Freedom Rides – Walgett
Walgett plays a vital part in the history of the Freedom Rides, as it is where the movement initially charged onto the national stage.
It was the place Charles Perkins famously asked “Are you with it? Or are you against it? Are you fair dinkum? Or are you not?” It was a town rife with discrimination, but also a town that had an Aboriginal population finally willing to defend and fight for themselves. There were two clashes in particular, that catapulted the issue of racial discrimination straight onto the front pages of Australian newspapers, and thus, into the sheltered lives of everyday Australians.
The first issue involved a student who confronted Walgett RSL about their rejection of Aboriginal Diggers into its membership. With World War II only 20 years earlier, the debt Australia owed to its soldiers – both black and white - was still fresh in the minds of the Australian population.
The second issue, later on, involved a young man who drove the Freedom bus off the road in an attempt to capture the attention of the Australian media. Hostility in the town during this period was at an all-time high, yet this was a moment when the Freedom Riders felt a shift, and they knew this was history in the making.
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CREDITS AND CONTRIBUTORS
The Fashion Plate. Virginia Robinson, William Verity on piano. School life. John Brown (JB) & Ann Dennis. Charlie Perkins. Charlie Perkins & Jim Spigelman. Run off the road. Machteld Harli, Robyn Iredale & Darce Cassidy. Lest we forget. Steve Rutley & Charlie Perkins. No, no, no. Eileen Cain. Resistance to the Rule. Fay Green. Hidden Soundfields: Park. Archival sounds from Freedom Rides and recordings from Freedom Rids re-enactment 2015. RSL. Fay Green.
Archival photos made available with the permission of Anne Curthoys. Thanks also to Sydney University (© University of Sydney / Victoria Baldwin 2015) and William Verity for Freedom Ride reenactment photos.