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Freeman, Catherine (Cathy) (1973–?)

PUBLICATION: Cathy Freeman with Scott Gullan, Her Own Story, Penguin, Victoria, 2003

SEX: Female

BIRTH DATE: 16 February 1973

BIRTH PLACE: Slade Point, Mackay, Queensland

FIRST LANGUAGE: English

SIGNIFICANT LOCALITIES:

  • Mackay, Queensland: Cathy was born in Mackay, and grew up in a housing-commission on Burston Street. (p.4)
  • Woorabinda: The Aboriginal mission three hours south-west of Mackay, where Cathy’s extended family lived. (p.6) Her father Norman Freeman moved to Woorabinda when Cathy was five, and her family would visit him every Christmas. (p.14)
  • Hughhenden: A “dry and dusty coal-mining town”, 500 kilometres west of Mackay, where Cathy’s family moved for one year when her stepfather Bruce Barber was transferred. (p.14) While the children resisted the move, they were readily accepted by the small community. (p.15)
  • Moura: a town 100 kilometres west of Rockhampton, where Cathy and her family moved for nine months after leaving Hughenden.
  • Coppabella: Where the family moved, again because of Bruce Barber’s work, and started high school. (p.18)
  • Toowoomba: Where Cathy moved to attended Fairholme College as a boarder. (p.24)
  • Kooralbyn: Where Cathy attended high school from 1989. (p.33) After she graduated, Cathy briefly worked at the Kooralbyn Valley Resort. (p. 49)
  • Brisbane: Cathy first visited Brisbane to compete in the state primary schools title. (p.4) Cathy’s parents moved to Brisbane in 1989, and she returned to live there after the Auckland Commonwealth games (1990). (p.43)
  • Melbourne: Where Cathy moved when she was 18 to live with Nick Bideau. (p.54) For the first six months, she was miserable and regretted her decision to move.
  • Sydney: Where Cathy lit the cauldron for the 2000 Olympics, and won a Gold Medal in the 400 metres. (pp.242-285)

INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL:

  • Cathy first visited America as part of an international Athletics Exchange tour. (p.29) From then on, she travelled extensively for international competitions. This included longer stays in California and Texas for training camps, (p.132, 220-223) and living in London (p.159)
  • Of all the countries she visited, Cathy was particularly enchanted by South Africa, (p.131-132), Greece, (p.141) and Iceland (p.163)

EXPERIENCE OF EMPLOYMENT:

  • At the age of 14, Cathy told the high school vocational guidance officer that her only career aspiration was to win an Olympic medal. (p.3) By this stage, she already held national titles in high jump, the 100 metres, 200 metres and 400 metre sprints. (p.24)
  • Cathy did work experience as a hairdresser in Coppabella, before winning a scholarship to attend Fairholme College. (p.25) After she graduated, Cathy was offered a job as a recreation officer at the Kooralbyn Valley Resort. Her friends frequently had parties at her apartment, and she was eventually sacked for her tardiness. (pp.48-49)
  • When she moved to Melbourne, Cathy worked in a sandwich bar, before Nick organized a job for her in a sports store. (p.57)
  • In 1992 Cathy was employed as part of Australia Post’s Olympic Job Opportunities Program. (p.58)
  • That year, Cathy also started to receive sponsorship for her athletics: first from Balarinji Design studio, then Oakley and Nike, (p.60) and later Qantas, Schweppes, Telstra, Ford, Australia, News Ltd and Channel 7. (p.104)
  • After the 1994 Commonwealth Games, Cathy continued to work for Australia Post: moving into the public relationship department. (p.91) However, as her training became increasingly “full on”, and her sponsorship increased, Cathy phased out other forms of employment. (p.76)
  • When Cathy took a break from running after the Sydney Olympics, Cathy worked as commentator for the BBC, (p.312) and wrote a monthly column for the Daily Telegraph. (p.313)

PROMINENT INSTITUTIONS:

