Adam Goodes in his final 2015 season (Image: AAP/Dean Lewins)

“We have to keep telling our own stories. We have wasted too much time in the past in answering back and explaining and defending ourselves and doing too much emotional heavy lifting for white Australia,” Stan Grant tells me.

“I think we need to focus on doing what we need to do. We need to focus on doing our stories, our way, our truth unapologetically and defiantly and with courage.”

The new documentary, The Australian Dream does just that. 

Written by journalist Stan Grant, the film traces the life and troubled times of Adnyamathanha and Narungga man Adam Goodes — from promising junior footballer, to Brownlow medallist, to premiership player, to Australian of the Year, to a lightning rod for race relations in this country. 

Goodes’ simple act of calling out racism in 2013 set off a chain reaction that led to him, one of the AFL’s most decorated players, being hounded out of the game. The film drags us deep into that final furore and examines the issues of race, identity and outrage involved. Goodes regularly had prejudice, racism and venom spat at him during his last years as a footballer. But, as extraordinary as the experience was, it wasn’t unique.

Stan Grant, a Wiradjuri man, says the situation is all too familiar.

“I think the reality is in Australia, if you’re an Aboriginal person and you’re seen as being successful then somehow you need to soften the blow,” he says. “You have to hold your tongue. You have to be grateful for your success, and Adam decided that he was going to stand up and speak about these things… he touched that sore point in Australia. Our history is our sore point.”

Australia’s true history, according to some in political and public life, is not something to dwell on. In their view, it’s something that Australians today should not be held accountable for. The film suggests that this view seriously neglects to recognise the impacts of intergenerational trauma; but it’s not an echo chamber either. The filmmakers notably decided to include two of the main provocateurs in the Goodes saga: Eddie McGuire and Andrew Bolt.  

“To not include them would have been disingenuous,” Grant says. “It wouldn’t have reflected the times. They were voices, significant voices at the time, and we needed to hear from them. But at the same time, I think the weight of voices in this, the power of voices, comes from the power of the black voice: Aboriginal people speaking their truth.”

As I watched the film, there was one black voice that stood out. For me, former footballer Gilbert McAdam’s simple yet profound statements cut straight to the heart of what it’s like to be Aboriginal. 

“Gilbert McAdam is one of those people who can say things that others would not dare to say and get away with it,” Grant says. “He’s got a cheeky glint in his eye; he has disarming sort of presence and then he hits you with these fundamental, unquestionable truths… [Speaking about Goodes’ detractors] he says, ‘what would they know, what would they bloody know about being a blackfella in Australia?’’’  

Then there’s Goodes himself, weathering the storm, gradually becoming more and more jaded by the spiteful commentary and the booing — the booing by everyday Australians at an Aboriginal man that had become, in their view, too uppity. Goodes fell out of love with football and fell deeply in love with his own culture. Despite it all, he seems to have come out the other side centred and in touch with who he is. But scars still remain.

Grant reflects, “Adam was very honest and very open about the toll this took on him. He was close to the brink. He had to go away, he had to find himself… It isn’t those people that define you, it is your place and your country that defines you and that strength and that solace we get from being back on our land, our ancestors’ land.

“It gave him the strength he needed to come back to finish his career and to get on with the next phase of his life. But, to be fair, it’s a trauma that he continues to carry today.”

In the end it was the culture that Goodes so bravely defended that saved him. The Australian Dream is as much a journey into his self-discovery, as it is a reflection on how far we have to go as a country to find comfort in our national identity.

The Australian Dream is in cinemas now. 

Have you seen The Australian Dream? Let us know your thoughts by writing to [email protected]. Please include your full name if you would like to be considered for publication.