Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Monday, 20 August 2012
Page: 9316

Ms PARKE (Fremantle) (19:47): I am very happy to contribute to the debate on this motion by the member for Fraser because, in essence, what we are acknowledging today is the capacity in each of us to live according to the best human qualities, irrespective of what we do or where we live. It is timely, as the London Olympics end and our Australian athletes return home, that we remember an extraordinary Olympian, Peter Norman, for his sporting achievement, but more importantly for his bravery and his humanity. I acknowledge Peter Norman's family members as well, here in the parliament today.

As others have mentioned, Peter Norman was a remarkable athlete. His effort in winning the silver medal in the men's 200 metres at the Mexico City Olympics is a track and field achievement that grows in stature as time passes. As the motion notes, Norman's time of 20.06 seconds is still the Australian record. It is incredible to think that, with all the training and sports science innovations that have occurred in the meantime, Peter Norman's record still stands 44 years later.

Peter Norman's counsel in support of Tommie Smith and John Carlos and his act of solidarity in wearing the Olympic Project for Human Rights badge was an integral part of a gesture whose power resonated around the world. Norman's part in that act of defiance was regarded—and is still regarded, especially in the United States—as a notable contribution to the struggle by African-American athletes for equality and justice. Yet Peter Norman's protest was not particularly heeded or welcomed in Australia. It is a travesty that Australian Olympic officials reprimanded Norman for his action and that the Australian media ostracised him. Despite him repeatedly qualifying for the 100-metre and 200-metre sprints during 1971-72, the Australian athletics authorities did not send him to the 1972 Munich Olympics—the first modern Olympics since 1896 when no Australian sprinters participated.

Just as Peter Norman's part in the black glove and barefooted salute of John Carlos and Tommie Smith struck a blow for the civil rights movement in the US and elsewhere, so we have seen the scourge of racial discrimination and prejudice in this country tackled front on by Australian sports people.

John Pilger wrote an article last week entitled 'How the chosen ones ended Australia's sporting prowess and revealed its secret past' that considered the many Indigenous sports people who have suffered discrimination and intolerance in Australia. He reflected on the treatment of the Australian light-heavyweight boxer Damien Hooper, who was sanctioned during the London Olympics for stepping into the ring wearing a T-shirt that bore the Aboriginal flag. Damien Hooper said: 'I am proud of what I did. I am representing my culture, not only my country.' I am not sure how anyone could really argue with that, and I am not sure how much respect we pay to the example of someone like Peter Norman if we do not also acknowledge the courage and legitimacy of Damien Hooper's actions.

Pilger also wrote about an Aboriginal leader, the late Charlie Perkins, who played first division soccer in England. Pilger noted that:

In the 1960s, Charlie led “freedom rides” into the north-west of New South Wales, where “nigger hunts” were still not uncommon. Abused and spat at, he stood at the turnstiles of local swimming pools and sports fields and demanded that a race bar be lifted.

In 1993, footballer Nicky Winmar stood to confront the Collingwood fans who had racially taunted him and lifted his St Kilda jumper to point with angry pride and defiance to his black skin. Winmar was best on ground that day.

These are just some of the many instances in which Australian sports people have shown that in sport, as in other fields of endeavour, what matters is not just the time you run or swim, the goals you kick, the runs you score or the medals you win. What matters is also what you believe and what you do about those beliefs. There are opportunities in all walks of life to see inequities in the world and to speak out or act out against them. Sport at the highest level creates opportunities not only to perform at your best but sometimes to go further than that and demonstrate the best qualities of the human spirit.

Peter Norman knew the truth of that and he lived that truth. Always modest about his part in one of sport's greatest moments, he said towards the end of his life, 'I was only a pebble thrown into still, deep waters.' That is what he told Tommie Smith when he visited the US a year before his death. Then he said, 'My hope was that the ripples would reach the shore of love.' John Carlos spoke at the time of Peter Norman's funeral and he encouraged Australians to know his story and his example better. He said, 'Go and tell your kids the story of Peter Norman.' Well, tonight we are telling the story, and I thank the member for Fraser for bringing this motion and giving us the opportunity in our own ways to be the storytellers of one of Australia's great tales and to make an act of remembrance for one of Australia's greatest sportsmen.