'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.' - author Jackie French

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Review: Freedom Ride

It’s the summer of 1965 in the small country town of Walgaree. Teenager Robbie knows that things are difficult for local Aboriginal families, but that’s the way it has always been and it’s nothing to do with him. His life is hard enough as he tries to avoid annoying his stern and unforgiving grandmother who finds fault with everything he does and says.

His father isn’t much better and neither of them would tolerate Robbie offering an opinion on the overt racism evident in the town.

Robbie’s plan to simply stay in the background goes awry when he gets a part time job at the local caravan park and meets Barry Gregory, returned to Walgaree to run the park after his father’s death. Barry doesn’t subscribe to the racist opinions of most of the townspeople and his comments and attitude starts to affect how Robbie views the things happening around him.

As racial tensions build with the news that the Freedom Ride protesters will be stopping over in Walgaree to promote their message of equality, Robbie will have to choose between quietly accepting the views of his father and grandmother and making a stand against injustice.

Either way, nothing will ever be the same again.

Freedom Ride is a powerful portrait of a significant event in Australia’s history – the Freedom Ride through a series of regional Australian towns protesting racism and mistreatment of Australian Aboriginals. This novel is an important reminder for Australian teens (and adults) that the images of racial segregation and intolerance we so readily associated with America in the 1950s and 60s are just as applicable to Australia at that time.

While modern readers may find the racist language and attitudes jarring, they are part of a realistic setting for Robbie’s growing awareness of the problems in Walgaree. Robbie’s conversations with Barry Gregory, Barry’s mother, and Micky, an indigenous teenager who is also employed at the caravan park, prompt him to question things he has always simply accepted and lead readers to ask themselves similar questions.

I was fascinated by the unfolding social drama and escalating racial tension in the town of Walgaree and prompted to find out more about the Freedom Ride, which I knew very little about. I was also heartbroken for Robbie as he became increasingly aware of the injustice evident in the town, shattering his childlike naiveté and forcing him to make some very difficult decisions.

It is hard to come away from this novel without feeling battered and bruised. We rarely focus on the injustices shown to Australia’s Indigenous people throughout our history beyond the events during the very early years of British settlement. Freedom Ride is an important reminder that we still need people brave enough to make a stand against injustice if we wish to have a respectful, tolerant and inclusive society.

A very timely and thought provoking novel.

There are teachers' notes available for this book and you can also read about Sue Lawson's inspiration for writing Freedom Ride in this KBR guest post.

Title: Freedom Ride
Author: Sue Lawson
Publisher: Black Dog Books, $17.95 RRP
Publication Date: July 2015
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781925126365
For ages: 13+
Type: Young Adult Fiction

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