  • The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC): Cecelia Freeman appealed to ATSIC on Cathy and Norman’s behalf when they were teenagers. (p.24) They were each granted 8000 dollars in scholarship money as part of a new pilot program. (p,24)
  • St Joseph’s Nudgee College, Brisbane: St Joseph’s granted Cathy’s younger brother Norman a boarding scholarship. Norman trained with Mike Danila, who later became Cathy’s coach as well. (p.32)
  • Nike: Cathy’s major sponsor, through whom she met her husband Sandy Bodecker. (p.96) Cathy was one of the first athletes to test Nike’s new product, the ‘swift suit’, which she wore at the Sydney Olympics. (p.207)
  • Melbourne Track Club (MTC): MTC was a track training program started by Cathy’s boyfriend Nic Bideau. Cathy stayed with the club, even after her split with Bideau, because she knew that its success rested on her endorsement, and she did not consider herself a “vindictive person”. (p.128) However, when Bideau agreed to be interviewed by Women’s Day about his relationship with Cathy, she broke her association. (p.208)
  • Nic subsequently sued Cathy for breaking the contract with MTC. (pp.228-229)
  • Handling Speed Intelligently: An Athletics club in Los Angeles, where Freeman trained when she left MTC.
  • Inspire: An organization that aimed to reach out to young Australians in rural areas, which Cathy became involved with after the Sydney Olympics. (p.307)
  • Street Roots: A newspaper that Cathy volunteered for in Portland. (p.308)

SALIENT LAWS AND POLICIES:

  • None mentioned.

PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH:

  • Cathy contracted glandular fever in 1984, and missed two months of school. This was a “major setback” for her athletics. (p.18)
  • Cathy contracted shingles in 1985, and had to forsake another athletics season. (p.19)
  • Cathy became neurotic and depressed when she discovered her partner Nick’s infidelities. (p.124-127)
  • Cathy suffered a foot injury while training in America. It caused her significant pain, and induced anxiety about her future success. (p.161-162)
  • When she was in the United States for her wedding, Cathy suffered from a severe ear infection. (p.193)
  • Cathy got laryngitis and a minor hamstring injury, which almost jeopardized her chance of success in the 2000 Olympics. (pp.234-235)
  • Cathy suffered a knee injury, which slowed her comeback after her break long following the Sydney Olympics. (p.322)

PARENTS:

  • Cecelia Freeman:  Cathy’s mother was a cleaner at the local school, who grew up on Aboriginal community of Palm Island. (p.7) Cecelia was very strict parent and a “health freak”, who prevented her children from buying junk food at the school canteen. (p.8)
  • Cecelia raised her children as Catholics, however she converted to Baha’i faith later in life. Cecelia considered Ba’hai to be a more inclusive and tolerant religion. (p.8)
  • Cecelia was very family-oriented, and committed to keeping the children together, even after the departure of her first husband, Norman. (p.8)
  • As a teenager, Cathy began to chafe under her mother’s “utra-protective hold”, and began to sneak out at night with her cousins. (p.23) Cecelia tried to prevent Cathy from moving to Melbourne with Nic Bideau. (p.51)
  • Despite finding her mother overbearing at times, Cathy continued to seek her support in times of need.  Cecelia’s support was particularly important when Cathy became seriously depressed after exposing Nick’s affair. (pp.126-127)
  • Norman Freeman: Cathy’s father was an ex- Rugby League player from Woorabinda. (p.5) He started drinking heavily and behaving violently when Cathy was young, and her mother used to have to take the children to stay with her parents for the weekend. (p.5)
  • Norman returned to Woorabinda when Cathy was five. He was diagnosed with diabetes, which prevented him from playing football, and he became an alcoholic. (p.6)
  • The children beckoned their father home when their mother started a relationship with Bruce Barber. (pp.12-14) However, while Cecelia Freeman still loved Norman, he rebuffed her offer to move to Woorabinda, because of his destructive lifestyle. (p.14)
  • Norman Freeman’s death, when Cathy was in competing in Europe, was a source of both relief and grief.
  • When competing in the Sydney Olympics, Cathy regretted her father’s absence.

