• Charles Perkins and local boys from Moree at the pool in 1965 (Credit: Ann Curthoys)Source: Credit: Ann Curthoys
An ugly splash in Australia's history will be remembered today in the regional NSW town of Moree. A swimming pool that once segregated Aboriginal children, helped create an environment for change and a 'Yes' vote in the 1967 referendum.
NITV Staff Writer

20 Feb 2017 - 4:35 PM  UPDATED 20 Feb 2017 - 4:46 PM

The 1965 Freedom Rides made international headlines and were the cause for major turning points in political history. Starting from the grounds of Sydney University, where 29 students set out on a journey to raise awareness about the living standards, segregation and racism experienced by Aboriginal people in Australia.

Led by enigmatic Arrente man, Charles Perkins, Jim and his fellow students would become part of a civil rights movement that would change the nation forever.

For the Freedom Riders, the biggest and most publicised moment of their journey in the 1960's would take place 200 kilometres north east of Walgett, in the small town of Moree.

“The only good ones a dead one,”


“We want our tourist attraction, we don't wanna hand it over to the blackfellas and as far as I'm concerned run the lot of em out of this swimming pool,"

Were just some of the archived comments recorded of angered people, who wanted to deny Aboriginal people, young and old, access to the Moree Baths.

"The only good ones a dead one"
"Only a good what Is a dead one?
"A German or a blackfella!"
"We want our tourist attraction we don't wanna hand it over to the blackfellas and as far as I'm concerned run the lot of em out of this swimming pool"
"What, all the Aborigines?"
"Every last one of em!-and the university students as well-they're the ones that caused the trouble in this town, run em out-PUT EM OUT OF TOWN"

Upon arrival of Moree, the Freedom Riders attempted to enter the town's main tourist attraction - the Moree Artesian Baths, but under council by-laws, there were heavy regulations restricting the free passage of Indigenous patrons in and out of the pools. 

Two years ago marked the 50th anniversary of the Freedom riders and NITV spoke to Moree resident and well-known Kamilaroi elder, Lyall Munro Senior about his past memories.

“When I came here I was confronted by racism in a big way, and you really saw it - you had to see written documents, citation that said you couldn't swim in the pool because you couldn’t swim in the pool if you were quarter cast, half-caste or full blood.”

Several hours after the Freedom Riders spent time in discussions with police, pool management and the local council - the by-laws were revoked. Pleased with the outcome, the Freedom Riders left Moree, but once they had left the town, the by-laws were reinstated and enforced. Once they heard the news, the bus headed back to town, picking up children from the Moree Aboriginal Mission, with one intention only. To escort the kids into the pools.

Kamilaroi elder, Lyall Munro Senior and the Moree Aboriginal Advancement Committee, had already been fighting against the town's racist by-laws by the time the Freedom Riders hit town. Munro recalls the scenes that unfolded.

"We were fighting for the cause but not in the manner which the Freedom Riders done, so we stood and watched in the crowd and let the kids get up the from with the bus ride with Charlie, it was their day and it was an ugly scene, pretty rowdy, pretty wild, a lot of violence.... Jim Spigelman [one of the riders] now he got knocked out, he got king hit and knocked out," he said.

"The discrimination, the motion was a stepping stone away from apartheid. It was like the deep south of America, that's why we called it the deep south of Australia…Yet some kids who were fair could sneak in unbeknownst to the people in charge, the darker brothers couldn't get in see. That's one thing they had over em"

"He's just trying to take these Aboriginal kids and give them a swim in the pool and hundreds of people turn out to stop them.”

For one Arrernte woman from Central Australia, who is the daughter of Aboriginal activist, Charles Perkins, Rachel Perkins told NITV News that the images of that protest still leave her in disbelief.

"You see my father with this cluster of six Aboriginal kids and he's just trying to take them into the pool, that's all he's trying to do, he's just trying to take these Aboriginal kids and give them a swim in the pool and hundreds of people turn out to stop them,” Perkins explained.

“I mean it's just one of those extraordinary moments where such a simple thing as an Aboriginal child enjoying a swim in the local pool can cause such a stir and it did but the great thing was, Moree rescinded the by law about the pool."

A public meeting that followed saw the town voted to desegregate the pool and lift the colour bar.

Freedom Ride: Elder asks for apology from Council for past racism
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