I’ve often heard Australia described as “the lucky country”. This was always unquestionably used as a favourable description for our nation. As a younger man, I wasn’t slightly perturbed by this description. The nation is high in resources, has mostly good weather, is removed geographically from other problems in the world, is comparatively low in crime and violence, has a habit of overachieving in sport and has a suburbia (at least from my narrow experience) that offers a range of options to its variety of people. It certainly seems to have received its fair share of luck along the journey.
Now, having lived a bit longer and having a bit more time to digest my experiences, I am a little uncomfortable with that description. If the great Obi-Wan Kenobi is to be listened to, and I believe he should, “In my experience there is no such thing as luck”. Or at least, if there is, you make it yourself. “The harder I work, the luckier I get” is another saying that rings true and adds some weight to Monsieur Kenobi’s observation.
Yep, the original meaning of “the lucky country” was being used ironically. The meaning of the nickname we use with pride to describe our country was intended to mean the reverse. Of course, a lot has changed in this country since 1964, so his commentary of Australia locked in “colonial blinkers” isn’t entirely relevant. But it is worth being aware of the origins of the things that we take for granted so that we don’t.
Last night I turned on the footy during the second quarter of the Sydney v Carlton game, and was watching a most uninspiring contest. I was half watching, half reading something on my phone when Adam Goodes was lining up for goal. The ball sailed through and I looked down at my phone.
“Wait, what was that! Did you see that?” Trina asked.
I rewound the footage and saw what I’d missed. Goodes’ celebration was some kind of tribal war dance aimed at the Carlton cheer squad. If any group of people need to be cut some slack it’s the Carlton cheer squad, but Goodes wasn’t up for that. He was seemingly sending a message: he was up for the fight.
“That’s not the last we’ll hear of that,” I said to Trines, and I filled her in on the previous week’s events where Goodes had been booed by a vocal portion of the Hawthorn crowd whenever he touched the ball. She was unaware of all of this, as a very casual observer of footy. As our conversation unfolded, I learned that prior to the event of a couple of years ago where Goodes was called a monkey, she wasn’t aware he was even Aboriginal.
“Wait,” she said, “is Buddy Franklin Aboriginal?” I said he was and she laughed. It seems whether someone is or isn’t Aboriginal is of no consequence to her. It isn’t to most people, or at least so my experience tells me. As I said before, my experience is fairly narrow. I am not widely travelled, I don’t have a huge range of friends, rather having a core group of mates that I’ve been friends with since high school. My experiences outside of that involve a few different workplaces, and footy and cricket clubs.
My two most recent favourite players, Matthew Richardson and Jack Riewoldt share a few things in common. They are both tall forwards from Tasmania that have represented Richmond, and they have both been, at one time or another, rather unpopular. I’ve never really understood the dislike for either, but it is real. Jack in particular seems to rub people up the wrong way – he just seems to be a person who is easy to dislike.
There are plenty of people like this. Personally, I can rattle off Hayden Ballantyne, Angus Monfries and, weirdly, Dennis Armfield as people that I just can’t stand. I can’t really tell you exactly why, I just don’t like them. Goodes seems to have done the opposite to Richo, who was mostly disliked by non-Richmond fans, and even by some Tigers’ supporters at various points, only to finish his career as a favoured man of the people. Goodes, from my reckoning, has spent most of his time as a footballer being admired, and the past couple of seasons being disliked.
I’m not really sure what he has done all that differently in that time. I’ve seen him dive for free kicks, which I personally dislike, but not seemingly enough for continual booing. Booing in the game it happens in, yes, booing two years later? No. He was named Australian of the Year. That’s not normally a reason to boo someone. Like most footy fans, I don’t really follow politics all that closely, so my understanding of why he received it and what he did with it are fairly sketchy.
He was emotionally affected on live television by a young girl likening him to a primate, and was shortly thereafter vocally outraged by Eddie MacGuire jokingly referencing the incident on radio. He is proudly Aboriginal, and to be mocked because of it obviously cut him deeply. I believe that he is, as a result, seen as a sook. Coupled with being seen as a stager, and being a tall poppy, he is target asking to be cut down.
You know, it is thought that I am part Aboriginal. My Pop was adopted as a baby, and grew to be a small, dark skinned man that won his heat at the Stawell Gift. He didn’t even know he was adopted until he was an adult, and never had a conversation about it with his parents. His aunty let it slip, he asked his adoptive parents for confirmation, they gave it and then never spoke about it again. He had an Irish mother, but his father was not recorded. He certainly had the look.
We don’t know who his father was, and if he was Aboriginal or not is of no consequence to me. It simply doesn’t matter to me. I have always been asked if I am Greek, or Maltese, or any range of countries with olive skin or dark hair. Once, when I was waiting for my mate Evo at the beach in Frankston, a group of teens in a sports car drove past me and bellowed “Fucking wog!!” at me out the window. I was just standing there with my towel looking bemused.
It was interesting to me because, firstly, I’m not what would be traditionally considered a “wog”, and more importantly, why would someone find it necessary to attempt to belittle someone for being one? Anything race related is very complicated. For some of us, race means nothing, for others a lot. Some, like me, have their perspective because they have grown up with relatively easy upbringing with a range of different ethnic backgrounds around them.
Others, presumably like Goodes, have their perspective from their collection of experiences. The people that boo him have their own collection of reasonings and motivations that result in their booing. Some of them might be race motivated, some might be “staging” motivated, some might be both, others might simply not like him, and some might be pathetic types that just join in. You can’t label the motivation of the whole based on collective action. Motivation must be assessed on an individual basis.
I, personally, don’t have any great affection for Goodes. I wouldn’t ever boo him, but I respect the right for others to. If their motivation is racially centred, then I condemn them for it as narrow minded bigots. If theirs is about not liking him, or his staging, then I ask that they try to view him in relation to others’ in the league and question whether he deserves to be singled out.
I feel positive that Goodes has a message about his people he is trying to relay, and that it is getting lost in the fact that he plays footy. He is trying to send a message of which he cares deeply, but he is delivering it to people who are trying to watch sport. I don’t know a heap about Aboriginal issues, and perhaps I should. Perhaps we all should. Hopefully, when his career is ended and there is no longer a platform to confuse his politics with his sport, his message will get through. Until then, I’m sure all of his actions will remain polarising.
Mine is definitely the viewpoint of the historically privileged. My childhood was fun and happy, filled with family and sport. My schooling was an annoyance, but was available to me, and work has always been available to me as well. Now that I am a father and husband, and everything is settled, I know that if I work hard I will get ahead. I don’t even totally view myself as Australian anymore, more just a human who happens to live in Australia and call it home. I’ve done nothing to earn it. In fact, I’ve got a stronger allegiance to the Richmond Football Club, as there have been thousands of times when I could have made the decision to stop following them.
I don’t believe that this is a lucky country, but I believe that I was exceptionally lucky to be born here with all the privileges that I am afforded. I don’t know the exact details, but I believe that there is a portion of our population that are not lucky. Earlier I wrote that, if there is a group of people that need to be cut some slack, it is the Carlton cheer squad. This was intended to get a laugh, but in the context of this issue is untrue enough to warrant correction.
The people in this country that need to be cut the most slack are its indigenous population. Adam Goodes is aware of it, and wants to do something about it. Others need to join him, and work as hard as those that worked hard for people like me to have a good life.