Ann Curthoys' diaries

Ann Curthoys' diaries have become an essential piece of historical material that tells the story of the 1965 Freedom Ride. Members of the Student Action for Aborigines organisation also produced many useful items that provide insight into this watershed moment in Australian history.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that the Freedom Ride documents include names and images of deceased persons in photographs and in print.

1965
Page #12

Then we invited the people to come to the church hall for tea and coffee, which lot of people did. That was pretty good. Then a lot of people got into all sorts of discussions. We took the aborigines back to the mission, but were only allowed to the gate. Finally after further discussions, we went to bed.

Thursday Boggabilla

Up and away by 9.30. A lot of travelling. Arrived in Boggabilla at 12.15 and had lunch in a beer garden which was shaded by grape vines. Then we went to the reserve and were greeted by the manager, whom we later found to be apparently a real so and so. We went around and spoke to a lot of people. Many of them told us that the manager had told them not to answer our questions, but they intended to do so anyway. The manager and press wandered round authoritatively, making this difficult. Even so the people were the most talkative, cooperative and straightforwardly critical of all the aborigines we've met.

1965
Page #13

The houses were weatherboard and very overcrowded. There was not water on, but the river water was taken to taps in the yard. There was no gas or anything, and no electricity (I think). Very often there weren't windows and doors. We heard some terrible stories such as the fact that the police came in the houses without knocking whenever they liked, to find out who had been drinking. Also they "did what they liked with the women". We found too that the children went to their own school, the only Education Dept controlled one in the state, and very few got beyond 6th grade. Those who went beyond did their schooling by correspondence, even though there is a high school 15 miles away.

Most of the girls become domestics, and according to the ones I spoke to the conditions are terrible. The men are usually shearers. Everyone we spoke to agreed that they would rather live in the town than on the reserve. At the end we got them all together and Charlie gave a bit of a speech saying we would try to do something about the houses, and that they should write to the Welfare Board. They were very enthusiastic.

1965
Page #14

Then we got on the bus and went straight to Warwick, arriving about 9.30. We had tea at an all night cafe and the came back to the Methodist Church hall to sleep.

Friday Travelling

Up at 6.30. Went round to swimming pool to have a shower. Left at 8.30 leaving Charlie behind and got to Tenterfield at about 11.30. There we heard from Bob Brown that they day after we left Moree (yesterday) about 60 aboriginal children tried to get in the pool after school. Up to 5.30 about 30 were allowed in, some with Bob Brown, others not. At 5.30 pm the manager refused to allow any more aborigines in and at 6pm the baths were closed (usually they stay open till 8pm). The baths opened again at 7pm and soon after this the mayor stated that the segregationalist statute of June 6th 1955 would be enforced.

On hearing this we rang up the Rev. Ryan (Methodist minister whose church we stayed at) and he confirmed this news and told us not to come back because we weren't...

1965
Page #15

...wanted. We also rang Mr Kelly (the man who moved the desegregation motion at the Moree meeting) and he also confirmed the statement. Jim made a press statement, and the press ascertained from the mayor himself that the report was true.

We held a general meeting, the first we'd had without Charlie . We decided, after much heated discussion, to go straight to Inverell, thus leaving out Tabulam. From Inverell where we would stay the night we would contact Charlie and he would arrive at Inverell at 9.30pm on Saturday. From there we would go straight to Moree and take strong action of some kind, such as a 24hr picket or something. The decision was unanimous.

We pretended to the press until the bus got going that we were still going to Tabulam, in case the news got out. Once the bus got going we announced that we were going to Moree. We stopped at Glen Innes for half an hour and got to Inverell at about 6.30 p.m. On the radio we heard that we were still going to Tabulam, so ...

1965
Page #16

the news had not leaked out yet. Also we rang Charlie, and learned that he had been met at the airport by a flood of pressmen. We read in the news about the poor girls getting, abused, which was only faintly true really. We stayed in the park thing behind the "Twin Swans" motel just out of Inverell. Some of the boys went into town to ring up Charlie, who had apparently been flabbergasted by all the pressmen. He was very enthusiastic about our returning to Moree, and apparently Ted Noffs agreed with him.

Saturday Back to Moree

Woke early. We were all full of burrs from sleeping on the ground. Gerry Mason had had a good night because we all put in to pay for a hotel room for him. On the radio we heard that aboriginal children had been demonstrating outside the Moree baths for the last two afternoons, which was terrific news. All of us are very determined that we are doing the right thing despite the mayor's warning over the radio that our return would cause...

1965
Page #17

...harm.

We went to Inverell airport to meet Charlie, who told us about all the press conferences and the TV interview he had in Sydney, which was apparently very successfully. Then we went on to Moree, arriving at about 12.30 pm. We went straight to Thompson's Row, where the "town" aborigines live. We found that that morning the aboriginal children there had been given swimming club tickets which meant that they could enter the baths at any time. The children from Bingara Rd and the Mission had not got these tickets, and were refused entry.

The Thompson's Row people obviously felt little or no sympathy for the other aborigines and were not prepared to fight for them. A case of "divide and rule" as most of us soon realised. Then we went to the Mission. Bill refused to drive the bus onto the mission, so Charlie and Beth went onto the mission. The manager wouldn't let them stay and so they only had time to ask about 4 or 5 of the kids to come along. Sue and Chris went in Bob Brown's car to get some kids from the...

