Peter Norman Honoured
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Tags: 1968 john carlos matt norman mexico city olympics peter norman Salute sorry tommie smith
PETER NORMAN – HONOURED IN AUSTRALIAN PARLIAMENT
It gives me great pleasure to announce that last night 20 August 2012, that Parliament with bipartisan support honoured my uncle Peter Norman for his stance along side Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 68 Olympics when he wore the “Olympic Project for Human Rights Badge” to show support for black rights both here in Australia and the United States. Below is some snippets from Parliament and some media to follow.
Norman, Mr Peter
Debate resumed on motion by Dr Leigh:
That this House:
(1) recognises the extraordinary athletic achievements of the late Peter Norman, who won the silver medal in the 200 metres sprint running event at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, in a time of 20.06 seconds, which still stands as the Australian record;
(2) acknowledges the bravery of Peter Norman in donning an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge on the podium, in solidarity with African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who gave the ‘black power’ salute;
(3) apologises to Peter Norman for the wrong done by Australia in failing to send him to the 1972 Munich Olympics, despite repeatedly qualifying; and
(4) belatedly recognises the powerful role that Peter Norman played in furthering racial equality.
Dr LEIGH (Fraser) (19:27): Iconic images emerge from every Olympic Games: golden girl Betty Cuthbert taking home three gold medals in Melbourne, Kieran Perkins’s stunning performance from lane 8 in Atlanta, Cathy Freeman carrying the Australian and Aboriginal flags after winning the 400 in Sydney. But perhaps the most powerful image of the modern Olympics is this: Life magazine and Le Monde declared it one of the most influential images of the 20th century, an image of three brave athletes of the 1968 Mexico City games making a statement on racial equality. And one of them was Australia’s Peter Norman.
It is Peter Norman’s role in that moment, in taking a stand against racial injustice, that I want to talk about. In the 1968 Mexico City games, Peter Norman ran a time of 20.06 seconds in the men’s 200-metre final, winning the silver medal and in the process setting the Australian record that still stands today. As recently as the 2000 Olympics, Norman’s time would have won him the gold medal. But in 1968, it was when the Star-Spangled Banner began to play after the medal presentation that Peter Norman became a part of history. The two Americans, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, stand with heads bowed and one arm raised, a black glove on the right hand of Smith and one on Carlos’s left. Their posture and shoelessness symbolise black poverty and racial inequality in the United States, sending a powerful message to the world for racial equality.
Prior to the presentation, Smith and Carlos told Norman of their plan. ‘I’ll stand with you,’ he told them. Carlos recalled he expected to see fear in Norman’s eyes but he did not. ‘I saw only love,’ Carlos said. On the way to the dais, Norman borrowed an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge from white US rower Paul Hoffman. After Carlos forgot his gloves, Norman came up with the idea that the two Americans should share one pair of gloves. A protest like this on a global stage had never been done before—at the time it was electrifying. Racist slurs were hurled at Smith and Carlos. IOC President Avery Brundage, a man who had had no difficulty with the Nazi salute being used in the 1936 Olympics, insisted the two be expelled. In that moment, Norman advanced international awareness for racial equality. He was proud to stand with Smith and Carlos, and the three remained lifelong friends.
At his funeral in 2006, Smith and Carlos gave eulogies and were pallbearers. As for Norman himself, he competed in the 1970 Commonwealth Games, but was not sent to the 1972 Olympics. Some said that this was because of his action in 1968; others say that financial pressure prevented the AOC from sending a fullcomplement of athletes. What is clear is that in 1972, Norman consistently ran qualifying times for the 100 and 200 metres but was not sent. It is also clear that he never complained about his treatment. He never stopped thinking about himself as a runner. His trainer, Ray Weinberg, said, ‘He always called me coach.’ Thirty-two years later it took an invitation from the United States Olympic team for him to be part of the 2000 games—the United States Olympic team.
