Last Updated 25 Mar 2017

Freedom Rides

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Prior to the freedom rides indigenous people were mistreated and weren’t considered to be first class citizens of Australia. However, when people became aware of the mistreatment, they started to protest in many places in New South Wales, this was known as the freedom rides. This movement was led by Charles Perkins, who was one of the first indigenous people to attend university. The mistreatment of indigenous people started when the European’s took over Australia, and escalated over time. They were considered to be second class citizens.

By the time of federation, in 1901, aboriginal people were not included in the constitution or the census and were excluded from society which was known as protectionism. The white Australians believed that they were helping the Aborigines by using the protection policies. But in reality these policies isolated them from their families, traditional land and removed them from their natural heritage and culture. The Aborigines were taught to live like the white Australians so the could assimilate into the white society and were often trained to be slaves for White People.

Charles Perkins was an aborigine who like many was taken from his family and land. He was however treated well compared to what most Indigenous Australians faced when taken under the protection policies. In 1965, over thirty Sydney University students, led by Charles Perkins and Gary Williams, represented Student Action For Aborigines (SAFA) and travelled in a bus all over north and west of New South Wales. This was called the Freedom Ride, and the students became well known as the ‘Freedom Riders’.

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The aim of the freedom riders was to highlight the racism portrayed in the ‘White Australia Policy’ which was brought into effect during Federation by Sir Edmund Barton. The policy meant that the Aborigines were banned, or in some cases separated from whites, in shops, cinemas, hotels and clubs and public swimming pools. The freedom riders were verbally and physically abused in most towns they visited during protest. The freedom rides were influenced by the racism which was taking place in the US, where there was also segregation between the white and black community.

This was an international break through. Charles Perkins was also a soccer star which gave him the opportunity to travel quiet often. On many occasions he witnessed racial abuse in the country towns of New South Whales, where many Aboriginals were degraded in society. Charles Perkins did not experience much racism as he was raised in the city compared to other Aboriginals who were treated harshly. After witnessing discrimination against his own race he immediately took action. The freedom rides that were taking place in the US inspired him to act in a similar manner.

Charles Perkins along with his University support travelled all throughout New South Whales. Perkins observed the racism that took place in a town called Moree where Aboriginal children were to shower before entering the pool and leave at a certain time. There was a lot of violence that took place in Moree due to its racial outcasts. Charles Perkins used his stardom to get his word out there that Aboriginals should not be degraded in any way. The students were both physically and verbally abused, and so decided to protest along with many other Aboriginals.

The Freedom Riders goal was finally achieved in the 1967 referndum which stated that Aboriginals would be classed as citizens of Australia and would be counted in the census votes. From the above mentioned facts it can be concluded that the freedom ride movement and charles perkins had a positive impact on raising racial awareness. The freedom rides attracted a lot of media attention at both the National and international level. It generated discussions about the indigenous people’s rights and put a lot of pressure on the Government for reform.

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