The Long March through existing institutions

and we are marching again on 11 nov 1977
418 people arrested appear outside the South Brisbane Watchouse and Magistrates Court, 24 Oct 1977

Current readers may not be aware of how difficult it was to be a political activist in the 1960s – 1990s. For example blacklisting of political activists occurred under Bjelke-Petersen’s government.

Blacklisting is one mechanism that the State continues to use to contain dissent. There was quite a bit of recent publicity for example about blacklisting of union activists in the UK.

I have been told that blacklisting is occurring again in the Australian Public Service. For example a police check was necessary for a APS5 Comcare inspectors job someone recently applied for.

Blacklisting of Democratic Rights activists
To explain, prior to Whitlam government (1972-1975), all applications for commonwealth public service were vetted by ASIO. If deemed a risk you were not employed in the commonwealth public service. My understanding is that Whitlam took away the process of ASIO vetting and introduced a fairer system of public sector exams.

Prior to the Goss government in Queensland all applications in the Qld Public Service were vetted by special branch … if deemed a risk your application was rejected before your probation was up.

That is why many street marchers  (1977-1979) did the commonwealth public service exam (myself included) because we knew we could not get employment in the state public service; but, post-whitlam, we could obtain employment in the Commonwealth Public Service or Telecom (if we passed the test).

Of course there were some anomalies in this process and some people got through. Some were overly paranoid and did not sit the test or tried to disguise their politics. An anarchist claimed that, one year, the Public Service Exam had a multi-guess question that asked: What is anarchism: (a) a political philosophy that advocates self-governed societies based on voluntary institutions (b) A system that advocates the violent overthrow of society, (c) A form of sport, (d) A political program peculiar to Spain that opposed the Catholic Church. So paranoid was the anarchist that the examiners might think him an anarchist if he gave the correct answer, he ticked the box that said anarchism was a form of sport 😉

This may sound apocryphal but  I can vouch for one aspect of this vetting procedure based on political beliefs.

In 1985 I applied to be transferred from Telecom to the Commonwealth Public Service. Before my probation (6mths) was up, my performance was placed under review by my regional manager.

At the time a prominent member of the ALP had a brother who worked in DSS Human Resources and he told DSS management that I had an extensive special branch file and that they may wish to review by application for employment.

This HR person knew that I had just been arrested outside the Executive Building in George Street during the 1985 SEQEB dispute and wanted to put pressure on me and others desist from the militant campaign we were waging. The ALP had sold out the sacked SEQEB workers early on in the dispute because it was in breach of the Accord that the Hawke government had organised between employers and the unions.

To the credit of the state director of DSS at the time and the person he delegated to review my employment at DSS Ipswich offce, he said that he was not interested in my special branch file and that he was only interested in my ability to process, in a timely manner, applications for unemployment benefit.

When I proved that I could do this, I was hired.

Ian Curr
April 2016


Dan O’Neill from Peter Gray on Vimeo.

It could have happened anytime. There we were lined up at the entrance to the University facing a phalanx of police. It was 31st March 1978 at Griffith University in Brisbane. Why were we there? Street marches in Queensland were banned by the government. But why then?

24 October 1977
418 arrested appear outside the South Brisbane Watchouse and Magistrates Court, 24 Oct 1977

Step back to August 1977 and some of us had been down at Hamilton wharves standing on the rail tracks in front of a Uranium train. We were trying to stop uranium from being loaded onto a container ship bound for Hamburg Germany to fuel the nuclear reactors over there. Harrisburg, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukashima hadn’t happened, yet. We still had years to wait for the lies about those nuclear disasters. We knew about Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Maralinga, surely they were enough? Plus the Fraser federal government released Australia’s Uranium decision that year. The Bjelke-Petersen government and the mining companies were keen to sell as much uranium as they could before prices collapsed. Opposition to mining and export of yellowcake was growing.

On October 22, 1977, the largest mass arrests in Australian history occurred when 5,000 opponents of uranium mining and export tried to march out of King George Square. 418 were arrested and charged with offence like disobey direction and unlawful procession.

Hugh Hamilton 1977 from Peter Gray on Vimeo.

On 4 September 1977 Bjelke-Petersen had decided to cut the growing movement off at the knees when he declared in parliament in answer to a Dorothy Dix question: ‘The day of the political street march is over. Don’t bother to apply for a permit you won’t get one’.

