‘The Australian Dream’ for the Australian Classroom

Image source:screen capture from iTunes where the documentary is available

Editor’s note: This film review first appeared in ‘Word’s Worth’ the official publication of the English Teachers Association of Queensland, Australia, Vol 53, Number 3, October, 2020,

Daniel Gordon’s ‘The Australian Dream’ documentary is a real find in our pile of materials in this age bereft with illness, particularly the socially induced racial prejudice. Through its depiction of racism against Indigenous people, this documentary presents a robust remedy with a wake-up call: if we want happiness and unity for this country, we need to sincerely acknowledge our diversity.

‘The Australian Dream’ is the winner of the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) award for Best Documentary film in 2019 that explores the issue of racism in the experience of AFL legend Adam Goodes. From a highly confident sporting hero to a denigrated individual, Goodes’s life is a narrative testament of the damaging effect of racial vilification on individuals.

A simple conclusion would be to apply the usual Aussie attitude: stop being a sook, mate, and get over it, but it all comes down to the individual. Situation ethics approach would back Adam Goodes up in his feelings that it is hard for one to feel the real damage of racism if the other has not personally experienced it. In fairness, he lived with it. He comes from a mixed background. His mother is Aboriginal.

If used in schools, this documentary will provide an opportunity for students to explore race relations between black and white Australians. Lessons in Humanities and English can be organised to allow students identify evidence of racism, evaluate perspectives on conflict and make conclusion on the effects of racial prejudice on individuals and societies. Questions to consider could include: why did Adam Goodes feel offended for having been compared to an Ape during a football match? Why did the source of name-calling – a white girl – matter, or shouldn’t matter? What cultural identity did Adam Goodes adopt? What provisions of Universal Declaration of Human Rights apply on racism? Why is racism harmful to society?

A plus for this documentary is its use of sport to explore a social issue – a gem which will help appeal to a majority of Australian audience. Sport being deeply rooted in Australia’s way of life will help usher the golden message: the real Australian way of life encompass respect of its first peoples.

Hence, Daniel Gordon’s ‘The Australian Dream’ documentary has a lot to offer for historical and social issue research tasks, such as, the real significance of January 26 as ‘Australia Day’, the ramifications of the terra nullius belief, the human cost of dislocations and murder from the onset of white settlers, the reality of Stolen Generation, the damaging effects of racial vilification and prejudice on Aboriginal people, and Aboriginal people only recognised as citizens of the country in 1968.

The subject of English can use this material to study the richness of film language: the use of the musical score as a motif that highlights a pressing situation, the clever manipulation of its structure through sequence and time to highlight its timeless theme, and the beautiful cinematography that accentuates the importance of place, the Aboriginal culture and the Australian landscape. It can be argued that Goodes becomes a symbol or a metonymy for a number of Aboriginal personalities and communities in their journey for recognition and participation in the quest for solidarity and common good in this nation. When inter-textualised with Kate Grenville’s novel The Secret River and Oodgeroo Noonuccal’s poem Son of Mine, this text may yield significant realisations and conclusions for all students.

Stan Grant’s speech the Great Australian Dream towards the conclusion of the film is the fire that lights up the golden message of this text. The Australian dream is achieved by looking through our historical facts keenly and with sensitivity. This film is the Australian conscience that will always have a voice towards living the real Australian way. To reconcile with our past is to bring ourselves forward to a happier future. This documentary is a must for all and all Australians to see.

About the author: Erwin Cabucos teaches English in Queensland, Australia. He holds a master degree in Secondary English Education from University of New England, Armidale.

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