The apparent treatment of Peter Norman was symbolic of the attitude of the late sixties and the early seventies, the view that sport and politics should not mix. In the early 1970s, a group of brave protesters took a stand against apartheid in South Africa, interrupting games played by white-only sporting teams. History has vindicated those anti-apartheid protesters and history has vindicated Peter Norman. I am grateful that his 91-year-old mother Thelma, his sister Elaine Ambler and her husband Michael can be here today.
Every Olympic Games produces moments of heroism, humanity and humility. Its motto is: ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius’—’Swifter, Higher, Stronger.’ In 1968 Peter Norman exemplified this—swifter, because of his record that still stands; higher, because he stood tall that day; and stronger, because of the guts it took to make a stand. In that simple act of wearing that badge, Peter Norman showed the world he stood for racial equality. He showed us that the actions of one person can make a difference. It is a message that echoes down to us today. Whether refusing to tolerate a racist joke or befriending a new migrant, each of us can—and all of us should—be a Peter Norman in our own lives.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms Vamvakinou): On indulgence, as the mother of a young son who loves running, I would like to welcome Mrs Norman to the chamber.
Mr ALEXANDER (Bennelong) (19:32): I rise to recognise the unique contribution made by Australian athlete Peter Norman to the worlds of both sport and politics. In sport Norman’s feet did the talking, becoming the highest achieving Australian male sprinter in our nation’s history. In politics, Norman’s statement was not through the delivery of a speech but simply through the wearing of a badge. The badge said: ‘Olympic Project for Human Rights’. The venue was the 1968 Mexico Olympic Games. The year 1968 is often referred to as the year the world changed—the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy; the raging of the Vietnam War; riots in Paris; industrial strikes across Europe; and uprisings in Czechoslovakia and Pakistan.
In the United States, violence engulfed civil rights protests across the nation. In response, Harry Edwards, famous for his revolutionary musings as Professor in Black Leadership at San Jose State College, formed the Olympic Project for Human Rights. Blurring the fine line between sport and politics, the OPHR called for the instant dismissal of Avery Brundage as the president of the International Olympic Committee, the banning of competitors from South Africa and Rhodesia, and the reinstatement of Muhammad Ali’s title as world boxing champion. Talk of protests by athletes at the games was met by threats from Brundage, who claimed that the Olympic Games was not the place for political statement and any action would be met with official sanction. Two of Harry’s most famous students were outspoken athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who were favourites to win gold and silver in the 200 metres final. What no-one expected was Australian Peter Norman, who split the two Americans to take out the silver medal.
Norman’s time of 20.06 seconds would have won gold at the Sydney Olympics and still stands as the Australian record 44 years later. No Australian male sprinter has since won an Olympic medal of any description and yet it is a stain on our nation that Peter Norman was immediately ostracised by the Australian media and by athletics officials. Despite running five Olympic qualifying times for the 100 metres and 13 for the 200 metres, the Australian Olympic Committee preferred to send no male sprinters to the 1972 Munich games.
Norman’s crime was to give a silent expression of solidarity to Smith and Carlos. Walking into the Olympic stadium in their black socks with one hand clad in a black glove and the other carrying their running shoes, Smith and Carlos proudly wore OPHR badges as a statement against racism and segregation in the United States. On the way out to the medal ceremony, Norman spotted another US athlete wearing an OPHR badge and asked if he could borrow it. The simple gesture to wear this badge on the dais as Smith and Carlos raised their fists in protest condemned Norman to never represent Australia again.
The shame for Australia is not limited to the immediate reaction from the media and Australian officials banning Norman from the 1972 games. The further embarrassment is that 32 years after Mexico, as we celebrated with such national pride at the Sydney Olympic Games, Peter Norman received no formal recognition. Just as Atlanta had done with Muhammad Ali four years earlier, the opening ceremony for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games offered a unique opportunity for national healing, to give our nation a chance to make peace with Peter Norman. Yet recognition instead came from the US track team with Edward Moses inviting him to join them and Michael Johnson reportedly calling Peter Norman, ‘My hero.’ It is the greatest irony that the most celebrated moment of the Sydney 2000 games was the victory by Cathy Freeman in the 400-metre final.
