The Politics of ‘Fear and Loathing’ — the pilgrim’s progress

Georges, Uren arrested by Pat Glancy on 30 October 1978 - SMHIn a US Presidential election year it may do well to revisit the role of the secret state in our lives.

Not since 1968 has opposition to war threatened to displace ‘race’ as the main determinant of who will be the American President.

But the following story is not about who will lead, it is a response to peace activist, Ciaron O’Reilly, and his Orwellian epiphany on the road to St. Brigid’s well in Ireland.

In his essay, Counter Terrorist Cops, Special Branch and Paradigm Shifts on the Road to St. Brigid’s Well!, Ciaron describes the demons and monsters which “the pilgrim” must face to reach the celestial well at St Brigid’s. This thought provoking essay was published originally on Sydney and UK Indymedia and now on BushTelegraph.

By demons and monsters I mean the special branch, the Irish Secret police. St Brigid’s well is a place in Kildare in Ireland where a festival was recently being held. The special branch accused O’Reilly, ‘the pilgrim’, of being an ‘eco-terrorist’ – whatever that is.

‘Pilgrim’ is an interesting word. “The Pilgrim’s Progress” by John Bunyan, was the story of an American minister jailed because he would not desist from preaching Puritanism. One of Ciaron’s housemates, Fr Newell, was a priest who spent a lot of time in Bedford prison. His supporters would gather at John Bunyan’s statue before walking up to the jail where Fr Newell was kept. What a curious homage. Catholic workers gathering at the shrine of a protestant heretic.

Ciaron was first labelled an eco-terrorist in Australia because he was falsely believed to have threatened harm to Queensland’s most important living creature — the cow.

But the English and Irish cops, unaware of his notoriety in the antipodes, called O’Reilly an ‘eco-t’ because of Chinese whispers in November 2007. Irish cops saw him boarding a flight to England, they called the British cops and told them Ciaron is a “threat to the aviation industry.” The British cops asked Ciaron “if he’s part of Plane Stupid!”

[Editors Note: Plane Stupid, in a world of flying madness, is a climate change group against cheap air travel. Not surprisingly, Ciaron denied the police allegation.]

Three months later as he passes through Luton on his way to Ireland, the cops still had him down as an ‘eco-nut’, they phoned the Irish police with the recycled info, and, hey presto, he is an eco-t.


The 1970s in Queensland, where Ciaron received his political education, was a time of fear and loathing. Street marches were banned by the National Party government led by a Lutheran zealot, Johannes Bjelke-Petersen. Ciaron became involved as a young student in the longest sustained revolt against a government in Australian history, 1977 – 1979.

The front page story of the Sydney Morning Herald is a typical example of the mass media of the period. It shows the arrest of Labor MPs Senator George Georges by a plain clothes copper, Det Sgt Pat Glancy. With Georges is Labor MP, Tom Uren, also arrested on 30 October 1978 along with 280 people of Brisbane. These included clerks, wharfies, bar staff, meatworkers, electricians, labourers, semean, lecturers, unemployed, every conceivable occupation and students marching against Uranium mining and export.

For his stand against the Bjelke-Petersen National party government, the ALP had threatened to disendorse Geroges Georges from contesting the 1977 federal election as a Labor senator for Queensland. True to form, the Labor Party, when it gained power in 1983, went on to endorse uranium mining and export (the ‘three mines policy’), increasing uranium production whenever the industry applied sufficient pressure.


Ciaron has become the victim of ‘guilt by association’ on an international scale. The label ‘eco-terrorist’ is merely one example of this.

The logical consequence of the “paradigm shift” – to the police state – as described by Ciaron O’Reilly is that more aboriginees, political activists, trade unionists, workers, muslims – the list may be endless – can find themselves in jail on the basis of belief or in fact being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Dr Haneef (sic)!

