Adam Goodes and his mother Lisa Sansbury

Adam Goodes is an Australian Icon. He is an AFL superstar (winning the Brownlow medal twice), was Australian of the year in 2015, works tirelessly at fighting for causes such as - stopping racism and violence against women. He has been the ambassador for David Jones and is now a successful business man. So who is behind such a driven, compassionate and warm hearted man? His mum of course! Lisa Sansbury. Having become a mum my self I sure can see the importance of the female figure in children’s lives and dare I say it - mums don’t get enough credit. So when I asked Adam if he’d be interested in interviewing I also naturally asked his mum!

So without further delay I present this special portrait session and interview for you.

Penelope: I just want to say thank you so much for being here today and generously donating your time. The more research I did on each of you, the more I fell in love with you and can see what you’ve been through in life has not always been easy. (and) Just to be the inspiration that you both are today, and for me to be able to share that then again with the world is very special. So thank you. 

Lisa, I watched “Who Do You Think You Are?” and I was amazed at your discovery and your story of family. And I just thought about you and everything that you’ve gone through and how you’ve been so courageous as a mother and you’ve brought up a really courageous son/sons. And I wondered where did you pull that strength from?

Lisa: I think it started within myself really because I didn’t find it anywhere else. It was hard being a single parent. I didn’t really have that much support. The only other support I really did have I got from the boys’ grandmother, nana, Lilian Goodes, thier nana. She was a very strong woman, and without her being around, I possibly wouldn’t be the strong woman that I am today really. So it’s thanks to her I guess. 

Penelope: Did you have much family around when the kids were little?

Lisa: No, not at all. I didn’t know my siblings at the time. It wasn’t until the boys were a little bit older that I got to meet them. So it was hard. I just had the boys’ nana and it’s all the support I really did have.

Penelope: I find being a mum pretty challenging

Lisa: It is challenging.

Penelope: Becoming a mum is the best and hardest thing I’ve ever done. What kind of advice would you give to new mums out there? 

Lisa: You have to stick to it and be strong for yourself and your children because they need you, and being that strength for them it helps them become better adults as they get older. And I think mine turned out pretty alright.

Penelope: They did. Yeah, you did well!! What was Adam like as a youngster?

Lisa: He was a good child. I can’t complain. He was very well behaved. They all were. He was the man of the house so I think he grew up a little bit faster than the other two. So being the man of the house is a little bit hard growing up, had to set a good example for his two younger brothers and he stepped up to the plate there definitely.

Penelope: How did you feel when you watched Adam standing up to stop racism in Australia and when you saw him copping so much grief from the crowd at packed out stadiums?

Lisa: It was sad that he was copping it. Being called a monkey wasn’t very nice. But for him to stand up and say enough’s enough. This has got to stop. Racism is just not on. I was very, very proud of him standing up to it. And that’s what we need, our young men to stand up and be advocates against racism because I grew up with it and I didn’t have a voice and I wish I did  have a voice. But it was hard growing up very, very hard. 

Penelope:(to Adam): Do you think that’s why you are able to stand up because of what you mum has taught you. Did you learn from her experience?

Adam: I think growing up I was very shy. So anything around racism that happened to me at school and what not actually didn’t really affect me that much because I actually didn’t know what it meant to be an indigenous person. For me, I just walked away and it was just like keep calling me stupid or dumb, it was just water off a duck’s back. It wasn’t until I got educated about my own culture, got educated about what happened since colonization, got some success playing football and my confidence, my own self-confidence, and my own identity started to grow that I then said, well, this is not right. This situation is not right. Why are we not talking about the stolen generation? Why are we not talking about the massacres that have happened in this country? Why is everyone so hushed about it? We need to start talking about it because that’s going to help us with the reconciliation. That’s what’s going to help us take those leaps and bounds forward to help us as a nation.

Penelope: Do you think that we’re doing that?

