Joint Media Release with The Hon. Greg Hunt MP, Minister for the Environment
Fifty years ago today, the Indigenous civil rights protests at the Moree Baths and Swimming Pool forever changed and influenced Australia’s Indigenous civil rights movement and the future of Aboriginal Australians.
“The significance of events at the Moree Baths and Swimming Pool is recognised by its place on the National Heritage List,” Minister Hunt said.
“The Moree Baths and Swimming Pool represents a significant part of the modern Australian story.”
“It is the place where a group of passionate and courageous university students, known as the Freedom Riders and led by a young Charles Perkins, brought the racial discrimination faced by the Indigenous community to the attention and consciousness of the wider community.”
“The events at Moree in February 1965 helped create an environment for change that moved public opinion towards a ‘Yes’ vote in the 1967 referendum to remove the discrimination against Aboriginal Australians from the Australian Constitution.”
“Following the events at Moree, Dr Perkins continued his work and commitment to the advancement of Aboriginal people in Australia throughout the rest of his life. He was awarded the Order of Australia in 1987.”
“The inclusion of the Moree Baths and Swimming Pool in the National Heritage List means this site of outstanding heritage significance will continue to be recognised for future generations to come.”
Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion, said it was sobering to think that just 50 years ago, such actions as those led by Dr Perkins were required to help end discrimination against Aboriginal people.
“The Freedom Rides and the protests in Moree are among the most significant events in modern Indigenous history,” Minister Scullion said.
“We should never underestimate the important role symbolic change can play in delivering positive practical outcomes.”
“Back in 1965, the powerful symbolism of the Freedom Rides helped to bring about a positive change to the Moree council’s pool policy, in turn contributing to the growing public call for wider changes to end Indigenous discrimination.”
“There are echoes of this today, with the Australian Government committed to constitutional recognition – a result that would have a positive impact on practical policies aimed at improving outcomes for Indigenous Australians.”
The story of the Moree Baths and Swimming Pool
On 20 February 1965, a young Aboriginal activist, Charles Perkins, led of group of students from the University of Sydney to protest the official segregation of Aboriginal people from the town swimming pool.
In the lead up to the events at Moree, the students, known as the Freedom Riders, had been travelling throughout rural towns in New South Wales and southern Queensland to draw attention to inadequacies in health and housing and the common discrimination against Aboriginal people.
Moree was the first place the Freedom Riders encountered official discrimination in the form of a by-law targeting Aboriginal people.
The ordinance stated “That no person being a full blooded or half cast aboriginal of Australia, or being person apparently having a mixture of aboriginal blood, shall use, occupy or be present in or upon, or be allowed or be permitted or invited to use, occupy or be present upon the premises of the council known as Memorial Hall…and that no such person as aforesaid shall use, occupy or be present in or be allowed or permitted to use or occupy or be present in or upon the premises of the council known as the Moree Baths or in or upon any of the buildings or places therewith”
Charles Perkins and the Freedom Riders collected a number of children from the mission and attempted to gain entry into the pool. This led to three hours of heated negotiations and during this time a large and hostile crowd gathered. Fights broke out, people were knocked over, punches were thrown at the protesters and several arrests were made.
The protests at the Moree Baths and the stand-off between Freedom Riders and local authorities has become one of the most significant events of the modern Indigenous civil rights movement. The protest ended when Moree Council rescinded the by-law.
The Moree Baths and Swimming Pool Complex was included on the National Heritage List in 2013 as the 100th place on the list.
For more information go to http://www.environment.gov.au/heritage/places/national/moree-baths