Adam Goodes, a decorated Australian Rules footballer, was named Australian of the Year for his role in the fight against racism, both on the sporting field and in broader society.
Goodes, 34, has said he will use his award as a platform to tackle racial vilification and to break down stereotypes of minorities.
Goodes’ mother, Lisa, is a member of the Stolen Generations, young indigenous children who were taken, often forcibly, from their parents to live in state-run institutions or foster homes under a controversial policy that lasted into the early 1970s.
Goodes was given his top civic honor as part of Australia Day celebrations that commemorate the arrival of European settlers in January 1788. Many Aborigines, however, recall a time of dispossession and refer to January 26 as Invasion Day.
Goodes says he once shared a similar view of history, but insists he now believes it is time for Aborigines to embrace their role in modern Australia.
“For me it has been a journey up to this point, so there was a lot of anger and a lot of sorrow for this day, and very much the feeling of Invasion Day," he said. "But in the last five years, you know, I have really changed my perception of what is Australia Day, what it is to be Australian, and for me it is about celebrating the positives that, you know, we are still here as indigenous people.”
Goodes is also calling for the constitution to recognize that indigenous people were the first people to inhabit the Australian continent.
Australia’s Aborigines account for less than 2 percent of the population. They are among the country’s most disadvantaged groups, suffering disproportionately high rates of unemployment, poverty, ill health and imprisonment.
Australia Day celebrates the arrival of the first fleet of convicts to Australia, which was a British penal colony in the late 18th century.
Thousands of migrants have become Australian citizens in ceremonies around the country, including a 100-year-old woman who fled conflict in Iraq to forge a new life in one of the world’s most multicultural nations.