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Adam Goodes: Kicking Goals After Football

AFL was really just the beginning.

It is rare to see a star transcend the sporting world in such a ground-breaking manner as we’ve seen with former Aussie rules player Adam Goodes. When it comes to stats, his achievements on the field are nothing short of impressive . The Wallaroo-born athlete collected two Brownlow awards, two Premiership titles, four Bob Skilton medals, four All Australian Blazers, was the three-time Club Leading Goal Kicker, AFL Rising Star, named in the Indigenous Team of the Century, whilst kicking 464 goals across 372 games for the Sydney Swans – a club record. Such figures would be enough to classify him as a legend alone, but it is how he used his talent to better our nation that should be appreciated.

As an Indigenous Australian (Adnyamathanha and Narungga), Goodes has brought light to racial issues that confront his people on a daily basis. He was acknowledged for his efforts and honoured with the 2014 Australian of the Year Award, but took this merely as a platform to evoke a change. Though his plight has been tolling and received with much backlash at times, our society will look back and respect the stance he took for the conversations it ignited.

He left the game of football as an icon, but more importantly a figure emblematic of reconciliation. When people study influential figures in our country’s history, the Sydney local will be pivotal in understanding how racism in Australia was reflected in sport, but the bravery Goodes bared to oppose it – a journey closely captured in the 2019 documentary ‘The Australian Dream’. 

During retirement from his professional sporting career, Adam has taken solace in his daily swims at Bondi beach and giving his earliest passion of soccer another shot – The Over 35s Division 2 in Sydney’s eastern suburbs has met their toughest competitor yet. However, his mission to better the lives of Indigenous individuals has come even more into fruition through the establishment of his company Indigenous Defence & Infrastructure Consortium (iDiC). It is described as a “single point deployment project and account manager, providing a diverse range of services via its consortium partners, all of whom are Indigenous owned businesses”, according to their business website. These efforts aim to provide more opportunities for First Nations people.

A role model leads by example and this is what Adam Goodes has done – something that has continued well past his time of kicking the oval-shaped ball. The former Swans player has faced many obstacles and challenges in his life, but his purpose remains clear; to give back and help his people.

We chat with Adam Goodes about his beginnings, life post-AFL, and the importance of Indigenous opportunity and business. Here’s what he said:

OB: Adam before we kick things off, I would just like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land belonging to the Kulan nation people. I’d like to pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging. How are you mate?

Adam: Been good mate. Up here in Sydney, we’ve been able to live a reasonably normal. Obviously social distancing and probably not going out as much socially as you would normally do, but still been able to do some of the things that we love to do at this time of the year – that’s exercise, play sport, go to the beach.

OB: I would like to know because I’ve heard a few different things, when you were younger you were actually fond of playing soccer? Is this true?

Adam: I was. It’s funny because I’ve come full circle again now. I play Over 35s Division 2 up here in the eastern suburbs competition. I grew up playing soccer mate until I was 13. It wasn’t until we moved to country Victoria, a little country town called Merbein just on the outskirts of Mildura, where there wasn’t a soccer team for me to play and join so I had to give Aussie rules a go.

OB: For sure and I heard that you made an appearance at a Western United game as well. Who do you follow in the A-League?

Adam: I’m a Sydney FC man for sure. When Jase and a mutual friend, Rocky, who lives next door to me said they’ve got family support tickets and only there’s only going to be 30 people in the crowd going to watch the final between Brisbane and Western United, I jumped at it.

OB: How come we don’t see more Indigenous talent coming through the soccer forum and through the system? Are you aware as to why that might be?

Adam: Look, I think I can only talk to what AFL does and do really well. The AFL at the grassroots level is so inclusive. You’re not charging people to come start a kick-start program and learning the skills of the game of AFL. You’re actually giving them a backpack with a football, a drink bottle, an activity book – that’s a bit of a hook to get kids involved.

I know there are a few coming through the John Moriarty Football program, which is creating some good athletes, but also some good people as well. We need to have funding supporting more programs like that and we have to create those opportunities for Indigenous kids throughout that because it’s too easy for these kids to get hooked into AFL, and there’s so much opportunity in AFL.

OB: I think you’re right, it does need an element more from the grassroots that attributes to an attractive scenario where kids can play soccer.

Adam: Exactly. Just soccer camps, you know giving them an opportunity to kick soccer balls around. Every sort of ball I’ve ever seen in the communities I go to is AFL balls or rugby league balls, or rugby union balls. It’s about having a bigger asking net of the talent that’s out there – you can’t wait for the talent to come to you because it’s extremely hard for that to happen.

