Friday, February 18, 2011

The Secret To Success

I recently found out a very interesting and equally disturbing piece of trivia. That is that 1968, one year after the Referendum and the year that Lionel Rose became the first Aboriginal Australian to be awarded the Australian of the Year award (actually, I think he was the first Aboriginal person from anywhere, not just Australia, to win it!), is also the year the infamous picture underneath Lionel here shocked the world!

Now, what many Australians don't know, is that the white guy on the left of the picture is Australian Olympian and Silver Medallist Peter Norman. He strongly supported the action taken by US sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos and apparently wore a badge supporting Human Rights. When asked about his involvement, he said that he supported them because he also disagreed with Australia's history of the White Australia Policy (then still very recent) and the conditions faced by Aboriginal Australians. Despite being a Silver Medal winner, after those comments, he was completely shunned by Australian media.

This leads me to the point of this tale... the same that year that Lionel Rose was paraded and applauded throughout the country we turn our back on a WHITE world class athlete for merely saying that Aboriginal people do it tough, and that the White Australia Policy (which had already been abolished) might not have been the best idea ever. This seems a little conflicting doesn't it? How can we have an Aboriginal hero on the one side celebrated across the country, and a white hero shunned for speaking up about Aboriginal rights?

The sad truth is this, Australia 1968 was happy to celebrate Lionel because he was sensible enough to not engage with the media in that way. He supported his community and other Aboriginal Australians without directly engaging in a national media debate that at the time was unwinnable and simply put, would have been career suicide. So the rule is not that Australia doesn't like Aboriginal champions, it's that they don't like any champions who speak out publicly about Aboriginal rights take Cathy Freeman running a lap with the flag for instance, now on every other Reconciliation poster, but at the time hugely contentious, or poor old Anthony Mundine who gets beaten up by the media (and by many Australians as well) far worse than he ever could be in the ring. (Side story: When Anthony was the Champion, I went at a shop not too far from where I live that sold sporting posters and the like, the only picture of Anthony they had was one of him lying flat on his back, they had put two lines of masking tape over the one on display, when I asked why, I was informed that was essential because too many people were coming and taking snaps of it with their mobile phones... An Australian World Boxing Champion!)

SO work hard Aboriginal sportspeople, and while you can speak your mind when asked, and Tahu rocked the boat pretty awesomely (Side note: Johns Brothers? Still? C'mon!), I still wouldn't make too big a fuss over the whole 4 times infant mortality rate, or a 7 times higher prison rate in NSW... just run fast, hit hard and don't drop the ball, or talk too much... or you will see how fast you go from an Australian hero, to 'that Black bastard'... just ask Anthony!

But also remember everyone... America hated Ali just as much as Australia hates Mundine now... history will tell the story, not us.

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