When Machteld Hali first hopped on the Freedom Ride bus in 1965, she had no idea that she was about to make history, or that years later she would return to the town that touched her the most and once again give back to the community.
Hali, a Dutch immigrant who migrated to Australia in 1956, was among a group of students from the University of Sydney who hopped on a bus in 1965 and toured through regional towns in Australia, including Moree, to draw wider attention to the injustice and discrimination against Aboriginal people.
The printmaker shared her story with a crowd of about 80 who attended Friday night’s 50 Years exhibition opening at Bank Art Museum Moree (BAMM).
“Yes, we had no idea we were making history and we went, as you know, we had social surveys put together by Tedd Noffs and we interviewed the townspeople – the caucasian people and the Aboriginal persons about the conditions and we held demonstrations,” she told the crowd on Friday evening.
“Demonstrations about the fact the Aborigines couldn’t go into the RSL, couldn’t swim in the Moree pool or go to the movies in Boggabilla.
“So my first experience of Moree was coming to the pool and we went out to the mission and Charlie [Perkins, who led the Freedom Ride] said to the kids, ‘want to come for a swim, great, hop on the bus, here we go’ and we burst into the pool. And then the mayor, after that, rescinded the motion that they could swim there. We left town thinking we’d done our job but then we heard it had been revoked.
“So we went back and when we went back it was the most frightening experience of my life. We had demonstrations and we were pelted with tomatoes, with eggs and we left town and the locals followed the bus and actually drove the bus off the road.
“So my second coming to Moree was just ... we had that re-enactment basically, where we followed the same trail and toured with a whole lot of current university students and some of us old, original Freedom Riders and everywhere we went, the side of the road was just full of children wearing our red t-shirts, it was unbelievably moving, but Moree was the town that really struck me the most.
“And it had been the town which had been the worst, and the scariest and where we’d had the most frightening experiences and where the discrimination was the strongest. And we came into town and there were children everywhere and then we marched into town and it was just really moving. I had Aboriginal persons throwing themselves around me saying ‘you changed our lives’,” Hali said fighting back tears.
“We had no idea what we were doing. I thought, ‘my God, how wonderful, we somehow made an impact’. And the whole Freedom Ride did make a huge impact and legislation changed after that so it was a big thing in Australian history.”
After attending Moree’s 50th anniversary celebrations in 2015 and chatting to mayor Katrina Humphries, Hali decided to establish the Moree Freedom Ride Scholarship to help send a local Kamilaroi student to university.
She then ran a series of collagraph printmaking workshops for Moree artists to learn new skills, and the artists have since kindly donated a number of the works they created to be sold to raise money for the scholarship.
The 50 Years exhibition features more than 130 prints by Moree artists, with all works for sale for $200 or less.
At Friday’s opening, 25 works were sold, however BAMM director Vivien Clyne said there’s still lots more to sell to raise enough money to send a student to university for three years.
“Keep them coming,” she said.
“The exhibition will be on until August 18, so people have until then to come along and purchase a piece.”
The exhibition was officially opened by mayor Katrina Humphries, with Aunty Gai Roberts performing a Welcome to Country.