Perhaps a little more so than most, the Freedom Rides have always been of particular significance to me, as the daughter of one of the original 1965 riders. The desire to continue what my father had begun was certainly a strong motivation for my application to join, but I don’t think I could ever describe how much I wanted this for myself. This journey went beyond a moment of historical, cultural, or even personal significance for me as a young Aboriginal woman; it was a chance to my privilege, my education, and my passion to help my people.
During this trip I bore witness to realities I have never had to face. I was alarmed just how ingratiated a fear of the police was in these communities. In Walgett, we watched some young children playing on the grass, shoving and laughing, only to be accosted by an older girl who told them that if they couldn’t behave, the police would come and take them away. Still, these children were proud; proud to be staying in school and learning their language, dances, and culture from the Elders. The Elders had plenty to teach us, as well, like the importance of giving people space for memorialisation, even when it can be frustrating as a young person who wants to look towards the future to keep the work going. Reconciliation is a process of healing, and although there is a place for anger, mourning, and resistance, there must also be a space to acknowledge how far we’ve come.
It was always going to be a difficult task to measure the outcomes of this trip. I feel as if the event brought a lot of joy to these communities, particularly to the Elders, who were immensely grateful for the changes brought about by Charlie Perkins and the original Freedom Rides. The job is not done, however, and the gap continues to widen. For the original riders, this was an act of commemoration, but for myself and the other students, it was a call to action. We all came to create change, give agency, and demand justice, and what we heard and saw carried a heavy emotional toll. It is lucky, then, that we had such a wonderful collection of students, brought together by a leader who accepts nothing but what is right. They are the kind of people you spend long bus trips with discussing Indigenous rights or gender inequality or Gaza or Ferguson, and even at the end of the day, after a few drinks, when we’re all gathered in a hotel room, mucking around, they will never put the fight away. The anger and desire for change doesn’t disappear when the laughter arrives or when the bus ride ends, and I am honoured to have met this wonderful group, so determined to continue the job. This trip has been, I think for all of us, a most incredible beginning.