Hope for Cathy’s Palm Is­land dream

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Afloat - HE­LEN HUTCHEON

WHEN Olympic gold medal­list Cathy Free­man acted as god­mother at the spec­tac­u­lar re­nam­ing cer­e­mony of Pa­cific Dawn at Syd­ney’s Over­seas Pas­sen­ger Ter­mi­nal in 2007, she re­ceived $30,000 to­wards the Cathy Free­man Foun­da­tion, which was es­tab­lished that year to help dis­ad­van­taged in­dige­nous chil­dren.

The Renzo Pi­ano-de­signed 70,000gt ship had been chris­tened Re­gal Princess by former Bri­tish prime min­is­ter Mar­garet Thatcher in New York in 1991. It un­der­went a makeover as Pa­cific Dawn in Sin­ga­pore, ar­riv­ing in Syd­ney sport­ing new liv­ery with the stylised sun logo of P&ocruises Aus­tralia two days be­fore Free­man gave it its new name.

This was the be­gin­ning of a re­ward­ing re­la­tion­ship be­tween Car­ni­val Aus­tralia, the par­ent com­pany of P&O Cruises Aus­tralia, and the Cathy Free­man Foun­da­tion that con­tin­ues to­day.

Ann Sherry, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Car­ni­val Aus­tralia, pre­sented Free­man with an­other sub­stan­tial cheque at a gala lun­cheon on board Pa­cific Dawn in Syd­ney to cel­e­brate the first an­niver­sary of its re­nam­ing. Car­ni­val Aus­tralia helps to sup­port the foun­da­tion through its Car­ni­val Cares pro­gram, which also raises money for Life­line Aus­tralia and Make-aWish. Its pas­sen­gers have con­trib­uted by be­ing spon­sored by fam­ily and friends to Walk the Decks, a fundraiser that was rolled out across the fleet; the com­pany has raised about $190,000 for the foun­da­tion since 2007.

As Free­man, who lit the flame at the open­ing cer­e­mony of the 2000 Syd­ney Olympics (where she sub­se­quently won the 400m event), says: ‘‘The foun­da­tion is a way for me to sup­port oth­ers in the same way that peo­ple have sup­ported me in my ca­reer.’’

Ini­tially, Free­man is work­ing with the com­mu­nity of Palm Is­land, 65km north­east of Townsville, which has a pop­u­la­tion of about 4000 — one of the largest in­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties in Aus­tralia — and a trou­bled his­tory.

Dur­ing the 20th cen­tury it was used by the Queens­land govern­ment as a set­tle­ment for Abo­rig­ines guilty of such in­frac­tions as be­ing ‘ ‘ dis­rup­tive’’, ‘ ‘ born with mixed blood’’ or ‘‘be­ing preg­nant to a white man’’.

Free­man’s ma­ter­nal great­grand­par­ents were ex­iled from their home to Palm Is­land in 1925 and their grand­daugh­ter, Cathy’s mother, was born there in 1939.

The Aus­tralian Bureau of Sta­tis­tics lists Palm Is­land as the fourth most dis­ad­van­taged com­mu­nity in Aus­tralia. About 60 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion is un­der 20 years old and life ex­pectancy is 50, which is 38 per cent lower than the state av­er­age. About 90 per cent of the peo­ple are un­em­ployed and four out of five chil­dren suf­fer hear­ing loss from oti­tis me­dia in­fec­tion, which af­fects their abil­ity to learn and com­mu­ni­cate. Tru­ancy rates are as high as 70 per cent, ap­prox­i­mately nine out of 10 Year 7 stu­dents are un­able to read and write at a min­i­mum National As­sess­ment Pro­gram — Lit­er­acy and Nu­mer­acy (NAPLAN) stan­dard and less than one in 10 grad­u­ate from sec­ondary school.

Work­ing with key part­ners, the foun­da­tion is ad­dress­ing some of these is­sues. Its Early Learn­ing Project pre­pares chil­dren for suc­cess in the class­room; it also pro­vides a big in­cen­tive for young­sters to at­tend school and achieve re­sults by re­ward­ing them with sport­ing goods, in­clud­ing bikes.

It en­cour­ages chil­dren to par­tic­i­pate in sport and recre­ational ac­tiv­i­ties and gives stu­dents who have ap­plied them­selves at school the op­por­tu­nity to go on an in­ter­state hol­i­day. It also sup­ports a schol­ar­ship scheme for Palm Is­land’s in­dige­nous sec­ondary stu­dents to at­tend board­ing schools across Aus­tralia.

Even­tu­ally, Free­man wants to ex­pand her pro­grams to ben­e­fit in­dige­nous chil­dren na­tion­ally. There are a num­ber of ways to help. The pro­ceeds from Free­man’s book Born to Run , which is avail­able on the foun­da­tion’s web­site, go to­wards its work.

cathyfree­man­foun­da­tion. org.au


Olympian Cathy Free­man with young Palm Is­lan­ders

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