NSW Aboriginal Affairs Minister Victor Dominello says the ride brought great attention to racism in regional Australia.
“I've got no doubt that what took place in 1965 was a seismic shift in the way that we viewed who we are as Australians,” Mr Dominello told NITV News Political Reporter Myles Morgan.
A group of students from the University of Sydney travelled on a bus through regional towns such as Walgett, Gulargambone, Kempsey, Bowraville and Moree to show wider Australia the experience of Aboriginal Australians. They had been inspired by the 1961 Freedom Rides in the United States.
The students were called the Student Action for Aborigines (SAFA) and were led by Arrernte man Charles Perkins, who went on to become Permanent Secretary of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. They recorded acts of racism against Aboriginal people. This included forbidding Indigenous ex-servicemen from entering the RSL Club in Walgett and making Indigenous people sit in secondary seating at the movie theatre in Bowraville. The Freedom Riders later broadcast this to media around the country.
Mr Dominello believes the Freedom Riders helped awaken Australians to these “appalling” racist practices that many people didn't want to think about.
“Many people realised it was happening but thought 'It doesn't impact on me so I don't need to address it.'"
However, as a result of those Freedom Rides, he says, “it became part of the consciousness of ordinary Australians who were forced to look and think about what was happening in their own backyard.”