NBC ASSPOLED MY
Star Is Born in the Heavens Above Homebush
By DEBORAH CAMERON,
Nikki Webster, as she swam
and swooped 30 metres above the ground in Stadium Australia last
night, looked down on the fishes below her and 110,000 people
"It's so gorgeous
when you're up there. It looks just amazing,"she said.
To be the one who walked
alone into the stadium with a beach blanket and zinc cream took
a lot of confidence but to "fly" as well was an act
of sheer bravery.
"I'm not scared of
heights and I wasn't frightened at all,"said Nikki. "I
just enjoy it."
A photographer who was
at the stadium earlier this year to see Nikki strapped for the
first time into the harness that hoisted her to rafter height
- eight storeys up - says she is fearless.
"She squealed and
laughed and loved every minute," the photographer said.
"The biggest buzz
is when I fly up. The audience has no idea because it has been
such a big secret," Nikki said.
Nikki is an elfin 13-year-old
with toffee-coloured eyes and honey-blonde hair who goes to school
at the McDonald College in North Strathfield. On Thursday afternoon,
with her mother waiting in the car to drive her home, she sat
by a fountain in the grounds of Olympic Park with a few minutes
Her brother Scott, 16,
saw the show in its final dress rehearsal on Wednesday and was
amazed that she had kept it a secret.
"Wow" is what
Her parents, Tina and Mark,
had tickets for last night's show and her little dog, Star, got
to wag his tail madly when they all got home.
The directors of the opening
ceremony, Ric Birch and David Atkins, chose Nikki in a round
of casting calls and auditions that began more than a year ago.
They knew what a great
show business break it would be for whoever was cast and in a
vaudevillian voice Birch said: "She's goin' in a nobody
and comin' out a star."
"She's very special,"
"It is an extraordinary
thing for a 13-year-old girl to be out in the middle of the arena;
the only moment in the entire ceremony where there is just one
person in that four acres."
To the world, she is an
overnight sensation, but Nikki has many other show business credits,
including in The Sound of Music and Les Miserables
as well as television and film roles.
When she felt the stress
of the hours of Olympic rehearsals and needed to unwind before
she could sleep, she would dance, which is what she loves most.
In a real pinch-me-I-must-be-dreaming
moment, Nikki says that Olivia Newton-John came up during rehearsals
and told her that she had an amazing voice.
"She's my idol,"
"I just love watching
her. She's my inspiration."
To her great giggling delight,
she got her first fan letter from a little boy in the cast who
was desperate to have a turn in the high-flying harness. "I'm
not scared of heights," he wrote, "and I hope you can
find time in your busy, busy, busy schedule. Please ring me."
She did and broke the bad news to him gently.
For children, especially
the little ones who watched the opening ceremony with its huge
themes, Nikki helped to keep the pageant in scale.
"It gives kids a better
reading of what the Olympics is about and that we're all together
in one world," she said.
Copyright © Sydney
Morning Herald, 2000
by Rajiv Chandrasekaran
SYDNEY - Terry Olsen joined
Australia's "stolen generation" on a routine visit
to a clinic in 1973.
While his aunt and grandmother
sat in the waiting room, assuming the 18-month-old aborigine
with a milk-chocolate complexion and wavy brown hair was getting
an immunization, a social worker spirited the toddler out the
back door. Unknown to his parents, he eventually was deposited
with a white family more than 1,000 miles away under a government
program aimed at forcibly assimilating lighter-skinned indigenous
"They kidnapped me
to change who I was," Olsen says.
Today, Olsen - who has
been reunited with his parents and teaches Aboriginal dance -
figures that, at the very least, the government owes him an apology,
along with the thousands of other young indigenous people who
similarly were kidnapped between the early 1900s and the mid-1970s.
A national commission has
recommended that the government apologize formally for its mistreatment
of generations of aborigines.
But Prime Minister John
Howard has balked, saying he is unwilling "to apologize
for things my government and my generation of Australians didn't
Howard's refusal has escalated
into one of the most significant and divisive political issues
in Australia's history, fueling threats of embarrassing protests
during the country's biggest moment on the world stage: this
summer's Olympic Games in Sydney.
