Explain the significance of the Freedom Rides for Australia in the post-World War 2 period. The Australian Freedom Rides was not only significant but an extremely important historical event that occurred, that marginally affected the living standards, rights and the way our nation saw Aboriginal people. Starting through a very important Australian Aboriginal activists Charles Perkins, who was the first Aboriginal student to attend Sydney University, when he created SAFA in 1964. SAFA was a mixed gender university group consisting of both Christians and Communists, with all 30 students wanting justice for Aboriginal people.
Using his passion and their commitment, Charles Perkins and the SAFA set off around country towns in NSW and Goondiwindi, Queensland. They were inspired by America’s Freedom Rides on civil rights of 1961 and planned to utilise the tactics of “passive non-violent action” proposed by Rev. Martin Luther King. Their purpose was to bring national attention to the living conditions of Australia’s Indigenous communities and to reveal unwritten laws that were enforced on them such as refusal to be served in shops, confined to separate sections of the cinemas, excluded from local swimming pools and banned from hotels, clubs and RSLs.
In these towns the Freedom Riders found that racism was plentiful and widespread by conducting surveys on Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples on their opinions and living conditions in their area. Although the whole trip was highly publicised, two significant forms of racism and unwritten laws stood out in the towns of Moree and Walgett. The problem in Walgett was that the Freedom Riders were enraged by the fact that Indigenous ex-service personal were not allowed in the local RSL even though they served in World War 2 just as much as any other non-Indigenous person.
This demonstration that occurred led to conflict between the SAFA and local residents. In Moree the Freedom Riders protested outside of a public swimming pool because Indigenous children were only allowed in if they were accompanied by a school group. These demonstrations included an hour’s angry debate between the Freedom Riders, the pool manager, the mayor and a large crowd. As a result of this six indigenous children were allowed in the pool. With dramatic events such as this much media attention was received and was an important step in finally putting Aboriginal rights on the national political agenda.
The Freedom Rides of Australia was a success stirring up debate and sparked discussion around Australia, in turn it lead to the 1967 referendum which approved two amendments to the Australian Constitution. The first amendment was to remove the phrase ‘other than the Aboriginal race in any State’ in section 51 of the constitution that stated that federal government had the power to make laws in respect to ‘the people of any race, other than the Aboriginal race in any State, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws’.
By doing this it was now legal to make laws that specifically benefitted the Aboriginal race. The second amendment that occurred in this referendum was allowing the Aboriginal population to be counted when calculating the population of the States and territories for the purpose of allocating seats in parliament and per capita Commonwealth grants.
The media coverage the trip gained led to pressure for reform at national and international levels, also helping do away with the racist reputation Australia had obtained. Another consequence of the Freedom Ride was the emergence of Charles Perkins as a national leader of Aboriginal people. In the wake of the bus trip he began a significant career as a public servant whose work in Canberra brought about many advances for Aboriginal people.