In 2006, Norman passed away. His impact was so great that the US track and field federation declared the day of his funeral, 9 October 2006, Peter Norman Day. In the most fitting tribute, Tommie Smith and John Carlos travelled to Australia to deliver eulogies and to serve as pallbearers. I thank the member for Fraser for raising this motion. To Peter Norman’s family, some of whom are present here today, I hope that you can accept our regret at the way Peter was treated and that his recognition did not come during his lifetime. Peter George Norman is truly an Australian legend and deserves to be celebrated by athletes, schoolchildren, historians and politicians across the nation.
Mr OAKESHOTT (Lyne) (19:37): I am honoured to speak about a man I never met but a man I wish I had met. As the only white man ever invited to the Martin Luther King games and with his own day on the US track calendar, it is certainly time we gave much greater recognition in Australia to Peter Norman as a man, an athlete and as a believer in the universal principle of equality. In preparation for this motion, I very much enjoyed reading a lot about Peter Norman and talking with family and friends. I note statements this week from the Australian Olympic Committee and Athletics Australia, and I particularly mention welcome contact from Peter’s brother, Laurie, and his coach and the manager of the athletics team, Ray Weinberg. I also note the attendance today of Peter’s mother and sister, showing us all that this matters to the Norman family—mostly I hope with pride, but maybe with a little pain following the events of 44 years ago and the journey that Peter went through until his untimely death six years ago.
Firstly, Peter the man. He sounded like good company, a community focused man and a hard worker. He started as an apprentice butcher. I note from what I could see from the famous photo that he still had all 10 fingers. I really liked reading that even after he won a silver medal he returned to play 67 games for West Brunswick football club, even after the Olympic success. As policymakers we wrestle with the community sport versus elite sport issue. Peter Norman provides food for thought, and, as a separate legacy, he is an example not only for elite sportspeople but also for us to think about—it is not an either/or choice; we can achieve both.
Secondly, Peter the athlete. He was fast—very fast. He still has a record time. He was the Aussie champion from 1966-70. I think we are all jealous of how he mastered the art of the fast finish. It is always dangerous to make big cross-generational statements, but Peter Norman would definitely be in the mix for Australia’s finest sprinter ever and is already listed by the official AOC historian as one of Australia’s finest ever athletes.
I have purposely spoken of the man and the athlete before the moment that has us here tonight. Because without being a fine man, or a fine athlete, the choice and the challenge that were put to Peter Norman in the dressing room following the 200-metre final in 1968 would never have occurred. He earned his right to do something extraordinary, by being a man and an athlete of many skills and talents.
So, thirdly, the podium stand. Peter Norman went to Mexico to run fast for himself, his family and his country. He did. He did not plan or conspire in the events that followed. He was approached by the first- and third-placegetters. At the very moment when he had reached the top of his own sporting challenges, rather than being able to rest and celebrate, he was hit with another challenge. One, thankfully, he gracefully recognised was bigger than sport and more universal than his own celebrations. I put it to all Australians: what if Peter Norman had said no? What if he had shown disgust at the suggestion or shaken his head when the statement by Smith and Carlos was made? In the circumstances, he was a great diplomat as well as a fine athlete. He brought three people and two nations closer together by standing silently and proudly, committing the crime of displaying a borrowed badge.