For aboriginal activists,
the Olympics, with a global television audience in the billions,
is the ideal opportunity to highlight their plight for fellow
Australians and the rest of the world. Aboriginal leaders say
they do not plan to disrupt the Games, but they vow to get their
message across through large street protests.
"If this country can't
do something as basic as apologizing to its indigenous people,
then we will reveal Australia for what it is: one of the most
racist countries in the world," said Charles Perkins, an
aboriginal activist in Sydney. "This country may wear a
nice suit, but it has dirty underwear."
The official unemployment
rate for aborigines, who make up 2 percent of Australia's 19
million people, is 23 percent, although aboriginal leaders say
it is closer to 51 percent, compared with 6.9 percent for all
Australians. At the same time, aborigines have the nation's highest
rates of imprisonment, welfare dependency, alcoholism and drug
"The conditions for
indigenous people in Australia are deplorable," said Geoff
Clark, chairman of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Commission, a quasi-governmental agency that oversees indigenous
Clark and other aboriginal
leaders are not just pushing for an apology. They want the government
to sign a treaty that would provide for financial reparations
and limited autonomy for aboriginal communities.
But Howard has rejected
that request as well, arguing that a treaty would be too divisive.
"Treaties are between
nation-states," said Philip Ruddock, Howard's minister for
multicultural affairs. "It might have been OK in the days
of the red Indians and the colonialists, but would the United
States do such a thing today? I don't think so."
It was not until 1962 that
indigenous people were granted the right to vote, not until the
early 1970s that aboriginal orphanages and reservations were
closed and not until 1975 that rampant segregation was outlawed.
The government now spends about $1.5 billion a year on social
programs for aborigines, from job training to housing subsidies
and free medical care.
Despite the effort, most
Australian communities remain firmly separated between black
and white. In Sydney, for instance, it is rare to see an aborigine
in the central business district. Many spend their days in a
decrepit inner-city ghetto called Redfern or in one of several
In smaller communities,
the division is even clearer. In Kempsey, a languid river town
of 10,000 people 225 miles north of Sydney and site of a large
hat factory, aborigines are about 15 percent of the population.
But only a handful of them work in the cafes, liquor shops and
stores that line the main street. More than 70 percent of the
aboriginal population there is unemployed and on welfare.
But many of the town's
white residents accuse the aboriginal population of not wanting
to work. "They would rather sit at home and drink,"
said the owner of a car repair shop. "Why do they need to
work? They get plenty of welfare."
Sometimes All That Glistens Isn't
Now the world has seen
"the other Australia", it's time to put the adulation
by Alan Ramsey,
EVEN the Queen sent a herogram.
Juan Antonio Samaranch had us hanging for days on his verdict
of how terrific we were. Our newspapers continue to run slabs
of letters congratulating ourselves. We're besotted by others
singing our praise.
The Herald was still
running excerpts yesterday from some of the world's great names
in mass communication of how absolutely wonderful we are as a
nation and a people.
It seems our national psyche
can't get enough of the adulation.
In the Federal Parliament,
the Prime Minister was on his feet almost immediately it resumed
yesterday, after three weeks' absence, to repeat the congratulatory
orgy. Capital city parades for the athletes will go on all week
and into next week, too. When will it end?
Enough is enough, surely.
No, it isn't, not if our
politicians and the media have their way. However, before we
start believing our own publicity and behaving like ugly Americans,
there is another editorial you should read. It reminds us to
keep the eulogies in perspective. It should remind a little bloke
in a funny hat, too, that not only we watch what his government
It was published the day
after the Sydney Games began. The newspaper was The New York
Times. The editorial in question was reprinted in the International
Herald Tribune, published in Paris and Singapore. It is safe,
therefore, to say, without risk of hyperbole, that here was an
editorial read right around the English-speaking world.
It was headlined "The
Other Australia" and it said, in part: "It was a splendidly
diverse and inclusive face that Australia presented to the world
in the Olympics' opening pageant, particularly by having the
Aboriginal sprinter Cathy Freeman carry the torch on the final
leg of its journey.
