Aboriginal war cry is performed prior to a game of rugby league. But the obvious reality is that we don’t really care for indigenous culture. If we did, we wouldn’t drop our bundle when Adam Goodes performed his celebration upon kicking a goal – and we surely wouldn’t boo him!

The outcry by the media and some members of the citizenry during the AFL’s indigenous round smacks of complete arrogance and hypocrisy. By turning Goodes’ cultural celebration into some sort of divisive scandal, all the while making noises about how intrinsic the contribution of indigenous talent has been to furnishing the AFL product, is at best hypocritical and at least latently racist.

It is all well and good for we non-indigenous members of our wonderful country to go to bed tonight, comfortable in the knowledge that, “whilst it’s good that we celebrate Indigenous Round, but, come on, you’ve got to draw the line – what Goodes did was inflammatory and he didn’t need to do it”, it is inherently hypocritical!

This ugly scenario reminds me of a particularly sinister quote from Anthony Perkins in his seminal role, “People always mean well. They cluck their thick tongues, and shake their heads and suggest, oh, so very delicately…”

Let’s just hope we, as a sport loving public, moreover a collective, a citizenry, are not actually Psycho!


Ladies who Leap xxx