Freedom Rides drove home the pool for all

22 May 2018

The 1965 Freedom Rides made international headlines and were the cause for major turning points in political history. Starting from the grounds of Sydney University, where 29 students set out on a journey to raise awareness about the living standards, segregation and racism experienced by Aboriginal people in Australia.


Led by enigmatic Arrente man, Charles Perkins, Jim and his fellow students would become part of a civil rights movement that would change the nation forever.


For the Freedom Riders, the biggest and most publicised moment of their journey in the 1960's would take place 200 kilometres north east of Walgett, in the small town of Moree.


Upon arrival of Moree, the Freedom Riders attempted to enter the town's main tourist attraction - the Moree Artesian Baths, but under council by-laws, there were heavy regulations restricting the free passage of Indigenous patrons in and out of the pools. 


Several hours after the Freedom Riders spent time in discussions with police, pool management and the local council - the by-laws were revoked. Pleased with the outcome, the Freedom Riders left Moree, but once they had left the town, the by-laws were reinstated and enforced.


Once they heard the news, the bus headed back to town, picking up children from the Moree Aboriginal Mission, with one intention only. To escort the kids into the pools.


Kamilaroi elder, Lyall Munro Senior and the Moree Aboriginal Advancement Committee, had already been fighting against the town's racist by-laws by the time the Freedom Riders hit town. Munro recalls the scenes that unfolded.


"We were fighting for the cause but not in the manner which the Freedom Riders done, so we stood and watched in the crowd and let the kids get up the from with the bus ride with Charlie, it was their day and it was an ugly scene, pretty rowdy, pretty wild, a lot of violence.... Jim Spigelman [one of the riders] now he got knocked out, he got king hit and knocked out," he said.


“I mean it's just one of those extraordinary moments where such a simple thing as an Aboriginal child enjoying a swim in the local pool can cause such a stir and it did, but the great thing was, Moree rescinded the by law about the pool."


A public meeting that followed saw the town voted to desegregate the pool and lift the bar.


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