This video shows the march on the eve of the 1977 State Elections. At that election there was a 10% swing against the Bjelke-Petersen government in the metropolitan areas because of the Democratic Rights campaign. As a personal note I was arrested that day with about 300 other people. We spent many hours in the watchouse, were released and we went back on the streets to challenge the ban on street marches, some being arrested for a second time on the day of the election 12 Nov 1977. Over 3,000 arrests occurred in the period from 4 Sept 1977 till July 1979.

Democratic Rights Rally and March, Brisbane, Australia, 11 November 1977 from Peter Gray on Vimeo.

So here we were preparing to march out of Griffith University on Brisbane’s Southside. Most of the people in the front line had been arrested before at similar confrontations with Qld police. Most but not all of the marchers in the front row were members of the International Socialists, one of a number of small radical group that arose after Bjelke-Petersen banned street marches. There was JM, Vicki , Carole , Charlie, Michael , Grant C, Jane, Lee , Steve , John B and another Grant. I was about four rows back with students from the other University in Brisbane, the University of Queensland (UQ).

Carole was a English lecturer at UQ and Jane was her student. Jane is shown at the end of the 11 Nov 1977 march arrested and chanting the familiar refrain: “The people united will never be defeated.” Charlie was the son of a fridge magnate. Lee had been, at one time or another, in political groups from the far right to the far left. He worked for the ALP and was eventually convicted of electoral fraud. I did not know it then but John B was on bail for possession of drugs. In fact I know little of the background of any of the participants, least of all their personal histories. They were fellow travellers along the road to democratic rights. Behind us there were 300-400 marchers. Nearly all were either students or teachers. There was Keith H who had been there the night the coppers pushed us off the railway track at Hamilton No 4 wharf to enable the uranium train to go through. Our banners read “We Demand the Right to March”,  “Unite in Opposition to the State & Federal Governments” and “Campaign against Nuclear power”. We discarded them carefully by the roadside with poles and red and black flags.

The speeches back at the forum area on campus were long gone and now was the time for action, bodies to be placed on the line. The people in the vanguard linked arms ready for the confrontation – a loose sign of solidarity with the persons bedside you. Where moments before there had been youthful exuberance now it was down to business. Across from the entrance to the University on Kessells road stood the Qld Special Branch ready to direct uniformed police to arrest the leaders, to take photos and to behave like thugs if the situation warranted it. There was Mick Vernardos arguably the dumbest man in the police force – reputedly taking over 30 attempts to pass his Sergeant’s exam. Nearby was David Ferguson, lout and thug. There too that day was Mrs Reid perhaps along to assist in the arrest of women marchers. Some women had been strip searched in full view of male police in earlier marches.

The plan was to evade police by turning into Kessells road in a direction away from where ‘the thin blue line’ was waiting. Adrenalin was up. The front line began to run. It became skewed almost immediately because of the unfamiliarity people had with this formation while at the gallop. Lee and Steve wore tight jeans and heavy boots hoping to evade police by running their heels down the shins of arresting officers. Steve did manage to break free but Lee was captured and placed in the Black Maria.

I was arrested that day (31 March 1978) with 7 other people, I was taken separately to the South Brisbane Watchouse, detained unlawfully, verballed by police, and charged with conspiracy to breach the peace in the night-time and willful damage. I was also charged with illegal marching and disobey a police direction. Police claimed that I had lit a fire on a magistrate’s front lawn. I was sent to prison and the bail was set at thousands of dollars that I did not have. A collection was taken up by the Civil Liberties Coordinating committee and I was eventually released. Months later I was refused bail and jailed again, this time by a judge of the district court. He eventually resigned from hearing the case after he was overuled by the Supreme Court of Queensland. The public defender, know as  Wild Bill, and his apprentice John Jerrard stood before the Supreme Court asked why it was necessary to throw me in the slammer on the basis of damage done to a $25 nylon garden hose.

Some time later I was tried and acquitted by a jury of the charges of willful damage and breach of the peace. The jury doubted the version of events given by police.

Later, a magistrate convicted me of the lesser charges  of disobey a police direction and unlawful procession. I was fined about $100 at a time when the dole was about $50 per week. The judge would had thrown me in jail expressed the opinion that marching was a criminal breach of the peace and should be met by unflinching retribution. One of the National Party’s mates proclaimed that marches should be shot.

It took us nearly two years to win back the right to march that we have today.

Sometimes I wonder if it was all worth it.

The people united will never be defeated!

Ian Curr
Feb 2013

One thought on “The Long March through existing institutions

  1. March from UQ 12 Sept 1977 says:


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