Lost images of Australia’s Freedom Ride

By Anthea Batsakis 22 September 2015
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Historians are calling for more information on never-before-seen photos of Australia’s 1965 Freedom Ride in protest of discrimination

One hundred unseen photos of Australia’s Freedom Ride – the now historic 1965 campaign protesting discrimination against indigenous Australians – have been discovered in the archives of the State Library of NSW.

The Freedom Ride was a bus tour of western and coastal NSW communities led by Kumantjayi (Charles) Perkins, one of Sydney University’s first indigenous students.

Put together by a group of political students at Sydney University operating under the name Student Action for Aborigines (SAFA), the ride protested continued differences in indigenous and non-indigenous rights in Australia – particularly the exclusion of indigenous people from public places like the Bowraville Picture Theatre, the Walgett RSL and the Moree Baths.

At the time this was often justified as due to ‘health reasons’, according to council papers. Gamilaroi man from Moree, Ronald Briggs, who co-curated the exhibition explains that “all of the bans and the segregation were enshrined in the council’s ordinances. It was essentially a law.” 

Eleven women and 22 men signed up for the trip, most in their late teens, and tried to enter institutions that indigenous people were not allowed into. In Walgett for example the RSL excluded Aboriginal ex-servicemen and heated arguments between the students and local whites followed, drawing the public eye. 

The freedom ride: making it black and white

The widespread media coverage showed the Australian public the extent of discrimination for the first time, and the civil rights movement won a few key battles soon after including the fight for citizenship for indigenous Australians in 1967.

While sifting through digitised images, Ronald was “happily surprised” to discover a photo of his father at 14 years old, who was one of the first indigenous children to venture into the Moree Baths.

“I came across a photo of this young boy with a towel over his shoulder, and I thought, I know those eyes. That’s my dad.” Ronald McGrady was among 30 children who rode with Kumantjayi to enter the pool in protest, which led to the Moree council lifting the exclusion.

“I don’t think any of them realised at that time the significance of what they were doing,” said Ronald.

Ronald McGrady in 1965
Ronald McGrady in 1965. Image credit: Tribune Archive

Lost photos of the Freedom Ride

The historic photos were captured by photographer and journalist Noel Hazzard from The Tribune – a newspaper run by Communist Party of Australia – who spent one week in Moree and in nearby Walgett on the Freedom Ride. They were found among The Tribune‘s archive of 60,000 negatives, which were donated to the State Library of NSW in 1992.

Freedom Ride ’65 will also exhibit photos taken by Moree-born photographer John Williams, who captured Moree people reflecting on the Freedom Ride legacy in their homes in 2000.

All the photos at the exhibition are also on Flickr, and people are encouraged to download and share them with the hope that others will be identified in the images and add to the story.

The images are now showing for the first time in an exhibition: Freedom Ride ’65: Unpublished photos from The Tribune Archive (5 September – 29 Nov – State Library of NSW).