Adam Goodes named Australian of the Year

He has been crowned Australian of the Year. But for Adam Goodes, Australia Day is a time of mourning: ''It's a very sad day for a lot of our mob.''

January 26 brings a tumult of emotion for the Sydney Swans star, dual Brownlow medallist, revered figure in indigenous and footy communities and national inspiration.

The 34-year-old was honoured for his leadership and advocacy in the fight against racism both on the sporting field and within society more broadly. 

Fred Chaney named Senior Australian of the Year

Goodes told the crowd at the ceremony in Canberra, "Thank you Australia for this award. This is a huge honour."

But he finds it hard to buy into a celebratory notion of Australia Day ''because of the sadness and mourning and the sorrow of our people and a culture that unfortunately has been lost to me through generations''.

Goodes grew up believing Australia was founded on a summer's day in January 1788 when Governor Arthur Phillip staked the flag of the British kingdom in the sand of Sydney Cove.

''I've obviously learnt different since then,'' he says.

Nevertheless, he finds cause for optimism. ''We are still here, we've got a lot to celebrate about being here and that we have one of the longest-serving cultures still alive and kicking.''

Adam Goodes with Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Picture: Rohan Thomson

For the past couple of years, Goodes has had football engagements on Australia Day morning, but in the afternoon he has found his people: fellow Swans player Lewis Jetta and his cousin, best friend and former AFL player Michael O'Loughlin, with whom Goodes established the mentoring Goodes-O'Loughlin Foundation in 2009. They end up at the Yabun festival in Victoria Park, Camperdown, to celebrate Aboriginal culture and music.

He does not judge flag-waving, beer-swilling celebrations taking place elsewhere. ''Good luck to them,'' he says. ''That's what I love about Australia: we can do things the way we want to do them, because that's the way our country is - no matter what culture you come from, you can come to Australia and practise your religion, you can practise your beliefs, and you shouldn't be judged for it. That's what I love about Australia, we have this freedom.''

Goodes hopes he can continue his advocacy for the things that matter to him, particularly education. And this weekend in Canberra, where he has moved through a heavy schedule of receptions and lunches and cups of tea alongside other candidates for Australian of the Year, it is likely he has shared his thoughts with the Prime Minister and the Governor-General, among other significant figures.

His mother, Lisa, a member of the stolen generation, accompanied Goodes to Canberra. ''She's very proud - it's a nice reward for her as well for the sacrifices she's had to make for us boys to have a better opportunity in life than she had.''

An Andyamathanha man, Goodes grew up in Wallaroo, a small town in South Australia's Yorke Peninsula. The eldest of three brothers, he was brought up mainly by his mother after she split with her husband, Graham Goodes, when Adam was four. The family moved to Adelaide, then Merbein near Mildura, and then to Horsham in the Wimmera, where Lisa had a younger sister.

Goodes preferred soccer as a boy. ''He never, ever kicked the footy,'' Lisa said in 2003. ''Then one day he said: 'I'm not playing soccer, Mum' … I told him to have a go at Aussie rules, and he hasn't looked back.''

Goodes was picked up by North Ballarat Rebels as a 16-year-old, winning a premiership and the eye of recruiters. At 18, the Swans drafted him. ''I was very sad,'' Lisa said. ''It was emotional because it was the first time he'd been away from home, from mum and his brothers. Being Koori, his family is important to him. He found it very hard.''

Today, Goodes holds an elite place as dual Brownlow Medallist, dual premiership player and member of the Indigenous Team of the Century.

He hopes to use his public profile to raise awareness of the push for constitutional recognition of indigenous people.

''There's nothing in the constitution right now that says Aboriginal people are the first Australians,'' Goodes said, arguing for a successful referendum on the issue in the next couple of years.

''It isn't about us wanting to get our land back and it's not about wanting compensation, it's about wanting recognition we were the first Australians.''

But his advocacy might never be as influential as his magnificent demonstration of character and compassion in May 2013. The day after Goodes raised his arm to identify a 13-year-old girl in the MCG crowd who had shouted ''ape'' at him, he stood, shaken and shattered, before a media throng.

''It cut me deep,'' he said.

And then: ''The person that needs the most support now is the little girl. People do need to cut this girl some slack.''

Like Nicky Winmar before him, who, in response to racial taunts at a 1993 game, pulled up his shirt to proudly show his black body, Goodes has become a symbol of the journey towards a better Australia. His hopes for the nation are that ''everyone is treated as equals, through race, religion, sexuality and gender''.

smh.com.au

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