“You lose the love of your family and home which some people think are important. I do … You develop a set of values that you are not entirely happy with when you finally achieve some sort of success. And is it success in consideration of what you would have done in another world? I would hate anybody to have to live the life I have had to live” – Charlie Perkins
As a boy in the early 1960s my parents sent me on a bus out to a farm (“Moonbong”) near Moree over the school holidays. The people I stayed with were friendly but quite conservative. Their daughter, Julia, and I had been playmates. Her father, Jack Makim, taught me how to chop wood for the fire. I remember Moree as a cold flat place with big concrete wheat silos next to a railway siding. Makim taught me how to split logs with an axe, how it was all about timing, balance and hitting with the grain of the wood. After ten days I had developed a skill that would stay with me forever. Little did the Makims or I know then that I would use that skill 50 fifty years later to chop wood for the Brisbane Aboriginal Sovereign Embassy in Musgrave Park, Brisbane.
1965 Freedom Ride
Later in 1965, an aboriginal student, Charlie Perkins, helped organise a freedom ride through Moree because the town had segregated its public swimming pool – blackfellas and whitefellas were not allowed to swim together.
Last night the BBC world service played this interview with Ann Curthoys who was one of the young students who accompanied Charlie Perkins and about 30 others on that Freedom Ride. Ann was a member of the Student Action for Aborigines which was the group that Charlie and others set up. It was this group, along with the local mayor, that ensured that the Moree Pool was de-segregated after the freedom ride came to town.
I like to think that, although I did not know about it when I visited Moree back in 1965, that the actions of Charlie Perkins and the Freedom Riders helped reduce the racism against aboriginal people that existed when I was growing up.
The original Freedom Riders were: Charles Perkins, Gary Williams, Aidan Foy, Alan Outhred, Alex Mills, Ann Curthoys, Barry Corr, Beth Hansen, Bob Gallagher, Brian Aarons, Chris Page, Colin Bradford, Darce Cassidy, David Pepper, Derek Molloy, Hall Greenland, Helen Gray, Jim Spigelman, John Butterworth, John Gowdie, John Powles, Judith Rich, Louise Higham, Machteld Hali, Norm Mackay, Paddy Dawson, Pat Healy, Ray Leppik, Rick Collins, Robyn Iredale, Sue Johnston, Sue Reeves, Warwick Richards and Wendy Golding.
Radical Times have a 6-minute excerpt of Darce Cassidy’s ‘on-the-spot’ radio documentary of the 1965 Freedom Ride that he made for the ABC. The doco is streaming on Radical Times (Aboriginal Australia 1A).
In the late 1970s the civil liberties coordinating committee invited Charlie Perkins to come marching with us against that ‘bible bashing bastard’ Bjelke-Peterson. Charlie obliged, turned up on the day and gave a very militant speech. Only thing was he left before the march. Plenty of us got arrested that day and his absence left a sour note.
Years later that I found out that Charlie Perkins had a kidney transplant and at the time of his death in the year 2000 was the longest post-transplant survivor in Australia.
Charles Perkins, A Bastard Like Me, Sydney, 1975
Ann Curthoys, Freedom Ride – A freedom rider remembers by