Adam: I think we’re slowly doing that. I think nothing happens quickly, unfortunately, and I think we’re a generation of people away from them saying to us in 20 years’ time what were you guys thinking back then? The kids that are going to school right now, they’re colour blind, completely colour blind and they are going to look back at us and go, what do you mean we had to have a plebiscite to say same sex marriage is okay? How come we don’t just say that that is okay? Love is love. Why don’t we have a plebiscite to say that indigenous people should have an elected governance body? Which comes from the Uluru statement of the heart which we just recently had up in Uluru. So for me, things just take a slow period of time when it comes about black politics, black issues. We’re only 2.8% of the population. We’re not a massive vote winning group of people that the government are trying to influence us. So we just have to keep doing and getting those small wins where we can.

Penelope: I feel as though it’s similar in the sense, or completely different, but in the sense of to sexism. I feel like that is such a slow changing thing and we take two steps forward and we take two?(one?) steps back. I guess it’s just you seem to have… you’re able to talk about it, from all of what I’ve seen, in such a positive light and continuously, patiently make that change.

Adam: I think the biggest thing that I’ve learnt is I can’t be an angry black man out there saying these are the issues. We need to deal with it. You got to go out there and tell the message but be part of the solution and show people what they can do to make it better and make a difference. There’s no point, from my point of view, of just saying, well, this is the issue. This is the issue and not offering up anything that’s going to help us move forward in that process. I’m actually wanting to be more a part, now that I’m retired from football, more part of the solutions, not so much of the awareness, and be part of those solutions and making the difference. I really spent those last couple half of my footy career raising awareness around racism, raising awareness around the issues that are really affecting a lot of our aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Penelope: Did you find that the media played a big role in creating who you were when you were going through that tumultuous time? Because if you do a Google search, there are that many opinions, and I wondered, being thrown, well, you were already in the spotlight, but more so, did they create you to be a person that sort of was angry or…?

Adam:I definitely don’t think that people thought I was angry. I think there was some really fake news that was going on out there from some pretty respectable people that people looked up to and listened to on radios. So for me, the media plays its role both sides and what I loved about the discussion was it was a conversation. You had the far right. You had the left. You had the people who sat on the fence that were having an opinion and were talking about it. That was the whole reason for me saying the things that I did, doing the things that I did, because we need to start talking about what casual racism is. We need to start talking about how we can start to make a difference and be part of the solutions instead of just saying Adam Goodes, everyone’s booing him because they don’t like him. Well, that’s not true. They’re booing Adam Goodes because he stages for free kicks. Well, that’s not true. Well, fair enough in one game, but not for two years. So from my point of view, the media played its role, but I found that the good in people overruled all of what the media said. The people that stop me in the street are always the people to say we love what you stood up for. I don’t even watch football. We’re here. We stand with you and support you.

Penelope: (to Lisa) And how hard is it, because we need to have the conversation about all these things to bring up awareness, like you say, but for you having experienced it so intensely, Lisa, how hard is it for you to talk about it, what you’ve been through?

Lisa:It’s pretty hard. So I was taken from my mother and father and placed in a white home. I felt like I was sitting on the fence all my life growing up. The white people didn’t accept me because I was black and then my own people wouldn’t have me because I was living with white fellows. So I was always sitting on the fence and it wasn’t a very, very nice feeling. It’s like no one wanted me or wanted to have anything to do with me. It was really, really heartbreaking, very, very sad as a child.

Penelope: And did you [10:30] get to find out more about your mum and your dad or was that later on in life?

Lisa:It wasn’t until later on in life that I found out a little bit more about my mum. When I was 24, I was pregnant with Jake and I found that she’d been murdered. So that was the second time that she was taken from me. First, I was taken from her and then she was taken from me. So that was really, really heart wrenching. It’s something that I’ve never really been able to deal with until now. I’ve always, all these years, suppressed it. I kept it out, pushed it under a rug and found it very, very hard. I haven’t talked to the boys about it really. That’s how traumatised I am from it. Yeah, just now I’m just dealing with it now, a bit of counselling and that’s helping me slowly so hopefully one day I can sit down and talk to the boys about it. They too are affected by it all.

