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2020 was a difficult year that forced us to live smaller lives. So to kick off 2021 we’re looking at some of Australia’s big crowning achievements that have shaped who we are. By reflecting on them, we may be able to understand who we want to be into the future.

The America Cup

At 5.21pm on 26 September 1983, off the coast of Rhode Island, the yacht Australia II crossed the finish line to win the America’s Cup. It was the first time in 132 years that the cup had been won by a country other than the United States.

Prime Minister Bob Hawke’s words the following day have become almost as famous as the victory itself.

Prime Minister Bob Hawke, 27 September 1983:

Any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up today is a bum.
A yacht and crew.

Australia II and her crew

It was the seventh time Australia had challenged the New York Yacht Club (NYYC) for the cup.

The success of Australia II was attributed to its innovative winged keel design, which proved controversial. The NYYC challenged its legality and sought to disqualify the Australian team. These attempts failed and eventually the yacht was allowed to compete.

The America Cup victory united Australians. Sailing wasn’t necessarily a beloved sport in Australia, but the Australian team had the hopes and dreams of our nation on board when they won.

The Opera House

The almost completed Opera House in foreground surrounded by cranes, with Harbour Bridge in background. - click to view larger image
Sydney Opera House under construction, 1966

The Sydney Opera House is one of the 20th century’s most iconic buildings and broke new ground for design and engineering around the world.

It has come to symbolise Australian achievement and embodies our identity.

Jorn Utzon was a Danish architect who won the international competition to design the Opera House, which was to be built at Bennelong Point.

Construction began in 1959 and finished in 1973. It was 10 years overdue and cost 14 times the original budget.

Utzon was unceremoniously released from the project in 1966 and he never returned to Sydney to see his finished masterpiece.

The Opera House now receives 10.9 million visitors a year while hosting musical performances, operas, festivals, plays and events. Despite its controversies, it is instantly recognisable and remains a credit to Australia.

Cathy Freeman – Sydney Olympics

On 15 September 2000 Indigenous athlete Cathy Freeman lit the Olympic flame in the spectacular opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympic Games. Ten days later she won the gold medal in the women’s 400 metres race, achieving her greatest goal.

Freeman was born in Mackay in 1973. Always proud of her ancestry, Freeman hoped her success as an athlete would be an inspiration to all Indigenous children.

She was selected to run the 4 x 100 metres relay in the 1990 Auckland Commonwealth Games, where she won her first gold medal. She went on to compete in two more Commonwealth Games and two Olympic Games.

Cathy Freeman sprinting ahead of other athletes on a race track.

Cathy Freeman competing in the final of the women’s 400 metres in Sydney on 25 September 2000

The most importance race of her life was the 400-metre sprint at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. The pressure on the race was so great that her main competitor, Marie-José Pérec, dropped out. Freeman won the race with a time of 49.11 seconds, making her one of the fastest women in the world.

Freeman’s legacy continues as one of Australia’s greatest sportspeople. She realised her own dreams, as well as the dreams of the nation.

We’ll keep bringing objects, collections, exhibitions and programs from the vault as part of the Museum from Home experience. Stay tuned!

In our collection

Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation poster featuring Melinda Gainsford-Taylor and Cathy FreemanA colour poster adhered to cardboard for the 'COUNCIL FOR ABORIGINAL RECONCILIATION' featuring an image of Australian sprinters Melinda Gainsford-Taylor and Cathy Freeman. There is printed text 'THE / COUNCIL'S / VISION / A united Australia ... and provides / justice and equity / for all.' on the right side and 'together we / ca...
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