Tribute to James Walker and Peter Norman - Adjournment Speech


19 OCTOBER 2017

I rise today to pay tribute to a local legend, and a national legend. James Walker was known as the 'Mayor of Hackett' for his activism in the Hackett Community Association. 

Born in Ashfield in Sydney, and raised in Cowra, James was a serious train buff, somebody who worked as the historical officer with the Department of Transport and for the Civil Aviation Authority, who compiled a number of booklets detailing a history of civil aviation in Australia—including The girls were up there too, on the role of women in Australian aviation history—and who became a member of the Australian Railway Historical Society. He married Barbara Yelds in 1963, and their son, Jamie, was born shortly thereafter. James came to Hackett soon after arriving in Canberra and was a founding member of the Hackett Community Association in 2003, serving as its chair for many years. When the Neighbourhood Watch newsletter came out, James could be relied upon to drop into my office to ensure that I had a copy of it.

He was fondly remembered at a get-together at Siam Twist recently, alongside so many of those who've contributed to the Hackett Community Association, and among them Len Crossfield, Jochen Zeil, Terry de Luca, Bruce Smith, Dorothy Mackenzie, Jolanta Gallagher, Greg Haughy and Chris Mobbs. They remembered how James was initially appointed the historical officer for the association and proposed the idea of having an annual Hackett Day, which would later turn into Party at the Shops. James came every day to Siam Twist to get his cup of tea made with real tea leaves, not tea bags. He loved his books. He had a huge collection of over 8,000 books, including books on railway history, war history and the classics. As his son, Jamie, recalled, his pleasure was lending his books to his friends. Vale James Walker. My sympathies to his family for their loss.

Last year former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during the US national anthem, refusing to stand, in protest against police shootings of unarmed African Americans. His action, kneeling during the national anthem, has since been copied by players across US sport, prior to NFL, soccer, basketball, baseball and ice hockey games. Importantly, their white teammates have supported them, locking arms in solidarity for the cause of racial equality, recognising that, while discrimination principally affects African Americans, the cause of racial equality is one in which whites have a critical role to play.

As many, including South African journo Khaya Dlanga, have noted, events 49 years ago this week have an important lesson for these protests. In the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games, Australian athlete Peter Norman ran a time of 20.06 seconds in the men's 200 metres final. He won the silver medal, set the Australian record, and, as recently as the 2000 Olympics, that time would've won him the gold medal. But it was Norman's actions after the race which were so critical. As The Star-Spangled Banner played, and Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos stood, heads bowed, with black gloves on their hands, it was Peter Norman who said to them, 'I'll stand with you.' Carlos said he expected to see fear in Norman's eyes, but he didn't: 'I only saw love.' Norman wore an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge, which he'd borrowed from white US rower Paul Hoffman.

I was pleased in this place in 2012 to move a motion which received unanimous support from the parliament, apologising to Peter Norman for the way in which he was treated upon his return. He took a brave stand for racial equality, and a statue at San Jose State University, erected in 2005, speaks so powerfully of what he did. It contains a space on the statue where Peter Norman stood and invites passers-by to stand in that place and consider what they would have done. It is an important message that resonates with Americans today.

There has been talk recently of erecting a statue in Melbourne in tribute to Peter Norman. I believe that would be a powerful signal to recognise the role that Peter Norman played for racial equality, an action which would resonate to the other side of the world today and recognise that all of us can play a role in standing up for racial equality in the current era.

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.