Griffith High School students study Freedom Ride

Year 10 students from Griffith High School have been studying Sue Lawson’s Freedom Ride. The book is based on the events of the Freedom Rides which were a series of protests led by Charles Perkins and Sydney University students.


The protests raised awareness of racism in regional towns throughout Australia and were fundamental in changing laws and rights for Aboriginal people in Australia.


Below is an essay composed by Armand Gumera about Sue Lawson’s Freedom Ride.

Freedom Ride (2015) by Sue Lawson

The 21st century coming-of-age novel, Freedom Ride (2015) was composed by Australian author Sue Lawson. It explores issues that are of importance to both the text and our society. Issues that include racism, violence, and bullying among many others. Lawson uses these issues to convey the central themes to the reader. Themes regarding judging people according to their race, the idea that people who grow up in ignorance do not know any different and the concept of people who grow up feeling insecure and neglected doubt themselves. In the story, these are shown from the perspective of Robbie, the main character. He has been raised by a conservative family, in Walgaree, a small town in NSW. Set in the 1960’s, when racial discrimination was widely accepted in Australia, this diagnostic text uses true events such as the Australian Freedom Ride led by Charles Perkins, to create a fictionalised story that represents and presents, in an engaging manner, these main themes to the audience.

In Freedom Ride, one theme that is communicated is the widespread prevalence of people judging other people based on the colour of their skin. This is clearly evident in the novel when in Chapter 31 Robbie’s dad delivers a statement regarding an Aboriginal boy, saying “It’s wrong. Him (Barry) giving an Abo a job when a white boy would do it better.” The use of the short sentence ‘It’s wrong’, is used to create a sense of tension or demand and the use of the word ‘wrong’ shows the tone of Robbie’s dad when concerning Aborigines; it also establishes his position and view towards Micky an Aboriginal resident of the town, and the following sentence ‘Him giving an Abo a job when a white boy would do it better’ implies that his dad’s world-view is that of white superiority and prejudice towards black people. Another example of how this theme is being presented is in Chapter 24 where the McIntosh family decided to leave the caravan park after seeing Mickey working there, Mrs McIntosh describes Micky as a “dirty boong” uttering it in a hostile tone. This means that Mrs McIntosh and her family hold the exact same view as Robbie’s Dad but displayed more hatred. This is not surprising for the reason that during the period in which the novel was set, many people were especially racist. Therefore, this theme of judging people based on their race is effectively portrayed by Sue Lawson in the book by using the techniques of short sentences to create emotion and her choice of emotive and powerful words.

The novel also presents the idea that people that grow up in ignorance do not know any different. This theme is depicted in Chapter 9 when Barry asks Robbie if his grandmother found overseas travel enjoyable and Robbie responded with:

“Not a fan of anything outside Walgaree, especially anything foreign. Wish I had a penny for every time she told me flying makes your brain bleed and that concerts are ‘dens of sex and drugs’. Or that criminals with evil on their minds do ‘unspeakable things’ to travellers.”

This quote suggests that Nan is a very conservative person; who has most likely obtained this mentality from living in a small isolated town with limited access to the outside world with the exception of newspapers which are most of the time biased. The idiom ‘Wish I had a penny for every time’ suggests that Nan frequently mentions these issues to Robbie. Also, Lawson uses visually descriptive words such as ‘flying makes your brain bleed’ and ‘dens of sex and drugs’ to illustrate what Nan’s outlook on foreign travel looks like on the minds of the reader. These examples effectively portray the attitudes which were prevalent at the time, showing that ignorant attitudes were not confined to matters by race.

Furthermore, Freedom Ride explores the theme of people who grow up feeling insecure and neglected doubt themselves. This theme is revealed through Lawson’s characterisation of Robbie, the protagonist. An example of this is in Chapter 23 where Robbie tried to warn Micky (the Aboriginal boy) that Wright (the bully) would beat him up but could not for the reason that he was a weak cowardly boy, in the end of the chapter he states:

“I worked out what I needed to say, but when I opened my mouth the words evaporated. At the end of the day, Micky turned left and I turned right, and the words were never said.”

The first sentence indicates that he felt nervous, he had the words but he could not deliver them, which then results in him not being able to inform Micky about the impending assault. His self-doubt was caused by neglect and insecurity. His Nan and Dad mistreated Robbie in their own household. This quote created a sense of anxiety and helplessness. We have access to Robbie’s interior monologue, which obviously presented his personality to the audience. The example shown gave the reader a realistic and relatable view of a person with low self-esteem in a very conservative environment and the effects it had, and for this reason the theme of people who grow up feeling insecure and neglected doubt themselves is brilliantly conveyed to the audience.

By exploring the text Freedom Ride in sufficient depth it becomes obvious that it provides themes that are portrayed effectively through the techniques of engaging characterisation, short, concise sentences, and emotive language. Also, it clearly shows powerful statements regarding race, but not just race; it too offers the dramatic journey of a teenager through all these issues in the past which becomes relevant to our society in the 21st Century as we still see these issues occurring today. Freedom Ride, stands out among other texts from its historical period and genre. This is why it communicates to the modern readers exceptionally.

By Armand Gumera – Year 10 Griffith High School

Story contributed by Allison Stewart from Griffith High School. Essay by Armand Gumera from Griffith High School.