OB: I guess that would bring me to the next point. Playing soccer, where did football come from? How did that kickstart your career or your passion as a young kid?

Adam: It started at Forbes Primary for me, which is the primary school I went to. My best mate in primary school was an English kid actually. Dave was his name and and we’d always just kick the soccer ball around. He and his family were Manchester United supporters and had moved over when he was very young. Every time I went around there we were just watching soccer on TV, watching United.

OB: Is United your team?

Adam: It is. It’s been a tough couple of years. It’s an incredible club and brand.  I love now watching players, not so much teams and supporting a team. Especially across Europe, there are so many incredible leagues with so many incredible players playing. I love a Monday morning, just logging into YouTube and watching the soccer highlights from the weekend.

OB: It’s incredible. So your primary school football is kind of where you fell into that career and thinking about it? Was there anyone specific apart from friends that guided you towards Aussie rules footy?

Adam: No, not at all. The only Aussie Rules game I played before we moved to Victoria was… in South Australia the local school’s competition was called ‘Sapsasa’ and our soccer team won ‘Sapsasa’ a couple of years in a row that I played in and The AFL team really struggled for numbers, so my whole soccer team filled for the AFL. We lost that game because none of us had any idea of what we were doing, but that was the only sort of real influence into AFL whilst I was living in South Australia.

OB: No way. Who would’ve thought?

Adam: I know man, it’s pretty crazy. I moved to Victoria when I was 13 and four years later I was drafted.

OB: And see that’s so young to be leaving home as well. Going through the system at such a young age cannot be easy. What was that like in the beginning?

Adam: For me, I had finished my year 12 exams. I was ready to move out. I was ready to move away. I was the eldest in the family. I was looking forward to being out on my own, doing something. You know going to Sydney and coming to a football club and program, it wasn’t daunting. I was the youngest on the list and I had a lot of to learn, but I also had for the first time in my life senior Indigenous men around me – Michael O’Loughlin, Troy Cook, and Robbie Ahmat who really took a leadership and mentoring role with me and it really helped me in those first couple of years to find my feet and to find a way to contribute to the team.

OB: Are you watching football this year?

Adam: I watched one game. I watched the Swans v Giants. We went around to Lewis Roberts-Thompson’s house and he’s got a nice little set up in his garage in Paddington. There were about eight of us that were over there and LRT’s old teammate, BRT, cooked us an incredible roast chicken and lamb dinner.

OB: In terms of a year to win one Brownlow, just to paint a picture for me, how good of a year do you have to have?

Adam: I always thought that to get votes you almost have to have a better year the year before you win the Brownlow. It’s like the umpires go “Wow, he’s had a really good year”, but the following year when you back that year up I always found that’s when you got a vote.

You know you don’t play to win Brownlow, but every year I’ve won a Brownlow we’ve made it to either the Preliminary Round or the Grand Final. The award for me is a success not only for me as the individual winning it, but for midfielders and players I’ve with around me because they’ve had a role and their role was to nullify the best players of the opposition team, then my role was to go out there and win the ball. Without them doing their role, I’ve then got to go win that ball back off the best players in the competition.

OB: Looking back now at those seasons where you’ve had a stellar performance, who would you say was a standout like someone who was the most difficult to play against as a player?

Adam: It was easily by far Chris Judd. One of the most challenging and most exciting roles I’ve played on a football field knowing that we’re both going to be going straight after the ball. Those games were all about one-on-one contest.

OB: Obviously your game against the Hawks is quite iconic, but what was that like in the build-up to Grand Final and winning that?

Adam: It is an incredible time of the year. It’s when the best players in the competition rise again knowing what’s on the line. For me, the build-up for big finals is massive. I love the big stage. I love to play a good game on the big stage where everything is to lose.

There’s no bigger game than the Grand Final and to have played in four; we’ve won one by four points, lost one by one point, lost one by 72 points, won one by 10 points – nice little mixed bag there of Grand Finals for us. Even the ones that we lost, as heartbreaking as they are, especially the West Coast one by a point, that two year period was it’s a kick either way. To come out of that period and for both of us to have a premiership and be rewarded for our rivalry, I think that’s a fair result.

OB: You have now moved to the business world for some time and you’re doing extremely well. Did you take any lessons from footy to the business world?

