Australian Women
At the 2000 Olympics, Cathy Freeman ran once more around the track, after winning gold in the Women’s 400 m, draped in the Australian and Aboriginal flags — a historic moment for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Cathy Freeman’s legacy is a notable and influential athletic career, breaking barriers for Australian women and Indigenous peoples. Since retiring in 2003, her inspiring work as an Aboriginal athlete has continued through her philanthropic endeavors to help Australian women and those in the Indigenous community. 

Freeman’s Inspiring Athletic Career

Cathy Freeman’s athletic portfolio exhibits numerous outstanding performances in track and field. She has won multiple World Championships, gold and silver Olympic medals and four Commonwealth Games gold medals. In recognition of these performances, she earned the titles Young Australian of the Year (1990) and Australian of the Year (1998), is forever inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame and wears the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM).

Advocating for Indigenous Peoples

Post-athletic career, Cathy Freeman dedicates her efforts to the education of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. Her foundation, the Community Spirit Foundation, established in 2007, aims “to support children and their families recognize the power of education in achieving their dreams.” When the foundation began “more than 90% of Year 7 students living in Palm Island could not read or write at the minimum national standard, truancy rates were as high as 55% and less than 10% of students graduated high school.”

The foundation plays a key role in the lives of thousands of Indigenous children across four remote First Nation communities. In collaboration with local leaders, the foundation provides a suite of education programs for students at each grade level. These programs build confidence, teach goal-setting, increase resilience through education and provide positive role models appropriate to each community context. 

Since its inception, the foundation has been integral to improving access to education, inspiring a newfound sense of confidence as figures consistently reveal annual increases in year 12 graduation across all four partner communities. Of note, between 2017 to 2018 there was a 50% jump in Year 12 graduations. Furthermore, the organization is regarded highly as a recipient of the St. George Foundation Inspire Grant (2020), an investment in support of bridging the education gap in Indigenous communities. 

In addition, for several years, Cathy was an ambassador of the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation, as well as for the Victorian children’s charity, Cottage by the Sea. 

Freeman’s Legacy Continues

For more than a decade, the Community Spirit Foundation has extended its reach in providing access to quality, sustainable educational opportunities in rural Indigenous communities. In 2021, UNICEF Australia partnered with the Foundation, empowering Freeman’s vision and passion to “implement community-led, long-term partnerships with Indigenous communities, employing local people and working in a sustainable way.” The partnership bases efforts in the Aboriginal community of Woorabinda, where young people (under the age of 20) make up almost half the population and work to create sustainable educational and life opportunities.

Cathy Freeman continues breaking barriers for Australian Women and Indigenous peoples. As her work continues in her community, recognition of women in athletics and Indigenous communities expands to greater heights, creating opportunities in education, work and life.

Emmalyn Meyer
Photo: Wikipedia Commons