Historians Stand with Adam Goodes

Adam Goodes holding Australian of the Year statue standing next to Tony Abbott.

The Highest Honour: Australian of the Year in 2014, Adam Goodes, is congratulated by Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, in front of the national parliament.

Adam Goodes is a prominent Aboriginal footballer and Australian of the Year in 2014 yet he has been incessantly booed by football crowds every time he touches the ball for most of this season. No-one else in the modern history of the game has received such a toxic response from the crowd. Adam Goodes has won the best and fairest medal not once, but twice, yet not even the most unethical footballers have been on the receiving end of such persistent harassment from crowds as this article in The Guardian points out.

This is racism supported by moronic crowds.

Even before the indigenous round late in May, when Goodes did a traditional dance throwing an imaginary spear, the crowds were targeting Goodes. Respected football journalist, Caroline Wilson wrote about the booing, noting that Goodes had requested that his club remain not comment on the matter. He knew that such an action could lead virulent crowds to denigrate him further because he ‘couldn’t take it’. But that should not have stopped other sporting leaders from speaking out about it a couple of months ago.

There are many Aboriginal players in the AFL (Australian Football League) but Adam Goodes is the target because he confronts Australia about its racism. He speaks and acts on his terms, not the terms imposed by the non-indigenous majority. He speaks and acts because he knows Aboriginal people like him are equal to all Australians. Freedom of speech means that all people can initiate serious conversations about how they feel and how our history has affected them. Justice for all can only be had if those who observe injustice are allowed to start an uncomfortable conversation.

Sadly, Aboriginal Australians have been treated like this for too long. Hear successful Aboriginal journalist Stan Grant:

To Adam’s ears, the ears of so many Indigenous people, these boos are a howl of humiliation. A howl that echoes across two centuries of invasion, dispossession and suffering.

Read all of Stan Grant’s article. Feel the existential distress of the original custodians of this land.

This issue strikes to the core of the issue that Australia has to address. We need to own our disturbing history of the treatment of Aboriginal Australians since European settlement. We need to respect everyone, even when they speak uncomfortable truths to us.

We can only act with respect when we shed our prejudices, ignore our desire for ease of conscience and embrace truth.

A powerful statement in support of Adam Goodes has been released by the Professional Historians Association of NSW & ACT.

Please read and share it.



Aussie Rules Football in Melbourne and Sydney

A red and white t-shirt, dark blue t-shirt with Hawthorn logo on and a Hawthorn Football Club scarf

We’re kitted out for the AFL Grand Final here in Singapore. We have an old Swans t-shirt, a Hawthorn t-shirt and a Hawthorn scarf in case the air conditioning is too cold!

This post continues my series, Introduction to Australian History, which is written for people who have recently settled in Australia or live outside Australia and want an introduction to our history and culture.

This weekend the AFL Grand Final will be held between the Sydney Swans and Hawthorn football teams. This is a huge event. Around 100,000 fans flock to the Melbourne Cricket Ground (the MCG, or simply The Gee) for a full afternoon of intense Aussie Rules football. Over three million viewers will be glued to the game on television around Australia and it will be broadcast throughout the world.

Australia’s home-grown football code ranked fourth in the world for attendances at games in 2012. AFL games in 2013 attracted an average of 32,163 fans passionately barracking for their team. Only the US National Football League, the German Bundesliga and the English Premier League exceeded these attendances. AFL is the most prominent Australian Rules (Aussie Rules) competition in Australia, but it is only one among many Aussie Rules leagues in both cities and country areas. Continue reading

56 Since ’56 – The Crowd at Olympic Games

Ticket for athletics Melbourne Olympic Games

One of the mementos kept by Les to remember his day at the Melbourne Olympic Games.

The excitement and the roar of the crowd was the first thing that Les recalled as he told me about that day in 1956 when he watched the Olympics at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. I was having an all too rare day with relations in a country town in the western district of Victoria and had been expecting a day of sharing photographs and family stories. I was not expecting to hear about a day at the Olympics.

When I asked Les about the day again a few months later he recounted the same scene – the feeling of being part of the crowd, rising out of their seats and giving full voice to a champion athlete, but he could not recall the details of the competition he saw.

