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Aboriginal Rights Essay

Explain how to 1961 US Freedom Rides inspired Aboriginal activism and protest
in Australia
As we look back through time during the 20 th century, there was a great deal of
inequality among the masses around the world. During this particular time in
Australia many Aboriginals were looked down upon by the white majority and
treated differently. A similar case was also present in America where Black
Americans were treated differently by the White Americans. In both cases, the
Aboriginals and the African-Americans were only treated differently due to the
colour of their skin which was black. In order to resolve this situation many of the
oppressed began to protest for their rights in order to be treated equally, but
were met with swift opposition from those who didnt want there to be a change.
Eventually during the 1960s a series of campaigns began in the US known as The
US Civil Rights Movement, with the goal to end discrimination and bring equality.
The campaign that started it off was the 1961 US Freedom Rides lead by the
Congress of Racial Equality. The rides were a success as they brought a great
deal of awareness to the cause as well as the momentum needed to continue
forward. Aboriginal protesters drew inspiration from the US Freedom Rides, and
began their own Australian Freedom rides in hopes of a similar result in Australia.
With the subsequent success of the freedom rides and the momentum it
generated Aboriginal activism surged with the 1967 Referendum, Push for Land
Rights and the Tent Embassy. Therefore, it is evident that the 1961 US Freedom
Rides inspired Aboriginal activism and protest in Australia.
The 1961 US Freedom Rides are not only important but are a significant historical
event that aided in not only desegregating buses but also raising awareness
towards the civil rights movement and its righteousness. The rides were
organised by the Congress of Racial Equality or CORE which was founded in 1942
by an inter-racial group of students. This group believed great deal in non-violent
direct action and were sometimes referred to as the pioneers of the non-violence
strategies such as the sit-ins, jail-ins and freedom rides. The 1961 rides began
on the 4th of May 1961 by the civil rights activists in order to show their
opposition of the segregation of public buses as it was still in motion in the
southern states, even though it was proven to be unconstitutional by the
Supreme Court decisions Irene Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia (1946) and
Boynton v. Virginia (1960). While on the bus the setup of the riders was to have
at least one black rider in the front as the seats were only for white people as
stated by segregation, whilst at least one interracial pair sat in adjacent seats. In
case they did get arresting one rider would abide by the rules of segregation to
contact the CORE to set-up bail for the arrested. Minor hostilities were met by the
riders during the first few days of the ride in Virginia and North Carolina, but this
quickly began to change as they got closer to Anniston, Alabama.
Here Police Chief Bull Connor alongside local Ku Klux Klan chapters hatched a
plan to bring the rides to a halt through the use of violence. On May 14 a large
number of the KKK attacked one of the buses known as the Greyhound. They

firebombed it, leaving the doors shut, they has intended for the riders inside to
burn to death, but eventually the riders escaped only to be beaten up by the
ensuing mob. The injured Freedom Riders were refused care in local hospitals out
of fear of what the mobs could do. Soon after when the remaining riders reached
Birmingham, Alabama they were attacked by not only a mob of KKK members
but also the police under orders of Bull Conner. When the riders exited the bus
they were beaten up with baseball bats, iron pipes and bicycle chains leaving
them each with a great deal of injuries. Bull Conner also let the police use their
police dogs and did nothing to stop the violent demonstration. This display of
violence was shown nationwide as well as internationally, resulting in a national
outcry of support for the riders with a great deal of pressure directed towards
President Kennedy to end the violence. This led to the Interstate Commerce
Commission issuing rules prohibiting segregated transportation facilities, leading
to a huge win for the Civil Rights Movement as they had achieved their goal of
desegregating transport while raising a large amount of awareness for the cause.
Throughout the Freedom Rides, Civil Rights Leader Martin Luther King Jr.
continuingly spoke on behalf of the campaign, praising the non-violent direct
action protesting while backing it up and raising key awareness of the issue
through media coverage, which was crucial for rides as it highlighted the
disregard of the laws and the violence used by locals to enforce segregation.
Aboriginal protestors seeing the great success of the Freedom Rides in the US
started to draw inspiration in hopes of finding the same success in Australia.
Charles Perkins was a well-known leader in the aboriginal community and the
President of the Student Action for Aborigines (SAFA), who was an organisation
with great similarities to CORE, as they drew inspiration from them. Both of them
not only were created by a group of inter-racial students but they both had the
same views on non-violent direct action protests. On the 12 th of February 1965,
he and 28 other SAFA student went on a 14-day, 3200-kilometre bus tour of rural
New South Wales in hopes of similar results to the Freedom Rides in the US. The
aim of the Freedom Rides undertaken by Perkins was to visit the rural towns in
order to raise awareness of the mistreatment of Aboriginals especially their poor
living conditions, their lack of healthcare, being forced to live on reserves on the
outskirts of country towns, the denial of Aborigines to facilities such as pools and
how Aboriginals were not regarded as citizens on the land which they own. The
Freedom Rides in Australia relied heavily on media coverage much similarly to
the US rides, with one of their own being a part-time reporter for the Australian
Broadcasting Commission. The broadcasts of the rides blatantly demonstrated
the inequality in the treatment of the Aborigines as well as the discrimination
present in the rural towns, especially during the Moree Pool incident which was
crucial in opening Australias eyes. This shows that with a doubt the 1961 US
Freedom Rides influenced Aboriginal protest and activism
The people of Australia were appalled by the condition in which the Aboriginal
people were treated especially concerning their living conditions, as well as their
denial to facilities like pubs, cafes and swimming pool showed to them by the
media coverage. On the rides the Freedom Riders demonstrated against these
acts of discrimination, while ensuring that the events that unfolded was available

