Freedom Ride protest remembered six decades on

Almost 60 years ago, a group of Sydney University students set off on a trip across regional NSW in a hired bus.

Led by Indigenous activist Charles Perkins, their aim was to shine a light on racial injustice across the state.

A plaque to recognise the work of Dr Perkins is now on display at the University of Sydney, where he was the first Aboriginal man to graduate in 1966.

The plaque was unveiled on Thursday at a medical research centre named after Dr Perkins, and his wife Eileen Perkins said it was a moment of mixed emotions.

"It's made me remember the serious struggle that Charlie had to go through, the rocky road to achieve the things he's been honoured for," she told AAP.

"It's also made me think of the many many people that supported him on that journey, that made it possible for that social change to happen."

Plaque at Wayside Chapel recognising its role in the 1965 Freedom Ride
A plaque commemorates the Wayside Chapel's role in 1965 Freedom Ride, as part of NAIDOC Week.

The Freedom Ride challenged a ban on Indigenous ex-servicemen entering the Returned Services League club in Walgett, and local laws barring Aboriginal children from swimming pools in Moree and Kempsey.

The Freedom Riders were not received well by locals, who met the group with hostility at each stop on the journey.

The Wayside Chapel in Sydney's Potts Point became the "command centre" for the Freedom Ride during this time, co-ordinating logistics and contact with the media.

The chapel was also recognised for its role in the 1965 Freedom Ride, with the unveiling of a blue plaque.

Wayside pastor and chief executive Jon Owen said he's honoured the chapel has been recognised for its role in supporting the Freedom Ride.

"I don't want it to detract in any way from the legacy of Charles Perkins," Reverend Owen said.

"While we did play a logistics role, (the students) were the ones that were out there on the front line and they were the ones who highlighted the systemic and state sponsored racial injustice that was occurring."

The plaque has been unveiled during NAIDOC Week, which has the theme 'Keep the fire burning! Blak, loud and proud' in 2024.

Rev. Owen said there's still a long road ahead and it's important to redouble the efforts to 'keep the fire burning' on the work of the Freedom Riders.

"The Freedom Riders didn't bring violence to those towns, they unveiled the discomfort and the violence that occurred, the segregation," Rev Owen said.

"The theme of keeping the fires burning says we have a long way to go not only in race relations in this country between black and white Australia, which embarrasses me to say because it's now 2024.

"How do we unveil the systematic issues that still impact black Australia ... there's more that needs to be unveiled as we even begin to dare to hope that we can walk hand in hand, and side by side."

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