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.

Page #24

...What is your one oh?

One for the bus that carried us through
And ever more shall be so.

Two for the aboriginals on the bus
Upon the freedom ride - oh

Three three the aldermen of Moree
Four for the cops who guarded us
Five for the knuckles on his chin
Six for the kids we tried to take in
Seven for the pressmen who came with us
Eight for the eggs upon his head
Nine for the nine lives we all have
Ten for those dumped in the crowd.

We also made up another song which went something like this, to the tune of "Waltzing Matilda":

Once a jolly freedom rider
Stood outside a swimming pool
Under the shade of a ten foot cop
And he sang as he combed the egg shell from his hairy mop...

Page #25

...Who'll come a desegregating with me

Desegregating........ etc

Up came a coloured kid to swim at the swimming pool
Up jumped the students and grabbed him with glee

And so it goes on, I forget the rest.

Monday Grafton

Up early - had to be out before 9.00 o'clock because a kindergarten uses the hall. We spent the morning relaxing, writing up things. Today became rather a farce - everything we did was photographed, whether it was eating, walking along the street, having a meeting, etc. We heard a tape prepared by a Mr Miles, from the ABC. It described the conditions of aborigines on the far north coast, really exposed the complexities of the problem and suggested concrete solutions. There were many recordings of aborigines expressing their views. The tape was prepared two years ago but had never been used -...

Page #26

... it was too hard-hitting for the ABC. Then he criticised our actions and we tried to explain that we knew the problem was much deeper than the mere question of integration. He also told us we should dress formally - we weren't on a holiday. On the whole he was very interesting but not altogether sympathetic.

We had a general meeting, and discussed SAFA's future policy. It was a pretty heated discussion, revolving around the question of whether SAFA would aim to raise scholarships or not. We rejected the motion which Hall moved, which opposed SAFA scholarships, but all realised that no definitive policy decisions can be made yet.

Then we all went for a swim, getting photographed all the way. It was extremely relaxing. Then lunch, and a rest. We a organised a watermelon eating competition, each of about nine of us with a quarter of a watermelon. Charlie had more or less challenged the rest of us to it, but he ended up coming second last. We continued to have a rest, send letters, etc.

At 6 o'clock the new driver arrived. He ...

Page #27

...seemed pretty hard to get on with. The first thing he said was "Take the sign off the bus", the second "I'm not going into a hornet's nest".

Anyhow we got going, and arrived in Lismore at about 8.30pm. The boys slept at the Lismore showground and the girls were billeted out. Lou, Pat, and I stayed at Vic and Tess Brill's. They were extremely interesting and Mrs Brill particularly knew a lot about the Lismore racial problem. It was a terrific coincidence, because I happened to have met Mr Brill before.

We had an absolutely heavenly sleep, a hot bath and a wonderful breakfast. We arrived at Lismore Post Office at 9.30 am., and went to Cabbage Tree Island. A lot of press men and sympathisers like Mrs Brill came too. Cabbage Tree Island was very interesting but the reserve was really very much like any other reserve.

The coop. shop was OK and so were some of the houses, but others did not have water or electricity. The manager seemed to be a real bastard.

Page #28

..We got some interesting surveys and talked to a lot of the aborigines there. Then we went to the Workers' Club for lunch (free) and then to Gunderimbah settlement. The houses there were by far better than any others, but still too small and overcrowded. Pastor Frank Roberts lived there. The worst thing about it was that it was built just outside the Lismore shire boundaries. When the houses were first built there had been a terrific outcry against having them built in Lismore proper. Being just outside the boundary they had no garbage service.

We left Gunderimbah and went straight on to Coff's Harbour, and stayed in the Scouts' Hall there.

On the whole a lot of us felt the day had been far too loosely organised and we could have done a lot more if we had organised ourselves better. Also the discipline was getting a bit lax, and Charlie got up in the bus and said we ought to tighten up on discipline.

Page #29

Wednesday Bowraville

​Up early as usual. Had breakfast, which included a horrible rice and salmon mess. The hall was very nice, and had showers for a change. Jerry Mason sold many of us small carved boomerangs. Channel 7 was hanging round a bit - I'm sure they were all kicking themselves that they hadn't got on to us until now. We read in the Moree "Champion" that Bob Brown had had his shop pelted with eggs and that his sister in law had been threatened. Things looked pretty grim for poor old Bob Brown.​

Left about 10 o'clock - the press had kept us waiting considerably. The new driver panders to the press a lot more than Bill did. Went to Bowraville, arriving about 11.30 am. Had an early lunch. We'd hardly arrived when this woman, the president or secretary or something of a local Aborigines Welfare Committee, assured us there was no discrimination in Bowraville, and told us all about how wonderful her committee was.

Then we split up to do our surveys. Some scouted round the town to find out the situation. A group of us went out to...

