Blood Brothers – Freedom Ride

Blood Brothers – Freedom Ride
WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
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Black-and-white historical interview footage gets the response of white folk to Aborigines. The footage, shot on city streets, and in homes of white folk, reveals how Aborigines are viewed by the others.

Summary by Romaine Moreton

The 1965 interview footage of white folks’ response to Aboriginal people is insightful and, more often than not, based on the speakers having never met an Aboriginal person. The issue of Aboriginal representation has become an incredibly important one due to the fact that the beliefs that many whites hold of Aboriginal peoples are based on second or third-hand information, often through the media. The opening sequence of this vox pop sets the tone of the film.

Blood Brothers – Freedom Ride Synopsis

A documentary that intercuts interview material with historical footage, Freedom Ride, written and directed by Rachel Perkins, delves into the political motivations of her father, Dr 'Kumantjayi’ (Charlie) Perkins. Perkins was a university student in the 60s and led other students on a 'freedom ride’ through rural communities where the segregation between whites and Aborigines were still in place.

Curator's Notes

The second episode of the Blood Brothers series written and directed by Rachel Perkins, gives a good account of the political motivations and emergent voice of Dr 'Kumantjayi’ (Charlie) Perkins. Dr 'Kumantjayi’ Perkins as a young university student organised a 'freedom ride’, modelled on the freedom rides organised in the USA by African Americans to fight racial segregation and discrimination. The close relationship between father as subject and daughter as interviewer gives this film an intimate feel, and the importance of the work of political activist Dr Perkins is documented in the work of his daughter Rachel. The first Aboriginal person to graduate from a university, Dr Perkins became one of the most important Indigenous leaders of the modern era.

Rachel Perkins is one of the most influential Indigenous filmmakers in the present time. The content of Rachel Perkins’ films is very much about Indigenous cultural preservation, and communicates the significance of Indigenous cultural practice and tradition to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. Other films by Rachel Perkins include Radiance (1998), One Night The Moon (2001), Yeperenye Federation Festival: The Road Ahead Concert (2003).

'Kumantjayi’ is the name used in Arrernte culture when a person is deceased. Dr Perkins passed away in 2000, and in the culture of the Arrernte people, the person’s first name is replaced with the word 'Kumantjayi’ out of respect.

Notes by Romaine Moreton

Eduction Notes

This clip shows interviews conducted in 1965 with non-Indigenous Australians on the subject of their views on Indigenous Australians. The interviews are filmed in people’s homes, in the street and at a social function. Footage of Dr Kumantjayi (Charles) Perkins speaking publicly on the issue of Anglo-Australians’ responsibility to Indigenous Australians follows. Finally there is newsreel footage of the protests that took place on the Freedom Ride of 1965. Two intertitles are used to provide information and context. The clip is mostly black-and-white footage.

Educational value points

  • The clip features Dr Charles Perkins, a pioneer in Indigenous political leadership and activism. Perkins (1936–2000) moved to Sydney in 1963 to study at the University of Sydney. As the leader of Student Action for Aborigines he was an articulate spokesman for and played an integral role in the Freedom Ride of 1965. He went on to provide inspiration and leadership in key roles as a national Aboriginal leader and spokesperson until his death in 2000.
  • The non-Indigenous Australians interviewed in this clip reveal in their comments their separation from and ignorance about Indigenous people and cultures, exposing the political and racial context of Australia in the 1960s. At the time Australia was regarded as a homogeneous society, with policies of immigration and assimilation largely designed to maintain this status quo. Indigenous Australians were not included on a national census, nor were they guaranteed the right to vote until 1967.
  • The clip clearly contrasts the non-Indigenous Australians who, Perkins says, talk about providing opportunities for Aboriginal people ‘but don’t do it’ and the University of Sydney students who in 1964 decided it was time to act. From a young Charles Perkins stating that while most Anglo-Australians claim to ‘want to give the Aborigine a fair go’ they do nothing to ensure it, the clip cuts to footage of students carrying a banner that reads ‘Student Action For Aborigines’. The Freedom Ride of 1965, in which Perkins played a major role, was designed to confront non-Indigenous Australian society with the racial injustice that it was ignoring not just in rural New South Wales but throughout Australia.
  • The Student Action for Aborigines movement had its inception at the University of Sydney as a result of criticism of Australian students by the US press in 1964 for attending a rally in support of the newly enacted US Civil Rights Bill while apparently ignoring racism at home. The student association organised a concert and rally in July 1964 in support of Indigenous Australian rights, addressed by the only two Indigenous students at Sydney University at the time, Perkins and Gary Williams.
  • Indigenous Australian filmmaker Rachel Perkins (1970–) portrays her father’s story in Freedom Ride, the first episode in the SBS series Blood Brothers (1993). Her later works explore and communicate a range of experiences of Indigenous Australian people. She has directed the feature films Radiance (1998) and One Night the Moon (2001). She was a key creator on the SBS series First Australians (2008) and edited the accompanying book First Australians: an illustrated history (2008).
Rachel Perkins and Ned Lander
Director and Writer:
Rachel Perkins