Adam: Yes, I think the biggest thing that AFL players need to take when they transition from the game is how good they are at being a team player because whenever you go into the corporate world or you’re going into skilled force or wherever that might be, you’re now part of a team. For me, a lot I took from the game is about discipline, my work ethic, and some of that leadership – you know skills that I’ve built up with the Swans.

OB: I was doing some reading so iDiC, you have other 80 Indigenous businesses now. Give me the low-down there. iDiC, how long has that been happening for now?

Adam: Coming to five years in March next year. I started the business with three other guys, another Indigenous guy, Michael McLeod, who’s also the Chair of iDiC. I’m the CEO and we help Indigenous businesses engage defence and infrastructure contracts, so we’re a supply chain aggregator if you like. They come directly to us with a contract, we’ll then sub in that work out to our Indigenous workforce.

OB: With Boeing, there was a $10 million figure that was thrown around I was reading on LinkedIn, that’s pretty impressive. So what’s the go with Boeing?

Adam: BDA have been really productive with their Indigenous engagement. They’ve just reached the $10 million mark of spend across their business, which is a really great step forward and that’s only going to grow bigger and bigger.

OB: With building a business and providing opportunity for Indigenous companies, what are some of the hurdles here?

Adam: So the biggest thing for me about my transition here is I couldn’t have gone and started this business myself. Actually I probably could’ve, but it would’ve failed in the first year or two. Going into business with people who have more knowledge and skills than you and are willing to pass that on, that’s a perfect environment for me. That’s like me being drafted to the Swans as a 17-year-old kid being surrounded by these incredible, knowledgeable leaders and mentors. I’ve got those at IDIC, which is really great and they’ve been teaching me the last five years.

The biggest hurdles for a lot of Indigenous businesses is getting their foot in the door, especially with tier one companies who are just massive, massive beasts and they own policies within those companies that just make it hard for Indigenous people to engage. Just things that we’ve found when we’ve helped a lot of our tier one companies is the process to get their skills approved, to be an approved supplier on some of their programs, to be on panels, [and] payment scheduling.

OB: It’s a scenario where it’s just logistical and it’s quite specific, so I think it’s really important that you’ve been all this amazing work because I don’t think people think about Indigenous business struggling to get their foot into the door, they’re not really breaking it down into much of a logistical manner like you are.

Adam: Yeah and that’s the thing, we’re using our brand as a business to break down those barriers. We’re using the Indigenous Procurement Policy, their Reconciliation Action plans to break in. Our model is very simple in that it’s a top down approach. If we don’t have a relationship with the CEO with all of those companies, we don’t even bother because if you don’t have that relationship it’s just too hard.

OB: How important is the relationship and fostering relationships so then it becomes about business and education?

Adam: We’re seeing Indigenous engagement written into every department of the defence contract, so these tier ones have to engage and show how they are going to engage with Indigenous businesses. They can engage with iDiC as one Indigenous business that gives them access to over 80 businesses. We see ourselves as a way that makes it as easy as possible for them to engage with as many Indigenous businesses as possible. That’s our point of difference out there in the market, which we’re really proud of.

OB: Have you seen a bit of change business-wise with COVID?

Adam: For us, since we have such diversity in the types of services we offer, we’re seeing a lot of professional services really carrying us through this period – still lots of construction work carrying us through. Businesses that don’t work in that space how they’ve been able to pivot and shift during this period, which has been really positive to see them do that and for clients to really acknowledge that and really support them as well during this period.

OB: That’s very good. Have you had a chance to chat to Vincent about the Archibald Prize at all?

Adam: Just on the email mate, so we’re both extremely excited. He’s an incredible artist and comes from an incredible blood-line of artists. I’m just really proud for him and his family and the acknowledgement he gets for winning this award.

OB: Let’s rewind a little bit. I’d like to know after footy, you had gone now the term is called “gone bush”, you visited some Elders and you went back to Alice Springs. What was that like for you?

Adam: Not so much Alice Springs, went back to a place in the Flinders Ranges, a place called Iga Warta, out to a property at Mount Serle, which is not too far from Alice Springs when you think about the middle of Australia. It’s really great for me to have that connection. I have a young daughter and we’re yet to take her back on country, [but] that’s really important for us to be able to do and for her to plant her feet in the soil and know that’s where she comes from.

OB: That would lead me to ‘The Australia Dream’. Have you seen your documentary back now that it’s been made?

Adam: No, not at all. I watched it at a very raw cut. It’s very hard to watch something that is majority about you focusing on a period of time, but also focusing on our story which is so sad and needs to be spoken to. A lot of people don’t know about our history and that’s what we talk about reconciliation and our country and the only way for us to heal is to share those stories, to have empathy for each other and to then move forward and create new stories in a reconciled nation.

