Two films were released this year about that shameful chapter in Australian history in which then Sydney Swans star Adam Goodes was booed out of Australian rules football. The first was Ian Darling’s The Final Quarter, which is crafted solely from archival footage and is being used in schools to start conversations about racism. The second was Stan Grant’s The Australian Dream, which The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald senior culture writer and cinephile Karl Quinn remembers from its August premiere at the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF).
“Goodes didn’t do publicity in Australia, but he turned up to the opening night of MIFF,” says Quinn. “He didn’t stay for the film, though, so he didn’t see the seven-minute standing ovation afterwards. That speaks volumes to me about how uncomfortable he is to be going back into this. Yet he’s given permission for one project to go ahead, and been directly involved in the other, knowing how that public airing would invite all the same nastiness again.”
While some commentators remained unapologetic, the two films have substantially progressed the conversation, not to mention reflection by key players. The gaffe-prone Collingwood president Eddie McGuire showed a willingness to re-examine his role in the episode, while AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan issued repeated apologies to Goodes for not acting faster or more forcefully at the time.
Goodes always saw his 2014 Australian of the Year title as being much more than a ceremonial sash: he wanted people to wrestle with uncomfortable ideas, says Quinn. “That was five years ago,” he says. “Goodes has re-emerged now through these films, at a moment in which we’re a little more willing to grapple with the legacy of settlement in this country, and the fundamental rift it’s created. The conversation that Adam wanted to happen in 2014 is beginning to happen now. And it wouldn’t be happening without him.”
In 2019, Dylan Alcott won the quad wheelchair singles title at the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon, but his performance off the court was equally interesting – most specifically, his emergence as a versatile and popular media performer.
He’s been trending that way for a while, hosting radio shows on Triple J and the ABC, releasing a book – Gold Medals, Grand Slams and Smashing Glass Ceilings, written with Grantlee Kieza – and launching Ability Fest, an event using music as a platform to normalise disability. But for good measure in 2019, he won the Graham Kennedy Award at the Logies for Best New Talent, was co-host of the short-lived reboot of the AFL Footy Show, and appeared on a highly watched episode of Interview with Andrew Denton.
“He was very good, very articulate and came across as so competitive,” says The Age’s Green Guide editor Paul Kalina. “He clearly understands what goes on inside the minds of ambitious athletes: their dreams and ambitions and impulses. He’s also 28, and he talks like a young, pumped-up, 28-year-old dude. He’s not polished – and I mean that in a really good way – it’s refreshing.”
That was on show during his biggest breakthrough this year, as part of the new Australian Open commentary team at Nine (publisher of Good Weekend). There was that moment, for instance, when he played a game against his friend Novak Djokovic, both of them in wheelchairs. Alcott’s rising profile was also no doubt part of the decision to broadcast the quad wheelchair singles final live on free-to-air for the first time. “The awesome thing about Dylan Alcott is that he’s genuinely blurring the line between able-bodied sport and disabled sport,” says Kalina. “Those categories existed exclusively once upon a time, but he’s bridged something. It’s an exciting step forward – for all of us.”
Nakkiah Lui & Miranda Tapsell
Nakkiah Lui is shaping up to be one of Australia’s finest playwrights: her works have been staged by key theatre companies in Victoria, NSW, Queensland and South Australia. Miranda Tapsell, meanwhile, co-wrote and starred in the home-grown hit film of the year, the feel-good romcom Top End Wedding, which was set in the Northern Territory and, significantly, revolves around a happy Indigenous community in the Tiwi Islands.
Yet the standout 2019 performance of Lui and Tapsell was in fact a single episode – the final episode – of the ABC TV show Get Krack!n. “It really was one of the most brilliant half-hours of television I’ve seen in years,” says The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald senior culture writer Michael Lallo. “In 30 minutes, they managed a blistering, searing critique of so many issues that are swirling around right now.” The emotional and angry polemic – framed within a mock breakfast panel show – was firstly a rebuke of the notion of “civil” debate: “this idea that, ‘If we can all just talk politely and respectfully, we can all get along’,” Lallo says.
They attacked a corporate feminism that’s more concerned with women in the boardroom than women in poverty. They attacked the progressives “who want a biscuit and a pat on the head for saying that racism is bad”. They attacked the patronising fetishisation of Aboriginal leaders. And they attacked the idea that hope is key – as if a positive attitude is all we need to close the gap. Lallo points out that many TV pairings end up being less than the sum of their parts, but this was the exact opposite. “It was a rare partnership,” he says. “Individually, they’re terrific. But together, they were extraordinary.”
Konrad Marshall is a senior writer