Cathy Freeman carried the hopes of a nation. Now she has unfinished business


« My ancestors were the first people to walk on this land. Those other girls were always going to come up against my ancestors. Who’s going to stop me? »

The torch. The swift suit. There she is. Good on ya, Cathy! Butterflies. The back straight. Freeman cool. The bend. Cathy lifting. The home straight. Flying now. Go Cathy. « What a legend, what a champion. »

She’s going to watch it on telly with her husband James and their nine-year-old daughter on Sunday night.

« I just thought it was about time I shared as much of the whole story and as much of the experience as I could, » she said.

« Mum, why are you doing this film? I thought you were a private person, » she said.

« Look, you know, you need to understand who I am as a mother, and as a woman, as a person, » Mum said.

« I’d met her in around 2004 or 2005 and we seemed to have a marriage — that we seem to still enjoy, » she said.

This partnership now extends to include the Bangarra Dance Theatre, which provides one of the highlights of the film through beautiful sequences of dancer Lillian Banks.

« I think Laurence absolutely copped to the fact that it was all very much a story about me coming from a heritage that I’m obviously very proud of, » Freeman said.

« Stephen Page [Bangarra artistic director] was the perfect person for the job in terms of really telling a story and locking into the story and the whole intent of the story.

The director has recreated an unforgettable time, place, style and pride in Australian history in the documentary.

« I’m too busy kind of burrowing away at domestic bliss now, as you are, as others are sometimes, » she said.

« I often take a good look up around and see the reactions of folk to me as that athlete I was 20 years ago, it certainly takes me back, certainly surprises me. »

Otherwise, she is overseeing the Cathy Freeman Foundation (CFF) which delivers educational programs to 1,600 Indigenous children across four remote communities: Palm Island, Woorabinda, Wurrumiyanga and Galiwin’ku.

« We’ve still got a lot of work to do but this is not a 400m run, this is a marathon.

CFF chief executive Jade Colgan said it was a thrill to work with one of her heroes.

« We’ll often walk into a schoolground … and you often hear, ‘Cathy! Cathy Freeman!’ and it’s really beautiful, because we’re certainly welcomed into community, » she said.

« One of our real strengths is that we have local Aboriginal people working for us in our communities, so they’re there day in, day out, going into classrooms weekly and working with students. »

The foundation also promotes camps to the city for students to understand what the world has to offer them.

« We want young people to stay in their communities if that’s what they want to do, » Ms Colgan said.

« But if it is about going and chasing dreams elsewhere, we want the young people to know that that’s an opportunity that’s there for them as well. »

« Every time when they ask us questions about who would you look up to and who’s an Indigenous role model, I would say Cathy Freeman. »

Thirteen years ago the foundation started small, focusing on Palm Island (her mother’s community) and Woorabinda (her father’s), before expanding to Wurrumiyanga and Galiwin’ku.

« I’m really passionate about these kids. Certainly I, as a child, wouldn’t have realised my Olympic dream without support from those around me, » Freeman said.

« For me, it started in my family, then support from my primary school and even through to high school. »

« The question of what’s next is always right there in the centre of our lives, outside of family life, » she said.

« I absolutely am very proud to represent Indigenous exceptionalism I guess, in a sense, but I’m one of many.

« And I represent a possibility for all kids, but certainly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids in particular.

« It’s a role that I take quite seriously. I’m quite aware of the impact that it generates. I’m not one for resting on my laurels. Lot of work ahead. »

This service may include material from Agence France-Presse (AFP), APTN, Reuters, AAP, CNN and the BBC World Service which is copyright and cannot be reproduced.

AEST = Australian Eastern Standard Time which is 10 hours ahead of GMT (Greenwich Mean Time)


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