1965
Page #18

Bingara Rd shanty town. We all congregated at the shop opposite the baths, and the bus left us. Very quickly a huge and noisy crowd gathered.

We had to wait quite a while before Charlie could take the children to the baths. There were 9 of them and they were refused admission. Then we all went to the swimming pool and lined up behind the children, continually requesting permission to enter, Charlie started talking to the crowd, but there was a lot of hissing and booing. Then he went to the front of the line and when he refused to move was grabbed and taken away from the line. Then John Powell, Lou, Beth, Alex, myself and a couple of others were removed by the mayor first asking us if we would move, us saying no (individually) and then they put their hand on our back and took us away from the line. Chris Page sat down and was carried off. Those of us who had been walked off were prevented from rejoining the line as we had intended. Angry discussion broke out everywhere. I have never met such hostile, hate-filled people. The hostility seemed to...

1965
Page #19

... be directed at us as university student intruders rather than to the aborigines. The aboriginal children told us that they had been called "scabby black ------ niggers" . One child had been knocked down. The poor kids were very frightened. In all the scuffling Darcy with his tape was knocked down by a man John B and I had been arguing with. Jim S was punched and knocked down in the course of an argument. He lay quite dazed on the ground for a few seconds. There were a number of arrests and several fights, especially the one between two women.

The women were particularly hostile and I had several remarks "Who did you sleep with last night" etc directed at me. The kids weren't nearly as hostile as they parents. All the hostilities continued. Tomatoes and eggs were thrown. The police cleared everyone away from the entrance except us, and during all the mess those of us who had been marched off managed to sneak back.

The police obviously didn't know what to do. Then they began to erect a fence, meaning that the area we were in would be...

1965
Page #20

defined council property. The crowd were all on the other side of the fence. The police came up and warned us that if we stayed the violence would get much worse. We decided to stay, continuing to insist on being allowed to enter the pool with the aboriginal children. Tomatoes and eggs continued to be thrown.

Then - breakthrough! The mayor came up to us and stated categorically that he would be prepared to sign a motion to rescind the 1955 statute we were protesting against, and would get two other aldermen to co-sign it. We started having a discussion then and there, but then the mayor and three other aldermen (Mills, Jones, and James) went into the baths and had a private discussion with our tour executive (Charlie, Jim, and Pat). While they had their discussion we sat outside singing freedom songs, e.g. "We shall Overcome", "If you Miss Me at the Back of the Bus", "I'm so Glad", "Sinner Man" and so on.

Then they came out and stated that if we agreed, the Mayor would put forward a motion, signed by himself and the other three, to have the motion rescinded and to consider

1965
Page #21

...an alternative motion which would have entry based on health criteria only. We took a vote on it and unanimously agreed that this meant that we had won. We decided to leave (it was now 5.30 pm). The police (who had been wonderful the whole time, obviously directed to be so from the powers that be ) escorted us through the crowd to the bus. That was possibly the worst part.

We walked single file though the crowd who threw eggs, tomatoes, stones, and spat at us. We bundled into the bus and closed all the windows. Eggs and tomatoes were still thrown. Then we all moved off. About 30 cars tried to follow us but the police stopped them. About ten miles out of Moree we stopped, to wait for the press, Sue J, Charlie and Jerry Mason. Charlie came back, and made a radio statement while we waited for the others. Finally they all came and we set off again.

We stopped at Gravesend for tea. In the pub we met  some very sympathetic people - hope that's an indication. Got to Inverell "Twin Swans" Motel at about...

1965
Page #22

...10.30 pm. I was absolutely exhausted. Took 2 aspirin and flaked out but apparently quite a few stayed up late drinking coffee. We got first place in the 11 o'clock news.

Sunday Travelling

Up early and away by 9.30. Traveled to Grafton, going through beautiful country. We stopped at Grafton for lunch. There Charlie and Jim carried out some investigations about getting another bus, as Bill still refused to take us any further. They managed to get another bus, at the cost of 240 pounds. We decided to get the bus, and to call on Noffs to raise an appeal for us to cover costs. Then Charlie rang Mr Seint who said don't get another bus, we would get another driver. Bill still refused to take us any further, and was extremely angry because Mr Seint had reversed his, Bill's, decision. So we took our stuff off the second bus which we had begun to pack and put it all back on the first bus.

On hearing we could keep the old bus, we all decided to call off the public...

1965
Page #23

...appeal, as we wanted to maintain our independence as far as possible.

After much waiting, and mucking around we went round to the Methodist Church Hall, which we'd just lined up. We had a terrific meal for a change, sang songs etc. until we went to bed.

One thing wonderful about this trip is the wonderful group spirit we've developed after the the first few days. Everything is done very democratically and in fact our meetings are rather funny, with little points being debated at length until we realise how stupid it is. After the first few days we made our meetings much more formal, so as to get everything decided.

Another thing, the singing has developed as we go along. At first no one was interested in singing but as we've gone along the singing has grown. Today on the bus we made up two songs - one to the tune of "Green Grow the Rushes - Oh" which goes like this:

I'll sing you one oh 
Go where the buses go...

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