OB: On that note, I am in no way comparing what I experienced at school to you or anyone else, but it is a scenario for young kids even for your daughter, that teachers understand the difference between racial abuse and racial bullying compared to swearing. Back when I was at school, my teachers didn’t know that difference at all. They treated racial bullying as that it was similar to swearing.

Adam: That’s been my whole conversation and challenging people about what casual racism is and the effects of what it can have. Even though that person who is vilifying the person thinks “Oh, it’s just a joke”, well it’s not a joke. It’s hurtful. Just because you don’t see that hurt straight away, it’s just another instance where they’re being racially bullied.

OB: On that point, how did this documentary come about?

Adam: Stan Grant, who I admire and I respect, called me up and said he had a meeting with some producers from the U.K and they wanted to do a documentary about Australia and to focus on what had happened to me, but then to give it context by going back to showcase what has happened in Australia.

OB: I’m interested to hear what you think in terms of education because obviously you have studied Indigenous studies. For the system in terms of private schools, public schools, there’s always more that can be done, but where do you think it’s extremely important to implement these studies?

Adam: Teachers now have the ability to teach Indigenous studies at school. We’re not providing them with the resources to be able to do it. If you’re not an Indigenous teacher and you don’t have the resources to be able to do that, then you’re not really going to touch that are you? The resources in those communities are the Elders and are the Indigenous people of those areas, so they should be tapped into and they should be used as resources. This isn’t Indigenous history that we’re talking, this isn’t Australian history, this is all of our history that we need to learn about and share and learn from so we don’t repeat any of that.

OB: In terms of your studies, how was that for you studying at this point in time?

Adam: It was very confronting. I learnt in high school that Captain Cook founded Australia and for me, doing this course opened my eyes to all the bad things that had happened – government policies that were created to keep Indigenous people away from the cities and the towns and to keep us on the outskirts, the massacres, the small-pox virus that was passed on to our people through blankets being gifted, so it really was something that really made me angry to be honest. I had to find ways to bottle up that anger and really focus on the positives and the positives for me is us, as Indigenous people are still here.

OB: Understanding all of this and understanding the kind of climate we are in, with Indigenous businesses, how are you seeing a shift in terms of introducing more businesses into a private sector or introducing businesses into a close-knit networking bubble, which is Sydney as well. How are you seeing improvements there?

Adam: I say this a lot when I’m talking to a lot of Indigenous students and there’s no better time to be an Indigenous person in Australia because the amount of opportunities to learn, to get a job, it is incredible. There are that many positive policies out there to help and support you, to get and achieve your dreams. For me, what I know about the Indigenous business sector is that an Indigenous business is 100 times more likely to hire another Indigenous person into that business.

Supply Nation did a study a couple of years ago that for every dollar spent with an Indigenous business, $4.41 in value was put back into that community. If that isn’t value for money, I don’t know what is.

In terms of goals for yourself and iDiC, what’s on the horizon, especially given our year we’re in at the moment?

Adam: I’d like to see our business double again from revenue in the next 12 months, which is very capable through our relationships and clients that we have. I hired my brother in November last year to be my estate manager over in South Australia, so I want to keep creating opportunities for other Indigenous people to work with iDiC – not only as an employee, but as a business employee as well.

OB: In terms of a movement from a covid normal in Sydney and Melbourne, are you planning on coming to Melbourne anytime soon? Do you have a big base for IDIC in Melbourne?

Adam: We really can’t wait for Victoria, for the big wheels to start turning and for the borders to open again. My mum’s in Ballarat. My brother’s in Stawell. My niece and nephew are obviously with him.

From a business point of view, there are some incredible infrastructure projects down there that a lot of our businesses are keen to work on. There’s some incredible opportunity. It’s about, for me, getting in at the right time with those projects, having that relationship with those clients already, and to be trust suppliers. That takes a bit of time, but we’ll definitely be able to get to that point.

OB: What has been some past time/ leisure time while we’ve been going in and out of isolation? What’s been your go-to?

Adam: I live one street off the beach here on Bondi. Going for a walk and jumping the ocean is something that I do every morning and now with daylight savings coming up, it’s definitely the morning and night time ritual for me. I’ve been living in Sydney now for 23 years and that ocean has been my best friend. There’s something magical about that sea water man, it just washes off all my worries. It really is something that I enjoy.

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