“If you have come to help me,
you are wasting your time.
If you have come because your
liberation is bound up with mine,
then let us work together.”
– A Brisbane collective quote, Sue Lawson, Freedom Ride
Robbie knows bad things happen in Walgaree. But it’s nothing to do with him. That’s just the way the Aborigines have always been treated. In the summer of 1965 racial tensions in the town are at boiling point, and something headed Walgaree’s way will blow things apart. It’s time for Robbie to take a stand. Nothing will ever be the same.
There are very few authors that I have an enormous amount of respect for and Sue Lawson is one of them. She is one of the most poignant and to-the-point authors I have read. She doesn’t beat around the bush and she certainly doesn’t shy away from exploring the hard stuff. Her latest book – Freedom Ride – is no exception. There are many parts of Australian history that are extremely sensitive and still spark many great debates. The history between white Australians and the Aborigines has always been a tense one and while this is not a forum for voicing my personal opinions, I think it is fair to say that we have a fair bit to be held accountable for. What I love about Freedom Ride is that Sue Lawson suggests exactly that!
Fifteen-year-old Robbie Bower lives in a small country town riddled with racism and ignorance, but it’s 1964 going on ‘65 and that’s just the way it is. While Robbie can see that something is not quite right about the views of the townsfolk and his family, he hasn’t developed a voice of his own yet and so he shies away from confrontation. Enter Barry, a young and confident fellow who has recently returned from the UK where colour bans are almost a thing of the past. Robbie starts working for Barry at the caravan park and is introduced to Mickey, a young aboriginal boy. As they continue to work together, the townsfolk start getting more and more angry. Before long, fists are flying and property gets damaged. To top it all off, the Freedom Ride is heading to town; a young group of students aiming to raise awareness of the health, education and housing conditions of the Australian aborigines. After two massive showdowns, Robbie finally finds his voice and in an act of great courage, stands up for what is right.
This was no easy book to read. Many of the characters are very unpleasant and the language Lawson uses is crude and offensive but as she states at the start of the book, these words were commonly accepted in 1964/5 and are now recognised as being ignorant, racist and incredibly demeaning. Freedom Ride is a book that is so forward that it was uncomfortable to read at times. The saddest aspect of the story is the way history repeats itself and how generations don’t change unless someone has the guts to make a stand. Lawson makes a point of showing how impressionable young minds will regurgitate what they hear at home, at school and at the local pool until it becomes something they believe themselves. It’s a very sad cycle. Robbie is the exception in his little town and although he certainly has his moments of cowardice, he takes in everything he hears and sees and makes up his own mind. He decides what is wrong or right and although it is alienating, he recognises that the few that stand beside you are the ones who count. What I love most about Lawson’s books is the way she gives a voice to those who will make the most difference; she gives her characters the right to choose their own path.
Lawson has managed to capture a pivotal moment in history that is evocative in every sense, and completely remarkable in every way.
AUTHOR: Sue Lawson
PUBLISHER: Black Dog Books
PUB DATE: July 2015
Thank you to Walker Books Australia for sending me a reading copy in exchange for an honest review!