by Kim Farmer as it appeared on The West Australian

Despite years of anti-racism awareness in sport, racism against Aboriginal footballers is still rife.

My dad Graham Farmer’s life represents an era in which racist attitudes towards Aboriginal people in WA and Australia were the norm. When he and other Aboriginal players made it big in the 50s and 60s, horrendous racist ideologies in society not only existed but were reinforced by the governments of the day.

He died last year at the age of 84 and throughout his life he was directly impacted by government interventions and prevailing prejudices of wider society. It is an ugly truth that, almost 70 years on from the start of my dad’s football career, Indigenous players today are still facing overt racism on and off the field.

Times are changing, though, and legislation and policies have been introduced to tackle racial vilification on the field, abuse from the sidelines, and now to combat the enormity of anonymous social media attacks.

There is still a long way to go to eradicate it to ensure that today’s players like Eddie Betts and Liam Ryan do not have to endure the hate and ignorance directed at them and their families. The AFL, sporting bodies and the police are responding, but the long-term solution lies further from the football field — it is in the classrooms and lecture halls throughout Australia.

Creating change and breaking down barriers has to happen across all areas of society and one of the critical ways to achieve this is through education. Education to empower young Aboriginal people and education to empower all Australians with the knowledge and understanding of our country’s 60,000-year history.

One of Dad’s greatest attributes as a footballer was his unparalleled ability to create openings and opportunities for those around him.

Those same qualities extended to his life after football as his dream of helping young Aboriginal people to succeed came to life with the creation of the Graham (Polly) Farmer Foundation. The Foundation is part of the way forward. It is a positive, strengths-based approach that has been making a difference for nearly 25 years by supporting young Aboriginal people to follow their dreams.

Over the foundation’s life, thousands of Aboriginal students have taken part in its academic programs and today many of our alumni have become incredible role models who are excelling in their chosen careers. They are changing the conversation, breaking down barriers and forging the paths for other young Aboriginal people.

Two of our alumni immediately spring to mind: Jolleen Hicks and Shaka Cook. Jolleen was part of our inaugural program launched in the Pilbara in 1997 and was empowered through education to follow her ambitions. After a successful career as a lawyer, her focus today is on breaking down racism through cultural education, engagement with Aboriginal communities and supporting her own community.

Shaka is also one of our earlier alumni and has forged a successful career in theatre, TV and film, after graduating from WAAPA and NIDA. He continues to perform on multi-media platforms, with the desire to make change for the better for all people.

In a truly reconciled Australia, our current-day students will have all doors open to them and the freedom to follow whatever pathway they choose once they finish school. There is still a long way to go to ensure that all Aboriginal children are afforded the same opportunities and are not forced to confront the racist attitudes that still exist in some areas of society.
Despite the vision of an equal playing field for Aboriginal children, it does not seem possible until all Australian children learn about the true history of Australia’s colonial past, the atrocities and the impacts that are still evident today.

This will enable all children to share in the knowledge of Australia’s history and celebrate our First Nation Peoples’ heritage and connection with this country. This knowledge will empower young people and be part of the solution to eradicating racism across all aspects of Australian society, including in the game of Aussie rules football.

Kim Farmer is patron of the Graham (Polly) Farmer Foundation.

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One of the most important National Strategies is the National Closing the Gap Strategy that seeks to address the inequalties that exist within Australia between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians.