No Bronze Statue For Australia’s Golden Girl

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As debate rages in Melbourne over a statue memoralising ‘that kick’ from Women’s AFL player Tayla Harris, Priyanka Bromhead wonders why women of colour who’ve achieved great heights in sport aren’t also being cast in bronze.

In the year 2000, while I was still in high school, there was a lot of noise about Cathy Freeman. She was tipped to win at least one gold medal at the Sydney Olympics, and had suddenly become the ‘nation’s favourite’.

I remember the evening of 15 September: I, along with so many others, was captured by the Opening Ceremony. We heard it was a tribute to our nation’s culture, history and identity.

What was more spectacular was the fact that “our Cathy”, an Indigenous woman, held the torch, lit the flame and then, 10 days later, went on to win the 400-metre gold medal.

The torch, flame and multiple victory laps, draped in Aboriginal colours, were symbols of defiance, resistance and survival: the most ancient-civilisation are still here, still burning and still victorious.

But despite being the first Aboriginal woman to win gold in an Olympic event, Freeman does not have a monument in her name. Not one paid for by the Australian Olympic Committee nor one paid for by the Big Four. And although the photo that inspired a bronze monument of Tayla Harris sparked an important conversation about sexism in sport, it has only taken a matter of months to immortalise “that kick”, which was in fact a staged moment.

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Yet, 19 years later and Australia is still waiting for a bronze, larger-than-life monument honouring not just the win that Freeman achieved for Australia, but for her people.

Where is the shrine of her holding a torch, lighting up World Square, a beacon of hope for the Indigenous young people who are still struggling to Close the Gap? Where is the monument of Freeman taking in a fortifying breath while gazing up at her ancestors, moments before she reiterated ‘always was and always will be’? Where is the green and gold clad woman, hands on hips, a deadly smile splayed across her face, the colours of the red centre, the protector sun and her Black history and people, draped proudly across her shoulders?

Nowhere, that’s where. Because while we have numerous monuments honouring our white heroes, Australia continues its silence on so many triumphs of our First Australians.

Because while Harris’ monument “kicks balls and ass”, and flips a giant middle finger to sexist trolls everywhere, what would a monument of an Indigenous woman declare? That in the face of genocide, poverty, whiteness and ongoing institutional racism they are strong, they are still alive and they will continue to be victorious.

It only took 26 years to immortalise Nicky Winmar’s famous protest against racial vilification at the hands of Collingwood supporters during a match at Victoria Park in 1993. Perhaps Freeman needs to also wait in line for another seven.

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Priyanka Bee

Priyanka is a Thamizh-Australian writer, educator and advocate seeking out justice and mercy.

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