My entire working career has been as an educator: teacher, school principal, administrator and now Executive Director of a Catholic diocese with a responsibility for educating more than 70,000 young Australians.
I instinctively see everything through the prism of education through which we build people and bring out their best.
But over the past months I have observed a systematic dismantling of a courageous Australian who has dared to publicly call out racism. This should not go unchallenged.
About 15 years ago, the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney accepted that it needed to do more to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families who wanted to send their children to a Catholic school. In the 15 years since, the number of children in our 150 Sydney Catholic schools who identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait has grown from fewer than 300 to almost 1100. Each of these children who attend a Sydney Catholic schools now receives a scholarship or bursary and is provided with the learning or wellbeing support that he or she deserves.
We had to do better and, while there is more to be done, I think we have done better. And the impact of this policy has profoundly changed the nature of our schools. Our students and staff now have a more sophisticated understanding and appreciation of the challenges faced by many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and their communities.
Education is a catalyst for change. I am hoping that, as a nation of good people, we will mark this moment in time as a point of turning for our country.
It is in this context that I have despaired over the appalling treatment meted out to Adam Goodes over the past two years. At a time when role models for our young Indigenous men and women could not be more important, like others, I have watched and winced as, week after week, an extraordinary Australian has been subjected to a campaign of degradation and character assassination.
Adam Goodes is a former Australian of the Year, a champion of Indigenous rights, an advocate for those on the margins, a challenger of stereotypes, a speaker of uncomfortable truths, an extraordinary athlete. Yet he has been systematically taunted both on the field and off, and vilified in the media and by some public identities.
Despite the attacks, Goodes has refused to bow to those who have challenged his right to speak up and speak out. I applaud him for doing so. I encourage him to continue to stand strong and believe in his right to be heard and remain authentic to his identity. His culturally appropriate war dance in front of a section of the crowd at a recent match, as provocative as it appeared to some, was to me a stirring gesture of defiance: you will not stop me; you will not win.
This is more than an issue about sport; it is about who we are as a country. It would be a significant loss for our nation if Goodes, in the face of this relentless public torment, feels left with no other option than to terminate his stellar sporting career.
To be frank, I cannot even believe that we are even having this conversation. At a time when we are debating what constitutional recognition for the First Australians might look like, we are back, once again, trying to justify the unjustifiable.
I wonder what others around the world might be thinking when they look at what is happening here: a chorus of boos breaks out in a stadium filled with more than 50,000 predominately white sporting fans every time an Aboriginal man touches the ball because he is prepared to call out racism? Is Pacific Islander nations performing the “Haka” or other traditional dances before an international rugby match looked upon with such derision and disrespect?
This is more than an issue about sport; it is about who we are as a country.
Education is a catalyst for change. I am hoping that, as a nation of good people, we will mark this moment in time as a point of turning for our country, where our national consciousness is awakened and our understanding of what it means to be fair and just and decent is rekindled. The way that the crowd at Saturday’s Swans/Crows game made known just how much Adam Goodes is admired and respected is a wonderful start. I am also very keen for our schools to play a part in bringing about this change. I will be doing what I can to ensure that they do.
Dr Dan White
Executive Director of Catholic Schools
Dr Dan White is the Executive Director of Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of Sydney