RELIGION:

  • Religion had a strong place in the Freeman household. Cathy and her siblings where raised Catholic, and she prayed every morning and night throughout her childhood. (p.8)
  • The Freeman children were also exposed to Baha’i faith following their mother’s conversion. (p.8) Cathy and Norman found the Baha’i chanting comical, but she appreciated the “warmth and concern” of the religious community. (pp.8-9)
  • Cathy turned to religion during the stressful time before the Sydney Olympics. (p.216)
  • Cathy believes in the afterlife, and that her father and sister were watching over her Olympic victory. (p.263)

PARTNERS:

  • Nic Bideau: a Melbourne-based journalist with the Herald Sun, who interviewed Cathy when she ran in the 1990 Commonwealth Games. (p.36) Nick sent his condolences when Cathy’s sister died, and bought her a dress for the Gala dinner. (p.44)
  • They meet up again when she visited Melbourne to promote that city’s Olympic bid, and in Europe when she was competing in the AAA championships. (p.45)
  • Nick Bideau came to visit Cathy in Queensland, and convinced her to move to Melbourne when she was 18. (p.49)
  • After the 1992 Olympics, when Nick and Cathy took a holiday to Kimberleys, she noticed that the dynamics of their relationship had changed. Cathy became skeptical about whether Nick’s motivation for remaining with her where romantic or professional. (pp.87-88)
  • While they were in the Kimberleys, Cathy stopped Nick short when he was about to ask her to marry him. (p.89)
  • When they returned to Melbourne, Cathy moved out of Nick’s house briefly. (p.97) Their break up lasted only two month, but when they began living together again Cathy still felt suffocated by Nick. (p. 102)
  • Cathy soon discovered the Nick was having an affair with Irish athlete Sonia O’Sullivan. (p.121) Cathy felt deeply betrayed, and became emotionally volatile and obsessive. She began riffling through Nick’s garbage (p.124) and smashed his bathroom mirror. (p.125)
  • Cathy also took up drinking and smoking heavily when Nick’s infidelity was exposed. (p.122)
  • With her mother’s support, Cathy gradually took control of her emotions and her professional affairs following her breakup with Nick. As he had been in control of her sponsorship and finances, she had to get them audited. (p.128)
  • Cathy had the power to ruin Nick financially, because she provided the promotion essential to the success of his new athletics management group, the Melbourne Track Club (MTC). (p.128) Cathy and Nick decided to maintain their professional relationship, as she claims she was not of a vindictive nature. (p.128)
  • Their relations remained rocky, and Cathy punched Nick in the face and wrecked the apartment they were sharing in El Paso. (p.133) After Nick agreed to be interviewed by Women’s Day magazine, Cathy finally cut off association.
  • Nick then sued Cathy for breaking the contract with MTC, just a few months before the Sydney Olympics. He also made disparaging remarks about her to the media. (pp.228-229)
  • Alexander Bodecker (Sandy): An American Nike employee, who Cathy met while in Oregon. Cathy declined Alexander’s proposition after enjoying an evening in his company.
  • After she had moved out of Nick’s house, Cathy began to correspond with Alexander. (p.97) She saw him against at the Atlanta Olympics, and in Hong Kong. (p.119)
  • When she discovered Nick’s infidelities, Cathy sought Alex out at a Nike conference.
  • Cathy and Alexander met again in Miami and Oregon, and began a relationship. (pp.136-138)
  • Alexander provided Cathy with the support necessary to reach her sporting goals, often at the expense of his own career. (pp.160-161)
  • Alexander asked Cathy to marry her after they had been together for less than a year, and she accepted (pp.153-154)
  • While the thought of being committed to one person unnerved her, Cathy describes her wedding day in 1999 as the happiest of her life (p.196)
  • Nick, whom Cathy was still seeing when she met Alexander, was always jealous of their compatibility. (p.97) Eventually, Alex and Nick got in a physical fight after the World Championship in Seville. (p.187)
  • After the Sydney Olympics, Cathy and Alexander began to argue, and she suggested a divorce. (p.319) Alexander rebuffed the suggestion. It was soon discovered that Alexander had throat cancer, and she immediately felt obliged to stay with him. (p.326) Cathy took a season off running to support her husband during his chemotherapy, which was very stressful time for both of them. (p.327- 336) Cathy was elated when Alexander’s therapy proved successful. (p.339)
  • Cathy and Alexander both hoped that this trial would renew their relationship. (p.341) To her disappointment, it had the reverse effect, and they continued to grow apart (p.341) Even after his struggle with cancer, Alexander was unwilling to settle down in one location with Cathy. (p.341)
  • After 18 months of being unhappy with the marriage, Cathy asked Alex for a divorce. (p.345)
  • Cathy saw Alexander again in America, and he tried to convince her to take him back. However by that stage she was seeing Joel Edgerton. (p.355)
  • Joel Edgerton: An Australian actor who Cathy met at the Logies Award night, and who she was in a relationship with at the time of writing her autobiography.
  • Many people assumed that her new relationship was one of Cathy’s motivations for retiring, but she rejected this suggestion. (p.372)

