National Heritage List inscription date 6 September 2013
The Moree Baths and Swimming Pool Complex is of outstanding heritage value to the nation.
During the 1965 Freedom Ride through outback New South Wales, a stark example of official segregation was encountered in the exclusion of Aboriginal people from the swimming pool. The protests brought racial discrimination to the attention and consciousness of the wider community and forced non-aboriginal Australians to examine their attitudes to Aboriginal Australians.
Dr Charles Nelson Perrurle Perkins AO rose to national prominence as a leading Indigenous-rights activist initially through the Freedom Rides and the events at Moree Baths. Dr Perkins remained an iconic figure for Indigenous rights and was honoured for his commitment to the advancement of Aboriginal people in Australia.
Inspired by the Freedom Rides in America, the Student Action for Aborigines (SAFA)-led by Indigenous student activist Charles Perkins-decided to visit by bus rural towns in New South Wales and southern Queensland. The Freedom Riders aimed to draw attention to inadequacies in health and housing and to support Aboriginal people in challenging the status quo. The Freedom Riders adopted Martin Luther King’s approach of non-violent resistance.
The Freedom Ride bus set off from the University of Sydney in February 1965 with 29 students. The first stop was Wellington, followed by Gulargambone and Walgett. The Freedom Riders, along with local Aboriginal activists, protested at the Walgett Returned and Services League’s (RSL) club, which refused membership to Aboriginal ex-servicemen. Protesters picketed the Walgett RSL from noon to sunset holding placards stating ‘Good enough for Tobruk - why not Walgett RSL?’. The picket line provoked heated debate and anger in the “white” community. As the Freedom Riders left Walgett, two attempts were made to run the bus off the road.
Moree Baths and Swimming Pool Complex
The Freedom Riders arrived in Moree on 19 February 1965.
Moree was the first place the Freedom Riders had encountered a by-law that made racial discrimination against Indigenous people official. A Moree Council by-law prevented Indigenous people from entering the Moree Baths and Pool.
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 and eggs were thrown at the protesters and several arrests were made.
Contemporary media reports compared the events at Moree Baths as being "little different from the American South". The protests and picket line at the Moree Baths was the best known and most photographed event of the Freedom Ride. The protest ended when Moree Council rescinded the 1955 by-law.
The events at the Moree Baths were a seminal moment in the Australian Indigenous civil rights movement. It captured the attention of the media and the issue of injustice to Aboriginal people was brought to the attention of all Australians. While there were other confrontations during the Freedom Ride, notably at Kempsey and Bowraville, the events at Moree have come to symbolise the Freedom Ride.
Legacy of the Freedom Ride
The Freedom Ride was an important contributor to creating an environment for change. It helped move public opinion towards a ‘Yes’ vote in the 1967 referendum to remove the discrimination against Aboriginal Australians from the Australian Constitution.
The Freedom Ride has been described as one of those transitional moments in Australian history when one era fades and another takes its place (Clark J. 2008, Aborigines and Activism - Race, Aborigines and the Coming of the Sixties to Australia, University of Western Australia Press: Crawley, WA).
Dr Charles Nelson Perrurle Perkins AO
The Moree Baths is of outstanding heritage value to the nation as the place where the life and works of Aboriginal activist Dr Charles Nelson Perrurle Perkins AO came to national attention.
Charles Perkins, or Charlie as he was commonly known, was born at the Alice Springs Telegraph Station Aboriginal Reserve (formerly the overland telegraph office of the Postmaster-General’s Department). Charles Perkins was the son of an Eastern Arrernte woman and a Kalkadoon father. His mother, Hetty Perkins, recognising there were limited educational opportunities in Alice Springs, took up an offer for him to go to St Francis House, which was an Anglican home for boys of mixed Aboriginal and other descent in Semaphore South, Adelaide. Discipline was harsh and racial taunts were a daily occurrence.
In the early 1950s Charles Perkins began to play soccer at St Francis. His outstanding skills as a soccer player led him to England in 1957 to trial for Everton. He was offered a position with the club, but declined due to homesickness and his poor treatment by the club. In 1963 he went to the University of Sydney and became the first Aboriginal man to graduate from university. It was here that he first focused on campaigning against racism and the rights of Aboriginal people.
In 1964 he became the President of Student Action for Aborigines and in 1965 the group, led by Charles Perkins, went on the Freedom Ride. His actions at Moree began a lifelong commitment to achieving economic, political, educational and social equity for Aboriginal people in Australia.
Charlie Perkins joined the Commonwealth Office of Aboriginal Affairs in 1969. In 1989 he became Chair of the Arrernte Council of Central Australia. He was the first Aboriginal Australian to become a permanent head of a federal government department and by 1984 he was Secretary of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. In 1993 Mr Perkins was elected a commissioner of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) and in 1994 he was elected Deputy Chairperson of ATSIC.
Charles Perkins passed away in October 2000 and a state funeral was held in his honour in Sydney. The then-Deputy Premier of New South Wales moved a condolence motion in the NSW Legislative Assembly acknowledging Charles Perkin’s extraordinary work to bring about a better future for Aboriginal people.
Consultation with Indigenous people about the Moree Baths and Swimming Pool Complex national heritage listed place
Indigenous people are the primary source of information on the value of their heritage and should be consulted on a proposed action likely to significantly impact on the listed Indigenous heritage values of the place and/or on a protected matter that has Indigenous heritage values (like listed threatened species).
Prior to undertaking any action, proponents should contact the appropriate Aboriginal Traditional Owners and custodians of the land on which the action will occur that has listed values that may be significantly impacted, as well as the Aboriginal Traditional Owners and custodians of adjoining lands that may be significantly impacted by the action.
A letter from the appropriate representative bodies declaring that they have been adequately consulted on the action informs the Department that a best practice approach has been undertaken. Further information on Aboriginal representative bodies is available from Native Title Corporations or via local Aboriginal Land Councils. Guidance about best practice Indigenous engagement can be found at Engage early – guidance for proponents on best practice Indigenous engagement for environmental assessments under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).