Cathy Freeman Named Australian of the YearAustralia Day - 26 January 1998
Olympic champion Cathy Freeman has been named Australian of the Year. Freeman, the first Aborigine to win a Commonwealth Games medal, said yesterday the honor was a greater triumph than her sport victories. "I don't get the opportunity to be Australian of the Year often, whereas I can run any day, can't I?" she said.
Accepting the award from the Prime Minister, Mr John Howard, she said all she ever wanted to do was run fast. But now she realised she had another role to play in championing the cause of reconciliation. Freeman caused a furore when she draped herself in the Aboriginal flag for her victory lap at the 1994 Commonwealth Games. But she has since learnt the value of diplomacy and yesterday avoided questions about her politics and her private life.
Asked if she was comfortable standing next to Mr Howard - whose relationship with many Aboriginal leaders has deteriorated in recent months - she said: "I am pretty comfortable most of the time, no matter whose company I am in." Mr Howard said: "I stand in awe of the achievement and contribution of men and women of Australia for so many endeavors and from so many walks of life."
Freeman is the first person to win both Australia Day Council titles - she was named Young Australian of the Year in 1990.