All Australians who were following Sydney’s Olympic Games will remember where they were when Cathy Freeman won the 400 metre sprint …heralded as ‘the race’ of the Olympics.
Cathy Freeman is a proud Indigenous Australian. On the victory walk after her race she carried the flags of both nations – the Aboriginal flag and Australian flag. This linked visually most strongly with her connection to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Cathy has set up programs to support educating children in schools on the Torres Strait Islands. Her influence has been powerful for her people.
Her words recall that win when she said proudly ‘I wanted to shout, Look at me. Look at my skin. I am black and I am the best there is. No more shame’.
In 2000, earlier in the year, John Howard, Prime Minister, had refused to apologise to the Aboriginal people from the Stolen Generation, and reconciliation appeared a long way from being achieved. 250,000 Australians marched across Sydney Harbour Bridge in May that year in support of the Stolen Generation. ‘Sorry’ was written across the sky that day.
A further tribute was given to Cathy when she was chosen to light the Olympic Flame, always one of the highlights of an opening Olympic Games ceremony. Who lights that flame is a critical choice for the organisers of the Olympic Games. Australians were elated that Cathy Freeman was chosen for that critical role and she carried herself with grace and courage as she lit the flame.
Cathy always claimed that her ancestors helped push her over the finish line. ‘I felt like I was protected. My ancestors were the first to walk this land. It is a really powerful force. Those girls (meaning the other runners) were always going to have to come up against my ancestors’.
‘The Race’ is up there as one of Australia’s proudest collective moments.
Ref: Madeleine Hislop. Women’s Agenda
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