Moree remembers Freedom Ride race riot fifty years on

Feb 20, 2015, 06:59 AM

Lindy Kerin reports for ABC/AM 20 February 2015 - Image: Zona Moore was 14 when the Freedom Riders came to Moree - (Pic:Lindy Kerin) ------TRANSCRIPT------

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: An ugly chapter in Australia's race relations will be remembered today in the regional New South Wales town of Moree.

Fifty years ago a group of university students led by the late Charles Perkins arrived in Moree and exposed widespread racism and segregation.

It was the flashpoint of the 1965 Freedom Ride when a violent race riot hit national headlines.

Many locals say times have changed, but others say there's still a racial divide.

Lindy Kerin reports from Moree.

(Sounds from a swimming pool)

LINDY KERIN: The Moree baths are like any other pools around the country. Young kids are in swimming lessons, older women are doing aqua aerobics and toddlers are running through water fountains.

(Sounds from a swimming pool)

But 50 years ago a council by-law banned some people from swimming here, as local Aboriginal woman Zona Moore remembers.

ZONA MOORE: My sister was fair, she had to live up with my grandmother who was fair, so she could go to the pool and I'd be on the outside, she'd be on the inside crying because I couldn't come in because of the colour of my skin, but she was allowed in there.

LINDY KERIN: Zona Moore was 14 and living at the Moree mission when the Freedom Ride rolled into town.

ZONA MOORE: We didn't know what was going to happen once we got on the bus or get to the pool.

All we remember was mayhem. There were screams, there were gunjies, you know, and all these people with placards and I though 'Oh my god, what are we in for now?" and we thought we were going straight into the pool but we had to get past those placards and have Charlie and the students get us in there. We thought we were just going straight in there.

The fight hadn't even started (laughs).

LINDY KERIN: Later today, some of the original Freedom Riders will arrive in Moree to mark the 50 year anniversary.

The manager of the Artesian Aquatic Centre, Julie Rushby, says the town has moved on from its troubled past.

JULIE RUSHBY: I think things are progressing not only here at the pool but within our community. There is... I don't know if divide is the right word, as much as the community is becoming inclusive.

There are still pockets of our community that aren't embracing moving forward.

For me, in speaking to some of the older Indigenous people that would have been either kids or even adults at the Freedom Rides, they've said to me 'Oh, I still don't go to the pool'.

So as part of our service on the Sunday, we did a smoking ceremony to cleanse the place and hopefully remove any bad feelings and hopefully everybody acknowledges that the doors are open.

LINDY KERIN: Speaking to locals about race relations here is still a sensitive subject and many locals were reluctant to share their opinions with AM.

This business owner, who didn't want to be identified, says Moree has changed.

MOREE WOMAN: I think we've come a real long way and I have heaps and heaps of Aboriginal friends here, which... and I take one to line dancing a couple of times a week, (laughs). Very good friends.

We feel we've done our best, the non-Indigenous have done our best.

LINDY KERIN: Fifty years ago, the Freedom Riders were run out of town by violence.

Today, the local council is leading the town's commemorations.

The Deputy Mayor is Sue Price.

SUE PRICE: No one could say that we still haven't got a way to go but things have come a long way. Just our council, for example, we have a 20 per cent Aboriginal employment rate in our council staff and that's very exciting for us as council - and for I think, for the Moree community.

LINDY KERIN: But for Lyall Munro, a mission kid who got on the Freedom Ride in Moree, things haven't changed enough.

LYALL MUNRO: There's certainly racism st...