CHILDREN:

  • After she had won and Olympic gold medal, Cathy began to look at other areas of her life, and decided she wanted children. (p.311)
  • Cathy soon decided that was not yet ready for the “responsibility and obligation” of motherhood. (p.312) Under her current conditions, she believed that having a child would be a selfish action.

EDUCATION:

  • Cathy did not enjoy school, and embraced opportunity to get out of class. (p.3) After primary school in Mackay, she attended high school in Coppabella. In 1986, Cathy received a scholarship to board at Fairholme College (p.24) She was overwhelmed by the impressive college grounds, and felt immediately out of place.(pp.24-25)
  • Cathy was out of place and homesick at Fairholme College, which had only a few Aboriginal students, was governed by strict routines and rules for dress and conduct, and attracted ambitious, wealth young women. (pp.25-26)
  • Cathy had never found it easy to apply herself to her studies, and her performance declined at Fairholme College. She felt alienated and tended to daydream about Mackay. (p.28) In 1989, she was held back a year because her marks were too low. (p.29)
  • Years later, when Cathy spoke at the Melbourne Olympic bid in Tokyo in 1990, she found herself thinking “If only the Fairholme girls could see me now.” (p.46) Despite these bitter emotions, Cathy felt she benefited from her time at Fairholme College, and was reluctant to leave for Kooralbyn International School. (pp.33-34)
  • Cathy felt much more comfortable at Kooralbyn International school than she had at Fairholme. It was a more liberal school, and had students from diverse backgrounds. (p.34)
  • When she lived in Melbourne, Nic encouraged Cathy to enrol in an Australian history and politics course. (p.57) While she was “far from committed”, Cathy enjoyed learning about the history of colonization, and being part of a freethinking community. (p.58)

IMPORTANT/ INFLUENTIAL FIGURES:

