We used to train under one floodlight on those near freezing mid-winter nights at Kupara park in Katanning. I can remember hearing a call ‘Ming! Ming!’, all I could see through the gloom, was a set of white teeth and kicked it straight to Vince. It might have been instinct because I couldn’t ever count the number of passes and ruck-taps I’d sent his way then to see him glide away and hurt the opposition with that beautiful right foot of his. But wait a minute. Let’s back up. See how easy casual racism is?
The Katanning boys, when they get together, can have a high-speed banter that is bewildering, clever, savagely funny and most definitely no-holds-barred. Sometimes for Vince, who’s got a strong Noongar heritage through his Mum’s side, found that the color of his skin wasn’t spared. It was just something he wore. He had to internalize the lie that he was different.
But after May 2013, when football crowds around Australia started to regularly boo one of the greatest players who ever lived because he, Adam Goodes, had the courage to make people uncomfortable about this very subject, Vince started to speak up. He let it be known, quietly, that poking fun at the color of his skin was not ok.
‘If you’re in the white majority, you’ll never know what racism feels like’ he said the other day. ‘You’ll never understand what it’s like to be constantly reminded that you don’t belong. Racism is just shit.’
There’s been a few corrections like that amongst the Katanning boys. A collective realization that what used to be ok (we thought) isn’t ok. How we talk about women, minorities and the disadvantaged seems to have become more humane against a social tide of people seeming to get more unforgiving and right-wing as they age.
It’s made me think about them more as a collective. What does it take to be one of my mates? What do they have in common? I count amongst them teachers, doctors, nurses, writers, soldiers, a disproportionate number of plumbers, pest exterminators, physios, musos, horticulturalists, psychologists, yogis and who knows what other walk of life.
It seems that the unifying trait is that they don’t take from each other emotionally; and, at this stage of life, there’s very little left to prove. They listen more and talk less and are humble enough to change the tune when the courageous among us point out that the tune is wrong.