Page #30

...the reserve which was about one and a half miles out of town. It was controlled by the Welfare Board but didn't have a manager. The police looked after it in general, and a welfare board officer apparently came round sometimes. The conditions were very bad. The houses were weatherboard, very run down, and hadn't been looked after for 15 years (the houses were 26 years old). They were extremely overcrowded.

The first house I went to there were 5 women and I don't know how many children. Two of the women were deserted wives, and the other three didn't have husbands. Later I spoke to a girl who worked down in Sydney who was very outspoken. She said the aboriginal people should stand up for themselves - "they make me mad sometimes". The press wandered around like flies as usual.

The general picture we got from talking to the people on the reserve was one of extreme lack of job opportunity. Apparently there aren't many jobs available in Bowraville anyway, and the white population gets all there are. The discrimination in the town was absolutely shocking - by far the...

Page #31

...worst we'd encountered. We learnt there was a partition in the picture theatre separating the aborigines from the whites. The aborigines had to buy their tickets separately and could only enter the theatre after the picture had started.

We learnt of a number of segregated pubs and cafes, and of instances of segregation in the school about 6 years earlier. The two populations were almost completely separate. At first we weren't sure where to start - the town was just so bad. We thought the press could blow up a big story about it, but they refused, obviously instigating us to put on a demonstration.

We decided to first go up to the manager of the picture theatre, who had previously told Hall that he would let no aborigines in the back of the picture had, including Charlie Perkins. We went up to see him but he refused to answer the door. The press got a photo of him opening the door slightly and shut it. Then we went to the pub, but they blatantly denied discrimination, which...

Page #32

...was clearly, by all reports, an out and out lie. All this was a bit of a fiasco, so we then decided to stage a stand in demonstration in the picture theatre that night. This was the first occasion that Charlie had voted with the minority group.

We had a barbecue tea just near the Flanders houses (after having interviewed the Flanders who were aboriginal), with stake which was given to us by one of the ATN 7 pressmen. Then we went back into the town.

We learnt that as soon as the manager of the picture theatre saw the bus approaching he put a small sign - "No Pictures Tonight" - up at the doorway. He had already started the projectionists working. There was confusion for about 40 minutes and then we started picketing. A crowd gathered round, the aborigines keeping a bit distant and quite separate. The white people weren't on the whole particularly hostile, nothing like Walgett and Moree. They seemed to me interested and even sympathetic, but on the whole a fairly apathetic lot.

One 16 year old aboriginal girl called Ann...

Page #33

Ann was wonderful - in the discussions which broke out she stood up to the more aggressive whites very well. The picket ended at 9 pm, and discussions continued for another half hour.

Then we left for Kempsey, and arrived there about 11.30 pm. We stayed in the Showground.

Thursday Kempsey

Up and ready by 10 o'clock. Some went in and saw the Mayor, others did European attitudes etc. and the rest of us went to the Burnt Bridge Reserve. We all had to wear heavy shoes because of the hook worm. The reserve was a few miles out of town, and was in a gully. It was pouring rain (the first rain we'd had all trip) and the gully was terribly wet - that is apparently why there is so much hookworm. We all spread out and did our survey as usual. I went to two houses.

The first was a woman whose husband was white, with a job on the railways, and who had three children (small for an aboriginal family). The youngest child had a bursary at...

Page #34 which was the first instance of this I had come across. The people at the reserve lived in very sub standard houses as usual - wooden ones, which were generally overcrowded. They had no electricity or gas, I'm not sure whether they had water or not. There was apparently some job discrimination but I got rather conflicting answers on this.

The general picture in Kempsey re discrimination was that everything was fair (a cafe here and a pub there excepted), but the segregation of the swimming pool was the most outstanding thing. On the whole a pretty middling sort of set up comparatively.

We had lunch back at the show ground and then a general meeting. After some discussion we decided to go to Green Hill reserve and get some aboriginal children and then to go to the swimming pool.

Green Hill had four houses built by the Welfare Board and a lot of tin shanties near by. The houses weren't too bad, although still substandard of course, but the tin shanties were absolutely terrible. I only had time to...

Page #35

...interview one person who was rather uncooperative. We took about 10-15 kids with us to the swimming pool. They weren't allowed in and neither were Charlie or Gary. Absolutely blatant.

We blocked up the entrances as we had done in Moree but there was no one much to block the entrance to. Then we held up signs, and the press madly took photographs etc. There were very few people around and very little discussion provoked. At 5 o'clock (we had got there at 2 o'clock) we packed up and left.

Charlie was very emphatic about the success of it because of the publicity, but most of the rest of us thought it an absolute flop because we had failed to force the issue within Kempsey itself. We all realised Kempsey had ignored us, which was precisely what we didn't want. We came back, some of us dejected, others jubilant that the trip was nearly over.

Everyone is by now absolutely exhausted and I don't think we put much into our efforts at Kempsey. Charlie particularly seems to have lost a lot of his fire.