I ride your river under the bridge
I take your boat out to the reach
Cos I love that engine roar
But I still don’t know what I’m here for.
—The Go Betweens ‘Streets of Your Town’
A harried mum of about 33 years has a small baby in her arms and two young boys trailing behind – one boy is around four and the other is about 6. It is the queens visit to South Bank Brisbane. The crowds are enormous. The Queen is the best paid actor in the world but she still draws a crowd in the Theatre of the Masses. Or was it the floods that provided the PR spectacle and hook for the big turn-out?
Police have corralled people between South Bank No 4 terminal and where the queen will walk through. One of the boys says to his Mum ‘I’m busting’ — only there is no way through because the crowd is ‘kettled’ away from the toilets. Nearby an elderly lady wearing a floral hat is being treated for heat exhaustion by a lifeguard (it is near the pool at South Bank).
The Mum looks around and her eye is caught by the sight of three young men in their twenties and an older grey haired guy standing on the rain forest walk wall overlooking the river with a banner that reads ‘centuries of oppression’. The large 4 by 2.5 metre banner has a crown and union jack painted on an ocre background. Yellow jewels shine on the queen’s crown.
The older guy pulls a harmonica out of his bag and plays the tune ‘Diamonds on the River’ and begins a speech about the local Jagera aboriginal people never having ceded sovereignty to Kurilpa – this part of town.
There are diamonds on the river,
Diamonds floatin’ free
There are diamonds on the river
Just a lookin’ at me
— Diamonds on the River (Ian Curr)
The grey haired guy’s voice runs out and his 25 year old friend starts talking about how many lives were lost in Britain in the 18o0s when people fought for democracy but only ever attained a monarchy.
One such event was when the British parliament comprised of the rich and landed gentry encouraged the brutal treatment of working class. In 1819, people in Manchester held a mass meeting at St Peter’s Field to listen to speeches demanding parliamentary reform to give workers and women the right to vote. The main speaker was to be a man called Orator Hunt. The organisers wanted a non-violent event. Halfway through the gathering, the local magistrates declared that the meeting was illegal and sent cavalry in to break it up. Those nearest the mounted soldiers stopped them from doing this. General confusion broke out and the cavalry charged the crowd. Eleven people were killed and 400 were wounded. The magistrates were congratulated by Parliament. People called what happened “Peterloo” in mocking tones of the British victory at Waterloo especially since some of those that were killed had fought in France alongside the soldiers who slew them.
The harried mum took the boys behind the banner. She had noticed that police were moving in on the banner holders. There were three plain clothes police and about 5 uniformed police. The Mum tells the smallest boy to pee over the wall into the river below – just near where the Queens launch has passed only moments before. She gets on her mobile phone to tell her partner where she is. ‘I’m with the boys in the shade of a banner that says ‘centuries of oppression’. Through the rainforest the official party was moving through the crowd. The premier, anna bligh, in red and the queen in lime green followed by the governor, penny wensley.
A police inspector came up to the grey-haired man to say that he was going to issue all four with an unsigned exclusion notice and they were to take down the banner. The grey-haired man asked ‘What made you change your mind?’ The police inspector Kevin Fitzpatrick said simply ‘orders from above’.
Only a half hour previously Inspector Fitzpatrick had told the four that they could hold up the banner. This Irish copper was doing his job – however he could not find a reason to move the banner holders on. On the first occasion the grey-haired man had told him it was aboriginal land. Was `orders-from- above’ Inspector being sympathetic or just pretending to be even-handed? We may never know.
Undercover police moved closer. The small boys older brother had just finished peeing through the same crack in the wall as his brother had done. The mother finished her conversation with her husband and smiled at the grey hared man. He noticed she had a tiny diamond stud in her nose as she shuffled boys away from the building police presence. Police told the men with the banner to take it down. A stocky plain clothes cop in a blue T-shirt told one of the younger men to move from behind the banner and to give his name to the women police constable wearing a pistol, a taser and a capsaicin spray bottle on her belt along with a walkie talkie.
A small latin american woman walked by saying she is not my queen as school girls squealed like princesses as the queen walked behind them in the rainforest. The girls took photos of the banner with their iPhones. The plain clothes cop in blue tried to pull the banner from the grasp of the grey haired man and, as he did, he stood on the banner. There was a minor struggle for the banner between these two as one of the younger men snuck out from behind the banner to give his name, address and date of birth to the policewoman. The older man pushed the policeman’s leg off the banner saying please and began rolling up the banner.
All four were then served 10 day unsigned exclusion notices by a South Bank security guard and escorted 100 metres toward the exit.
Earlier police had given two of the men a direction to take down their banner and move 500 metres down the riverside walk. They complied with the the direction but could not move 500 metres away because police had cordoned off the area.
They shut it down
They closed it down
They shut it down
They pulled it down.
—The Go Betweens ‘Streets of Your Town’
Here is the unsigned exclusion notice.
In the wake of Peterloo – centuries of oppression
25 Oct 2011