His words in response to the approach of Carlos and Smith: ‘I will stand with you,’ are outstanding words in the circumstances immediately following the race and are the timeless legacy that we celebrate tonight. These five words speak as loudly to the challenges of reconciliation in Australia today as they did to racial equality in the US in the late sixties. It is to Peter Norman’s eternal credit that he recognised the significance of the moment and rose to his own challenge. I note the words of the member for Bennelong, who mentioned San Jose State University. There is a 23-foot statue at San Jose State University. It has the two Americans there with an empty spot for the silver medallist. When you first hear about it you think: ‘The Yanks have done it again and forgotten the Aussie.’ But when you read about it more and think about it you realise that it is all about Peter Norman. It is inviting you, the visitor, to stand in the place of Peter Norman, to take up the challenge that he accepted and stand with those seeking the universal principle of racial equality. I say thank you to the member for Fraser for bringing on this motion and, belatedly, thank you to the Norman family for producing a great man, a great athlete and a great diplomat. (Time expired)
Mr TEHAN (Wannon) (19:42): It gives me great joy to rise as well on this occasion to support those speakers before me, who have spoken so eloquently, and to recognise Peter’s family, who are with us today. The 1968 Summer Olympics have a special place in my heart for two reasons: they were held in the year that I was born and I spent three years in Mexico City as a diplomat, during which time I went out to the stadium. I have seen where Peter ran on that day, so it gives me great joy to speak on this motion.
The 1968 Summer Olympics were famous for three things: Dick Fosbury inventing the Fosbury flop; Bob Beamon jumping 55 centimetres further than anyone else had jumped and so breaking the long-jump record, which stood until 1991, and the black power medal ceremony. Peter Norman’s courage was there for all to see. As this motion rightly recognises, all Australians should proudly recognise his bravery on that day. As the motion acknowledges, we should also recognise Peter’s athletic prowess. As Peter’s good friend Mike Hurst pointed out in a moving article on Peter’s death, and I would recommend that everyone read it, Peter had two problems when he started out: he was a slow starter and he was asthmatic. You need to go to Mexico City and try to acclimatise yourself to the altitude to get a sense of what it must have been like as an asthmatic to go there and achieve what he achieved. It is quite extraordinary. It took me three to six months to acclimatise to the altitude. All our athletes who went there and acclimatised and performed so well should be recognised, but it is particularly Peter, for what he did and the time he ran, that we should note.
There is one point, however, that respectfully I would like to raise. That is, we have to be very careful with point No. 3 of the motion because the research that I have done would seem to show that Peter himself, when it came to the 1972 Olympics, recognised that he probably was not going to be selected. That was based on his performance at the 1972 Australian athletic championships. Ron Carter quotes Peter as saying:
I ran a shocker. I’m history. I’m out of the team. All I had to do was win even in a slow time and I think I would have been off to Munich. I felt a lot older than 30 today.
So, on point No. 3, we need to be a little bit careful. He was selected for the 1970 Commonwealth Games and there did not seem to be an issue around that. I think that, in recognising all the other elements, we have to be a little bit careful there. Aside from that, this motion that Dr Leigh has put forward is significant. It recognises a fantastic individual and a fantastic performance by Peter Norman at the Mexico Olympics.
I now refer in particular to what the member for Lyne had to say. That statue in San Jose is a truly remarkable piece of art. The way you have described it—how you can stand between, how you can place yourself in the shoes of Peter Norman—lets you ask yourself: do I have the courage to do what Peter did? It was not easy in those times. Here in Australia, we still had not put to bed the White Australia policy and we all know what was going on in the US during those times. I asked myself when I was preparing for this debate whether I would have been able to do what Peter did. I would hope that the best in me would have been able to; I really do. But unless you could place yourself in that situation at that time, I do not think you could clearly say that you would. That statue sums that up. It asks all of us to make sure that we fight for racial equality and that we are brave enough to place ourselves between those two athletes.
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 Damian Hooper, who was sanctioned during the London Olympics for stepping into the ring wearing a T-shirt that bore the Aboriginal flag. Damian 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 Damian 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.
Mr IRONS (Swan) (19:52): I rise to speak on the member for Fraser’s motion, which includes recognising the extraordinary athletic achievements of the late Peter Norman, who won the silver medal in the 200-metre sprint event at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics in a time of 20.06 seconds, which still stands as the Australian record. I will include in my speech parts of an editorial obituary for Peter Norman, who passed away in 2006.
