People often criticise me for living in the 1970s.
Perhaps I do dwell on the past, but that is where I was and where I come from, the 1970s.
I learnt my politics in that time and in this place, Queensland.
Having said that, I would like to describe one aspect of what happened in the JOH era in Queensland that may assist activists in the 2000s.
It is an aspect of struggle that was not adequately covered in the 2006 Museum of Brisbane “Taking to the Streets” exhibition.
The White Lab Coat Wearers
Lawyers (like Terry O’Gorman and Wayne Goss) and law students, some of them members of the Qld Council for Civil Liberties, wore white lab coats with “Legal Observer” written on the back while attending some of the street marches that occurred in the period 1977-1979.
While the concern of these individuals was commendable — the concept of “Legal observer” did provide at least the illusion of accountability — the notion being that respectable lawyers and law students were keeping an eye out for the “bad apples” in the Queensland police force, who were prone to using excessive force against demonstrators.
That was until one of those legal observers (Terry O’Gorman) got arrested at the gates of parliament by special branch officers. These officers included Inspector Terry Flanagan and Detective Barry Krosch (see comment by Special Branch officer Barry Krosch below denying involvement in this arrest).
Standing beside Terry on that occasion as he was pulled through to the police (or parliament) side of the gate was a young woman, Maris Element.
As he was arrested by special branch, Terry grabbed the nearest arm he could. The special branch coppers tried to pull him through the nearly closed metal gate that was being shut by police to prevent protesters from getting through.
Later Maris remarked how Terry had (inadvertently) nearly broken her arm, such was the force of his grip.
In the end, the notion of “legal observer” proved to be just as illusory as the ‘bad-apple‘ copper concept itself.
It was more a matter of ‘which-side-are-you-on?‘
In court, some lawyers gave their time to defend some of the thousands of people who were arrested — once again, a commendable action by the individuals concerned.
A very small number of demonstrators were even acquitted, no doubt in part because of these lawyers (and sometimes in spite of them).
Most people were convicted by the magistrates who had come up through the police magistrate system that operated in Queensland in the 1960s and before.
Generally speaking, both police and magistrates shared Joh’s view of street marchers.
A different method of selecting magistrates prevails in Queensland in 2006. Nowadays, some people are acquitted of minor, quasi-criminal charges that arise out of demonstrations.
Political Activist Defence
During those years, the overwhelming burden of real political activist defence work was carried out by a representative of the Civil Liberties Co-ordinating Committee (CLCC) (later the Civil Liberties Campaign Group [CLCG]).
That person was the woman standing beside Terry O’Gorman at the gates of parliament as he was arrested after the rally and march for women’s right to choose. Her name is Maris Element. Maris was unpaid and was not a lawyer (then or now).
After people were arrested in a street march, Maris would negotiate bail with the watchouse sergeant, provide advice, arrange for a duty solicitor (if required), help defendants prepare their own defence, ring up lawyers to assist, keep records, collect bail at demonstrations, round up witnesses, report back to CLCC and CLCG meetings, record decisions in minutes, and even chair the meetings in notable emergency situations.
Maris kept a “Demo Book: Civil Liberties Defence” which contained the names and addresses of all the people arrested (in alphabetical order).
Many of these people were arrested marching out of King George Square into Albert Street, or the Valley of Death as it was then called.
The book showing arrests was on display at the “Taking to the Streets” exhibition.
In short, Maris performed a wide range of duties not performed by white-lab-coat-wearing civil libertarians.
Maris, with the help of many ordinary people, all participants not observers, did the real work of political activist defence in the struggles for democratic rights in Queensland during those years.
For example, Maris organised the publication of a manual “Not Guilty” (ISBN 0 9595424 0 X).The cover of the booklet is pictured above and pictures three people in front of the old magistrate’s court building.
Maris is the person in the middle ‘speaking no evil‘.
The person pictured as ‘hearing no evil‘ took photos of police who repeatedly arrested demonstrators. This person, Stephen Zaborowski, was mostly arrested himself. The third person on the right ‘seeing no evil‘ is me.The aim of “Not Guilty” was to provide tips to people who attended demonstrations and who may end up being arrested. This manual was written also to assist those people, who did not wish to have a lawyer represent them, to do their own case.The introduction is pictured below to give you the flavour of the manual and what it tried to achieve (double click to enhance):
When published in 1978, “Not Guilty” was dedicated to the 2,000 people who were arrested since the ban on street marches on 4th September 1977.
