Amid the furore over Chinese doping allegations, the fact that Mark Cavendish isn’t superhuman and Team GB being robbed of a silver medal in Gymnastics, you’d be forgiven for missing the controversy stirred up by anonymous Australian Light-Heavyweight Boxer, Damien Hooper.
As a nation colonised heavily by Europeans, Australia’s Hooper blended effortlessly into his country’s delegation at the opening ceremony. Standing at 5ft11, 80kg and appearing to be of Caucasian heritage, the relatively homogeneous group of athletes were seemingly united under one flag. But the boy from Toowoomba has a slightly different past than the majority of his fellow countrymen – he is of partial indigenous Australian ancestry.
…Mundine’s most recent outburst has been taken by many with a pinch of salt…
Thus, as a sportsman whose progenitors have inhabited the region for roughly 45,000 years, why on Earth is there so much opposition to Hooper displaying a native flag? Castigated for showing pride in his culture by the Australian Olympic Committee, the fledgling athlete’s actions have been deemed as a “political statement”.
Yet fellow boxer, former rugby league centre and indigenous Australian, Anthony Mundine, has fervently displayed his support for the promising young fighter, declaring that, “we want to be proud of a flag that we fly and the current Australian flag just doesn’t sit well because of its dark history”. No stranger to controversy himself, Mundine’s most recent outburst has been taken by many with a pinch of salt, but does he have a point?
Why is there such an issue behind acknowledging Australia’s indigenous past?
Before the arrival of Europeans, Australia’s population is thought to have numbered somewhere in the region of 300,000-1,000,000 people, all with a variety of diverging languages, cultures and customs. By 1900, however, the nation’s indigenous people had been decimated to only 90,000 survivors, an event which a plethora of scholars have now deemed to be genocide. In addition to this, those of native heritage face higher rates of unemployment, illness and substance abuse, alongside an imprisonment rate 14 times higher than that of their non-indigenous counterparts.
At the 1994 Commonwealth Games, future Olympic gold medallist, fellow native of Toowoomba and another indigenous Australian, Cathy Freeman, also caused a stir for flying the native flag after victory in the 200m. Irrespective of criticism, however, she would later go on to fly it again after winning the 400m final. Why is there such an issue behind acknowledging Australia’s indigenous past? And to what extent will actions such as Hooper’s and Freeman’s gain attention for the plight of Australia’s forgotten people? Only time will tell, yet it beggars belief that in one of the most multicultural cities on earth, an athlete is unable to raise awareness for a way of life that had flourished before the arrival of Western colonisation.