Thursday, 18 October 2018
Two weeks ago I attended an event in Byron Bay in support of Asren Pugh, the Labor candidate for Ballina. There I met a remarkable man, Neville Kelly. He's a life member of the Australian Labor Party. He'd been a member for more than 50 years. I spent some time talking to Ned, as he is known. He told me a story about his involvement in politics and how he came to be engaged, particularly in areas of country New South Wales.
In 1961, Ned moved to Moree. As a member of the local health board, he was appointed by the then minister, Billy Sheehan, to the district hospital board as a director. He went around the hospital to get familiar with it and, as he thought he had seen everything in the hospital, he asked what this shed was a few hundred metres down from the hospital. He'd seen food going to and from that area. He was told that was where the Aboriginals were. The Aboriginal patients were kept in a separate area with inferior food and inferior conditions in 1961.
Ned is a very sprightly gentleman. He told me the story about how he fixed it. He got Billy Sheehan to come up as a minister to open a section of the new hospital. He told Billy Sheehan what the circumstances were in Moree, and Billy Sheehan the day before, of course, said that he would come on the condition that everyone was treated equally. From that day of the minister's visit, segregation ended. But it didn't end in other parts of the Moree area, and this wasn't unfamiliar in other parts of Australia as well.
The Moree Plains Shire Council had carried a resolution in 1955, and that resolution said:
That no person being a full blooded or half cast aboriginal of Australia, or being person apparently having a mixture of aboriginal blood, shall use, occupy or be present in or upon, or be allowed or be permitted or invited to use, occupy or be present upon the premises of the council … known as the Moree Baths …
Which was the local swimming pool. What we saw in the 1960s was the freedom riders that changed that. I seek leave to table, and I thank those opposite for allowing it, an article from the Daily Mirror on 21 February 1965, 'Violence explodes in racist town'. It begins:
White women jeered and spat at girl freedom riders today as racial violence broke out for the first time at Moree.
The work that Jim Spigelman and Charlie Perkins did on those freedom rides is very well-known, but it was people in rural areas who made such a big difference. They had a public meeting at the town hall. Ned went along to that public meeting and moved a resolution that council open up all facilities—the town hall, the swimming pool and, of course, the famous spa there at Moree—which weren't allowed to be used by Aboriginals in that town. What he did then, as the elections were coming up, was he stood and got elected. He came first in being elected to Moree council, showing that beneath the surface the population actually knew it was wrong and were prepared to vote for change. At his first council meeting, he moved just that change.
Ned is an example of a true believer in the Australian Labor Party—a bloke who has never run for any office other than local council, who's given up more than five decades of his life and who's made a real impact. I'm sure there are many people across the political spectrum who do that, and I pay tribute to Ned today and all those who don't get to be members of parliament but who make a difference to their local communities and to their nation.