Today marks a momentous occasion in Australian history as it is 20 years since Cathy Freeman won gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. From that day forth, Freeman has become a symbol of National unity and reconciliation. Freeman represented Australia and her First Nations culture by wearing a green and gold bodysuit, and red, yellow and black shoes. For her victory lap, Freeman carried the Australian and Aboriginal flags as a way of unifying and representing Australian culture. This moment put a spotlight on Indigenous issues and has since inspired many young Australians (Marlow, 2015).
Cathy Freeman celebrating after winning gold in the women’s 400m final at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. Image by Nick Wilson/Getty Images.
Cathy Freeman grew up in Mackay where she developed a love of running from a young age. Freeman expresses this where she says:
“The dream evolved throughout my childhood and by the time I was at high-school I wasn’t thinking about anything else. The first thing I remember about running is how happy it made me feel.” -Cathy Freeman (Courtesy of Marlow, 2015)
At age 14 Freeman told her vocational teacher that her one and only career goal was to win an Olympic Medal; at that stage she had already won National Titles in high jump and sprints (Marlow, 2015). After her gold medal win at the 1994 Commonwealth Games her career really took off, ultimately leading to her Olympic gold medal. Freeman has received many awards including the Young Australian of the Year (1990), Australian of the Year (1998) and the Olympic Order for Sportswoman of the Year in 2001 (AIATSIS, 2017). She has done an incredible job of representing her people and creating unity for all Australians. However, we often don’t acknowledge the pressures that these public positions hold. “When you are born black, you are born political” is a phrase that is sometimes used. When you are Indigenous and a public figure it is expected that you will also be political. It’s important to realise the immense amount of pressure this can put on young people (Heiss, 2020).
"I just love running and I love competing and that's really simple. I just go out there with a lot of pride in my heart. I know that I not only represent myself, but I represent my people." - Cathy Freeman (Courtesy of Marlow, 2015)
Cathy Freeman reading with students. Image sourced from Cathy Freeman Foundation.
Cathy Freeman's achievements have had a lasting positive impact on the younger generations. She has inspired many young Indigenous Australians to strive for their goals. With her positive influence came the establishment of the Cathy Freeman Foundation in 2007 to help Indigenous children and families recognise the power of education and achieve their goals and dreams. The foundation works with more than 1600 children and families in some of the most remote communities in Australia. Their programs aim to increase school attendance and completion of year 12 to increase the children's future opportunities (AIATSIS, 2017).
This anniversary is a reminder of the powerful change that can be created through people such as Cathy Freeman. She will forever be a powerful symbol of reconciliation for Australia. Let's harness this power to keep creating positive change and unity for our nation.