We were young students at the University of Sydney when we took part in the Freedom Ride that took place in February 1965 through the country communities of northern New South Wales. The ride was headed by the famed Aboriginal campaigner Charles (Charlie) Perkins.
Voting yes in Saturday’s referendum would be an additional step forward in the long journey toward justice and equity for Australia’s First Peoples, and we encourage all Australians to do so. It moves us even one step more closer to realizing the national goal of “a fair go for all” and Freedom in Australia.
On the way to achieving that objective, we took a route that was bumpy, winding, and covered in dust. We experienced evident discrimination against Aboriginal people in the towns of New South Wales in 1965 solely due to the fact that these people were Aboriginal.
How many people living in Australia now are aware that a former Aboriginal soldier who had fought for Australia in the second world war was turned away from the Walgett RSL club? Or that access to the swimming pool in Moree was refused to youngsters who identified as Aboriginal? Or that indigenous people from Bowraville were segregated from each other in the theater by a partition made of wood and made to sit in the first few rows of the auditorium? They were refused access to the local pubs in that town as well as in other towns, right?
Even though it does not happen as frequently as it did back then, such blatant discrimination is nevertheless all too common in today’s society. However, the difficulties our country has had in “closing the gap” is a strong indication that we are not yet the land of a fair chance for all yet.
Those of us who took part in the Freedom Ride were a microcosm of students at the time; we represented numerous faculties and a wide variety of perspectives and beliefs, including Christians, humanists, socialists, and conservatives of all kinds. There was even a member of the Country party, which was the progenitor of today’s Nationals party. Despite our divergent political views, we were unanimous in our opposition to racism and discrimination, as well as our determination to take action in response to these problems.
We are of the opinion that all Australians, regardless of their political leanings, religious beliefs, racial backgrounds, occupational choices, or geographical location, are capable of coming together in support of the straightforward idea of recognizing Australia’s First Peoples in our constitution by enshrining their right to have their voices heard.
The most representative assembly of Indigenous people to take place in recent decades was convened at Uluru in 2017, and they put in a request for the voice. They want a solution that was not only workable but also efficient, one that would assist the country in arriving at sound choices.
They desired to have a voice, but not in the capacity of a decision-making body or even a veto; rather, they desired to have a voice in the sense that they could contribute advice and opinions to the parliament, which is the body that does make the choices.
Since Charlie Perkins has been gone from our midst for the past 23 years, we do not attempt to speak in his stead. But Charlie was always a passionate advocate for his people, and he realized how important it was that Indigenous Australians had a voice to speak for them. In other words, Charlie was always a voice for his people. We are going to vote yes in his honor because some of us had the opportunity to go with him on the Freedom Ride all those many years ago.
Voting yes will allow our nation to move one more step closer to achieving justice and fairness, and we are calling on all Australians who share this goal to vote with us.