Penelope: So that’s why you must be so proud to have Adam out there having these conversations. What was it when Adam was growing up that you instilled in him? What was important for you to get through to Adam when he was growing up?

Lisa: I always told him to be proud of who he is, the fact that he was aboriginal and don’t let anyone tell him any different. I said be proud of who you are and what you are. And yeah, I always told him to be that and to be a proud man.

Penelope: Adam did you feel that kind of love from your mum when you were growing up?

Adam:Oh, definitely. I think one thing that I learned from mum was discipline. Like mum said, being the man of the house, I got disciplined a lot more and harder than my younger siblings and that was to make a point that I needed also to look out for my younger siblings. But what I do, they’re going to follow, and I needed to take that role quite seriously. And the biggest thing that I also learned is that you need to make sacrifices to achieve your goals in order to get to where you want to get to. be. The sacrifices that mum made for us boys was quite incredible and I’ve got an idea, but there were times when mum was doing a tough single mother and people were knocking on the door and wondering if someone is going to come take her babies away from her, living in that sort of fear……that would’ve been just horrible having been part of that process herself.

Penelope: It’s hard to imagine that kind of pain. In Australian culture, we don’t really have many ties to our indigenous roots, I feel as though we can really learn a lot from this ancient culture. 


Adam:There’s so much we can learn from aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. To have 60,000 years of history, that and we’re not tapping into and that knowledge is just ludicrous. We have drought that’s killing a lot of our farmers right now. Aboriginal people moved around and cultivated the land wherever they went. There’s techniques that we could easily tap into to help farming become a lot more easier. We have bush medicine. We have that many native plants, berries, foods that we could be using for medicinal purposes. So for me, that knowledge is still there and alive that we could then quite easily tap it into our mainstream lives,  and that’s just the tip of the iceberg and some of the things that we could bring forward to modern Australia that could help us straight away.

Penelope: Why do you think we choose to ignore it all?

Adam: I think people are just… I don’t know if ignorant is the right word. I think uneducated. People aren’t educated in aboriginal history. People haven’t met an indigenous person. So it’s small steps and if you want to take a big step then having constitutional recognition or having a voted group of indigenous people who are giving expert advice to the politicians instead of the politicians knowing what’s best for aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. So just little things like that can make a huge difference. We are going forward in a lot of other places. The government and their indigenous procurement policy is ticking a lot of goals for indigenous entrepreneurs and businesses out there. That’s actually starting to change people’s lives through them owning their own business, having their own job, building some wealth, being able to pick where they live, what school their kids go to, what sort of health insurance they want, all the things that are key discriminators to aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in their own lives.

Penelope: Do you think there’s still a lot of aboriginal people who are displaced today?

Adam: Definitely. There’s so many of our people who are fringe dwellers. That’s exactly (because of) what the government policies were when they started these Missions, where like the one mum was on, was to keep aboriginal people off the lands that they wanted and out of the cities and out of sight. And unfortunately, a lot of that disadvantage is passed on generation to generation and those people still just fringe dwell and aren’t part of mainstream Australia. And it’s really, really sad and they are getting left behind on so many different levels.

Penelope: What can we do? What can the viewers do to help if they’re feeling helpless?

Adam: If they are business owners, if they’re students, if they’re walking down the street, if you see an indigenous person, don’t just have that thought of what the media has been telling you about aboriginal people. Don’t believe the stereotypes of every indigenous person in this country. Go up to them. Talk to them. Understand their story, where they come from, how tough their life has been up until this point. If they’re sitting in front of you for a job interview, be a little bit mindful of where that aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person might have come from and you can actually learn from that person being an employee, being a supplier in your supply chain. There’s lots of different ways we can help and be part of moving it forward. But the biggest thing for me is the next generation. It’s education. The schools, getting these kid’s literacy and numeracy right, so they can learn at the same rate every other kid does in school.