I was hoping to hear Les talk about the feats of Betty Cuthbert who won a gold medal for Australia in the 200m sprint that day, or some anecdotes about what other athletes did, but it was the experience of being one of 100,000 people roaring with excitement which was the highlight of his day.  Dare I say it?  I was disappointed that he did not tell me what I thought would have been a more interesting story.

An article in today’s The Age made me rethink my response to Les’ account.  He would probably relate to the comments made by Greg Baum about the crowd last night at the London Olympics.  In Baum’s eyes the crowd was just as  important as the feats of Mohamad Farah and the Jamaican 4x100m relay team.  Baum said that last night he saw how “a crowd becomes a player, both in the sense of “actor” and “participant”.  “As at the greatest sporting events”, Baum remarked, “a trance was upon the stadium last night; no-one could bring themselves to leave, until security had to insist.” Continue reading

India at the Australian Historical Association Conference

Hockey stick

A hockey stick used by my mother at school in country Victoria during the mid 1950s with signatures of the 1928 Indian Olympic hockey team (the blue and yellow grip was added in the late 1970s).

Chinese-Australian history was well covered at the Australian Historical Association Conference but when I reviewed my conference notes I realised that a number of the sessions I attended were about the relationship between India and Australia.  I have only dabbled in this history during a seminar in my honours year, but increasingly I feel drawn to learn more.  Indians have lived in Australian since colonial times and the two countries have a strong historical association due to being fellow members of the British Empire.   Aside from these specific associations, my interest in secularism draws me to Indian history.  Leading researchers in this area recommend attention be given to the manner in which India has dealt with religion and state.

It was fitting that the keynote presentation was delivered by an authority in Indian colonial era history, Professor Sir Christopher Bayly of the University of Cambridge.  He gave a comparative overview of the two countries, titled ‘India and Australia: Distant Connections’.  He noted that the original peoples of both countries were subjugated and land appropriated by the colonial conquerors and that both countries experienced violence – between settlers and Aboriginal people in Australia and in India, the Rebellion of 1857.   The English legal system used in both countries had difficulty accommodating the native peoples because evidence under oath was traditionally only accepted from Christian witnesses.

Bayly commented that Australian self-government became an ‘icon’ for Indians agitating for independence.  However, Australia was a flawed icon in Indian eyes as they read about Australia’s treatment of Aborigines.  In questions afterwards, Bayly noted that the colonial era Calcutta newspapers had a significant amount of news about Australia, more so than another significant member of the empire – Canada.  Why was this?  There were significant shipping connections between Australia and India.  Continue reading

Cricket in Sydney 1876

An old cricket bat, stumps and red cricket ball

Basic equipment for playing cricket – bat, stumps and ball

When fossicking in the archives I have at times come across  fascinating and totally irrelevant material.  It seems to be a shame not to share this, so I have created the ‘Lucky Dip’ category.  ‘Lucky Dip’ contains what I regard as ephemera but what may be central to the interests of others.

What better time than the start of the current Ashes encounter to reflect on the English tour of Australia when the first test match was played between Australia and England.  For international readers not familiar with the game I have provided a list of sites which give basic explanations of this sport at the end of this post.

Work Stops for Cricket in 1876

I am currently researching the history of teaching reading in Australia, so I was quite surprised to come across a reference to the England vs New South Wales cricket match that was held between 7th and 11th December 1876.

In 1876, the NSW Council of Education had to consider the weighty issue of allowing Council employees to attend the international cricket match.  This is what I read in the Council’s minute book:

Read the Chief Clerk’s memorandum requesting that the office may be closed at noon on the 7th, 8th, and 9th December.

The Council resolved that the office be closed at 12 noon on Saturday (9th), and that one half of the clerks have leave on Thursday from the same hour, and the remainder on Friday.

Minute Book No. 9, Council of Education, 4 Dec. 1876, p. 332.  Held at the New South Wales State Archives, NRS 2646.

This match predates the first test match between Australia and England which was held during the same English tour in 1877.  Clearly the game held an important place in Sydney at this time. Continue reading