Of course, under ‘democratic’ governments, this has happened before, for example in the 1970s when the capitalists decided to get their hands on yellowcake, jump the Uranium express, mine and export uranium from Queensland and the Northern Territory.SMH 31 October 1978

Ciaron’s essay describes the Queensland Special Branch in the 1970s in the following terms:

“They were mostly corrupt Irish Catholics servicing a corrupt Calvinist (??) Premier Bjelke-Petersen. The deal was the cops could run, or get a take on, the drug, brothel, illegal casino action if the cops were

willing to be used on the streets to deal with dissent.

The politicians took their take from a more elevated trough, in terms of bribes and shares from Japanese & US. transnational corporations devouring the raw materials and carving up the real estate.” — Ciaron O’Reilly in Counter Terrorist Cops, Special Branch and Paradigm Shifts on the Road to St. Brigid’s Well!

Concerned Christians protesting in 1977 against the Bjelke-Petersen regime

During the ban on street marches in Queensland in 1977-1979, I was taken into custody at the behest of the Queensland Special Branch on several occasions.

The following

is an account of the risks associated with being an anti-uranium activist and the subsequent arrest and detention in a ‘democratic’ state.

Aboriginal people here in Queensland know all about the dangers of being in police custody.


The Uranium Express: live to fight, fight to live

The big capitalists think of politicians as a farmer would a gun dog, they do not like them much, but feed them just the same. – from Live to Fight, Fight to Liv, 1977 Right to March Campaign

On 30 October 1978, I was arrested at an anti-uranium demonstration of about 3,000 people in King George Square in Brisbane. Ciaron and Sean O’Reilly had already been arrested for disobey police direction and unlawful procession. At 6pm they were bailed, Ciaron’s bail being set at $100 and Sean was set free ‘on his own recognisance’. The organisers of the march, the Civil Liberties Campaign Group, paid out over $15,000 in bail money on that day.

Members of the Queensland police Task Force, along with Constables Allan Cameron Todd and Michael Egan, arrested me under a warrant signed by then acting-magistrate, William Joseph Mackay. This was the same magistrate who convicted the young Ciaron of assaulting a huge copper, John Frederick Johnson. The same copper broke Ciaron’s brother’s nose three months later.

I remember sitting in a court room and watching independent eyewitnesses, a tv cameraman, good film evidence, Jim Dowling, whom he first met during this incident.

Ciaron had a good lawyer who later became a judge.

He was backed up by a litany of character witnesses like teachers, nuns and priests all testifying to Ciaron’s innocence.

You’d think such people singing their praises of the young Ciaron – especially in the Irish catholic dominated judiciary of Queensland – would find a sympathetic ear in the magistrate.

But the ears of Magistrate Mackay remained closed – as if his worship lived in a permanent alcoholic haze – as he came down resoundingly in favour of the police and convicted the assaulted student of the very crime to which he (Ciaron) had fallen victim.

But to place Queensland’s problems solely at the door of corruption is to misunderstand history.


There is little doubt Queensland cops who were the most active in arresting anti-government demonstrators were also the most corrupt. But that too is only part of the story. We did not ever see the Fitzgerald inquiry impeach the magistrates that went along with the political repression. For example, magistrate Mackay continually accepted the word of these corrupt cops year after year.

As one tiny example, onetime, I stood accused of disobeying a police direction and resisting arrest. In fact I was walking down a footpath in Brisbane’s aptly named main street, the street of her royal highness – Queen Street.

During the subsequent trial I spent 4 days showing film of my arrest to the court, all the while cross-examining the arresting officer who lied through his teeth only to hear Magistrate Mackay confronted with the simple truth of my walking along the footpath played out on film day in day out come down on the side of law and justice and convicted me of disobeying police and resisting arrest. The same erstwhile magistrate went on to have an impeccable career slotting the working class in all their guilty forms on the evidence of corrupt cops. His worship rose to serve for a time as acting chief stipendiary magistrate. This was at a time when the state of Queensland was supposed to have become a better place after the Fitzgerald inquiry.