Penelope: You started Go Foundation. One of the motivations for you to start that was because you wanted to help the young women, the young indigenous women who you say were missing out quite a lot. How has that helped today and is there a change there?

Adam: Yes. With what we’re doing, we’ve got 68 scholars, 60% of those are girls, and that’s our focus, to have 60% or more focused on girls. We want them to be educated. The women in my life and Michael O’Loughlin’s life, who’s the co-founder with me, is that the women have been people who make the decisions in the community, that raise the children, that have the real power, from my point of view. And we want to create strong, independent, cultural women that can go out there and sit in a board meeting and own it. Then also, go home and be the perfect role model to their family with their husbands or wives or whatever it might be.

Penelope: On average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner. What can men do in Australia to become… because you’re very sensitive and you can see what it’s like, obviously, because you’re close to your mum and you adore your mum. Not all men are like that and I think that they might find it hard to even believe that that horrifying statistic is real. What can men do to think like you do a little bit?

Adam:I’ve been a White Ribbon Day ambassador, which aims to target men around making better choices, being able to build skills around their anger issues. We don’t think all men are bad and are going to do something until they do it. And unfortunately, in 2018, that statistic has risen by 100%. We’re losing two women a week now which is absolutely disgraceful, and us, as men, need to own that. It’s no longer okay for me to sit here and go, well, I don’t do that and I would never do that. I then have to go out there and actively talk to my mates, and talk to them about domestic violence, and talk to them about controlling their anger, and being able to walk away from situations where you might do something you will regret. 

Penelope: Why do you think the number has doubled?

Adam: I think lots of different reasons. I think the way young men are growing up watching other men treat women. I think the men who are committing these crimes are bottling up everything that’s happening in their life, whether it’s work, whether it’s money, whether it’s things that are going on at home. They’re not being able to express themselves in a way that actually can help them, like you said about your partner Nate going out into the garden and doing some gardening. De-stress yourself, de-stress what’s going on at work, de-stress what’s happening with the money situation. Don’t take it out on your wife. Your wife is not a boxing bag. She’s not disposable. She’s a big part of your life. That’s the reason why you married them.her.So for me, it’s a men’s issue and as soon as we start to talk about the women when they’re already victims, it’s too late.

Penelope: It blows my mind. That’s just crazy. you are a positive change in this world and a great role model for young men. You were awarded Australian of the Year. What was your the aim when you had that year, and did you achieve it?

Adam:Yeah, so what an incredible platform that gave me. I, pretty quickly after the first week of accepting that award, knew that year was going to be hard from a tactical point of view of having lunches, breakfasts, dinners, speaking engagements I was always invited to do in the first week and there waswere about 80 requests. So I knew pretty quickly that I had to create a way that we could say yes or no very quickly on things. And last year I was playing football as well. So for me, I wanted to focus on three things. I wanted to focus on the Racism, It Stops With Me campaign. So anything to do around racism I would definitely look at and then try and find the time to do. I would focus on the White Ribbon campaign to eliminate domestic violence against our women in the community. And the third thing that I wanted to focus on whenever I spoke at those engagements was the Recognize campaign to get constitutional recognition for aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Penelope: And how do you think it went?

Adam: I think it went well. I think every time that I came out and spoke about the things that I wanted to talk about, I was able to raise that awareness and keep pushing that agenda and keep having those conversations.

Penelope: So when football finished and you’d done your year as Australian of the Year, what was that like? Did you have any idea of what you were going to do when that all finished? Were there prospects straight away or…?

Adam:The main reason why I retired in the end obviously the booing was so intense and I really didn’t want to play football anymore. But I think the biggest thing that I’d realized was that football was taking up 95% of my time and I was allocating 5% of my time to all these other things that I love doing. Take out that footy and I can commit so much more time to all the other things: my charity work, my board work, my ambassador roles. And so for me, it was about wanting to spend more time on the other things that actually made me feel good about myself. I was happy to take two years to figure out what I wanted to do. As it turned out, six months later, I got an opportunity to start a business called Indigenous Defense Defence and Infrastructure Consortium, which helps indigenous businesses engage with government contracts, in particular defense and infrastructure.