"As if seeking a mirage,
Freeman walked through a pond towards an idyllic waterfall to
light the Games' cauldron. This progression of the Olympic flame
could well serve as a metaphor for the quest of Aborigines to
achieve social justice and historical reconciliation in today's
Australia. Unfortunately, in this quest, the idyllic waterfall-like
destination remains somewhat of a mirage.
"The Sydney Olympics
will help shine a spotlight on Aboriginal culture and its historical
plight. The attention should prove uncomfortable to the Australian
Government. The country has made great strides on the racial
front in recent decades, but it is showing some distressing signs
of weariness from the progress, and a resistance to march onwards.
"In recent months,
the Australian Government has ceased co-operating with the United
Nations human rights monitors looking into the status of Aborigines
and has opposed calls for an official apology for past wrongs.
Perhaps catching its reflection in the global glare will force
Australia to reconsider these positions.
"Of course, it is
difficult for Americans to cast stones on this score. But we
can appreciate democratic Australia's journey to come to terms
with the scars of its past because our past horrors are, if anything,
more grave, our own journey equally incomplete ...
"The Aboriginal experience
... is depressingly similar to that of native Americans in the
United States. European settlers viciously drove the Aborigines
from their land, massacring thousands with impunity. Today, 390,000
account for 2 per cent of the population ... Cathy Freeman's
own grandmother was taken [as part of the stolen generations],
and the athlete has denounced Prime Minister John Howard's refusal
to issue an official apology for the policy ...
to stop co-operating with UN fact finders monitoring the treatment
of Aborigines is distressing. Australia is a resilient enough
democracy to take strong criticism, even if the Government thinks
the criticism unfair or misguided. But instead the Government
has set a horribly destructive example at a time when ethnic
minorities in less enlightened countries must increasingly rely
on international vigilance to ensure their survival.
"Activists will use
the Olympics to pressure the Government to further the country's
reconciliation with the past. For her part, Freeman is expected
to carry both the Australian and Aboriginal flags on her victory
lap if she wins a gold medal. Her competitors will pardon us
for saying that would be a wondrous sight."
Got that, Prime Minister?
The other day John Howard
told ABC radio's Fran Kelly: "It was a great event for Australia.
It has shown the world what a modern, sophisticated, friendly,
capable country and people we are."
Indeed it has. But, as
The New York Times so eloquently yet bluntly demonstrates,
we shouldn't kid ourselves that that is all others see when they
look at us, however clever we might think we are.
Copyright © Sydney
Morning Herald, 2000
Sydney gives NBC their lowest ratings
since Tokyo in '64
Fewer and fewer Americans
are tuning in to US broadcaster NBC's Sydney Olympics coverage,
with the 15th night of taped telecasts drawing the lowest rating
yet by a large margin.
Friday night's program,
which included Marion Jones competing in the long jump and the
US basketball team's two-point semifinal victory over Lithuania,
pulled in a 10.6 rating and 20 share measured from 7.30pm to
Each rating point represents
a little more than 1 million television households.
Share is the percentage
of in-use TVs tuned to a given program.
Friday's rating was 15
percent lower than the previous worst nightly rating for these
Olympics (on Tuesday).
The rating was 35 percent
lower than what advertisers were told to expect.
NBC has increased the number
of national commercials it runs by an average of two per hour
to satisfy advertisers expecting to reach larger audiences during
the 17 days in Sydney.
Sponsors paid up to $A1.1
million for a 30-second commercial in prime time on the television
With two nights left to
measure, the cumulative rating for the Olympics slipped to a
new low of 14.2 with a 25 share.
That's worse than for any
Summer Olympics since the Tokyo Games in 1964, when NBC aired
only 14 hours and averaged a 12.7 rating.
NBC decided to show all
action on tape because Sydney is 15 hours ahead of America's
East Coast, and one factor hurting the ratings is the delay between
when events are completed and when they are aired.
Results are available on
the Internet and on TV sportscasts up to 24 hours before NBC
shows the competition.
Copyright © Associated