25 May 2017, AFL Studios, Docklands, Melbourne, Australia
Video starts at 5.04
Thanks for taking the time to listen to an old hasbeen.
Hopefully you'll take something away from my stories, and some of the guys I've looked up to over the course of my career, and obviously, my life.
I experienced racism playing for Salisbury North under 12s on a cold Adelaide morning in 1988.
I was an eleven year old kid. Having a reasonable game. Getting a few touches. Feeling okay about msyelf and my footy.
Then I hear a voice from behind, it's a kid's voice. "Make sure that abo doesn't touch the ball again.'
I responded with fists. I started swinging, wanting to lash out, to hurt somebody, hurt the person who had without any provocation decided to hurt me.
My mum was in my ear after that game. 'You can't respond like that my boy. You can't respond with violence. You gotta know they're gonna use it as a tactic. That's the way they're gonnatry to stop you and unsettle you.'
That was my introduction. There's not an Aboriginal player who's played the game who doesn't have his own version.
I see those old videos of Robbie Muir, the old Saints legend, going berserk in the mud at Moorabbin, and I can imagine, week in week out, what he must have put up with. And Chris Lewis, who missed 23 matches, 23 matches!, with suspension. He faced it every week too. 'You black so and so." Every week.
So oppositions knew what they were doing. They were targeting players, good players, and using their skin tone, their aboriginal heritage against them.
Twenty years later, Dermott Brereton apologised to him, face to face, on national television. The apology is to Dermott's credit. The original behaviour is not acceptable. Lewis's tormentors knew what my Mum knew. That racism could be used as a tactic. To quote Dermott: "We got word from a team that 'Lewy' had been put off his game by taunts, racially based, so we thought 'anything to curb this bloke's brilliance'.
It was Martin Luther King who said that 'the arc of the moral universe is long, but that it bends towards justice.'
I think that's true when it comes to indigenous Australia and footy. To the AFL's and the football community's credit, we are bending towards justice.
I played 303 games of AFL footy with the Swans, and not once was I subject to racial abuse by another player. Not once.
My first game was in 1995, just a few years after the incidents involving Chris Lewis in the early 90s.
Something changed in terms of what was acceptable on the footy field. And we know what it was. It was indigenous footballers saying enough is enough. Footballers like 'Magic' Michael McLean, who spoke up and said enough was enough. Like Michael Long, on that famous Anzac Day, calling out racial abuse and demanding an end to it. Like Nicky Winmar, raising his jumper to his vilifiers and pointing to that flawless black skin. 'I'm black and I'm proud'. Pain, defiance, courage, and the possibility for change - all in one photographic moment. May they cast the image in bronze one day.
These men agitated for change, and the AFL responded.
It created Rule 30, the first sporting body to make a rule prohibiting racial vilification. It transformed the workplace for aboriginal footballers, and the results have been staggering. Indigenous players now make up 11% of the AFL, with the number growing year by year. No longer are we thought of as erratic, or risky. We work and train as professionally as the other 89%. Some have a particular flair that sets them apart – Eddie Betts, Cyril Rioli, and of course Buddy Franklin. The noise in the stadium shifts gear when these players approach the ball. The Sir Doug Nicholls round is about celebrating the indigenous contribution to our indigenous game. In 2017, footy without aboriginal players just wouldn't be footy.
The relationship goes the other way too. Aboriginal Australia needs the AFL and its footy role models. So many of the current crop of indigenous stars are revered in their communities. They return there as heroes, as role models, leaders, beacons of hope and possibility for kids who love footy. Kids who are sometimes doing it tough in a country that hasn't closed the gap in health and education, between indigenous and white Australia.
2017 marks 50 years since the referendum changing the Constitution so that Indigenous people could be counted in the census. Only fifty years, fifty years!, regarded as proper Australians, as people!
Carlton champion Syd Jackson was born in desert country around Leonara in WA. He and his sisters were taken from their family, and raised in the missions. White people named him Syd after an actor of the times called Sid James. He was given 1st July as a birthday, because that was the start of the financial year. When Jackson was picked to tour Ireland with a combined Australian team in 1968, he didn't have a birth certificate which meant he had no passport. Tour organisers petitioned the Prime Minister, who organised the document. Syd Jackson carried that passporteverywhere for years, because it was a symbol that he was a valid Australian, that he counted.
Syd is a hero of mine, as are other indigenous football pioneers like Polly Farmer and Barry Cable.
As are the women and men who fought for our voting rights. People like Faith Bandler, Uncle Charlie Perkins, Jack and Jean Horner and Sir Doug Nicholls himself.
2017 also marks 25 years since the historic Mabo decision. it led to the Native Title Act, a revoking of the racist legal fiction that was terra nullius.
These were necessary steps, important steps. It's progress born of the activism and courage of people like Auntie Lowitja O'Donohue and Uncle Eddie Mabo.
It's the leadership of Senator Mick Dodson and Linda Burney.
It's the unwavering love and commitment of an educator like Aunty Alice Ridney, teacher of a thousand, transformer of lives. Aunty Alice was Australia's first aboriginal school principal, and like myself, belonged to the Kaurna and Nurungga Nations. She sadly passed away a fortnight ago. Australia a better place for her life lived.
For all the positive steps, I still feel frustration for the racism that plagues Australian society, and our wonderful game.
My best friend in footy, and in life, the great Adam Goodes. What happened to Adam in 2015 still fills my heart with sadness.
For all the positive change the AFL and players had enacted over two decades, Adam, as an Australian of the Year and outspoken advocate for our people, became a magnet for those who wanted to resist the positive force of change.
The booers were bullies and cowards. They could do it under the cloak of the masses. They were causing pain, they knew they were causing pain, and yet it continued. They defended themselves by saying that it was 'just booing', that they had a right to boo, that Adam's reaction was thin-skinned and an example of political correctness gone mad. But they kept it up, and they wore down the resilence of an unbelievalbe player.
And so a great of the game, a legend of this era and of all time, was hounded into retirement by an unrepentant section of the football loving public. That happened less than two years ago. As Stan Grant put it in his famous speech about Adam, 'every time we are lured into the light, we are mugged by the darkness of this country's history.'
Yet we are getting there.
Fans are calling out fans when they hear the unacceptable howls of racial hatred. Club are swift with punishments when incidents come to light. The players are a united front, led by the aboriginal stars, educating the public, telling them that it is no longer going to be tolerated.
And yet Eddie Betts gets targeted just a few weeks ago.
We still have a way to go.
The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.
We will get there, as a country and as a code.
We will get there, because we're basically a nation of fair and decent people.
We will get there because men and women like Sir Doug Nicholls, Faith Bandler, and Adam Goodes were brave when they had to be.
To quote Barack Obama: "We honour those who walked so we could run. We must run so our children soar.'
Thank you very much.