… in support of Adam Goodes by the Committee of PHA NSW & ACT

Just a few days ago, members of the Professional Historians Association of NSW & ACT (PHA NSW & ACT) were warmly and generously welcomed to country by Sydney Indigenous woman Donna Ingram before we began our annual mid-winter awards and social evening. We were all honoured to be welcomed, and for Donna to have then stayed and shared the evening with us.

This week, the outbreak of public vilification and racism directed at Sydney Swans footballer Adam Goodes, now amplified and spread far beyond the grandstands, has shocked the PHA NSW & ACT committee, leading us and a number of our members to ask whether we really were deserving of that generous welcome.

The objectives in the PHA constitution include ‘advocating public history perspectives in public debates concerning interpretations of history and the keeping of documentary, environmental and other historical records’. To this end, we have for some time been lobbying NSW Government agencies such as State Records to employ Aboriginal archivists, and the Heritage Council to reinstate its History Advisory Panel. Sadly, we have made little impact and the State has remained indifferent to our submissions.

Our members mostly work as independent public historians. We often work alone, outside academia, managing our own practices and acting collegially in furthering our own professional development. Many of us have been privileged to work with Aboriginal communities and families, on historic sites of great significance to Indigenous peoples, and in places where Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples have shared histories. We appreciate the significant role of sport and sporting cultures in our history, in helping to bring about social cohesion, and in providing opportunities for so many people to improve their lives. We have tried, in our own small ways and in accordance with our own ethical standards, to be supportive of Aboriginal people and communities, to contribute to creating something new for our common future, a future based upon mutual respect.

As historians, we well know the impacts of past social attitudes and government policies – impacts that last across generations, often with terrible ongoing results. But as public historians – working in the public arena on issues of heritage and history –we also believe we have a role to comment on the context of issues that have plagued, and continue to plague, Australian history and society. The recent racist actions and words of some in the ‘debate’ around Adam Goodes have left many of our members appalled and distressed.

On a personal level, some PHA NSW & ACT members have Indigenous friends, colleagues, partners and family. While the distress felt by our members will be nothing compared to the distress being experienced and lived every day now by Indigenous people, families and communities, these members feel strongly about this issue and wish their support for Adam Goodes and all other Indigenous people who experience similar issues to be known.

Thus the committee of PHA NSW & ACT issue this letter of public support.

We support the group of AFL captains who have called for an end to the harassment of Adam Goodes.

We support all the other leaders in civil society and sporting clubs calling for this to stop. Bullying is unacceptable. Racism is unacceptable. The time for reflection will come, but first the abhorrent chorus must stop, and it must stop now.

More than anything else, the PHA NSW & ACT, in accordance with our own constitutional objectives, our own code of ethics and indeed our own personal morality and our own diverse understandings of the past, through this statement, extend our collective hand of support and friendship to Adam Goodes, to all Indigenous peoples and indeed to all Australians of good will. We support you, in our own small way, and we want you to know that we stand with you.

On behalf of the Committee

Bruce Baskerville

Chair, PHA NSW & ACT

2 August 2105


8 thoughts on “PUBLIC STATEMENT”

  1. Thank you Bruce, and PHA NSW Committee for issuing a public statement on this very important matter.

  2. Many thanks for your support in this matter, only those who suffer at the dirty hand of racism know how deep the cuts can go.

  3. I totally agree with the PHA’s efforts to elevate Aboriginal people to their rightful place in society. But a 13 year old child should never have been used as the catalyst to launch this ugly incident. We have hundreds of Aboriginal people who are admired and respected. I have Aboriginal relatives by marriage. Those who booed Adam Goodes were not attacking the Aboriginal community but directing their furore towards one person only.

    • I understand some people regard the booing as simply a response to Goodes’ response to the young woman’s ‘ape’ comment, but it has gone way beyond that now. On that point, I do have to disagree with you Beverley.

      I grew up in a country town and am familiar enough with the ugly sounds of racism to know it when I hear it. From reading some of the online commentary from those who are (or were) booing, it was clearly because Adam Goodes is an Aboriginal man, they make no bones about it. I have had to stop reading that sort of stuff now. It is too disgusting, too disheartening.

      As a boy I was taught never to point at people, or stare, or be rude or call them names. I was certainly never taught to call anyone an ape. Racism is learned, it is not natural. Last week (I think) was one of those rare moments when a society acts collectively. The message was simple. Stop. Change direction. We can all make that choice. I think the actions of the crowds on Saturday showed that. It is also why the silence from national leaders has been so profoundly disillusioning.

      I was heartened to see junior players (minimum age for an umpire is 13), sporting 37 on their skin and declaring their support for Adam Goodes. Those children and young adults showed that the cycles of racism and bullying (I know they’re not the same, but they are related) can be broken. I also think Stan Grant spoke with far more eloquence than I can ever do about being on the receiving end of racist taunts, and about the difference between being a member of a civilized society that, when it knows someone is hurting, does what it can to stop that hurt. That is, in a sense, the definition of civilized (in fact, I just noticed that my laptop dictionary gives, as an example of using that word, “such an affront to civilized behavior will no longer be tolerated”)

      My hope is that last week will prove to be a cathartic experience. A lot of nasty words were spoken, and a lot of people have been shocked. But, perhaps we non-Indigenous people needed to be shocked, needed to come face to face with an underbelly that isn’t isolated in some remote outback. Why would I feel optimistic? I signed an online petition supporting Adam Goodes that in just 3 days had gathered over 30,000 signatures. I compare that with the blog of Kim Vuga, vocal anti-refugee, anti-migrant campaigner and star of SBS’s most recent series of Go Back To Where You Come From, which now has just 1,300 ‘likes’.

      I don’t believe history just happens. I don’t believe anything is inevitable. Change occurs because women and men make it happen. History is being made now, and I think it is about so, so much more than a footballer’s response to a young woman’s bad language. I look forward to us all dancing together, enjoying a diversity of rhythms and moves and beats – not all the same, but all respecting each other, because it’s the right thing, because we want to.

  4. I reiterate Bruce’s comments here. I think the previous comment may have missed Adam Goodes response to the 13 year old girl calling him an ‘ape’ – which was an incredibly gracious response that noted her as an innocent victim in a wider social context of racism. It can be viewed here;

    I believe it a grave error to think this unprecedented crowd behaviour is anything but racism.

  5. Readers may like to read Tim Soutphommasane’s piece from last week, in which he says: ‘Let me be clear. There is no question that the booing is of an ugly and unedifying nature. It has everything to do with Goodes standing up against racism and speaking out about Indigenous issues. Goodes has been a public figure not afraid of challenging prejudice; not afraid of asking questions about Australian history and society.’

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