The voice of change

Eddie Betts was a champion footballer over a career totalling 350 games for Adelaide and Carlton. Now a broadcaster and children’s author, he is a passionate speaker and advocate for Indigenous communities. He lives in Melbourne with his wife, Anna Scullie, and their five children.

Here the Coles ambassador talks about his life through food, and how he wants his children to “put their feet in the red dirt” and understand his native culture. 

Eddie Betts

Eddie Betts’ advice for younger players: “Talent will only get you so far and if you want to achieve great things it comes with hard work.”

"There’s been a lot of racism behind the scenes. Now I can use my voice for change."

Eddie Betts

Kangaroo stew with damper cooked on the coals

When I was five or six years old we used to spend time out bush on a block of land my Poppa and Nanna owned near Kalgoorlie. We grew up in a big family – we had 18 first cousins, and we were all around the same age and had a lot of fun out in the bush.

Nanna and Poppa built a tepee that they slept in and we would stay in tents. We’d go hunting for kangaroos, bring them back to the base camp and cook them up in big batches of stew to share with everyone. Then we would make damper directly on the coals and load it up with heaps of butter to melt. I would always clean my plate with the damper.

No part of the kangaroo would be wasted and the best part for me was the tail cooked on the coals, the fur then pulled back and eaten directly from the fire.

We had no iPhones or PlayStation – we would play chasey in the woods, we’d all run and hide in the trees and bushes. We didn’t care about snakes, only that we’d find a good hiding place.

We were brought up on the land with the full knowledge of who we are and our culture. Now as an adult with five children we take them back because it’s important they put their feet in the red dirt and that we give them a taste of how I grew up.

My dad lived in Port Lincoln in South Australia so we also lived by the sea and caught whiting and salmon. We would fish off the wharf – I took a hand line and once I pulled up about 15 salmon! We skinned it and cooked it up and it was beautiful.

Eddie Betts with his cousins on a old tractor

Eddie Betts back home in Kalgoorlie: In the bush with his cousins, Eddie is the cheeky boy on the left.

Chicken curry with chunky potatoes

When I was about 26 and living in Adelaide with my partner (Anna Scullie) and our first child, we lived in a four-bedroom house. We all slept in the same room so we had three spare bedrooms.

We’d invite all the young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander AFL players over to my house for “mob night”. All the brothers would come over with their partners and we would sit and yarn.

The way they’d grown up they were used to being around a lot of people, so bringing them all together was a way to help them feel at home and not homesick.

I have seen AFL boys come into the system and leave because they are homesick because they didn’t have someone to bring them into a gathering: it’s just the way we were brought up, to have heaps of people come and eat together.

Not all organisations are culturally safe so it’s hard for them to adapt. We wanted to make it clear that our house was safe. I felt a big responsibility to help make a culturally safe organisation to come and work in, and that was my goal over 17 years with the AFL. We still have a fair way to go but we have made a difference.

For mob night we would cook chicken on the bone, chicken chops being the go-to.

We had to buy a 20-litre pot to cook for everyone as we always had a good show of people.

Lots of chunky small potatoes and carrots, Keen’s Curry Powder and plenty of garlic and lime leaves.

What advice did I pass on? That talent will only get you so far and if you want to achieve great things it comes with hard work.

Transitioning to the city was quite easy for me. I left Kalgoorlie at 15 but my mum and auntie came with me, and I also had my sister and cousins around. I wouldn’t have lasted otherwise – it’s hard to break out of the Aboriginal community bubble, but I brought the bubble with me.

 

Pita pizzas

Since having five kids – Lewis, nine, Billy, 7, twins Alice and Maggie, 4, and Eddie (Sonny), 18 months, a quick and easy Friday night dinner involves everyone making their own pizzas. We cut up all the ingredients and put them in little bowls for the kids. It is very messy but lots of fun.

The base is pita bread (or gluten-free bases for Billy who was diagnosed with coeliac disease) with tomato paste and then they build their own: ham, cheese and pineapple is very popular.

 

Lewie Betts and his Grandad

Family ties: Eddie Betts’s first-born child Lewie, now 9, meets “Pop” for the first time.

Chicken pho

Since Billy was diagnosed we’ve been eating a lot of rice noodles and rice. All our kids love Vietnamese chicken pho – a good broth and chicken breast is perfect for winter.

Our littlest baby Sonny picks the noodles up with his hands and slurps them down. Chicken pho has a 100% strike rate with all five kids – they love it!

 

Chicken and mushroom risotto

This has been my pre-game dinner throughout my career, topped with parmesan cheese and salt, plus lots of butter to fry up the risotto rice and garlic.

But I’d like to see more Indigenous food served in footy clubs – we have a long way to go. We bring in native food – kangaroo, wombat, blue tongue lizard, goanna – on special days that mark indigenous culture. But I think it should be part of the regular menu.

What does footy mean to me? At certain times your career ebbs and flows. When I first started I just wanted to play, and when I got older I wanted to win a premiership. That comes with all sorts of responsibilities: getting your body fit and putting the right things in your body.

Footy has given me an opportunity to just blossom. I became the person I am today because of it. It’s a lot of hard work, ups and downs, wins and losses.

There’s been a lot of racism behind the scenes. Yes, it makes me angry and it’s frustrating, but because I have dealt with it my whole life I can manage my emotions.

Because I am a television commentator now I can use my voice for change. And I have the right people around me and the right support.

 

  • Eddie Betts is a Coles ambassador.
  • Coles Group acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We recognise their strength and continuing culture and pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging. Coles Group extends that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and recognises their rich cultures and continuing connection to land and waters.
  • Coles is also committed to employing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander team members, growing representation from 65 to more than 4000, making us one of the largest private sector employers of Indigenous Australians. More than 100 Indigenous businesses have been engaged throughout our supply chain.