Why Op­tus Sta­dium is the right fit for Nicky Win­mar statue

The Guardian Australia - - Opinion - Sean Gor­man

There are rum­blings in the West. Rest as­sured these are not the usual is­sues Western Aus­tralians like to chirp on about, such as se­ces­sion, iron ore prices or how the West Coast Ea­gles can win an­other AFL premier­ship. They have to do with a statue and where it should be lo­cated.

Well-re­garded jour­nal­ist John Townsend has writ­ten in The West Aus­tralian, WA’s only lo­cal hard copy news­pa­per, that the pro­posal to have Nicky Win­mar’s statue at the sparkling new Op­tus Sta­dium in Perth is “flawed”. I have heard sim­i­lar po­si­tions on 882 6PR, the wire­less equiv­a­lent of The West Aus­tralian.

Townsend does con­cede that Win­mar’s fa­mous stance – struck in the round four game against Colling­wood in 1993, and soon to be im­mor­talised in bronze – “un­der­lines the power of an in­di­vid­ual to prompt change, recog­nises the vast Abo­rig­i­nal im­pact in foot­ball and is a re­minder of the need for ac­tion rather than rhetoric in the quest for gen­uine rec­on­cil­i­a­tion”.

Yet de­spite the power of the mo­ment cap­tured by pho­tog­ra­pher Wayne Ludbey, who in­tu­itively hung around to cap­ture what be­came ar­guably the most fa­mous foot­ball photo in his­tory, the sug­ges­tion is that Win­mar’s statue needs to be placed at Moorab­bin – the home of St Kilda, the side he played for. This, I feel, is also flawed.

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In terms of the pic­ture it­self, which is foren­si­cally dis­sected in the book by Matthew Klug­man and Gary Os­mond, Black and Proud: The Story of an Iconic AFL Photo, the rea­son why we still talk about what Win­mar did that day is be­cause it can­not be eas­ily de­fined or sim­ply ex­plained. It is a con­flu­ence of race, racism, coloni­sa­tion, sport, iden­tity and pain.

For me the pic­ture is a del­i­cately poignant mo­ment and a state­ment of sig­nif­i­cant power. Many things have been writ­ten about what Win­mar was ac­tu­ally try­ing to say that day – I’m a proud Abo­rig­i­nal man, I have guts and so on – but this only touches on things. It is deeper than that. I think it is two things that are speak­ing pow­er­fully but si­mul­ta­ne­ously. For me it can be read as Win­mar’s most pri­vate pub­lic mo­ment or his most pub­lic pri­vate mo­ment. Ei­ther way the ac­tion is his­toric and one which will be re­mem­bered as thrilling, brave and sig­nif­i­cant. What he is ac­tu­ally say­ing in a dig­ni­fied and so­phis­ti­cated way is: “White Aus-

tralia, you can­not ig­nore me any­more.”

Townsend goes on to say that the more de­serv­ing foot­ballers, also Noon­gars like Win­mar, are Gra­ham Farmer and Barry Ca­ble. This is a good argument as both Farmer and Ca­ble’s records are stel­lar, and they are cham­pi­ons by any mea­sure. This is hard to ar­gue with given the im­por­tance we in Aus­tralia put on sport­ing records, namely longevity and on-field suc­cess.

But the rea­son why Win­mar’s stance is so pow­er­ful is sim­ple: it has tran­scended the sport and the mo­ment it was taken in. We are still talk­ing about it to­day and in many re­spects it has noth­ing to do with foot­ball, St Kilda or Colling­wood sup­port­ers.

Just as this year’s Sir Doug Nicholls round was gen­er­ously given over to the legacy of Farmer, Win­mar’s story will be told at some point dur­ing the pres­ti­gious themed round. The statue then is the lat­est it­er­a­tion in the on­go­ing dis­cus­sion that Win­mar car­ried on from those other play­ers. It is the legacy that is told via sport, in this in­stance AFL foot­ball, that helps us un­der­stand who we are. Where we have come from. Where we need to go.

Yet this re­sis­tance to the statue be­ing placed at Op­tus Sta­dium is in di­rect op­po­si­tion to Win­mar’s orig­i­nal mes­sage. White Aus­tralia con­tin­ues to ig­nore In­dige­nous Aus­tralians.

What needs to be un­der­stood is the deep con­nec­tion to coun­try that Abo­rig­i­nal iden­tity has. Coun­try is iden­tity. The cul­ture of Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Is­lander Aus­tralians is deeply rooted in the land and sea. It is why the stolen gen­er­a­tions for many black­fel­las still st­ing like blazes, and will for many years to come given the is­sue is still alive to­day. It’s why is­sues around na­tive ti­tle and the treaty de­bates res­onate with such power and are so hotly ne­go­ti­ated.

Win­mar wanting to have the statue placed at Op­tus Sta­dium means some­thing about his Noon­gar iden­tity and has noth­ing to do with the amount of games played, pre­mier­ships won or San­dover medals se­cured. That is why the statue be­ing at Op­tus is a per­fectly rea­son­able choice given the ac­tions of Win­mar on that day, when he spoke out against the abuse and redi­rected the con­ver­sa­tion that Aus­tralia so des­per­ately needed to have and is still, in many re­spects, hav­ing to­day.

Pho­to­graph: Paul Kane/Getty Im­ages

Re­sis­tance to the statue be­ing erected in Perth is in di­rect op­po­si­tion to Nicky Win­mar’s orig­i­nal mes­sage.

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