This article arises out of the discussion on Workers BushTelegraph about the Democratic Rights struggles in Queensland in the 1970s and 1980s. I have posted above a small film about one part of that struggle. It is about the 1982 Aboriginal Land Rights protests at the time of the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane.
Land Rights Struggle – 1982 Commonwealth Games, Brisbane
BushTelegraph advises Murri readers that the following essay and film contains images of aboriginal people who are now dead.
Land Rights Struggle – 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane
This is the first time I have placed a film that I made on the web … and it shows.
During that time, in the 1970s and 80s, a small group of democratic rights activists would shoot film and video of the protests and struggles that we were involved in. We later became LeftPress. Armed with a small super 8 camera and a microphone that did not always work, we filmed marches and rallies.
This small film is of a rally in Roma Street forum and the ensuing march in Brisbane streets during the Land Rights struggle of 1982 during the Commonwealth Games. It was shot mainly by Lachlan Hurse.
I place it here as an historical record.. of what we were struggling for then and so that people can see how far we got and to see the good with the bad and hopefully to see how to continue the struggle begun in those early days, with few resources, under significant repression from the state. This small record explains what happened and shows what is possible in protest and what is not. It records what was said by the participants in speeches, on banners and in chants. These were the dying days of the Fraser government. At the rally we heard Labor promise Land Rights for Queensland Aboriginal and Islander people.
I also have footage of the tent city that was set up in Musgrave Park and of a march that occurred at QE II where the games where held. I will upload this film one day if I can. You can see other films on these questions at
March on the Commonwealth Games Venue at QE II
This was the first march on police lines for several years where my participation was one of a supporter rather than organiser. Political marches were still banned in Queensland. Special legislation had been passed by the National Party government to exclude land rights protestors from the games venue.
The organisers of this march were Brisbane blacks. It was they who formed the front lines. They did most of the speaking. They worked out the tactics in the confrontation with police. I had confidence in the leadership. I had marched many times like this with these people over the prior five years – often ending in arrest and police violence against the demonstrators.
It was the aboriginal leaders who formed up and gave instructions to the non-indigenous support group at Garden City shopping centre prior to the march into the prohibited area of QE II.
I remember being particularly nervous that day. This was partly because I was not aware of what was likely to happen. I did not know the tactical games that would follow. I was nervous that the marchers would be attacked by police. There were the usual special branch and task force thugs to contend with. I remember seeing special branch and uniformed police along the route of the march lurking in a parking area called “Red Park”. And there was a large media pack.
My nerves were for the leaders and those up front. The support group was kept out of the action. At one point I thought that the police would throw the the leaders off a bridge over the S-E freeway. This was a bridge we would have to pass in order to get to the restricted games venue.
When the arrests started I thought that things may get out of hand. But the Brisbane blacks kept their cool, they limited the number of arrests by calling for a tactical retreat when the cops started to lose it and the police thugs and media moved in. There was discipline that day – from the marchers, at least. The days of mass arrests and detention had passed for the time being at least, until the SEQEB dispute in 1985.
The Commonwealth Games protests were a defining moment in the sense that it was the first time there was Murri control of rallies and marches – at least since the street march ban five years earlier in 1977. This leadership grew out of the focus of the protest – the struggle for aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land rights in Queensland.
The film above features some of the leaders of that struggle in Queensland: Oodgeroo Nunuccal (the poet from Stradbroke Island (Minjerribah), Oodgeroo was formerly known as Kath Walker), Neville Bonner (Liberal Senator for Queensland), Mick Miller (leader of the Northern Land Council), Cheryl Buchanan (chair of the rally and aboriginal activist), Susan Ryan (ALP Senator and shadow minister for Aboriginal Affairs), Gary Foley (Koori, radical, actor and filmaker from Melbourne).
The sound on the film is not good so I will describe what each speaker said.
Neville Bonner pointed out the large infant mortality rate among aboriginal people. He urged people to march but to march in such a way that there could be no comeback by police and the public.
Many have said that Neville Bonner was against marching but if I have listened to his words on the film, and he was not against marching, at least not on that day. Some say Neville Bonner was a coconut, but his people needed him as much as they needed all the other murri leaders. I remember hearing him speaking on Palm Island in 1980 during NAIDOC week. He had a lot of support that day — he must have built up a lot of support on Palm when he worked up there as a carpenter.
I know that Neville Bonner accepted the decision of the Fraser government to mine and export uranium — this was a bad choice by him — but he was the first aboriginal person elected to the Australian parliament and through this, Bonner gave assistance and hope to many aboriginal people. The failure of the government to recognise the will of the people that was opposed to uranium mining and export was not down to him.
We do not live in a democratic society, we live in a society where the power of executive government reigns supreme.
It was a failing of the anti-uranium movement not to realise this fully, and, having done so, failing to adopt strategies to counteract executive power. So, lets hear no more arguing about how Gary Foley or the Mirrar people thwarted the anti-uranium movement at Jabiluka. We have to take responsibility for our own failings, not to press them onto others.
Oodgeroo said at the rally how appalled she was about what was happening to her people in Queensland. She pointed out the contradiction of aboriginal people being subject to British justice. She called on the Queen of England to intervene to grant land rights to her people.
Oodgeroo asked that her people look up, look forward. She then read out her poem of hope.
“Look up, my people,
The dawn is breaking,
The world is waking
To a new bright day,
When none defame us,
No restriction tame us,
Nor colour shame us,
Nor sneer dismay.
See plain the promise,
Night’s nearly over,
And though long the climb,
New rights will greet us,
New mateship meet us,
And joy complete us
In our new Dream Time.
To our fathers’ fathers
The pain, the sorrow;
To our children’s children
The glad tomorrow.”
Mick Miller stressed that we march and protest, this was the best way to get our point across.
Cheryl Buchanan said that they (the Murri leadership) would allow a supporter to speak at the rally.
Gary Foley argued that Land Rights were vital for aboriginal society to survive. He pointed to the symbols of corporate capitalism and the corrupt bureaucrats in Canberra.
Foley argued that Aboriginal people create their own economic future, to own their own money. The march that ensued was through city streets — the street march ban was a selective one — we were not allowed to march to the Commonwealth Games but we were allowed to march around the city streets. I remember filming the marchers coming down Adelaide Street with their land rights flags and banners. A bus crossed the intersection in front of the march. The sign on the side of the bus read “Boomerang Tours”.
Perhaps this march was only a small victory, but it was a victory nonetheless.
19 February 2008
PS: Thanks is due to Lachlan Hurse for his excellent camera work in this film.