celebrity

Everyone is talking about Tony Armstrong. And he's not about to let it go to waste.

This week, television presenter Tony Armstrong spoke a simple truth about Australia. It was a truth so apparently uncomfortable that it made news headlines and ignited comments sections for days afterwards.

Tony was on Channel 10 panel show The Project, when he weighed in on Incarceration Nation, the upcoming NITV documentary about the overrepresentation of Indigenous Australians in the prison system.

"This country still can’t accept it’s a racist country. You still can’t accept it's built off the back of slavery, it's built off the back of dispossession, it's built off the back of rape and pillage of Indigenous people," he said.

"And we've just got to be better."

The clip has gone viral. It's not the first time the Barranbinya man's words have cut through, and it won't be the last. 

Watch: Tony Armstrong confronts racism in Australia. Post continues below.


Video via Channel 10

Though the former AFL player is still coming to grips with his surging public profile (he was recently appointed the new sports presenter on ABC News Breakfast), he's seizing the opportunity for that kind of truth-telling, for advocacy.

But it hasn't always come easily to him.

Tony was raised off country in Western Sydney by his white mother (his father left before he was born) and was one of just three Indigenous children at his boarding school.

"You put up all these defence mechanisms without even realising it. Every room you walk into, you're basically the only Blackfella. Everywhere you go, you're always a point of difference," he told Mamamia's No Filter podcast.

"I used to get pretty nervous, because kids are ruthless. They'll just come out and ask questions. And when I was younger, I didn't know sh*t about [culture], really... So I got bloody good at ripping yarns, because when you're a kid, you want to come across as knowing who you are."

As he's gotten older, he's not only learned more about culture and about race, but embraced that learning process. 

"I'm lucky now to be really comfortable in who I am," he said.

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His football career was integral to that. Tony played 35 games in six years for Adelaide, the Sydney Swans, and the Collingwood Magpies, clubs that boasted legendary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players.

"That was great for me, because I got to be surrounded by culture from the age of 18," he said. 

"And I've had some, some titans of the game who have become friends of mine, and have helped me along my journey, which I'm still absolutely on. And I will always be on."

In fact, while Tony has never met his father and is not interested in pursuing a relationship with him, he now feels ready to visit his country, meet his mob, to immerse himself in the culture that runs through his veins. He had plans to do so before the COVID-19 pandemic siloed Australian cities.

"I just want to go to where I'm from, really get in touch with one side of my heritage — and probably the side that I identify with the most because I walk around with it," he said.

Tony played in the AFL between 2010 and 2015. Image: Getty.

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He is, sadly, well acquainted with the prejudice he's made to endure as a result; the ignorance, the tokenism, the racism — both systemic and explicit.

Once, while jogging in Princes Park, Melbourne, he noticed two young teenagers watching him. As he approached, he knew they were going to say something. He could feel it coming.

"They said, 'Run faster! The cops are chasing you!' 

"And I'm like, f**king hell, man. It really took the wind out of my sails because they knew exactly what that meant. 

"I was just like, what do I do? Do I stop to blow up at them? Of course not. Because everyone's just going to think I'm a bully. 

"That one really rocked me... I was just like the arrogance, the entitlement. And then also, what are they around? What is in their sphere, what language are they hearing at home or in the schoolyard for that to come out? It sucks."

It's incidents like that, and many others far more insidious, that have encouraged him to use his platform like he did this week.

But as he's said many times, he longs for the day where he and other Indigenous people in the public eye don't have to bear the burden of educating Australians about persistent discrimination and disadvantage, where those simple, uncomfortable truths generate action rather than headlines and debate.

Listen to more of Tony Armstrong's story, including his strong relationship with his mother and how his soaring public profile is impacting his dating life, on No Filter.

Feature Image: Getty.

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