Half Mag / Half Zine

Australia’s obsession with circumnavigating confrontation was on full display before the AFL semi-final between Melbourne and Brisbane. The Welcome to Country at the MCG was followed by a minute’s silence for the Queen, a rendition of God Save The Queen and then the Australian national anthem. It was a remarkable sequence of events.

This failure to be liberated by truth is a defining feature of this country, and it means that rare moments of critical introspection and self-analysis only occur because of the sustained courage and fortitude of a few.

Although it hasn’t featured in most experts’ analysis, the Collingwood Football Club’s meteoric ascension into this weekend’s preliminary final is anchored by the catalysts, architects and implementers of the Do Better report.

Confronted with the familiarity of collective forgetting, it was Héritier Lumumba who fought for remembering. At an immeasurable personal cost and despite still being cast as a villain, it is because of Lumumba’s strength, pursuit of justice and vision for transformation that Collingwood ultimately looked within and cultivated the space for renewal.

Football pundits have argued the club’s success this season has hinged on the recruitment of coach Craig McRae, the implementation of a new game style, a healthy list, the acquisition of players such as Nick Daicos and Pat Lipinski, and the rapid emergence of players like Ash Johnson and Jack Ginnivan.

There is truth in this isolated analysis, but a more complete picture emerges when you zoom out and look further up the stream.

The Do Better report, which was co-authored by Prof Larissa Behrendt and Prof Lindon Coombes, and driven by the then newly appointed board director, Jodie Sizer, was a direct result of Collingwood’s systemic culture of racism.

When you wade through all of the noise that has surrounded this independent review, it becomes apparent that the heart of the report and its ensuing recommendations are about how people treat, interact and relate to one another – something Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures have mastered over thousands of generations and why Behrendt, Coombes and their Indigenous colleagues were perfectly positioned to lead this review.

The Do Better report enabled Collingwood to confront and understand how its history has both shaped and haunted the present, and provided the club with the opportunity to ensure that it doesn’t sustain the systems and structures into the future.

Without this report and a commitment to fully implementing all of its recommendations, Collingwood wouldn’t have been able to unify the club’s vision, purpose and ideals; nor would they have been able to cultivate a joyous culture of collegiality and cohesion that is allowing them to imagine what is possible.

Not only was the report a watershed moment and catalyst for an unavoidable clean-out that ultimately led to the appointment of McRae, it also laid the groundwork for the incoming coach to implement a new game style. That style isn’t just dependant on the players’ and staff’s genuine trust, belief and care for one another, it is oxygenated by it.

The growth of players across the roster and the seamless integration of new signings into the club are the byproduct of a unified environment committed to lifting each other up – one which wouldn’t have been achieved without the fertile grounds the Do Better report created.

Collingwood are on the cusp of a momentous grand final appearance – defying the “go woke, go broke” mantra that flailing institutions continue to cling onto – but they are not entirely out of the woods.

As the first and only club to open itself up to a critical independent review, which requires earnest recognition but should stop short of premature praise, the most recent progress report concedes there is still a mountain of anti-racism work to be done and a number of recommendations still to be implemented.

Positively, the report suggests that Collingwood has been able to fracture, but not yet eliminate, the self-perpetuating cycle of an ingrained racist culture that has caused a lot of irreversible harm and hampered the clubs ability to flourish.

It can be hard to pinpoint the direct causes for different effects. Although it’s unlikely to prominently feature in the mainstream discourse, the Collingwood Football Club and AFL are collectively bearing the fruits of others’ fortitude and are indebted to those involved in the Do Better report.