  • Mrs Bauldry: One of Cathy’s primary teachers, who raised money for her attend the state primary school championships, and bought her a pair of running spikes. (p.4) Mrs Bauldry’s encouragement made Cathy aware of the “excitement (her) running generated among adults.” (p.4)
  • Gavin Freeman: Cathy elder brother by ten years, who became a “father figure” after her their father left. (p.6)
  • Anne-Marie: Cathy’s older sister, who suffered from cerebral palsy. Because of the burden of her large family, Cecelia was forced to put Anne-Marie in a home in Townsville. (p.10)
  • When Cathy visited Anne-Marie every three or four months, she would be reminded of the opportunities afforded to her by her natural athletic ability. (p.10)
  • Soon after she returned from the Commonwealth Games in 2000, Anne-Marie died of an asthma attack. At the funeral, Cathy dedicated all future victories to her sister. (p.42)
  • Bruce Barber: Cathy’s stepfather, who Cecelia met through the Baha’i community. Initially, the children were opposed to their father’s replacement, and Cathy’s eldest brother Gavin punched Bruce in the face. (p.13)
  • The children also resented being forced to move frequently, due to Bruce’s work with the railroads. (p.14) However, Cathy eventually warmed to Bruce as he took an interest in her athletics, and became her first coach. (p.15)
  • Bruce read about positive psychology, (p.67) and counseled Cathy through her glandular fever set back. (p.19) He also raised money for both Cathy and her younger brother Norman to attend national competitions. (p.19) When Bruce decided that Cathy needed a more qualified coach, he sought scholarships for her, (p.22) and was thrilled when she was accepted to attend Fairholme College in Toowoomba. (p.24)
  • Mr Sessarago (Sess): Cathy’s high jump coach, who helped her adjust to Fairholme College. (p.28) Cathy would take weekend leave with Sess, and she and the other athletes watched the 1988 Seoul Olympics at his house. (p.29) Sass had a faith in Cathy’s ambition matched only by Bruce Barber. (p.29)
  • Carl Lewis and Florence Griffith-Joyney: Cathy’s favourite athletes (both medal winners in the 1988 Seoul Olympics) who she met on the International Athletics Exchange tour. (p.29)
  • Mike Danila: Cathy’s coach when she moved to Kooralbyn International school. (p.35)
  • Danila entered Freeman in the Commonwealth Games Trials when she was 16, and she qualified for the relay. (p.36)
  • Kerry Johnson: The number one sprinter in the Commonwealth relay team. (p.38)
  • Peter Fortune (Fort): Cathy’s longtime, Melbourne-based coach, who was arranged for her by Nic Bideau. (p.55) Nic never got along with Peter, sacked him when Cathy put on weight in 1998. (p.141)
  • Peter became Cathy’s coach again when she left Nick, and remained with her until the Sydney Olympics. (p.260)
  • Cathy claims that as her passion for athletics subsided, so did her “chemistry” with her coach Peter Fortune. (p.372)
  • Melinda Gainsford-Taylor: Cathy’s main rival in the 200 metres. (p.76) When Cathy won a Gold Medal in 200 metres at the 1994 Commonwealth Games, and Melinda won Bronze, they did a victory lap together. (p.84)
  • Cathy’s rivalry with Gainsford-Taylor continued for many years, and she later beat her in the 200 metres in 2000 (p.204)
  • Cathy became friends with Gainsford-Taylor, who – along with Lee Naylor – provided empathetic advice about her post-Olympics goals. (p.303)
  • Maurie Plant: A circuit agent and friend of Nick’s who became one of Cathy’s closest allies. (p.71)
  • Marie Jose Perec: A French athlete, who was Cathy’s main competition in the 400 metres. They both trained in California, however their relation were merely professional. (p.92)
  • In her later career Cathy became consumed by the desire to “topple the French queen.” (p.106) Beating Marie-Jose for the first time at the World Championship in Monte Carlo was one of her career highlights.
  • At an end-of-season party in Tokyo, Cathy finally got to know Marie Perec, and discovered that they had more in common that previously presumed.
  • Despite their rivalry, Cathy was saddened when she found out that Marie-Jose pulled out of the Sydney Olympics. (p.259)
  • Michael Hazel: Cathy’s training partner and supporter when she made her return to athletics. (pp.337-338)

PREOCCUPATIONS: 

