Learning From the Goodes and the Not So Good

The nation was divided recently as to whether or not the booing directed at Adnyamathanha man and 2014 Australian of the Year, AFL star, Adam Goodes, from a group of fired-up spectators in the crowd, was racially motivated or not.

Some commentators claimed Adam was using race as an excuse, suggesting that perhaps, like many other individuals playing sport and judged by other teams’ supporters, he is simply not liked. However, AFL Chairman, Mike Fitzpatrick, acknowledged that whilst the booing of Adam may or may not have begun for other reasons, the AFL Commission “...is of the view that this is about race and cannot be condoned...”

In 2015, racism was again making headlines across Australia. As a nation we were, again, grappling with how intolerance was still being tolerated in this day and age.

Sadly, being racially vilified was something with which Goodes was all too familiar, having already experienced racial slurs on and off the field well before the ‘booing’ scandal hit the front pages of the papers this year.

However, Adam decided to turn a negative experience into a positive, powerful form of education in a bid to help others. It was Adam who, this year, inspired a group of students at St Joseph’s High School, Lochinvar, educating them on how to deal with racism and further cementing his status as a true sporting legend who uses his public presence to benefit others.

St Joseph’s Junior Aboriginal Education Consultative Group (Jr AECG) was so inspired by the “huge impression” Adam made at the school and the support he offered to students that, following the ‘booing’ scandal, they decided it was time to return the favour and show support for Adam.

The Group wrote a letter of support and sent it to Adam in August, having collected more than five pages of signatures from students so that he knew the whole school supported him.

Secretary of St Joseph’s Jr AECG, student Makenzie Mills, said, “We basically wrote the letter because we want to support him.

“When we asked Adam questions, he respected us and was interested in our dreams. He gave us some ideas about how to deal with racism and he was a really big inspiration,” she said.

In the letter to Adam, students said, “You left us with such a positive and practical message and we often speak of the impact of your visit. Our Junior Aboriginal Education Consultative Group has been inspired by you. We just want to let you know that you have our support through this difficult and challenging time. Your public presence has made, and will continue to make, a huge positive impact on us. For this we thank you.”

Principal of St Joseph’s, Paul Greaves, said he was proud of the Group.

“We felt very strongly about the issue and students were very keen to get involved,” he said. St Joseph’s Jr AECG was formed early in 2014 following Religion classes where students learned about Forgiveness and Reconciliation.

President of the Group, Sophie Jackson, said “We had to discuss the Catholic Response to Aboriginal Reconciliation and Closing the Gap for Indigenous Australians. This included a question on how our school community could participate more fully in the reconciliation process. We came to the decision that we needed to upgrade our flag pole so that we could fly the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island flags alongside our Australian flag. We didn’t have a formal group at that stage but we were invited by Francis Greenway High to sit in on one of their Jr AECG meetings…..then we wanted to get our own group together,” Student Treasurer, Sophie Cunningham, added, “When we meet, it’s just the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids. We talk about who we are, where we come from, what it is we want to achieve. It gives us the sense that, hey, we can actually do this!”

Sophie said, “We have big dreams and big ideas” and no doubt they’ll continue to be inspired by Adam. “Because Adam came to our school and we met him, we have a connection with him. I’m so proud of how, even though he’s getting all of this bad stuff happening around him, he’s still staying positive, he’s really pushing on through it.”

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Emma Blackford

Emma Blackford is the Communications Manager for the Catholic Schools Office, Maitland-Newcastle and a regular contributor to Aurora Magazine.

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