for media coverage. One such incident was the Moree pool incident, were there
was an unwritten law that stated Aboriginal people were not allowed into the
pool. During their first encounter the riders were able to remove the law, but as
they left it was put back into place. This caused the riders to return, where they
were quickly met with opposition from 500 locals. These locals shouted abuse,
spat at them and threw tomatoes and rotten eggs at them and the bus, with
Perkins later saying he feared for his life during this incident. The events that
unfolded during this incident was quite similar to the events that unfolded during
the US Freedom Rides in Alabama were they were also met with opposition in the
form of violence. The media attention the violence brought in the US was
important, as it showed the blatant disregard for the laws as well as the
discrimination shown by not only the police but by the local people. Similarly,
due to the media coverage in Australia the state was forced to ban the
segregation in the swimming pool. Hence, the 1961 US Freedom Rides media
attention inspired Aboriginal activism and protest in Australia.
As a result of the success of the Freedom Rides in Australia, a huge surge of
support was present towards the cause for Aboriginals gaining rights. Before the
rides took place many people all over Australia had a little stand in the matter for
rights, but after the rides the people started to flock towards the movement
much like how after US Freedom Rides many people started to support the
movement. Due to this support in Australia and the ignition of discussion all over
the country about the state of Aboriginal affairs, the 1967 Referendum was led.
The aim of this referendum was to change the constitution to guarantee that the
Federal government was in charge of Aboriginal affairs instead of the state
government. This was important was it allowed the government the ability to
provide welfare, empowerment and access to justice for Aboriginal people. The
other aim of the referendum was to allow for Aboriginals as well as Torres Strait
Islanders to be counted in the census. The importance of this was to highlight
that the Aboriginal and non-indigenous populations were but the same. The
referendum was met successfully with 90.77% of voter in favour of the
amendments. Due to the success of the referendum it lead to a jump in the
amount of Aboriginal fighting for their rights, especially concerning their land
rights as the government refused to recognise them. The campaign that really
started the push for land rights was the 1966 Wave Hill Walk-Off which was led
by the Gurindji people. The 200 Aboriginal cattle workers as well as their family
walked off the Wave Hill station in order to gain better pay as well as better
conditions. The nine-year strike that ensued developed into a claim that was
successful for the return of the traditional rights to the people. Another huge
case that led to Aboriginal people gained land rights was the 1972 tent Embassy.
On January 26th 1972, four Aboriginal protestors set-up an Embassy for the
Aboriginal in front of Parliament House in Canberra in order to show that
Aboriginals have been oppressed for far too long. The tent also showed how they
believed they were aliens in their own land which they had lived on for
generations. This tent stood up for six months as a symbol for the push for land
rights and is still the most memorable.

In conclusion, due to the 1961 US Freedom Rides being a huge US Civil Rights
Movement that showed America the harshness of discrimination and
segregation, which in turn inspired the Australian freedom rides which also
highlighted the inequality as well as the segregation present Australia as was
seen during the Moree Pool Incident. This then gave the movement in Australia
momentum which in turn led to the referendum and the push for land rights, with
the Tent Embassy as it greatest symbol. As stated above the US 1961 Freedom
Rights did infact inspire Aboriginal Activism and Protest.
Date Accessed 3/09.14