Penelope: Great! What is that company and how are you enjoying swapping the footy field for the office? 

Adam: It’s going well. We’ve got over 80 indigenous businesses as part of our consortium. We turned over just under $2 million last financial year. We’re slowly growing for a startup. We’ve been doing it for two and a half years, been able to get contracts for 27 of those 80 indigenous businesses. So it’s going in the right direction. 

You know what? Office life is okay. I’d much rather own my own business than working for the man. That’s for sure. What I’ve loved about my football career is that I always had great mentors. And the three men that I’ve gone into business with have been in business for a very long time and been working in the indigenous business sector for a long time and they’re teaching me everything that I need to know and I’m really enjoying that.

Penelope: Amazing. 

So Adam, changing tune a little here.… how important do you both feel it is to get back in touch with your family history? Because I actually, beyond my immediate family, haven’t really looked into my her-story.  Has reconnecting been important to you?

Lisa:Yeah, I’d like to learn more because I don’t really know a great deal about my family so it’s very, very sad that I’m blindsided by that, yeah.

Adam: I think from my point of view, I think I really found my voice and confidence once I did reconnect to my culture. It gave me the confidence to speak about the aboriginal issues that were happening and it affected not only me but my family and to be able to talk to that confidently. Knowledge is power and doing a diploma in aboriginal studies gave me the knowledge and talking points to talk about the statistic and that really gave me the confidence to keep talking about it, keep having conversations about it because we weren’t taught this at school. I was taught that Captain Cook founded Australia. As an indigenous person, that’s pretty sad that I learned that in our schooling system. So for me, if school’s not going to teach us and the TV is not going to teach us… the internet can definitely teach us. But we still need people out there talking about it and believing in it and being proud about it for it to continue because being colonized over 200 years is something that all indigenous people to this day have been able to do and that’s overcome the adversities that have been thrown their way.

Penelope: Are you spiritual, Lisa, at all?


Lisa: Yeah, I am. I’m very spiritual, yeah.

Penelope: What does that look like for you?

Lisa: Something positive that I can use to my advantage and help others. So that’s really good.

Penelope: Are there any kind of special practices or is it more of a meditation or…?

Lisa: It’s more like meditation and I have premonitions so I can see into the future a little bit.

Penelope: Wow that’s pretty amazing and I don’t doubt it. We come from a pretty incredible place of the un-known. Why wouldn’t we be able to see into the future if our minds were open to it. 

Lisa: It happens in my sleep. I have dreams and I hear the birth of a child, what sex they’re going to be. It comes in handy.

Penelope: Yeah, I reckon I feel like there’s so much we don’t know and if we are grounded and open to learn I feel we could achieve a level of spiritual enlightenment that we have not reached yet. 

Adam: I’m definitely very spiritual. I believe in the Buddhist way of life that, like a lot of religions have in their testaments, bibles, Qurans, that we should treat each other the way that you want to be treated. Those words are in all of those documents. So for me, spirituality is about connection to land, connection to my ancestors and communicating with them in my meditations.

Penelope: So you meditate?

Adam: Yeah, asking them for strength in times of need. When I was playing, I used to connect with my ancestors to bring the warrior out of me for my performances on match day. I think that connection that you have, you can only have from going back to country and going back to your ancestors and talking to them where they lived doing the things that they did.

Penelope: Such a special culture. For me, I wondered if I was to look into my heritage where I came from, would it have that beautiful spiritual element to it? I feel as though it wouldn’t be quite as intriguing! 

