Taking a stand against racism - 2GB Radio





SUBJECT/S: Australian Olympic athlete Peter Norman.

ALAN JONES: It's almost four years since I spoke to Dr Andrew Leigh. He is the Federal Labor MP for Fraser, a very bright fellow who is the former professor at the ANU in the School of Economics before he went into Parliament. He is now the Shadow Assistant Treasurer. But we weren't talking about matters economic, although one day we should. We were talking about the late Peter Norman. Peter Norman died in 2006, he was the man that won a silver medal at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968 in the 200m event. Peter Norman had come in second place to the great American Tommie Smith, he ran 20.06 seconds which is unbelievable in 1968; it is still the Australian record. This was a time when black athletes in America when second class citizens. So the black athlete Tommie Smith won the 200 and the black athlete John Carlos won the bronze; Peter Norman, a white athlete, came a brilliant second. 

Prior to the medal ceremony, the two African Americans, Smith and Carlos, told Peter Norman they were going to give the Black Power salute. Peter Norman donned an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge and said he would stand beside them. Carlos and Smith had a pair of black gloves; Carlos had left his pair in the dressing room so each wore one glove and raised a black first in the air. Norman wore the badge. Smith and Carlos were ostracised by the American team and condemned by white American athletes before the medal ceremony. But after the race Carlos and Smith told Peter Norman what they were planning to do. They asked Peter Norman whether he believed in human rights and he said he did; they asked him if he believed in God. Norman came from a Salvation Army background and said he believed strongly in God. Subsequently, Peter Norman said we knew what we were doing and we knew it was far greater than any athletic feat. Norman said to the two men: I'll stand with you. John Carlos said he expected to see fear in Norman's eyes but Carlos said he didn't, he saw love. On the way to the medal ceremony Peter Norman saw the badge being worn by Paul Hoffman, a white member of the US rowing team and asked Hoffman if he could wear it. It was Norman who suggested that Smith and Carlos share the black gloves used in the salute after Carlos had left his gloves in the Olympic village. And that's why Carlos raised the left fist and Smith the right. Australian Olympic authorities reprimanded Norman, he was ostracised forever. He ran, in the lead up to the Munich Games, five qualifying times for the 100 metre event; thirteen for the 200 metre but he was not chosen for Munich. Smith and Carlos were sent home.

Peter Norman was not involved in any way with the summer Olympics in Sydney. When the Americans had heard that his own country had failed to honour him, October 17 2003, San Jose University unveiled a statue commemorating the 1968 Olympic protest. Peter Norman was not included as part of the statue because the empty podium spot symbolised the call for others viewing the statue to take a stand. He died of a heart attack on October 3, 2006 in Melbourne at the age of 64. The US Track and Field Federation proclaimed October 9, 2006, the date of the funeral, proclaimed it Peter Norman Day. It was 36 years after the three men made history but Smith and Carlos gave eulogies and were pallbearers at Peter Norman's funeral. Andrew Leigh introduced an apology motion to the Parliament in 2012 with the backing of Peter Norman's family. He called that moment in 1968 a moment of heroism and humility that advanced international awareness for racial inequality. The matter has now gone a step further and Andrew Leigh is on the line. Andrew, good morning.

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good morning, Alan. What a wonderful summary of events.

JONES: Aren't you sweet. Look the thing is, in 2012 I just wasn't clear on one thing, you wanted the Parliament to recognise Peter Norman's extraordinary achievements and bravery and you wanted an apology for not sending him to Munich. What today is the status of your motion then?

LEIGH: Well it was passed by the Parliament, Alan. It was a broad apology for the way in which he was treated afterwards. The circumstances of the selection of the 1972 team are quite unclear, there is certainly some that make a reasonable argument that Peter Norman's form had dropped off at that stage. But as you say, we should have used him in the 2000 Olympics and he sums up so much of what is great about Aussies, their willingness to take a stand on behalf of the underdog and to take a risk.

JONES: So your apology now is a matter of public record in the Hansard?

LEIGH: That's right, the Parliament unanimously supported that apology.

JONES: Brilliant. Now, the National Museum of Australia has announced its procurement of the singlet worn by Peter on that day. 

LEIGH: It'll be great to have it there. It's another symbol of the events of 1968. They're a long way back but I think we can each learn something from them.

JONES: I agree with you, and it's a history that we should never forget. Now, I understand that this had been bought from a private collector via a Melbourne auction house.

LEIGH: It's been sitting in someone's cupboard for a little while now and it'll just be terrific to have it there.

JONES: It's a gutsy thing by the curator Joanne Bach, isn't it?

LEIGH: It's terrific. And I think it is going to help new generations think about how they can be a Peter Norman in their own lives.

JONES: Absolutely, go beyond the track and field competition and realise that there are other values and virtues which go beyond all of that. I understand also that the Olympic Project for Human Rights badge which was given to Peter was also on the singlet but Joanne Bach, the curator of the museum, says she doesn't know where that is. It's not on the singlet.

LEIGH: That's right, and I don't know the history of it but it was as you said Alan, borrowed from Paul Hoffman so I suppose that it's possible that Peter Norman gave it back to Paul Hoffman after the ceremony. But yes it seems to have been lost to the mists of time.

JONES: One of things that has been lost is the remarkable achievement of Peter Norman to win a silver medal in that 200 metre event. I mean, it became almost obscured by the backlash from the protest, didn't it?

LEIGH: That's right, as you say that's still the Australian record that stands today, 20.06. No Aussies run faster than that and - 

JONES: You said that very quickly Andrew, I'm just saying to listeners, 20.06 not 20.6.


JONES: Astonishing.

LEIGH: Blisteringly –

JONES: Blisteringly fast. I love the fact that he said that day in 1968: we knew what we were going to do was far greater than any athletic feat.

LEIGH: Exactly. And after the apology to the Parliament, one local Queensland school asked their kids to go away and think about how they could be a Peter Norman in their own lives. Go and think about what the circumstances were in their local communities where they could stand up for the underdog. The great thing about the San Jose State University sculpture, Alan, is that people are invited to stand where Peter Norman was. To stand there for a moment, bow their heads and think about what they might do in their own lives. After the apology I discovered this interesting family connection: my grandfather was a Methodist Minister in Rosanna, Melbourne and he invited Peter Norman to come and speak. My Dad says it was a little controversial to invite a Salvation Army member but my Methodist Minister grandfather, Keith Leigh, thought it was a great opportunity for the local congregation in Rosanna to learn a little more about racial inequality in America and what they might do here.

JONES: Wonderful. Andrew you've made a wonderful contribution, I'm very grateful. The world of track and field and sport is grateful for what you've done and having this recorded in Hansard. We'll keep in touch, one day we'll talk about the economy.

LEIGH: Look forward to it, Alan.

JONES: Righto, there is Dr Andrew Leigh, federal Labor Member for Fraser.



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