Indigenous Australia

Beyond the boos — I #StandWithAdam

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(Image via Victorian Trades Hall Council)

There is no place for fence sitters, you are either a booer or a cheerer — someone ready to embrace our confronting past and celebrate a shared, better future. There is no space between, writes Clancy Wright.

A few years ago under a black sky punctuated with an unending number of stars I sat watching Archie Roach and the late Ruby Hunter sing ‘They Took the Children Away’.

Both members of the stolen generation, the song tells the heartbreaking story of children who, torn from their mothers’ arms and forced into missions, finally find their way back home.

As a young white man at Garma with tears welling in my eyes I realised that "they" wasn’t some idea, or concept, "they" was me, "they" was us, non-Indigenous Australians.

The coming game between Sydney and Geelong, is no longer just about football, or even Adam Goodes, it’s a game about the past and the future direction of this country.

The booing of Adam Goodes has been motivated by race, but it runs deeper than that. It goes to the very core of this country, and the coming treatment of Goodes will either map our way forward or chart our way back. The boos are not just the mockery and bullying of a great man, they are the active suppression of a culture that continues to exist despite all the attacks, all the systematic obstacles it has faced.

There is nothing new about the boos, they are the last cowardly weapon of an old Australia. They are the abuses of our forefathers, they are the exploitation of terra nullius and they are the denial of apology from former leaders for the injustices of almost every Australian government. The boos are the extension of generations of discrimination and suppression of Indigenous people and Indigenous culture, and they must stop.

Just like the millions who voted in 1967, the hundreds of thousands that marched along the Sydney Harbour Bridge towards reconciliation and the dozens that boarded the bus with Charlie Perkins, this weekend, and every weekend Goodes plays, will define us.

If crowds continue to boo Adam Goodes, it will be a yardstick by which racism and the suppression of Indigenous people and culture will be measured for decades to come. If crowds cheer, it will be a victory for modern Australia and will hopefully give us the momentum to move forward towards recognition, and beyond.

We are all part of this debate, whether we like it or not. Because we all live in a country still to come to terms with its brutal history, and still to right the wrongs of its foundation.

There is no place for fence sitters, you are either a booer or a cheerer. You are either a cowardly vestigial tool of an old world apparatus, or an Australian ready to embrace our confronting past and celebrate a shared, better future. There is no space between.

The day following Archie’s song I watched the five Yolngu boys who had spent the morning taking speccys on my back, dance to the rhythm of a didgeridoo alongside their fathers. Their painted feet shifted in the sand at a speed I could only dream of, and I remembered the powerful words from our Yolngu guide, who looking at his non-Indigenous guest said

"Everywhere in Australia we have to live by your rules, your culture, but this is Yolngu land, and here you will be our guest but you will live by our laws, our culture."

On Saturday, Adam Goodes will walk out onto a football field built on ground that was once the land of the Wathaurung people. The dual Brownlow medallist will play in front of a crowd almost exclusively non-Indigenous, and despite his skill and courage he won’t be able stop the boos or start the cheers, that is the decision we must make. It is a decision that will be another turning point in the history and future of this country and I hope that together, it is a decision of hope, unity and celebration.

I proudly stand with Adam.

You can follow Clancy on Twitter @ClancyWright.

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