In July last year, when the relentless booing of Adam Goodes by AFL fans prompted nationwide debate, heated arguments about racism in Australian society, and Goodes’ eventual retirement from the sport he had dominated for so long, one of the most thoughtful, eloquent and impassioned voices was that of Stan Grant, a Wiradjuri man and longtime reporter and TV presenter.
As the Goodes controversy raged, Grant penned a column for Guardian Australia outlining, in brutally honest and intensely personal terms, what it meant to Indigenous people to see someone of Goodes’ stature so publicly cut down.
“To Adam’s ears, the ears of so many Indigenous people, these boos are a howl of humiliation. A howl that echoes across two centuries of invasion, dispossession and suffering,” Grant wrote. “Others can parse their words and look for other explanations, but we see race and only race. How can we see anything else when race is what we have clung to even as it has been used as a reason to reject us.”
Shared more than 100,000 times, Grant’s column reverberated in a way that many of the tired, dismissive arguments at the time did not. It contributed to Grant winning his first Walkley award, for Indigenous reportage, and his decision shortly after to join the Guardian as its first Indigenous affairs editor. He explained that after many years overseas telling other people’s stories, he felt compelled to tell “the story of my country … Black Australia is a foreign place and I feel like a foreign correspondent in my own land.”
Around that time, Grant also took part in a debate hosted by IQ2, a regular event hosted by non-profit the Ethics Centre that aims to dissect some of society’s knottiest and most intriguing questions. The debate’s subject was “Racism is Destroying the Australian Dream,” and Grant was selected to argue in the affirmative.
The video of Grant’s opening address was released online by the Ethics Centre yesterday, and just over a day later it looks to have struck the same chord that his original column did back in July. Already viewed over 110,000 times, Grant’s address is a deeply confronting, heartbreakingly open recount of the innumerable degradations, indignities and barbarities heaped on Indigenous people during 228 years of occupation — one that takes the experiences of his own life and family as its basis.
The timing of the video’s release is also worth noting. Tuesday is January 26, the day when most white Australians will commemorate the landing of the First Fleet at Port Jackson in 1788. Indigenous Australians, meanwhile, will mark the day with protest, mourning, celebration of culture and demands for greater legal, constitutional and political recognition.
Alternately known as Invasion Day and Survival Day, it continues a tradition of resistance to the popular erasure of Aboriginal identity ‘Australia Day’ represents that’s existed at least since 1938. In 2016, Stan Grant’s address is likely to hang heavy over ‘Australia Day’ proceedings.