June 3, 2015

Stephen Page opinion piece in The Australian

Last week Bangarra had the pleasure of helping the AFL launch their Indigenous round at our Walsh Bay studios, in the company of Michael Long, Adam Goodes, Lewis Jetta and Lance Franklin. AFL Commissioner Sam Mostyn spoke brilliantly about the pioneers in the game who fought for the rights of Aboriginal people to be able to play this national sport, and how the Indigenous round was a way of starting a conversation about changing the Constitution to recognise Australia’s First Peoples.

Three of our dancers performed at the launch, and with that dance they shared stories, knowledge and culture.They painted up in ochre and performed to music featuring traditional language. Dance is such an important part of how Aboriginal people express our culture and so it was entirely appropriate to see Adam perform a traditional dance at the SCG.

It was disappointing to hear the crowd’s response. The Indigenous round is part of National Reconciliation Week, which ends tomorrow. To see an Aboriginal player booed for expressing his culture in the year 2015 is a huge step backwards for all Australians.

Dance, like football, transcends language. It’s visceral and comes from the gut, and Adam’s dance was a joyful expression of triumph. Are we uncomfortable with the notion of an Aboriginal man being a success? Is that where the booing comes from? Here is an Aboriginal player displaying his heritage with pride and being unapologetic for where he comes from.

Adam said he was taught the dance by the Boomerangs Under-16 football team, and he hoped that seeing him perform their dance made them feel proud of who they are. This is so important to inspiring and nurturing our next generation of Aboriginal leaders.

Bangarra has an outreach program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander secondary school students called Rekindling, where we go to communities and work with Elders and young people to reconnect them with their culture through dance. The outcomes are amazing, and the feedback overwhelming positive. It seems like a small step but it’s all connected.

Over 300 young people have taken part in Rekindling, and if those kids were watching Adam, they would have been cheering extra loudly.

To the supporters who booed Adam, and the commentators who have since criticised his dance, please take the time to understand our culture and why stories and dance are such an important part of who we are. As Adam himself said: “Is this the lesson we want to teach our children? When we don’t understand something, we get our backs up against the wall. ‘Oh, that’s offensive?’ No. If it’s something we don’t understand, let’s have a discussion.”

We need more leaders like Goodes who ask the uncomfortable questions and unapologetically put Aboriginal success in the spotlight. We will see faster change when it’s not just our mob, but every Australian doing the same.

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