One of the most dramatic events in Olympic history came in 1968 when Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the US 200-metre medallists in Mexico City, stood on the victory dais barefoot, heads bowed and gloved fists raised during the playing of the Star-spangled banner. The third man in the photograph of this enduring symbol of protest against racial discrimination was Australia’s Peter Norman, the silver medallist, who died suddenly at age 64 in 2006. He too became an icon of the American civil rights movement, if an unlikely one. In the photo he wears a badge identical to those worn by Smith and Carlos, identifying the Olympic Project for Human Rights. But Norman’s participation was more than a token. While he did not raise a fist, he did lend a hand—that was how Smith explained it.
The member for Fraser’s motion also acknowledges the bravery of Peter Norman in donning an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge on the podium in solidarity with the African-American athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who gave the ‘black power’ salute. The Americans had discussed their plan with Norman, then a 26-year-old physical education teacher and Salvation Army officer, before the ceremony. When Carlos realised he had forgotten his black gloves, Norman suggested the two share Smith’s pair. Norman borrowed a badge, which he then attached to his tracksuit over his heart. After the ceremony, Norman explained himself simply—’I believe that every man is born equal and should be treated that way.’
The motion also calls for the parliament to apologise to Peter Norman for the wrong done by Australia in failing to send him to the 1972 Munich Olympics, despite him repeatedly qualifying, and to belatedly recognise the powerful role that Peter Norman played in furthering racial equality.
After their protest, Smith and Carlos were expelled from the games. Their competitive careers were shattered and their marriages crumbled under the strain. The Australian team’s chef de mission, Julius ‘Judy’ Patching, resisted calls from the country’s conservative media for Norman to be punished, telling the athlete in private: ‘They’re screaming out for your blood, so consider yourself severely punished. By the way, have you got any tickets for the hockey today?’ Patching seemed mystified as to what the fuss was about, though he did warn the athlete to be careful.
We have heard eloquent submissions and speeches by other members of this place, but I want to speak a bit more about Peter Norman the man. For me, as a 10-year-old in 1968 who thought I could I run a bit, he was an inspiration, and he is still an inspiration to many athletes in Australia. I spent four years running for the biggest athletic club in Australia—the Box Hill Athletic Club—after that and he was always spoken about highly at that club. He is still regarded as Australia’s greatest ever sprinter.
It was with the Melbourne Harriers that Norman won his first major title: the Victorian junior 200-metre championship in 1960. He was the Australian champion for the five years from 1966 to 1970 and became known for his fast finishing. He took a relay bronze at the 1966 Commonwealth Games and 200-metre gold at the inaugural Pacific Games in Tokyo in 1969. In the Mexico City final Carlos, on the inside, eased up slightly when he saw his college teammate Smith winning easily. But Norman, in lane 6, had begun his trademark surge around the final bend and nipped Carlos by 0.04 of a second. Smith set a world record of 19.83 seconds; Norman was clocked at 20.06 seconds, which, as I said before, remains the Australian national record to this day.
Norman retired from international competition after finishing third at the Australian trials for the 1972 Munich games. He continued running until 1985, when an Achilles tendon injury became infected and gangrene set in. He avoided amputation only because one doctor argued with his colleagues that you cannot cut off the leg of an Olympic silver medallist. Norman was confined to a wheelchair while he relearned to walk. After Norman recovered he worked for the Melbourne department of sport and recreation. He was active in athletics administration, Olympic fundraising and the organisation of major events like the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Norman underwent triple bypass surgery a month before he died of an apparent heart attack while mowing his lawn. Peter Norman was and still is an Australian legend of athletics and sport.
