Film review: ‘THE AUSTRALIAN DREAM’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Written by Stan Grant and directed by Daniel Gordon, the documentary The Australian Dream, which recounts Sydney Swans champion Adam Goodes’ tumultuous career and confrontation with racist attitudes, has generated considerable attention prior to its release. Let’s hope this attention translates into attendance as this is not only a moving personal story but an important lesson in Australian history.

Adam’s situation has been well-documented in the media: his calling out of a young footy fan who made a highly offensive comment about him, Eddie Maguire’s appallingly chosen words about him during a radio segment and the increasingly hateful and racist comments from footy crowds.   When Adam Goodes spoke out against all of this, he was subjected to a vicious, often obscene and bigoted backlash on social media, criticism from media commentators such as Sam Newman and Andrew Bolt (who is interviewed here) and ritualised booing from footy crowds.

Adam called out this reaction and in so doing held up a mirror to Australian society that revealed the complexity of our attitudes and behaviours and in many cases the ugly bigotry of our culture, something that many found too difficult to deal with and preferred to pretend didn’t exist. Also, as a man objecting to abuse from the stands, he exposed the giant Petri dish of virulent mob hatred a sporting ground and sporting culture can be and showed that being a loud-mouth footy yob – which is undeniably a central part of the Australian identity – was not ok.

Further, Grant, Goodes and the other interviewees such as Gilbert McAdam, Michael O’Loughlin and Nicky Winmar try to explain that racism isn’t a simple case of an aggressive adult white male bluntly abusing a non-white person, it’s often subtle and discreetly woven into the cultural fabric, it’s not always obvious but it’s still potent and still shapes social attitudes.

On a personal and a broader historical level, the film explores the issue of indigenous identity. As the son of an indigenous woman and a white man, Adam Goodes describes himself as being confused about who he was but says he found clarity, purpose and inspiration as well as financial wealth, accolades like the Brownlow medal (two in fact) and the love of Swans supporters through footy. Beyond footy, his indigenous activism was recognised with an Australian of the Year award. Still, the film shows that these accolades could not heal the deep wound of racism he endured. More broadly, through Adam Goode’s story, the film explores a confronting side of Australia history, the legacy of dispossession and loss of identity among indigenous people that came with the arrival of Europeans, the declaration of terra nullius and the stolen generation.

While worthy, powerful and moving this is not a flawless piece of cinema. Some may find certain sections a little long while others parts of the film, such as the impact Adam’s brief departure from football and his time with indigenous elders – which would seem to have been a profound psychological experience – isn’t explored in quite as much depth as we might have liked.

Putting aside these quibbles, The Australian Dream is essential viewing. It provides a vital, confronting, at times dispiriting examination of Australia but in its depiction of the support Adam Goodes ultimately received, a grain of hope that this country might be able to reconcile with a painful history.

Nick’s rating: ****

Genre: Documentary.

Classification: MA15+.

Director(s): Daniel Gordon.

Release date: 22nd Aug 2019.

Running time: 109 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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