Half a century after students helped change the course of Australian history by hopping onto a bus and campaigning for support for the 1967 referendum, students have again stepped forward, seeking to play a pivotal role in this year’s Voice Vote.
While students in 1965 had to charter a bus with a hastily scrawled campaign sign on a sheet as they headed off on the famed Freedom Ride, campaigning for the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, technology enables Yes campaigners to make an impact immediately across the digital frontier.
The Virtual Freedom Ride provides the opportunity for students and staff from education institutions across the country to get informed about the Voice referendum and lend their support, without even having to step onto a bus.
The new website and social media channels have been facilitated by the University of Canberra’s Indigenous Leadership team, with a goal of providing a resource that would be useful to people from schools and universities across the country.
“With a click of a mouse or a post from their phone, students can join the Virtual Freedom Ride, as we fight misinformation and build support for the Voice,” University of Canberra Pro Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Leadership) Professor Maree Meredith said.
“Staff and students have been asking what they can do for months now, not just to advocate for the Voice but also to stand up against some of the inaccurate information that they see about the Voice.”
In 1965, students from Sydney boarded a bus and travelled rural NSW, to highlight the marginalisation of Aboriginal people. They played a critical role in the successful 1967 referendum, which allowed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be counted as part of the population.
In 2023, the Virtual Freedom Ride will provide an opportunity to share insights and inspiration for those who want to support the campaign, as well as more detailed insights about the referendum proposal.
One of the original freedom riders, University of Sydney Professor Ann Curthoys, endorsed the initiative.
“It will help inform people about the Voice and provide them with ideas about how to get involved,” Professor Curthoys said.
“The original Freedom Ride in 1965 was based on the idea, derived from Martin Luther King, of Don’t wait, Act now. The same can be said of the Voice in 2023 — the time has come to change our constitution to ensure Indigenous people have a voice in parliament. Don’t wait, act now.”
Professor Meredith said the site aimed to combat misinformation about the Voice, as well as provide advice on how to support the campaign.
“There have been suggestions that the Voice will create a new bureaucracy, or give Indigenous people more rights than others, or have control over government spending – all of which are just plain wrong,” Professor Meredith said.
“There are even conspiracy theorists suggesting that the Voice is part of a world government plot to weaken Australia. A lot of this misinformation is circulating on social media – and we need students and staff across the country to stand up and set the record straight through their social media and other networks.
“The VFR won’t support misinformation from any group. It is apolitical and simply a grassroots movement for students and staff who want to make change.
“This is a once-in-a generation opportunity for change. I’m really delighted to see so many staff and students lining up for the opportunity to help make change.
The new site is at www.vfr23.com.au