  • The reasons, benefits and drawbacks for success: Cathy explains her factors that she believed led to her sporting success, namely her conscientiousness and her love of running.
  • From her first race at eight years old, Cathy claims that she was ‘hooked’ on running. (p.4) As she grew older, her passion for athletics came to dominate her thoughts and life. (p.4)
  • Cathy’s efforts were rewarded. She was the first Aboriginal person to win a Commonwealth Games gold medal (p. 40) and an open Australian track title, (p.44) and the first Aboriginal woman to compete in the Olympics (Barcelona 1992). (p.65)  She won an Olympic Silver medal at Seoul in 1996, (p.115) and an Olympic Gold medal in 2000 (p.269- 286).
  • Cathy was also recognized as Young Australian of the Year in 1997 (p.158), and inducted into the Australia Institution of Sport Living Legends Hall of Fame in 2001. (p.316)
  • Cathy notes the positive effects of her victories. Not only was she rewarded financially (p.73), but her sporting success also enabled her to overcome her low self-esteem, and gave her a sense of elation and fulfillment. (p.31)
  • Cathy also describes the drawn-backs of achievement. Resentment followed her success, even from a young age. (p.16), as did media attention, and the more well know she became, the more her social anxiety increased. This attention became particularly acute after Cathy lit the Olympic cauldron at the Sydney Olympics, (pp.247-251) and won a Gold Medal in the 400 metres. (p.269- 286)
  • Later in her career, Cathy increasingly turned down publicity. For example, she rejected the opportunity to present the Queen with a bouquet at the 2002 Commonwealth Games. (p,332)
  • Ultimately, these negative factors were outweighed by the joy she derived from running. And so when that joy began to dwindle, Cathy decided to retire. (p.372)
  • In her autobiography, Cathy reflects on the unexpected and novel nature of her dramatic change in circumstances.

The plight of Aboriginal Australians:

  • At University, Freeman became increasingly aware of the history of the colonization of Australia, and made friends with politicized Aboriginal people. (p.58) This new knowledge increased Cathy’s desire to act as a representative of Aboriginal people. (pp.78-79)
  • When she ran in the Commonwealth Games in 1994, Cathy arranged for someone to have an Aboriginal flag waiting for her, should she win. (p.78) Cathy hoped this expression of pride in her heritage would counter negative stereotypes.
  • Cathy described her resentment of the Howard Government for the refusal to offer a formal apology to members of the ‘Stolen Generations’. (p.257)  She felt these emotions particularly when she had obliged to sit with the Prime Minister John Howard during the Australian team dinner at the Sydney Olympics. (p.256)
  • While some people encouraged her to boycott the Sydney Olympic Games, Cathy believed that she could better represent Aboriginal people by competing. (p.258) After her Olympic win, her assumptions appeared to be well-founded. (p.300)
  • At times, Cathy chafed under the “weight of the Aboriginal role-model thing.” (p.73) At press conference, Cathy faced an “inevitable stream of questions about the plight of the Aboriginal people back home and the Stolen Generation debate”, and was often too exhausted to answer. (p.186)

Contemporary Aboriginal Culture:

  • Cathy identifies some of the factors that she believes prevent Aboriginal people’s upward mobility. During her youth, Cathy felt that she “didn’t belong” amongst white people. (p.9) She believes that this alienation from mainstream Australian society is felt by most Aboriginal people.
  • Cathy makes the related claim that most Aboriginal people suffer from low self-esteem. She claims that this sentiment can be captured in the common use of the word “shame”. (p.9)
  • Cathy’s awareness of this phenomenon increased when she won a scholarship to Fairholme College in Toowoomba, and her own timidity stood in start contrast to outgoing non-Aboriginal students.
  • Cathy’s view on introverted nature of contemporary Aboriginal society crystallised when she was exposed to the confident attitudes of Black American athletes. (p.31)
  • Cathy hopes to use the example of her own success to boost Aboriginal people’s self-esteem, and to raise their expectations.
  • Racism:
  • Cathy was relatively oblivious to subtle forms of discrimination she face in the competitive circles, however her non-Aboriginal stepfather felt it acutely. (p.16)
  • It wasn’t until she was travelling to the national titles as an adolescent that Cathy first experienced “racism first hand”, and she was yelled at for lying down on a train, and shooed away from a shop. (p.19)  She was also called a “boong” at school. (p.22)

MODE OF LITERARY PRODUCTION:  Cathy wrote her autobiography with the support of Scott Gullan.

Additional Resources

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This biographical entry was contributed by Australian Indigenous Autobiography Archive

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Citation details

'Freeman, Catherine (Cathy) (1973–?)', Indigenous Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://ia.anu.edu.au/biography/freeman-catherine-cathy-15410/text26618, accessed 30 August 2016.

© Copyright Indigenous Australia, 2012