Mercury (Hobart)

Ballad of Eddie Betts

Master pens a song about star


MASTER storytelle­r Paul Kelly has distilled legendary footballer Eddie Betts’ fight against racism and his dream for his children to live in a “world where they can just be” into the song that will make Australia cry.

Every Step Of The Way was inspired by a candid Fox Footy interview last year when Betts declared “I’m sick and tired of it” after being the weekly target of racial abuse on the field and online during his 17 years playing in the AFL.

The First Nation footballer’s comment stuck with Kelly (inset). He didn’t set out to write a song about Betts’ experience, yet by the time he finished the emotional ballad, he knew he had to seek the footballer’s blessing to share it with the world.

“I didn’t plan to write a song about Eddie. It started with something he said on TV – ‘I’m sick and tired of it’ – which became a voice that wouldn’t go away,” Kelly said. “That voice was my imagining of Eddie’s voice. I followed it and the song came quickly. That’s the easy part.

“But because the song is so interior I believed I had a responsibi­lity to check with Eddie. It’s a matter of respect with a song that close to the bone.”

Betts, who retired at the end of the 2021 season, is a Kelly fan.

The song imagines the footballer’s pain, frustratio­n and anger every time he is subjected to racism even as “Thousands smile when I go through my paces, They fall at my dancing feet.” It also pays tribute to the ancestors who are “with me every step of the way” and give him the courage to continue speaking out and educating Australia about the scourge of racism.

“I was so honoured when Paul reached out to me with a song that he had written from his heart,” Betts said.

“He has always empowered us mob with his music and his authentic and heartfelt collaborat­ions have always been enjoyed by myself and all my family.

“I feel proud to have this song written for me by someone so respected here in Australia and someone who has always stood in solidarity with us mob – this song means a lot to me.” Kelly’s revered canon features a powerful collection of anthems about Indigenous stories.

He co-wrote From Little Things Big Things Grow with Kev Carmody about the famous Wave Hill walk-off for land rights and shares a writing credit on Yothu Yindi’s protest song Treaty. Other songs seeking to spotlight injustice suffered by First Nations people include Special Treatment and Every Day My Mother’s Voice, which he recorded with Dan Sultan for the Final Quarter documentar­y about the abuse suffered by Adam Goodes during the final years of his playing career.

Kelly remains committed to the belief that music can make a difference in dismantlin­g racism.

“Music can, writing can, art can, not staying silent can. It’s a whole lot of little actions by many, many people over time that makes a difference,” he said.

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