Reflections on the Freedom Ride

Written by Brian Aarons, Ann Curthoys, Aidan Foy, Hall Greenland, Patricia Healy,
Alan Outhred, Warwick Richards, Jim Spigelman, on hearing of Darce Cassidy’s death.
They were members of the Students Action for Aborigines now known as the Freedom Riders.

We shared with Darce one of the most important experiences in all our lives: the Freedom Ride of February 1965, under the inspiring leadership of Charles Perkins. The Freedom Ride highlighted for all Australians the racism, deprivation and disadvantage suffered by the first Australians, Aboriginal people.

Darce made a valued contribution to the Freedom Ride in general, both in the planning and as a participant during its first week. However, his professional recordings as a cadet journalist with the ABC made a unique and outstanding contribution. They provided and still provide an invaluable historical record of the tumultuous events of that time.

Some of us were lucky to maintain regular or irregular contact with Darce over the half century since that time, including during Sydney University’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Ride in February 2015.

We are sad that he is no longer with us in person but his memory and spirit are still walking with Indigenous and other Australians on that long journey to social justice and equal rights for all.

SAFA bus and student protesters February 1965

Brian Aarons added:

On the results of the Freedom Ride, I think Ann Curthoys book “Freedom Ride” Allen and Unwin 2002, provides a very careful and objective assessment. However, any doubts about the event’s long-term impacts were well and truly put to rest in my mind during Sydney University’s 50th anniversary “recreation” of the Freedom Ride. I had been doubtful about that exercise and nearly didn’t take part.
However, the warm and enthusiastic response we received from the Aboriginal communities of Dubbo, Walgett, Moree and others was astounding, revealing what I think none of us ever knew until that moment. The people of these communities made clear that, for them, the Freedom Ride was a major and overwhelmingly positive turning point in their histories, and in their relations with the wider community. (Incidentally, the wider communities of those towns also joined in the celebrations, no doubt with varying degrees of enthusiasm and understanding. The Moree Council took the prize in striking a special medal to commemorate the 50th anniversary: this from probably the most overtly racist town council of all at the time.)
Of course, as Ann says in her book, it was but one event that could not of itself even address all the problems, let alone stimulate solutions to them. She notes the longevity and intractability of many of them. But I think there can be little doubt that the Freedom Ride revealed to a smug and complacent nation the racism, dispossession and abject disadvantage that Australia foisted on Aboriginal people.
As a final point in what could be an endless list, I often note when speaking about the Freedom Ride that the racists of those towns made the Freedom Ride by their hostile and sometimes violent reactions, starting with the young redneck grazier who ran our bus off the road late one night as we drove out of Walgett headed for Moree. It was QED for our reasons for being there, and ensured that from then on the Freedom Ride was front and centre of media coverage.
To end where we began: Darce’s priceless recordings of those events provide but one of his many legacies for the movements and causes that he was so much a part of … and, dare I say, to Australia as a whole.

Hall Greenland added:

I worried during the 65 tour that we were outsiders foisting ourselves on the locals. As the bus tour unfolded that anxiety receded. The local indigenous communities were delighted with our support and solidarity. In some places we chimed in with already initiated campaigns – I think it was a Kempsey that a young teenager had already started to try and bust the colour bar at the local cinema. Then with Darce, Sue Johnson, Owen Westcott, Sue-Anne Loftus et al following up it was even clearer to the indigenous people that this was not fleeting, fly-by-night support. This follow-up was essential reinforcement and reassurance. It’s great that the site is honouring Darce’s essential role in the unfolding of the anti-racist revolution [no less] in Australian consciousness that took place in the 60s. Darce was also there at the initial stages of this – in the solidarity with the South Africans after Sharpville and the campaign against the White Australia Policy.

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