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Issue #1904      February 24, 2020

Students’ Report Will Shock

HEROIC STORY OF “FREEDOM RIDE”

When the full story is told of the Sydney students’ “Freedom Ride” against race discrimination in New South Wales country towns it will shake a lot of people.

A group of typical Aboriginal school children at Moree sharply refutes such slander.

It will reveal shameful treatment of Aborigines by local RSL leaders and other “upper crust” groups, police, health authorities and government administrators.

It will also arouse widespread pride in the courage and dignity with which the young students and the local Aboriginal people, young and old, have joined hands to expose racial oppression and hysteria.

I met the students in Moree when they had already become a national and international news-sensation, after the attempt by a young hooligan to wreck their bus at night on the Walgett to Moree road.

I learned some of the things that have not always come out clearly in the daily press.

For example, when the thirty students set out from Sydney at midnight on February 12th, Negro folk song and dance performers of the “Go Tell It on the Mountain” stage company farewelled them, leading the singing of “We Shall Overcome” — an anthem of the Negro civil rights movement in the United States.

One of the main things about the students’ expedition has been that their visits have encouraged many of the Aboriginal people to stand up for their rights.

They have also encouraged many among the white population who want to get rid of discrimination and have won more over to this viewpoint.

This was demonstrated in the experiences in both Walgett and Moree.

In Walgett, where 900 of the 3,000 inhabitants are Aborigines, hundreds of people, white and Aborigine, joined in discussion of the discrimination issue, during the seven-hour demonstration by the students outside the Returned Servicemen’s Club (which refuses membership to Aborigines).

In Moree, the students played an important part in a combined operation that has thrown a clear spotlight on the activities of a powerful, bigoted minority in this town.

Cover-Up

Events of the last few days have shown that this minority, like their counterparts in Walgett, have worked hard to cover up their own racism and dodge the publicity.

For example, they have tried to soft pedal the exclusion of Aboriginal children from the Moree swimming pool, as laid down in a Moree Council Ordinance dated June 6, 1955.

What is not public knowledge is that this offending colour-bar Ordinance, which the student demonstrations challenged, was REAFFIRMED by the Council at its meeting last week, February 18. It is reported that the only member to oppose it was the Mayor, Alderman W Lloyd.

The Ordinance which applies also to the Council’s Memorial Hall is worth quoting from the 1955 minutes:

“3. Patronage of Baths and Memorial Hall.

“that no person, being a full-blooded or half-caste aboriginal native of Australia, or being a person apparently having an admixture of aboriginal blood, shall use or occupy, or be present in or upon, or be allowed or permitted or invited to use or occupy or be present in or upon the premises of the Council known as the Memorial Hall, or in or upon any of the buildings or places ancillary there-to, including the supper-room, kitchen servery, toilets and passages.

“AND THAT no such person as afore-said shall use or occupy, or be present in or upon or be allowed or permitted to use or occupy or be present in or upon the premises of the Council known as the Bore Baths, or in or upon any of the buildings or places enclosed therewith.” That Ordinance was originally recommended by the 1955 Council Works Committee; and moved by Alderman Col Robinson, seconded by Ald T Doyle (deceased) and carried unanimously by: the Mayor (Ald A Sadlier) and Ald W T Tait, J Hawkins, A D Gildersleeve, A Bulluss and J K Boland (deceased).

Last, week, when the students arrived in Moree, they investigated conditions of Aborigines at the segregated State Government “reserve” as they had done at other places of call – Wellington, Dubbo, Gulargambone and Walgett.

Facts gained in these surveys, including very bad housing, police brutality and ill-treatment of Aboriginal children, will bear a lot of looking into.

They made a check of the council regulations and had an interview with the Mayor, W Lloyd, Alderman Jones and a council staff man, and learned of the ten-year-old Ordinance.

During that day, the students demonstrated at the Council Chamber, then at the baths and were able to secure the entry of 31 Aboriginal children into the baths.

That night came a most important development for Moree. Several-hundred Moree citizens, with ex-alderman R Brown prominent among them, held a public meeting which, after some disruption by a segregationist minority, overwhelmingly carried a motion calling for an end to the bath ban.

Mr Brown has consistently opposed the Council’s policy on this issue. The students were present at the meeting, and their capable and courageous leader, Mr Charles Perkins, was a speaker there, but basically it was a public meeting of Moree people.

Students demonstrate outside Moree Council Chambers against ordinance barring Aborigines use of its swimming pool and memorial hall. Later the students demonstrated outside the pool. Moree authorities claimed the law was to maintain hygiene.

Violence

Such developments far outweighed the disgraceful attempts of a frenzied minority to copy the violence of the US Southern States so as to terrorise the students and local citizens, particularly the Aborigines.

This was seen in Moree, last Saturday, when the students were pelted with rubbish and some suffered physical violence, from the mobsters during the final demonstration at the swimming pool. But the demonstrators won the day when they extracted the pledge from Mayor Lloyd to move to rescind the colour-bar Ordinance. More serious was the attempted murder on the Walgett-Moree road which the chartered bus driver, Bill Pakenham, described to me this way:

“We left Walgett at approximately 10 pm for Moree. About 3-4 miles out, we were overtaken by a truck travelling at high speed. It swung in front braking, causing me to swerve the bus to the left to avoid a collision.

“This was repeated twice more. On the third time, I was unable to avoid a collision and the bus and truck collided.

“The bus was forced over the embankment. This was 3½ to 4 feet high on an angle of about 45 degrees. The bus could quite easily have rolled, and I had to steer down the embankment to prevent that happening. The bus stopped about 100 yards further on and about 30 yards off the road.”

Packenham said that they could quite easily have been killed and was surprised at the way the local newspapers played the whole thing down.

He might well have added surprise that most people feel that the police, after getting the full facts of the attack, did not press charges against the culprit.

This article appeared in the Tribune, February 1965.

Next article – Pompeo visiting Senegal, Angola, and Ethiopia to fight China

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