“There can by no means have been a minute fairly prefer it, when so many individuals, hundreds of thousands, at Homebush Bay, of their houses and public locations centered their will and good needs on a single younger lady doing what she loves and does greatest.”
All of the wellwishers on this planet may do nothing for her. They might solely hope for nice issues, whereas fearing disappointment. They might solely hope that the load of their love for her solitary campaign wouldn’t weigh her down. It didn’t.
Many Australians can nonetheless see her successful that race, of their thoughts’s eye, along with her 2.33 metre-long stride that matched the dimensions of her coronary heart. They’ll image her sitting cross-legged with aid on the observe afterwards, her decrease lip quivering. They keep in mind her handing the winner’s bouquet of native flowers to her ecstatic mom.
Freeman had made what will need to have been one of many happiest days in Australian historical past, outdoors the ending of a world struggle. Why had she so captured the hearts and minds of Australians? First, Australian observe and subject athletes win few Olympic gold medals.
Then, extra considerably, there’s the historical past, hers and her nation’s. As somewhat lady, she had dreamed about successful Olympic gold. “That is why I obtained actually emotional,” she mentioned after the race. “One thing like this taking place to somewhat lady like me. I’ve obtained to develop up someday.”
The younger lady had achieved a lot in opposition to the percentages. Her grandmother, Alice Sibley, was taken from her mom and moved to Palm Island, off Queensland. Freeman’s mom, Cecilia, born on Palm Island, was taken to Woorabinda, one other Aboriginal mission.
Freeman’s father, Norman, a superb footballer, battled alcoholism and diabetes and died of a stroke at 53. Her sister, Anne-Marie, died with cerebral palsy in 1990. Cathy had mentioned: “I’ve obtained a sister who has cerebral palsy and I ought to make one of the best use of my good legs and arms.”
Freeman hung the Aboriginal flag in her room on the 1992 Barcelona Video games, when she missed out on the ultimate. She took it to the 1994 Commonwealth Video games in Victoria, Canada, waving and sporting it after taking the 400m gold medal. It was an act of defiance. Video games guidelines mentioned that just one nationwide flag might be flown.
Quickly after, the Herald took Freeman to Humpty Doo, within the Northern Territory, to satisfy Harold Thomas, the flag’s designer. She thanked Thomas for the flag and he thanked her for flying it. Till her triumphant laps in Canada, the flag had not often been seen as a logo of victory. Freeman modified its picture eternally.
By Sydney 2000, she had tied the Australian and Aboriginal flags collectively and no person may deny her the correct to wave them in a victory lap across the stadium. After the medal presentation ceremony, she sang the nationwide anthem with the largest accompanying choir ever assembled in Australia.
Reconciliation had been pushed down the nationwide agenda earlier than the Video games and has once more since. The Uluru Assertion from the Coronary heart languishes; Closing the Hole stumbles earlier than yawning gaps; 435 Indigenous Australians have died in custody because the royal fee led to 1991, with none fees laid.
But Australians felt a sea change in attitudes in direction of the primary Australians after the Video games opening ceremony, that acknowledged the historical past, and Freeman’s marvellous double act – she had additionally lit the Olympic cauldron to open the Video games. The numbers of Indigenous medical doctors, teachers, authors, artists, dancers, legal professionals and footballers develop. Cathy Freeman expanded the nationwide consciousness. Her contribution to reconciliation.
Tony Stephens is a Walkley Award successful journalist, editor and writer.