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The repressive years

By Christine Fogg - posted Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Sydney's model of "family-friendly activism" ended on Saturday with the APEC march, when participants found themselves reliving protests in the old-fashioned Queensland style.

Exactly 40 years after the march remembered in Brisbane as the Big March - the civil liberties march on Friday, September 8, 1967 - Sydney became Brisbane, circa the repressive years.

An exhibition hosted by the Fryer Library at the University of Queensland, Radical Protest and Street Marches in Brisbane, 1960-1980, records protest actions in Brisbane then.


Taking to the streets in Brisbane to express your opinion in the 1960s and 1970s was not for the faint-hearted or the infirm. Political dissent then was a serious business.

Even before the Bjelke-Petersen years, with a deeply conservative government determined to show protestors "who was boss", marchers could be targeted, bashed by police, arrested, strip-searched and spend at least a night in the Brisbane Watchhouse.

But things used to be very different in Sydney, where demonstrations, at least recently, were often cheerful, laid-back, family-friendly affairs. Elderly people came along and parents pushed prams past a few smiling police officers waving them on their way. People dropped in and out of marches as they grabbed a coffee and socialised with friends.

The scene in Sydney on the anti-war APEC march on September 8, 2007 was very different. Helicopters hovered overhead under dark clouds as marchers arrived at Town Hall at 10am for the forum. After the speakers, the organisers warned protestors not to react to provocation offered by neo-nazis or police.

To start with the march was still cheerful, but stopping for a coffee during the short walk from Town Hall to Hyde Park did not seem a good idea as hundreds of grim-faced police, some in full riot gear with police dogs, lined the shop-fronts and barred access to side-streets. Reinforced buses blocked the intersections. Not far away riot vehicles blasted down the street, followed by a water cannon and more police on motorbikes.

Hemmed in by police at the front of the march, people streamed into Hyde Park, while behind them groups of people sat down on the road. Meanwhile, at the back of the march groups of six police jumped on top of demonstrators, wrestled them to the ground, and dragged them away. The mood became grim as elderly people tried to climb over barricades to escape.


After the march, a Human Rights Monitors spokesperson alleged that police officers removed their badges so they could not be identified for assault charges. It all seemed so Brisbane, circa 1960s.

At the University of Queensland then, with feelings against the Vietnam War growing, Students for Democratic Action (SDA), led by Brian Laver, Dan O'Neill and Peter Wertheim aroused the consciousness of students and staff, not just through speaking at rallies and at the campus, but by encouraging students to read and educate themselves about the politics behind the events they were living through, such as conscription being used to send Australian troops to Vietnam to support the USA.

In Radical Brisbane: an unruly history, Carole Ferrier and Ken Mansell say the Queensland police used the Traffic Regulations in the 1960s and 1970s to block student anti-war protests. The Superintendent of Traffic had the power of absolute veto over march permits, which could be refused without reason, and there was a fee for placards.

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About the Author

Christine Fogg grew up in Queensland, attended the University of Queensland, and lived in Brisbane until around 1990 so she writes partly from personal experience of the repressive years there, as well as from participating in marches and other demonstrations in Sydney and elsewhere. Christine is a Sydney-based freelance writer with articles published in The Courier-Mail, UniNews, M/C Reviews, the Westender, The Australian, The Lamp, Pacific Media Watch, Broadside Weekly and Catalyst.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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