A push is underway to recognise a Melbourne athlete who is regarded by some as an unsung hero of the civil rights movement.
The Peter Norman Commemoration Committee is fighting for a monument to be erected in Melbourne’s CBD to acknowledge Norman’s bravery in standing with American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos when they raised their fists in a black power salute at the 1968 Mexico Olympics.
Smith and Carlos told Norman of their plans to use the medal presentation to promote their cause and he reportedly told them “I will stand with you”.
Norman borrowed US rower Paul Hoffman’s Olympic Project for Human Rights badge and wore it on the dais in solidarity with the protest.
The committee’s convenor, Joseph Toscano, said an interactive monument would not only help people remember Norman’s role, but the reason he took part.
Dr Toscano said it was important to remember Norman’s actions because we now live in an era “where racial discrimination seems to be on the rise”.
“When you think about the issues that are raised in the city regarding migration, regarding refugees, regarding the rise of hate groups in our society, regarding the attempted changes in legislation to remove vilification,” he said.
“We can all be Peter Norman. We can all take that stand against racism.”
Norman, who was born in 1942 and grew up in Coburg, won silver for Australia in the 200m at the 1968 Olympics with a time of 20.06 seconds.
But the Australian Olympics Committee punished him for his actions by not allowing him to take part in the 1972 games and not inviting him to take part in the 2000 Sydney Olympic celebrations.
Instead, he attended as a guest of the US Track and Field Federation.
Norman died on October 3, 2006.
Smith and Carlos attended Norman’s funeral in Melbourne, acting as pall bearers and delivering eulogies in the service.
The US Track and Field Federation declared October 9, the day of Norman’s funeral, as Peter Norman Day.
Tommie Smith (left) and John Carlos carry the coffin of Peter Norman in Melbourne in 2006. (AAP: Julian Smith)
But Dr Toscano said Australia continued to ignore his contribution to the fight for human rights.
“He has been ostracised and forgotten by a nation that continues to give lip service to human rights,” he said.
“If you have a significant interactive monument, there’s no such thing as compensation for the way he was treated but what it would do is right the wrong that was done 49 years ago.”