Adam: Yeah, like don’t be so dismissive with your own journey and your own ancestry because when I did the “Who Do You Think You Are?” we also did my non-indigenous side and it was family members that we didn’t know who they were or where they came from. And after doing the show, I found out that they actually were seeking spiritual asylum themselves and that was late 1700s where they were actually wanting to leave Prussia because they were Lutheran followers and Prussia, at the time, the King was Catholic so any other religion being practiced was against the law. So they actually asked the King to leave the country. He granted that after a couple of years. And at the docks, they were hoping to go to America and they couldn’t get on the boat they wanted. There was this man who said, look, I’m going to this new colony in Australia. We’re going to Adelaide. You’re more than welcome to come. So after six months of traveling at sea, this captain was fantastic to these 13 families. They landed on the beaches of Adelaide. They had nowhere to go. This business man gives them some land up in Adelaide Hills. They colonized that bit of land. They called it Hahndorf. So if you’ve ever been up to the Adelaide Hills, they’ve got this German little town, Hahndorf. Now, they came from a place, if you look at the map right now, which would’ve been Poland, which was Prussia back in the day. [33:00] Now, they’ve called it Hahndorf out of the gratitude of that captain who took them that six month journey all the way down to Adelaide for them to be able to practice their own religion in a country they knew knowing nothing about. The captain of that ship was Captain Hahn so they, out of respect for him, called this town, community that they started Hahndorf. So that spirituality cuts through on so many different levels. And for me to know that my ancestors came from that place and were probably some of the first asylum seekers ever to seek out Australia and first refugees to actually land on those shores in South Australia.

Penelope: Wow, that’s an incredible story. I feel as though spirituality is very important. I’d really like to see more spiritual teachings in schools so that we are accepted no matter who we are. Rich or poor, I feel as though the world is becoming greedier and less likely to share and chat to their neighbours. There’s a certain fear and I feel that might be amongst other things, down to a lack of spiritual teaching. 

Adam: Yeah, it is a real shame and I think just a simple thing like slowing down and being able to stop those thoughts in your head and one great way of doing that is meditation. And I’m a massive believer in it. I know that there’s are some schools out there that do meditate with the children, which is fantastic. Absolutely fantastic to teach these kids the skills of being able to slow down, disconnect from everything that’s going on around you because that’s really when we talk about the domestic violence against our women and the bad choices that we make is it’s acting out to all the crap and shit that’s going on around us. And we don’t know how to tune out of it. We don’t know how to stop the noise. Having that connection to self, that connection to land, connection to something bigger or higher than us, I think, can really help a lot of our generation.

Penelope: That’s really cool to hear from you especially because of everything you’ve been through and because you are a man. I often have these conversations with my girlfriends, but I never really hear men talk about it. For you to start that conversation will allow this kind of conversation and understanding to be ok with many more more and young men who look up to you as their role model. I’ve got one more question and it’s a really big one. I’ll start with you, Lisa. What do you think happens when you die? It’s not a small question.

Lisa: Just pass become spirits in the sky.

Adam: I believe in reincarnation. I believe that our spirits do go on. I’d like to believe that the life that you live, the positive life or the negative life, whatever the life you’ve lived, then predetermines what you might be reincarnated in. So if you’ve had a fantastic life, you’ve helped and saved a lot of people, that you would then be reincarnated as a great white, or a lion, or a beautiful flower, and people look at you as amazing and awesome. If you’re someone who has done lots of bad things to people, but I like to think that those people are reincarnated, too, but you know…

Penelope: To a cockroach.

Adam: …to a cockroach. But cockroaches can survive anything. Like, a cockroach would be pretty cool. But I believe in reincarnation. I believe in the aboriginal spirituality that we go back to the land and our story then continues through the land or whether we’re reincarnated into an animal or a plant or a blade of grass or a tree.

Penelope: Thank you very much for your honesty and for being here today as I have only just started my blogging/Interview journey it’s an absolute dream to have you both here with me today.

Adam: Pleasure.

Penelope: Thank you.

If you’d like to listen and watch a heart felt Paul Kelly song related to this interview please click here