In 1965 Aboriginal people weren’t regarded at citizens of their own country. Segregation was widely practised; health, education and housing were appalling; life expectancy was well-below that of white Australians.
The first people of this country were not even allowed to vote.
Charles Perkins, a third-year University of Sydney student who became the first Aboriginal person to earn a university degree, was elected president of Student Action for Aborigines and led a group on the Freedom Ride, a trip around country NSW.
Next year Koori Connect, a program based in the Central Coast that aims to help young Aboriginal people reconnect with the community, is retracing the Freedom Ride and coming through Lismore and Cabbage Tree Island.
The 1965 Freedom Ride visited Lismore, Cabbage Tree Island and Gundurimba.
Koori Connect youth officer Kylie Cassidy was having lunch with a colleague when the idea came up.
“There are a lot of young people here on the Central Coast who are Aboriginal and don’t know anything about it, so we were talking about ideas that might interest them in their history and culture,” Kylie said. “We said, ‘wouldn’t it be great if we could take them on a Freedom Ride’ and the idea just went from there.
“Youth Connections (a youth employment service that embodies Koori Connect) supported it and it’s grown. We’ve had huge response from the places we’re going and from further afield, like Western Australia and Queensland.”
The NSW Education Department came on board and is assisting a group of Aboriginal Studies students on the ride, while Koori Connect is working with young people who are disengaged from education and family, and is hoping to re-engage them with something meaningful, like school or other employment or training.
The group plans to interview original members of the Freedom Ride, including former Chief Justice Jim Spegilman, who will launch the ride on February 12 in Sydney, along with Hetti and Rachel Perkins (Charles Perkins’ daughters). Original Freedom Rider Darce Cassidy, who reported on the ride for the ABC, is also joining for a spell.
The group will also be talking to Aboriginal Elders who were there for the original ride.
“We’re going to create a documentary of our trip and of the meaning of the Freedom Ride to the community and the original people; it’s really exciting,” Kylie said.
There will be a blog, a Twitter account and a Facebook page.
The details for the Lismore region visit are being sorted out with Ngulingah Aboriginal Land Council.
The Freedom Ride is looking for support. Anyone who can help with accommodation, camping sites or showers, phone Koori Connect manager Denise Markham on (02) 4350 2600.