In those days, far more people represented themselves in court than were represented by lawyers.
The assistance of the small band of lawyers who wore white lab coats while appreciated was not indispensable.
While the white lab coat wearing lawyers and law students went on to join the elite and become magistrates, judges, government ministers, the street marchers went on with their ordinary lives, impeded from getting jobs in places like state government departments, many becoming active in their unions and community groups.
A number (like me) ended up in the commonwealth public service.
One of the white-lab-coat wearers, Wayne Goss, became premier of Queensland. His daughter, Caitlin, is to be a Rhodes Scholar in 2009 as was his son, Ryan, in 2007.
In contrast, Maris helps run a small independent school in the northern suburbs of Brisbane.
Why does history record only the people in the white-lab-coats but does not record indispensable people like Maris?
Postscript: On 23 November 2006, Workers BushTelegraph received the following email from former Queensland special branch detective, Barry Krosch:
Your article (NOT GUILTY) re the arrest of Terry O’Gorman has come to my attention tonight.
It is incorrect. I did not arrest Mr O’Gorman that evening. I have never arrested Mr O’Gorman.
I have raised this with Mr O’Gorman tonight, just so he is aware of the article and the error.
I do not intend getting too “cut up” over your mistake, however I do urge you, in the interests of historical accuracy and your own credibility, to correct the mistake. If you undertake professional research, as I do, you will find the arresting officer was the then OIC of Special Branch – one Detective Inspector TF.
I am currently working on a history of Special Branch, and it will be published as a thesis and/or book. You will probably find it all terribly interesting. I am very lucky as I have some very rare material.
The statement above by former Special Branch detective Krosch is correct in a technical sense only. He was not formally listed as the arresting officer, but he was responsible for it (along with other police in attendance).
It was his arrest of Toni Hubbard that precipitated the arrest of Terry O’Gorman by special branch and other police.
About fifty police moved in on the demonstration to remove people from the forecourt. Detective Krosch first arrested Toni Hubbard as Toni sat on the ground. People were concerned at this arrest and moved forward. In the confusion the officer-in-charge of Special branch, Inspector Terry Flanagan, grabbed Terry O’Gorman and escorted him away with the help of another policeman. Krosch returned to talk to Flanagan after the arrests (there were three in all).
The Brisbane Courier Mail article that appeared the following day (30 April 1980) had this to say:
“When the woman was arrested, Labor MP for Chatsworth, Terry Mackenroth, asked police what was the charge. The police refused to tell him. He told them she was a ‘guest’ of his and asked for her to be freed. Mr Mackenroth claimed that he was brushed aside by police and told the woman was under arrest. Mr Mackenroth said later that the arrest was evidence that police had tried to provoke violence.”
It was then that police pushed people back to the gates of the Parliamentary annexe. As the gates were pushed shut Terry O’Gorman was arrested just inside the closing gate. In the melee caused by the police, Terry grabbed Maris Element’s arm. The Courier Mail reported that he yelled out “What’s the charge, what’s the charge?”.
As a footnote Terry Mackenroth became the police minister in the Goss government in the 1990s. I wrote to Terry Mackenroth asking for my special branch file to be released.
The reply (which I still have) received from Mackenroth was that the special branch files had been destroyed.
If you take what Krosch says at face value when he states “I am very lucky as I have some very rare material” former Police Minister Mackenroth is mistaken (about the files being destroyed).
Under the Goss Labor government some people were shown their special branch files, others were not.
Apparently former special branch officer Krosch has access to the special branch files and is intending to use that access in his forthcoming publication on the history of the Queensland special branch.
No history written by a former detective will wipe clean the lies, the distortion, and the dark role played by the special branch in the political history of Queensland.
Even old habits die hard.
Remarks by Krosch in his email like “I am very lucky as I have some very rare material” and “Take care” ring out across the years.
To the thousands who were involved in the street marches they bring back memories of thinly veiled threats so often spoken by special branch in those dark years. Words like: “we are going to get you, we are going to get you.”
What was the motivation of the special branch officers? We may never know, even with histories written by former officers.
But I do know Maris Element’s motivation:
“I just did things cos I thought that was the right thing to do, not for any other particular reason.“