Freeman’s Games glory for Aboriginals is a message for these ...


Freeman’s Games glory for Aboriginals is a message for these angry times

The Australian’s Sydney Olympics gold helped further reconciliation despite bigotry’s persistence

Oliver Brown

Perhaps it was the childlike bite of the lip as the weight of the achievement bore down on her. Or the green-and-gold space-age bodysuit that looked as if it had been ripped from the pages of a Captain America comic. Or the Australian Aboriginal flag that she unfurled on her lap of honour, its symbolic depiction of the red earth reinforcing what she called “the connection of indigenous peoples, in theory and in essence, to the land”.

All these memories and more combine to make Cathy Freeman’s 400m victory at the Sydney Olympics, 20 years ago last Friday, one of enduring resonance.

More than 112,000 people had thronged inside Stadium Australia on the night of September 25 2000, almost 0.6% of the country’s population at the time. The nation’s collective gaze was fixed on the exploits of a fiercely determined but sometimes fragile young woman from the Kuku Yalanji people, native to the rainforest of far north Queensland, whose talents suggested hers would be the defining triumph of her home Games. Australians were smitten by her strange mix of steel and vulnerability, by what former sprinter Raelene Boyle described as her “beautiful vagueness”...

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