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Posted on 15 Sep 2022 in Non-Fiction |

EDDIE BETTS The Boy From Boomerang Crescent. Reviewed by Braham Dabscheck

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Footy star Eddie Betts recounts the highs and lows of his career and what it means to be a Blackfulla.

There is a genre of sports writing known as the ‘Glory Book’, where a former player waxes lyrical about wonderful moments he experienced on the playing field, either as an individual or as part of an all-conquering team. Anecdotes are provided concerning players, coaches and other persons encountered along the trajectory of their career. The approach is usually one of high jinks and lots of fun and how everything is hunky dory in the wonderful world of sport.

The Boy From Boomerang Crescent has elements of this as Eddie Betts takes us from his humble beginnings as a kid chasing a footy around a park in contests with his brothers and extended family, to a stellar 17-year career in the AFL. A small forward with an uncanny ability to read the play, he played 350 games with Carlton (2005 to 2013, 2020 to 2021) and Adelaide (2014 to 2019), kicked 640 goals, was a member of three All Australian teams (2015, 2016, 2017), won four AFL Goal of the Year Awards (2006, 2015, 2016, 2017) and was chosen as a member of Indigenous All-Stars, All-Stars and (Australian) international teams (against Irish Gaelic Football players). He participated in one Grand Final in 2017 when Adelaide were soundly defeated by Richmond.

But this is much more than a ‘Glory Book’.

Eddie Betts is an Indigenous Australian. He begins his book by paying tribute to the football skills of his grandfather, Edward Frederick Betts, and recounting his death on the floor of a Port Lincoln prison cell. In 1968, his grandfather attended a hospital feeling unwell, but was only given a cursory examination. He checked himself out, but later returned to the hospital, complaining of a pain in his stomach. He became ‘increasingly agitated’ about the lack of attention. The hospital called the police and he was arrested for being intoxicated. He died of heart failure later that day; he was not intoxicated. Eddie Betts sees the major function of his book as being to educate readers to what it means to be a Blackfulla (his spelling) in contemporary Australia. He writes:

I know that playing footy has given me a platform and if I can use it to educate people about what it’s like growing up in an environment where it’s seen as normal for the police to take people away, then it might help.

Throughout The Boy From Boomerang Crescent Betts emphasises the importance of being with his mob and how it gives him a sense of stability and belonging.

When I think back to my childhood, what I really recall is that it was all about family. We never went without and we were raised with a strong sense of belonging. Our family made sacrifices for each other and we learned to put others before ourselves. We were taught to respect our Elders and our traditions, and, most importantly, we were taught to have a strong sense of self-identity.

Betts provides accounts of how mobs – whether a group of Indigenous players, or a family – help each other out; how people open up their homes to young players, giving them somewhere to stay and a place to feel welcome as they embark on their footy careers. He always seems to be happiest when there are lots of people around, with everyone sharing babysitting, child-minding, food preparation and other chores. When he was drafted by Carlton, his mother, aunt, sisters and cousins came across from Kalgoorlie to keep him company as he embarked on his career.

On a couple of occasions Betts refers to racism he experienced as a player. After he won the Goal of the Year Award in 2006, he received a new car (which he could keep for a year). Driving around Melbourne he was stopped by police who assumed he had stolen this flash new car. He also refers to hate mail he received on social media and racist abuse from fans at games. Once he wanted to go public on a racist letter he had received and was talked out of it by Adelaide, something that he regrets.

… essentially they talked [me] into not saying anything. Upon reflection, they were trying to minimise any type of media circus before my game, but maybe this was more important than the game itself?

This seems to have occurred at about the same time that the Indigenous Sydney Swans star Adam Goodes was being routinely booed by spectators, which the AFL failed to address. On another occasion, a spectator at a ‘Showdown’ in a game against Port Adelaide racially abused Eddie Betts and threw a banana at him. To their credit, the Port Adelaide supporters called it out. On this occasion both clubs:

… came together and took a really strong stance, saying passion and dedication to your club is great, but racism does not belong in our game. I felt supported by both clubs and was happy to be involved in the call-out, to send a strong message to protect us in our game. I was always happy to lend my voice if it meant that future Aboriginal players might be kept safe from experiencing racism.

Clubs look for an edge in trying to achieve sporting success. Adelaide was one of the stronger clubs during the time Eddie Betts was there, reaching, and ultimately losing, the 2017 Grand Final. Following this loss, Adelaide entered into an arrangement with a group called Collective Minds. The longest chapter in the book is devoted to Collective Minds and a training camp they held prior to the 2018 season. This involved placing players under physical and psychological pressure that, it was claimed, would enhance their ability to perform and compete. As part of this, participants were given a one-hour phone consultation with a counsellor.

While at the camp participants were restrained and required to perform a physical task while under duress. While this was going on, Betts says,

I heard things yelled at me that I had disclosed to the camp’s counsellors about my upbringing. All the people present heard these things. By the time I got my teammates of my back, I was exhausted, drained and distressed about the details being shared. Another camp-dude jumped on top of me and started to berate me about my mother, something so deeply personal that I was absolutely shattered to hear it came out of his mouth.


This scenario was repeated for each and every one of the boys and we were all recruited to provide the verbal abuse aimed at our teammates. I will live with this shame for the rest of my life.

The camp finished and what had transpired was supposed to be kept in-house, presumably with Adelaide marching on to football glory. The story got out, it split the club, heads rolled, and Adelaide has been in the bottom half of the ladder ever since. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that Adelaide failed in its duty of care to provide its employees with a safe working environment. A similar fate befell Essendon when they experimented with drugs to enhance success on the field in 2013; it is still languishing in the bottom half of the table.

Eddie Betts comes across as a person for whom the glass is always half full. He realises that his skills as a footballer have given him a happy and fulfilled life. When he embarked on his second year with Carlton he was unable to read or write. The Australian Football League Players’ Association provided tutors to help players like him, and he was smart enough to jump on board and learn how to read and write and help others in a similar position. He has gone on to publish two children’s books, My Kind and My People, as part of his Eddie’s Lil’ Homies series.

In The Boy From Boomerang Crescent Eddie Betts does describe the highs and lows of life as a successful top-level player. The book’s major contribution, however, is the sad light it casts on Adelaide’s 2018 training camp, on racism within football and within Australia more generally, and how Eddie Betts, with his naturally positive attitude to life and the support of his various mobs, forged an outstanding career as one of the AFL’s greatest small forwards.

Eddie Betts The Boy From Boomerang Crescent Simon and Schuster 2022 HB 304pp $49.99

Braham Dabscheck is a Senior Fellow at the Melbourne Law School at Melbourne University who writes on industrial relations, sport and other matters. He is a long, suffering St. Kilda supporter living in a 1966 time warp.

You can buy The Boy From Boomerang Crescent from Abbey’s at a 10% discount by quoting the promotion code NEWTOWNREVIEW or you can buy it from Booktopia.

You can also check if it is available from Newtown Library.

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