It should be pointed out that, with the Labor party in charge, an ALP attorney general, Matt Foley, who himself had been arrested in a political street march with 196 others on the eve of a state election on 11 November 1977, finally moved to change the deck chairs of the judicial system. Foley’s strategy was to steadily replace the old guard, National Party magistrates with legally trained lawyers from the profession. The new magistrates were sometime competent Labor lawyers capable of analysing a set of facts [See coroner’s report on the killing of Mulrunji by Palm Island Police] . Essentially their job remained the same, keep the working class in line. But I diverge here from the main story.


My arrest warrant signed by Mackay [I too had been labelled a terrorist] was for $50 – a case of ‘the money or the body’- and was issued as a result of charges laid against me in an earlier street march against the Bjelke-Petersen government.

When Todd and Egan approached I did not have $50 on me. An old man, who was standing behind me on the steps of the square, tried to pay the fine on my behalf, but Constable Todd refused, taking me into custody with the help of Egan, and two or three other cops. I have film of this encounter.

As I was arrested, the Queensland Police Task Force used a flying wedge to arrest several others around me.

I ended up in a crowded paddy wagon with about 10 – 15 other people.

The police van was parked in the middle of the street. A plain clothes special branch officer stood nearby. Uniformed police came to the van, opened the door and dragged me out onto the road. A uniformed cop known as ‘Blackie’ held me in a throat hold.

As I lost consciousness I could see a journalist, Dennis Reinhardt, whom I knew as the station co-ordinator of a local alternative radio 4ZZZ, standing on the street nearby. I called out to Reinhardt for assistance. He held a notebook in his hand but did nothing. I passed out on the asphalt as Blackie squeezed my windpipe shut. I had a splitting headache for the next three days.

In an article titled “700 Police face Qld marchers: 280 in street protest held“, the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) reported the arrest in its usual sensationalist fashion:

‘In one incident police dragged Ian Curr, a demonstrator, from a police waggon (sic) and threw him into the back seat of a police sedan.

‘The street march law was introduced in September last year, struggled violently before being overcome by seven policemen.

‘A senior police spokesman said later Curr was wanted on a warrant for another offence.’ — SMH 31 October 1978.

I woke up in the back of a police car. The cops had placed me in handcuffs and I was pushed down on my back with by hands cuffed behind, awkwardly over the centre rise of the rear floor of the police car. As a result of the handcuffing, I would not regain feeling on the skin of my left hand for about 3 months. My shirt was ripped and had blood on it.SMH 31 October 1978 (2)

Egan drove the car and Todd sat in the front on his left. ‘Blackie’ and another sat in the back.

By law, under the magistrate’s warrant for my arrest, I was supposed to be taken to the nearest jail, Boggo Road. Instead, I was taken to police HQ in Herschel Street where I was flung into a lift and taken up several floors where, upon alighting from the lift, I was paraded in front of police currently on duty in the building.

I was then taken to a small room in the middle of the office floor where Todd, Blackie and another cop forced me to undress down to my underpants.

Todd said: You’re not very fit, Curr.

I replied that I was fitter than he would be when he got to my age (I was 27 and he was about 21). Todd claimed to be a state karate champion of some kind.

As Todd and Blackie intimidated me, I could hear Egan outside saying that we had to go (to Boggo Road jail). Todd locked the door. Egan pressed his shoulder against the door and the partition beside it moved. Todd did not respond. Egan then rammed the door with his shoulder and the door came open.

I was taken to Boggo Road, my head shaved, and later placed in a yard full of murderers and rapists.

Yet I was to survive this and other stints in jail.

However, sent to one jail, Stuart Creek in Townsville, in 1980, on the order of a magistrate for contempt of court, nearly resulted in my death.

But that is another story.

I was charged with ‘resisting arrest’ and taken to trial before a magistrate.

