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The Boy from Boomerang Crescent

The Boy from Boomerang Crescent
Eddie Betts
Simon & Schuster, HB $49.99

Eddie Betts – who played for AFL teams Carlton and Adelaide over his 16-year career and is now on Geelong’s coaching staff – is convinced that football saved him. He describes his childhood in Kalgoorlie and Port Lincoln as happy, with a loving and loyal extended family. Still, by his mid-teens, he was disengaged from school and getting into trouble.

“Footy was going well: I was kicking goals and playing in rep teams, but Mum was getting worried about my behaviour off the field.”

Eddie’s mother (who raised him and his siblings as a single parent) found a program run by Broadmeadows TAFE in Melbourne for Aboriginal players. She did more than find the program for 15-year-old Eddie – she moved to Melbourne with him, Eddie’s two younger sisters, an aunt and several cousins (two of whom were also in the football program).

“We didn’t have a house there for starters … We just camped on the floor of the garage … As a family we made sacrifices and hard choices to seal opportunities for each other.”

These eventually paid off, and Betts ultimately signed with Carlton. His career surged, but there remained painful reminders of the racism that still plagued the sport and society.

As a prize for his Goal of the Year award, Betts won the use of a brand-new Toyota Aurion. Pulling into a car park to eat his lunch one day, he saw a police car pull in after him. Two cops got out and repeatedly questioned him: Whose car is it? Why are you driving it? He repeatedly told them he played for Carlton and won the car for kicking Goal of the Year. Finally, with no apology, they left.

“But for any Blackfulla sitting in a shiny, expensive new car, sadly that scenario is all too common.”

Betts has also copped spectator abuse, including having a banana thrown at him, and faced verbal abuse from other spectators, as well as vile comments on social media.

Despite the racism he encountered, Betts is generous in acknowledging the support he got from countless others: a range of coaches and other staff, fellow AFL players, mentors and friends.

Unbeknown to his employers, Betts was illiterate when he started his football career. Game strategies on the whiteboard looked like squiggles. A literacy program run by the AFL Players Association was life changing, opening doors that allowed Betts to further his education, write a series of children’s books and play leadership roles.

AFL fans, particularly those who knew Betts from his days with Carlton and Adelaide, will no doubt enjoy learning some of his backstory. The book’s relevance, though, is wider; it highlights how Aboriginal athletes are lauded as heroes one moment, derided with racist insults the next.

Says Betts in its final chapter: “I want the AFL to be a safe place, where our people can thrive, not just survive … and our ways are celebrated.”

The preceding 300 pages are a reminder of how far we still have to travel.

_______________
books@ssh.com.au

 

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