SAFA students demonstrating in front of the Walgett RSL. (Courtesy of Pat Healy.)

The Demonstrations

Walgett was the site of the first Freedom Ride demonstration. The students stood in front of the local RSL that segregated Aboriginal people and did not allow Aboriginal war veterans to join as members. Led by Charles Perkins, the Student Action for Aborigines (SAFA) organised a bus tour with the aim of gathering information and to bring media attention to racism in regional New South Wales in February 1965. Walgett was included as ‘the high water mark of racism’. As the students stood challenged and abused by local whites while demonstrating in Walgett, local Murri women spoke up to witness the RSL preventing Aboriginal people from entering. Other restaurants in Walgett also segregated Aboriginal customers and Harry Hall and Ted Fields had been protesting against their exclusion for some time and continued until they broke the bans.