Master storyteller Paul Kelly has turned AFL footballer Eddie Betts’ fight against racism and his dream for his children to live in a “world where they can just be” into an emotional song.
Every Step Of The Way was inspired by a candid* Fox Footy interview last year when Betts declared “I’m sick and tired of it” after being the weekly target of racial abuse on the field and online during his 17 year career at Carlton and the Adelaide Crows.
The legendary Indigenous footballer’s comment stuck with Kelly, who is one of Australia’s most respected and loved singers and songwriters.
He didn’t set out to write a song about Betts’ experience, yet by the time he finished the emotional ballad, he knew he had to seek the footballer’s blessing* to share it with the world.
“I didn’t plan to write a song about Eddie. It started with something he said on TV – ‘I’m sick and tired of it’ – which became a voice that wouldn’t go away,” Kelly said.
“That voice was my imagining of Eddie’s voice. I followed it and the song came quickly. That’s the easy part.
“But because the song is so interior* I believed I had a responsibility to check with Eddie. It’s a matter of respect with a song that close to the bone*.”
Betts, who retired at the end of the 2021 season, is a Kelly fan.
The song imagines the footballer’s pain, frustration and anger every time he is subjected to racism even as “Thousands smile when I go through my paces, They fall at my dancing feet.”
It also pays tribute to the ancestors who are “with me every step of the way” and give him the courage to continue speaking out and educating Australia about the scourge* of racism.
“I was so honoured when Paul reached out to me with a song that he had written from his heart,” Betts said.
“He has always empowered* us mob with his music and his authentic* and heartfelt collaborations* have always been enjoyed by myself and all my family for many years.
“I feel proud to have this song written for me by someone so respected here in Australia and someone who has always stood in solidarity* with us mob – this song means a lot to me.”
Kelly’s singing and songwriting career includes a powerful collection of anthems* about Indigenous stories.
He co-wrote From Little Things Big Things Grow with Kev Carmody about the famous Wave Hill walk-off for land rights and shares a writing credit on Yothu Yindi’s enduring* protest song Treaty.
Other songs seeking to highlight injustice suffered by First Nations people include Special Treatment and Every Day My Mother’s Voice, which he recorded with Dan Sultan for the Final Quarter documentary about the abuse suffered by Sydney Swans star Adam Goodes during the final years of his playing career.
Kelly said he believed music could make a difference in dismantling* racism.
“Music can, writing can, art can, not staying silent can. It’s a whole lot of little actions by many, many people over time that makes a difference,” he said.
- candid: very honest, truthful
- blessing: support, approval
- interior: from within, personal
- close to the bone: so raw or real that it could cause discomfort or pain
- scourge: something that causes great trouble or suffering
- empowered: given the power to do something
- authentic: real, genuine
- collaborations: actions of working with someone
- solidarity: unity, together, in agreement
- anthems: uplifting songs that are of special importance to a group of people
- enduring: lasting over a period of time
- dismantling: taking apart, gradually reducing the power of something
- What is the name of the song about Eddie Betts?
- Who wrote the song?
- What inspired the songwriter to write the song?
- What two AFL teams did Eddie Betts play for?
- Name one of the songwriter’s other songs mentioned in the story?
LISTEN TO THIS STORY
1. Write a Letter
Write a letter to the organisers of the AFL Grand Final. The purpose of your letter is to convince them to have Paul Kelly perform Every Step of the Way during half time at the AFL Grand Final.
Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Civics and Citizenship
“A whole lot of little actions”. Use this to inspire you to create a story, song, poem or artwork.
Time: allow 45 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Music, Visual Arts, Critical and Creative Thinking
Wow Word Recycle
There are plenty of wow words, (ambitious pieces of vocabulary) being used in the article. Some are in the glossary, but there might be extra ones from the article that you think are exceptional as well.
Identify all the words in the article that you think are not common words, and particularly good choices for the writer to have chosen.
Select three words you have highlighted to recycle into your own sentences.
If any of the words you identified are not in the glossary, write up your own glossary for them.
Down-level for a younger audience. Find a sentence in the article that is high level. Now rewrite it for a younger audience so they can understand the words without using the glossary.