National

Freedom Ride II a bit hurtful in places

Setting out to recreate Charles Perkins' legendary Freedom Ride, the group was full of hope.

But the so-called Freedom Riders - 25 indigenous and non-indigenous young people, backed by Aboriginal elders and support workers - soon realised the scale of their battle.

The group last year retraced Perkins' 1965 pilgrimage, covering 2300km across central and north-western NSW and stopping in at 22 towns and communities over two weeks. While Perkins set out to expose the discrimination faced by Aboriginal people in small towns, the group inadvertently became the target of discrimination.

When they stopped at Warwick on the NSW-Queensland border, the young people were taken aback to discover a man thrusting neo-Nazi pamphlets into passing pedestrians hands, apparently in preparation for their arrival. ''It can become an emotional thing when it's just that in your face,'' said 20-year-old Joey Grauner, who lives in Ettalong Beach on the central NSW coast. ''It made you not want to go out.''

The group got together for a ''yarning session'' and resolved they would go on, and they would continue to fight in the spirit of the late Perkins, a key figure behind the 1967 ''Yes'' referendum. ''Visiting the communities that they went through, and the welcomes from the communities and hearing those stories from those people who were there during the original [Freedom Ride] ? it was just so worth it. It was like coming home,'' Mr Grauner said.

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The group's physical journey ended last year but yesterday marked its culmination, when the Freedom Ride bus landed outside the National Gallery to be greeted by Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin and Aboriginal academic Patrick Dodson.

Inside was a kangaroo-skin petition book, its soft skin contrasting with the dour walls and vast ceiling of Gandell Hall.

The book contained the views of the 22 communities visited on the constitutional recognition of indigenous Australians, which the group presented to the expert panel last year.

The 22-member panel yesterday presented its unanimous report to the Government, recommending that, for the first time, indigenous and Torres Strait Islander peoples be formally included in the Constitution.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin said the 2008 apology to the Stolen Generations had ''ended the silence in our nation''.

''But the silence remains in our nation's founding document, our Constitution,'' Ms Macklin said.

''Ending this silence - as we ended the silence as part of the apology - is a mark of respect.

''It allows us to continue to build stronger relationships.'' Professor Dodson, who co-chaired the panel, said that theme had come up time and time again from the communities the Freedom Riders and panel members visited.

''Again and again they told us, 'Now is the time to change','' he told the crowd gathered for the report's launch.

''I'm glad to hear what Ms Macklin has said; [that] no longer should these things be kept silent. Now is the time.''

This reporter is on Twitter: @_biancah