Mr PERRETT (Moreton) (19:57): I too rise to speak on the member for Fraser’s wonderful motion regarding an apology to the Olympic champion and silver medallist Peter George Norman. I do not use the word ‘champion’ lightly—I tell Peter’s family that now—but Peter Norman was a champion, and not only because he was a five-time Australian 200-metre titleholder and his time of 20.06 seconds from the 1960s still stands as the Australian 200-metre record. Peter Norman was a champion because he won Olympic silver in 1968. Peter Norman was also a champion because he captured the hearts and minds of fair-minded people everywhere when, in 1968, his actions and support for two African-Americans sent a clear message to people around the world, especially in Australia, that basic human rights and equality for all are important.
On the morning of 16 October 1968, US athlete Tommy Smith won the 200-metre race in a world record time of 19.83 seconds, with Australia’s Peter Norman second with a time of 20.06 and the USA’s John Carlos in third place with a time of 20.1 seconds. After the race was completed the three went to collect their medals at the podium, and the others discussed this with Peter Norman, as other speakers have mentioned earlier. The two US athletes received their medals shoeless but wearing black socks to represent black poverty.
Tommy Smith wore a black scarf around his neck to represent black pride. John Carlos had his tracksuit top unzipped to show solidarity with all blue-collar workers in the US and wore a necklace of beads which he described as being ‘for those individuals that were lynched or killed that no-one said a prayer for, that were hung and tarred’. Carlos and Smith also made a raised fist gesture. For the benefit of those people from generations X and Y, it is a symbol like that at the Olympic stadium that is known to many as the ‘black power salute’—to show their support for human rights. Both US athletes intended on bringing black gloves to the event but Carlos, in the hubbub and excitement, forgot his, leaving them in the Olympic village.
It was Peter Norman from Australia who suggested that Carlos wear Smith’s left-handed glove, differing from that traditional black power salute. That is an explanation for something that until today I had never understood about that photograph. So when the Star Spangled Banner played, Smith and Carlos delivered the salute with heads bowed, a gesture which became front-page news around the world, not necessarily for all the right reasons. Peter Norman, who was neither black nor American but lived in a country alongside racism—I think most Australians would admit that—also wore a human rights badge on his shirt during the ceremony to show support for the two African Americans. Norman, a noted critic of the White Australia policy, used his badge to express his empathy with their ideals.
It was this silent gesture by Peter Norman that began the change from a black power salute to a human rights salute. This truly epitomises how signs and symbols can challenge people’s perceptions and generate widespread change. That does not mean that your decisions to effect change come without a price. Sadly, as his family knows, Peter Norman was reprimanded by Australia’s Olympic authorities and the Australian media ostracised him. Norman was also banned for two years on his return, probably at his peak running time. Despite Norman running qualifying times for the 100 metres five times and the 200 metres 13 times during 1971 and 1972, the Australian Olympic track team, sadly, did not send him or any other male sprinters to the 1972 summer Olympics in Munich—the first modern Olympics since 1896 where no Australian sprinters participated.
Peter Norman made a brave choice when he decided to support Carlos and Smith. Norman’s decision to support Carlos and Smith, to stand up for equality and human rights and to openly criticise the White Australia policy made him a true hero and champion. It is for that that he should be remembered. Sadly, Norman passed away on 3 October 2006 at the young age of 64—eerily, almost 38 years to the day from when he made his grand gesture on the Olympic podium. While Norman did not lend a fist, as he said, he certainly did lend a hand. His actions are an example to all that one small act can make a difference. I often say that wearing a badge is never enough, but on this occasion it was a good start. It is the way that we as people, as parliamentarians and as members of our communities can build on the foundations to make a real difference to the world.
These are tough times for Labor supporters. It may be time for two badges, some might suggest. But the next time that anyone thinks of wearing a badge to support awareness of diabetes, breast cancer, our troops or whatever the topic is, I will also think about how brave people can go one step further to challenge perceptions, just like Peter Norman did. For me he will always be a true Olympic champion. (Time expired)