The ‘day of the political street march’ — struggle for democratic rights in Queensland

Democratic Rights Struggle 1977 – 1979

On 4 September 1977 Joh Bjelke Petersen, the Premier of Queensland, said the day of the political street march is over.

“The day of the political street march is over. Anybody who holds a street march, spontaneous or otherwise, will know that they are acting illegally. Don’t bother to apply for a permit you won’t get one. That’s Government policy now.” — Johannes Bjelke Petersen, premier of Qld, 4 September 1977.”

On 22 September 1977 there was a march from the University of Qld. This followed an early march on 12 September 1977 that was stopped at the gates of the University by 300 Queensland police officers.

The difference was that this second march went off campus and regathered in King George Square to attempt a march into the valley of death.

The first man arrested in Qld for demonstrating against the street march ban in 1977 was P B (a cleaner) who was arrested at 5.15pm on 22 Sept 1977 for disobeying a lawful direction. He was arrested by Constable Gary Hannigan, then from Sandgate CIB and the youngest ever detective and member of the Qld Special Branch. Hannigan’s dad was an Inspector of police.

I R (student at QUT) was arrested at 5.49pm, then L B (unemployed) at 5.55pm, L M (graduate from Darling Downs Institute of Advanced Education) at 6.00pm, P A (Australian Union of Students representative at University of Queensland ) at 6.58, N N (Student at Griffith University) at 7.03pm. The last person arrested in King George Square that night was J M ( student) who was arrested at 7.07pm.

All these people except for P B had been attending meetings at the University of Queensland of the newly formed group to fight the ban. It had been named the Civil Liberties Co-ordinating Committee or ‘CLCC’. By that last arrest, 20 people had been arrested on the King George Square steps. Another 12 were arrested later at parliament house.

The women arrested were stripped searched in the watchouse that night in the presence of male police. Maris, a young student and member of the CLCC, organised a defence for all the arrested people in the courts and a few were acquitted. This was the beginning of 3000 arrests of 2000 people and court appearances which would continue unabated for 2 years – every time there was a political street march.

The democratic rights struggle is the longest single campaign of mass defiance of government in Australian history.  The longest is aboriginal resistance to colonisation. From 4 September 1977 till July 1979 2,000 people arrested, there were 3,000 arrests with the largest of 418 people being arrested in a single afternoon of 22 October 1977.

Years later you can witness here some of the organisation behind those early struggles for democratic rights in Queensland.

Thanks to LeftPress Printing society super 8 footage of those days.

Ian Curr
22 September 2010

The Struggle for Democratic Rights in Queensland
Super 8 to video running time 12.26 mins
UQ Forum 1979/
Women’s Rally 1978/
Meat workers Protest against Live Export 1978 – Channel 0 News – Howard Sacre/
West End Resource Centre/
Civil Liberties Meeting at Qld teachers Building in Spring Hill/
Guerrilla marches to the meeting/
Townsville Right to March demonstration includes unemployed workers union 1979/
Interview with Joh Bjelke Petersen at UQ/
Camera persons L H & Ian Curr
LeftPress Printing Society
PO Box 5093 West End 4101

4 thoughts on “The ‘day of the political street march’ — struggle for democratic rights in Queensland

  1. Right to March says:

    Historic footage of Griffith University Democratic Rights march 1978


  2. Street march ban lifted after the longest period of civil disobedience in Australia's history says:

    Toowoomba CANE August Newsletter, 1979

    A small but enthusiastic group of supporters attended the rally held to commemorate Hiroshima Day. The speakers – Joan Austin, Ann Hilhurst, and Bob Lingard were well received. Lighter entertainment was provided with street theatre from CANE’S band of intrepids and music by Will Hogg and Andrew O’Phee. All were much appreciated. A motion concerning an illegal march was then put to the rally. The motion was carried with 48 voting for the motion, 14 against, and an unknown number of abstentions. Nine arrests followed the resulting illegal march.

    Six people chose to be bailed out. The other three – Jane Skelton, John Ransley, and Ron Fraser stayed in the watch-house until they appeared in court on the following Monday. Fines ranged from $20 to $60. An unusual feature of the Monday court proceedings was that both Ron Fraser and Neil Riethmuller were permitted to talk quite extensively of their reasons for marching illegally.

    John Ransley – who had continued the fast he had begun on Friday 3rdduring his weekend incarceration – pleaded not guilty to the charge of disobeying a police direction. His case was heard the next day. After a gruelling court session on the Tuesday, the magistrate chose to accept the word of the arresting officer despite the testimony of other witnesses supporting John’s contention that indeed no direction was given, and John was found guilty as charged. John then refused to pay his fine and was not released from custody in Brisbane until Friday 10thAugust.

    The Saturday rally and march received good coverage from the Chronicle and ABC. Unfortunately other publications obviously had little understanding of the subtleties involved in the decision to march illegally.

    Neil Riethmuller, Editor
    A spokesman for CANE, Mr John Ransley, said yesterday (August 1979) that Saturday’s rally at East Creek Park had voted to give its support to people wishing to march illegally to mark the refusal to grant a permit to the Brisbane CANP.

    The awarding of a permit to the Brisbane CANP for a street march on Nagasaki Day, August 9, was a welcome breakthrough. The Nagasaki permit might mean the end of the Queensland Government’s ban on CANP, he said. However, the permit would have little effect on plans already made for Hiroshima Day commemorations. This was because police had still refused a permit for an identical march today, the anniversary of Hiroshima. “The only difference between the two applications was that the Nagasaki march is timed to start half an hour later,” Mr Ransley said. “This reveals extraordinary inconsistencies in the method police use to assess such applications, and highlights the unsatisfactory nature of the permit system itself.”

    For more history of why the right to march was an important aspect of the NO URANIUM campaign in 1979.

    [thnx robin]

  3. Bjelke Blues says:

    I have only had one direct dealing with Joh Bjelke-Petersen even though he once named me in parliament for sitting on railway tracks with 25 others to stop a uranium train leave Hamilton No 4 Wharf in Brisbane.

    In August 1980 I was arrested and charged with possession of a dangerous drug.

    This drug was planted on me by Det. Conrad Martens directly after a Special Branch Officer, Det. John Joyce, searched my bedroom in Eyre Street South Townsville. Det Joyce confiscated some political pamphlets and a book called “The Communist Movement: From Comintern to Cominform” by Fernando Claudin.

    In the ensuing trial I subpoenaed my Special Branch files which were duly brought before the court in a large suitcase and a box.

    Along with the suitcase was a barrister instructed by the Crown Law office who produced an affidavit signed by Joh Bjelke-Petersen requesting that the court be denied access to the files. The Magistrate duly agreed and allowed the Barrister return to Brisbane with my special branch files unopened.

    So I argued that the drugs must have been planted on me because my room had been so thoroughly searched by the special branch officer prior to Det Martens entry.

    The magistrate agreed and acquitted me with no case to answer.

    The Special Branch never returned my “The Communist Movement: From Comintern to Cominform” by Fernando Claudin.

    I was arrested again soon after and accused of wilful damage to the Townsville courthouse. I was verballed by police. I fought against that charge for three years. I spent two weeks in Stuart Creek Prison where I was beaten up, threatened to be shot and put in solitary confinement for refusing to eat when ordered by the Prison Superintendent. After two trials each with ‘hung’ juries, the crown finally gave up prosecuting me, on that charge, at least.

    Ian Curr
    27 June 2019

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