Special Branch officers attended throughout the 4 day trial. One special branch officer flashed his ankle holster showing a pistol while I gave evidence in the dock. I was acquitted of resisting arrest and received costs for my ripped shirt.

Soon after, in March 1979, Constable Egan resigned from the police force while on duty at an international women’s day rally and was harassed mercilessly by his former fellow officers for a long time after.Michael Egan escorted by police after resigning and throwing away his police hat at IWD March 1979 See picture of Constable Egan leaving the rally in the custody of police.

Allan Cameron Todd went on to take over his father’s successful Hi Fi business on Brisbane’s southside. Later Egan became a manager at Telstra, given the job of making workers redundant. Ciaron was a onetime teacher in the working class suburb of Logan and went on to become an international peace activist. I spent 22 years as a clerk in the Commonwealth Public Service before I was sacked for union activity. George Georges resigned from the Labor Party when the Hawke Labor government deregistered the Builders Labourers Federation in 1986. He contested the senate elections as an independent and lost his seat in the parliament. He was a co-founder, along with the Transport Workers Union state secretary, Hughie Williams, of the Paddington Workers Club in Brisbane. George rejoined the ALP until he died in the 1990s.

This is not to say that we had all been assigned our roles and faithfully played them as best we could, complaining only occasionally of the parts we had been given. But when recounted like this, one could be forgiven for thinking this is how it was.

The moral of the story?

The power of the state, when confronted, can result in great personal cost to those who oppose it.

Or as a friend said, killing people can put rest to a lot of problems. While we were marching in Queensland from 1977 – 1979, the Ayatollah Khomeini deposed the US puppet, the Shah of Iran, as the religious zealots mercilessly put down the secular left.

In democracies like Australia and Ireland, the occasional death in custody may be counterproductive to some, but it may be considered a small inconvenience for the magistrates, police, media and politicians to cover up in the interest of big capitalists who want to get on with business.

Transnational mining companies are once again pressing ahead with plans to mine and export uranium in Queensland despite the marches, the mass arrests, the personal cost to anti-uranium activists like Ciaron O’Reilly when he was a high school student aged only 17. To Ciaron, I say, let us appraise what you have done, from where you have come, what allegory can be drawn from your journey on the peace train.

We should remember that the costs we have paid at the hands of the ‘demons and monsters’ of the special branch are small in comparison to those living in the deserts and towns of Iraq. It is they who bear the legacy of the depleted uranium that has been used and discarded by the US led ‘coalition of the willing’.

In 2001, the British Medical Journal reported that Iraqi health officials say ‘depleted uranium weapons – used by the American and British military during the [‘first’] Gulf war – may be to blame for a substantial increase in the number of cancer cases in the southern part of the country.’ Iraqi doctors wanted testing to be carried out. See BMJ report here.

Yet the economic rationalists are still making the same old arguments for uranium, despite the deaths caused by Maralinga, despite Three Mile Island, despite the deaths during and after Chernobyl.

I ask BushTelegraph readers this question: what does lead to change in a world of superficiality— as seen on many blogs and comments on the internet?

Ian Curr
6 February 2008

See also No Uranium Mines in Queensland

2 thoughts on “The Politics of ‘Fear and Loathing’ — the pilgrim’s progress

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  2. Hello Ian,

    I must challenge your assertion regarding “the longest sustained revolt against a government in Australian history, 1977 – 1979.”

    The Aboriginal struggle is of course considerably longer. for 150 years it was charachterised by guerilla struggle and to this day notions of sovereignty are central to the ongoing political struggle.

    The Kalkadoon war, just one of the many fronts of the resistance, lasted for ten years and involved constant fighting with the police.

    Irish republican convicts in Sydney rebelled between 1799 and 1804 culmination in the failed insurrection “The Battle of Vinegar Hill”

    There are probably others but these are rebellions I know about that might challenge your historical claim.

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