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International Media Coverage Of Australian Reconciliation Issue

September 16, 2000

Cathy Freeman Whilst the Olympic Games opening ceremony did not feature prominently in the evening news bulletins on television networks, American newspapers have reported the political implications of Cathy Freeman's role in the event.

The Washington Post reported on the front page of its Saturday edition that "Australia's indigenous Aborigines were honored in an emotional pageant".

The paper went on to say:

"Powering much of the spectacle was a theme of reconciliation. The selection of Freeman and the inclusion of more than 1,100 Aboriginal performers in the ceremony seemed an effort to heal wounds between white Australians and the country's indigenous population, which had been subjugated for generations following the arrival of the first white settlers--convicts from Britain--in the late 1700s.

"The issue of providing restitution to Aborigines and issuing an apology for past mistreatment, which included the removal of thousands of young children from their parents, is one of the most significant and divisive political questions in Australia today. Prime Minister John Howard has steadfastly balked at apologizing, insisting that his government should not have to say it is sorry for mistakes of the past."

The New York Times also reported on the Reconciliation issue in its Saturday edition:

"Yet the most symbolic and pointed moment occurred when the Aboriginal sprinter Cathy Freeman, a gold-medal favorite in the 400 meters, was chosen to light the Olympic caldron, which lifted a ring of fire from a pool of water and ascended to the top of Olympic Stadium.

"Freeman's achievement and visibility on the track have brought increased international attention to the plight of the Aborigines at these Sydney Games. Two months ago, she rebuked the government of Prime Minister John Howard as insensitive for its refusal to apologize for generations of racist behavior toward Australia's indigenous people, who date back 50,000 years and who have been marginalized during two centuries of white settlement.

"In July, Freeman revealed that her grandmother had been part of the so-called stolen generation of primarily mixed-race Aboriginal children who were taken from their families between 1910 and 1970 to be assimilated into the white culture. Her grandmother did not know her own true age or birth date, said Freeman, who won a silver medal in the 400 at the Atlanta Olympics and is a two-time world champion in that event.

"Over the past decade, equitable restitution for the Aborigines has become Australia's most divisive social and political issue. Tonight's opening ceremony is likely to stir the debate further and increase pressure on Mr. Howard to issue a formal apology.

"Mr. Howard, the conservative prime minister, was among the 110,000 people in Olympic Stadium tonight as Freeman lighted the Olympic caldron. A particularly unflinching reference to the massacre of Aborigines occurred during a portion of the ceremony dedicated to the songs, customs and dances of indigenous people as an Aboriginal performer walked warily away from a ship signifying the arrival of European settlers in the late 1700's."

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