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1967/1977 street marches in Queensland — reasons for revolt?

Here is a historically important film, recently rediscovered, that few people will ever have seen, and  that commemorates an event that a lot of you will remember.

The bulk of it is about what happened in Roma Street on a day in September 1967 after the Civil Liberties march into town from the University of Queensland.

Thanks are due to Peter Gray for the efforts he has made to make this available.” — Dan O’Neill

Thanks to Reason in Revolt we have historic footage on YouTube of one of the first street marches to challenge the Liberal/Country Party Government in 1967.  Ten years later this was followed by another revolt against a ban on street marches by the Liberal/National Party Government led by Joh Bjelke-Petersen.

Both bans on street marches (1967 & 1977) prompted the formation of Civil Liberties Co-ordinating Committees. In some ways this was a misnomer particularly in 1977 as the marchers were fighting for the democratic right to organise against the mining and export of uranium in Queensland. A fine example of the misconception can be found in the Video Information description posted on YouTube by Reason in Revolt concerning the 1967 Civil Liberties March:

In 1987-89, the Fitzgerald Inquiry brought an end to the Bjelke-Petersen regime and paved the way for reform. The Special Branch was disbanded and many of its dossiers destroyed. Looking back on Queensland in the 1960s and 1970s, it was an exceptionally grim place to be in terms of civil liberties.

This misrepresentation was perpetuated by many all the way up to the Fitzgerald inquiry into police corruption. That inquiry ignored the political reasons for the protests against the Bjelke-Petersen regime ( i.e. uranium and the democratic ‘right to organise’) insted focussing entirely on corruption in the police force and government. Subsequent National Party and Labor governments sought to continue the attacks on democratic rights begun by Nicklin and Bjeke-Petersen. Federal Labor and Liberal governments continued to export Uranium against the popular will.

Once again the Video Information description posted by Reason in Revolt on YouTube of the 1967 Civil Liberties March states:

“The 1967 Civil Liberties March was a turning point in student and State politics, subsequently leading to mass protests against the Vietnam War and the success of the emerging student movement in the decade to follow.”

Opposition to the Vietnam War had commenced in Brisbane but it was not the rights of the individual that were being infringed as suggested by the term “Civil Liberties” used in the description of the film. At the time there was opposition to a war of aggression and the attempts by government to prevent that opposition from being ‘organised, systematic, non-violent and absolutely massive‘ (to quote one of the protagonists, Dan O’Neill *).

The following chronology helps us understand what was going on. Some background to the period depicted can be found in “Queensland Fight to Live, Live to Fight” by LeftPress (1977). An extract from that book follows

* Dan O’Neill was speaking at the 22 October 1977 anti-uranium march that led to 418 people being arrested.

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Chronology of Queensland Resistance

1965 Women chain themselves to the bar of treasury and regatta hotel to protest against sex discrimination

1966 Vietnam Action Committee formed -new -left style – University based – Civil Liberties and Vietnam oriented

Footpath protest in month of March against Vietnam War -31 arrested.

Student demonstration Action -Vietnam, Education, University, Civil Liberties.

Conference on S-E Asia at University organised by off-Campus peace groups

Public Forums at centenary Park on Saturday are organised and well attended.

March from University to City by students on October 5 1966.
27 out of 40 students arrested armed police provocation and violence.

November – A.L.P. loses Conscription and Vietnam Election.

Protestors attacked by police during President Johnson’s visit to Brisbane.

Students for Democratic Action (S.D.A.) begins leafleting, door-knocking, opens Printery (to become Action printery), violent clashes during President of South Vietnam Ky’s (US puppet) visit for refusing to pay fines resulting in October conscription Protest

1967 Four people jailed for refusing to pay fines resulting from October conscription protest.

May – Civil Liberties Coordinating Committee formed to fight restrictive sections of the Traffic Act.

June – C.L.C.C. gave government ultimatum of deadline July 11 for sections of the Traffic Act to be repealed.

July – Deadline extended to September 5th, mainly due to negotiations the Student Union President and State Government

July – Anti-Radical “scare” articles run by monopoly media.

Sep 4 – Premier Nicklin promised decision on ultimatum.

September 7 –Rally and March postponed to September 8th

September 7 – Nicklin Government offer unsatisfactory

September 8 – 4,000 people march to the city. Two thousand sit down in Roma Street. 114 arrested with police violence (shown).

Trade Unions, ALP, Qld Council for Civil Liberties lodge protests in reaction to police brutality.

Union for Civil Liberties Demonstration in King George Brisbane. The demonstration was called by the Trades and Labour Council of Queensland to protest against police treatment of university students and staff in Roma Street, Brisbane during a protest march. The march, from the University of Queensland to the city, had been held a few days earlier.

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When you look at the chronology of the protests that led up to 1967 march the misconception i.e.  that it was all civil liberties seems to have occurred. As I did not participate in the organisation of the 1967 march I cannot be sure of the real reasons for that protest.

However I am sure of the reasons for the 1977/1979 street marches as I participated in the organisation of them as a member of the Civil Liberties Co-ordinating Committee (CLCC – 1977), the Civil Liberties Campaign Group (CLCG – 1978) and the Anti-uranium Mobilisation Committee (1977).

The CLCC was organised by marxist and anarchist groups fighting for democratic rights to organise. Anti-uranium and ecology groups like Campaign against Nuclear Power (CANP) and Friends of the Earth (FOE) participated in these campaigns as did members of ALP branches. These struggles were broadly based but the leadership came from marxist and anarchist political groups.

Ian Curr
20 February 2011

One response to “1967/1977 street marches in Queensland — reasons for revolt?

  1. The reason I took part in organising the ‘revolt’ against the Bjelke-Petersen government in the 1977-79 street marches was that I could see that we (my contemporaries) were never going to get jobs under the Liberal/National government. Under the Bjelke-Petersen government I spent 8 years unemployed or underemployed.

    I had a BSc (for most of my time at UQ between 1967-72 I was a fee paying student. Whitlam did not make Unis free till 1972). I had no job prospects here in Qld. I did not, like others, wish to leave. I wanted to stay and as it turned out, fight.

    I was opposed to mining and export of uranium.

    I had applied for work in the State as a scientist but could not get any work that suited my qualifications so I went labouring on casual jobs on sites like the Queensland Arts Gallery. I helped put up the brass handrails (now heritage listed) and ground concrete in some of the foundations..

    My contemporaries were in similar situations.

    Regardless of our education we were never going to have a ‘proper job’.i.e. we had nothing to lose by street marching.

    As a result of this ‘revolt’ in 1977-79 many people did end up getting better jobs.

    Personally I was blacklisted by the Qld State Govt. but got work with the federal government in 1982. I worked with the Commonweath Public Service till 2004 when I was sacked on what constitutes ‘Respect’. [See Curr v Australian Taxation Office, U2004/3067 PR953053, 8 November 2004]

    One of the state managers in the Dept of Social Security (DSS) where I worked once tried to have me sacked on the basis of the contents of my Special Branch file.

    The DSS Director/General refused to take anything other than my work performance into account. So I kept my job.

    Many of my contemporaries in the street marchers ended up in Commonwealth Govt. jobs too.

    It was not the Fitzgerald Inquiry that made any of this possible for I remained blacklisted by the Qld Government. The extent of my ban continues to this day — the Qld Justice Department has never called me up for jury service even though I have never been convicted of a criminal offence.

    It was the long period of sustained revolt around democratic rights that we organised on the streets of Queensland from 1977 to 1979.

    Ian Curr
    21 Feb 2011

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