Moree Aboriginal elder Wayne Nean reflects on 1965 Freedom Rides, 55 years on

Looking back at photos from the historic Freedom Rides visit to Moree - which are currently on display at the Dhiiyaan Aboriginal Centre as part of its Years of Knockbacks exhibition celebrating the 55th anniversary of the 1965 Freedom Rides - a now 66-year-old Wayne Nean makes light of the fact that every single white person couldn't get out of the pool quick enough when he and a bunch of fellow Aboriginal children jumped in on that historic day in February 1965.

"Look at all those little black tadpoles swimming around," he laughed, pointing to one particular photo which shows white children standing on the pool deck, while the last few scramble to get out of the pool, afraid they'd be somehow contaminated by the Aboriginal children in the water.

Wayne Nean points to the "little back tadpoles" swimming in the water, in a photo which is part of the Dhiiyaan Aboriginal Centre's Freedom Rides exhibition, 'Years of Knockbacks'.

Wayne Nean points to the "little back tadpoles" swimming in the water, in a photo which is part of the Dhiiyaan Aboriginal Centre's Freedom Rides exhibition, 'Years of Knockbacks'.

Mr Nean was referring to words spoken by former Moree mayor Bill Lloyd, during discussions of rescinding the 1955 by-law banning Aboriginal people from the Moree pool.

"He said, 'just imagine you sent your daughter, or wife, or mother, or sister over there to the pool and they got impregnated by those black tadpoles'," Mr Nean said.

"How sick that people talked like that."

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As an 11-year-old at the time, Mr Nean, who grew up in the mission at Mehi Crescent, was oblivious to the racism that was rife in Moree in 1965 - "we were conditioned to think that's just the way it was; we didn't know any different".

"Looking back, it was very racist then," he said.

"We weren't allowed to do any shopping. We used to jump in the manager's truck and go to the police station to get our rations. We'd walk across to the old Pan Kees shop. Once we got our flour, sugar and milk, we'd wait for the truck to pick us up again.

"If we were found anywhere in town roaming around, we were charged with trespassing and people would often be shipped away, never to be seen again."

Mr Nean still clearly remembers the day when Aboriginal university student activist Charlie Perkins and a bus full of university students arrived at the mission, asking if anyone would like to go to the town pool. It was February 16, 1965.

"When Charlie came over with the bus down to the mission at Mehi Crescent they sung out, 'would anyone like to go out to the pool?'," Mr Nean recalled.

"We were all excited because our own pool [on the mission] was closed down and we were swimming in the river.

"So we thought it was great. We were so excited to get the opportunity to go to the pool, we didn't know what was going on. We were just happy to be part of it.

"Being young, we didn't know about racism and all that."

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When the bus arrived at the pool, Mr Nean said they were "shocked" by the hostility that greeted them as a crowd of angry people had began to gather outside.

"We were shocked to hear the language - 'black this and black that'," he said.

"We didn't know whether to laugh about it or cry about it. We didn't understand. The older ones took offence to it.

"We didn't realise that not letting us swim in the pool created so much disrespect and disharmony."

When they were finally allowed into the pool, following a heated argument between the Freedom Riders, the pool manager and Moree mayor, Mr Nean said it was a great feeling.

Charlie Perkins (left) pictured in the pool with the group of Aboriginal children, including an 11-year-old Wayne Nean (top, third from left). This photo forms part of the Dhiiyaan Aboriginal Centre's collection, which is currently featured in the 'Years of Knockbacks' exhibition celebrating the 55th anniversary of the Freedom Rides.

Charlie Perkins (left) pictured in the pool with the group of Aboriginal children, including an 11-year-old Wayne Nean (top, third from left). This photo forms part of the Dhiiyaan Aboriginal Centre's collection, which is currently featured in the 'Years of Knockbacks' exhibition celebrating the 55th anniversary of the Freedom Rides.

"We were just as excited to jump in the pool with Charlie than we were when we first jumped on the bus," he said.

Mr Nean had no idea at the time that he was making history; he and the other children were just excited about swimming in a nice pool "instead of dodging old carcasses in the river" on a hot day.

Jubilant that the colour ban had been lifted, the Freedom Riders left Moree to continue their trip highlighting racial segregation across western NSW. But when local councillor Bob Brown attempted to take another group of Aboriginal children to the pool that next day, the manager refused them entry.

So the Freedom Riders decided to turn the bus around and returned to Moree on February 19. They collected another group of Aboriginal children and when arriving at the pool Perkins attempted to purchase tickets for himself and 10 children.

During the three-hour hostile stand-off, hundreds of people gathered outside the pool, some throwing rotten tomatoes and eggs, while others spat at the student protesters, igniting fights and violence.

A large, angry mob gathered outside the pool in an attempt to stop the Aboriginal children from entering. This photo forms part of the Dhiiyaan Aboriginal Centre's collection, which is currently featured in the 'Years of Knockbacks' exhibition celebrating the 55th anniversary of the Freedom Rides.

A large, angry mob gathered outside the pool in an attempt to stop the Aboriginal children from entering. This photo forms part of the Dhiiyaan Aboriginal Centre's collection, which is currently featured in the 'Years of Knockbacks' exhibition celebrating the 55th anniversary of the Freedom Rides.

Eventually, mayor Bill Lloyd arrived at the pool, agreeing to rescind the 1955 by-law and permanently desegregate the pool.

And while Aboriginal people have since been able to enjoy the Moree pool along with the rest of the community, Mr Nean has only returned three times - one of these was for the 50th anniversary celebrations in 2015, and another time was for the ABC's The Pool documentary.

"I didn't feel comfortable," he said.

"It felt like you were trespassing."

Mr Nean said while he believes some segregation still exists at the pool today - "young people tell me today that they feel uncomfortable. They're still regarded as unhygienic and [people] are always eyeing you off" - Moree has come a long way since 1965.

This month marks the 55th anniversary of the historic 1965 Freedom Rides.