Marching against the Queensland Acts

The first time that I was arrested was the day that Black Power exploded like a bomb in the heart of Brisbane city in 1971. The acts were up for review and we had given the government 7 days to strike those racist laws from their statute books– Sam Watson Jnr

On 4th March 1978, about a thousand people attempted to march from King George Square defying the ban on street marches by the Bjelke-Peterson government. Only 50 were successful. Another 51 people were arrested for marching without a permit.

The march was preceded by speeches, comedy, song and street theatre.

There was a motion put to the rally that, in order to confuse the police, the march exit from the square be determined at the last moment by ten elected marshalls. The idea was that the right to march and organise could only be won back by direct action.

The Bjelke-Petersen government had suffered a 10% swing against it since imposing the ban of street marches in order to prevent the anti-uranium movement from mobilising.

Workers BushTelegraph has recovered the audio tape of what happened that morning immediately prior to the street march.

Listen to what Sam Watson had to say so long ago and ask yourself if things have changed much.

Sam Watson speaking at Democratic Rights rally
King George Square 4 March 1978

During the rally a young aboriginal activist, Sam Watson, spoke about the Queensland Acts being used as a means of repressing aboriginal people. A key aspect of his talk at the rally was the denial of award wages to aboriginal workers on missions such as Cherbourg and Palm Island.

During his short speech Sam Watson spoke of the 1957 strike by aborigial workers on Palm Island – people who had been denied a fair wage. The concept of award wages had meaning then – a time when unions had won real gains in the national wage case.

The Queensland Acts meant that an aboriginal person needed a permit to leave the mission at Cherbourg to go and buy a loaf of bread because the family was hungry. Without it they could be arrested by the Murgon police for being in town without permission. If you spoke up, they would ship you out, as the authorities did on Palm Island in 1957.

This happens still. Lex Wotton who stood up when Mulrunji was killed by Sgt Hurley was prohibited from returning to his home and family on the island by the Beattie Labor government.

During a recent election campaign the Labor Party promised to re-open the case of stolen wages.  This hasn’t happened.

Portrait of Sam Watson Jnr in Bunyapa Park West End.
Artist: Warraba Weatherall

The social consequence of the repression that Sam describes still exists today. And none so greatly as in the young whose parents have come from or may still live in the reserves like Cherbourg.

Juveniles resort to alcohol and drugs, they do not attend school, there is a high incidence of teenage pregnancy, they find refuge in being outside society, on the streets, in a world of rejection, their parents carrying their own trauma are losing touch, so much so that in a mire of ice, alcohol and despair many find the ultimate refuge in self harm and even suicide.

Where are the juvenile programs to address these issues in urban society cut off from land, language, culture and respect?

Does government care, does it even know?

Ian Curr
Feb 2015

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