Exile on Main Street – changing of the guard

For those who’ve come across the seas we’ve boundless plains to share 💓” – Ali Kadri, spokesperson for Islamic Council, sent by his father to Australia after the 2002 Gujarat riots. He was speaking in Pineapple Hotel Park on 21 June 2020.

Dutton wants to silence and hide his cruel policy of vendetta against refugees” – Pamela Curr OAM, long-term human rights and refugee advocate.

One thousand marched out onto Main Street in Kangaroo Point after a rally in the park behind the Pineapple Hotel. We were buoyed by the numbers and the band, Kurilpa Reach, playing reggae in the park. People of all backgrounds came together here some with personal knowledge of exile. If not exile they simply could not stomach the regimes they left behind, some as long as World War II. Their parents had been caught up in countries like Holland where collaboration with the Nazis was too much to bear and fled as far afield as they could. Is Tasmania far enough from the human cost and destruction of war? Others came from Latin America with its military coups and unstable democracies. Still more taking refuge from wars sponsored by the US and Britain, wars where Australia followed dutifully.

Our photos were taken by a Qld police information officer. The date of the mass action was changed from Saturday to accommodate the 60 or so Black-Lives-Matter demonstrators outside Wacol Prision the day before.

There are political prisoners everywhere in Queensland. The local councilor Jonathan Sri may be soon be one of them. He was arrested the week before and police have used the Bail Act to restrict his presence at such gatherings. Possibly unlawful, but designed to keep him away because of his position as a Brisbane City councillor and social media reach.

The Riot Squad were soon called to remove us from Main Street and the kettled us into Walmsley Street [where are the public health directives when you need them, see full account and video @ Police Kettling on Walsmsley ]. We were all wearing masks and our hands were being sanitised by volunteers. So we marched peacefully turning our removal into a victory by coming around the block and receiving support from the locals in the apartments near the Kangaroo Point cliffs. Refugees waved to us frantically as we came down the side of their makeshift prison. Not all are allowed out on the balconies shown in the photo below.

We returned to give support to the waving men detained in Kangaroo Point Central Prison. Formerly Kangaroo Point Central Apartments owned by an anonymous corporate in Newstead headed up by Greg Whitehead, no doubt a creation of some bureaucrat in home affairs under the watchful eye of Minister Peter Dutton. This is a coalition of the willing led by Prime Minister aspirant, Dutton. Dutton, the politicised Homes Affairs department and Serco which operates many private prisons and immigration detention centres in Australia, New Zealand and England.

I held aloft a corflute that was resting against the wall; it read “End the Dutton chaos?

There has been a generational shift in support for asylum seekers in this country. Near me, veteran refugee advocate Fredericke Stein held aloft a book about the failure about refugee policy in Australia which probably contained sage advice. No time for that now. A young woman was going around asking other young women if they would join the roster of volunteers to help with the blockade. She was specifically targeting people who did not belong to already existing left groups.

Speaking of which, Socialist Alternative were chanting some creative slogans about refugees just behind me. We listened to a young woman of colour demand of the audience 7 minutes silence in memory of George Floyd. Of course we complied.

Sprinkled among the people were Electrical Trade Union flags with men proudly wearing the ETU T-shirts. I was wearing a Big Ride for Palestine jersy with other union logos: CFMEU (construction and mining), Plumbers, MUA (wharfies and sea fareres), APHEDA (union aid abroad) and of course ETU. However gone are the heady days of organised support from the Qld Council of Unions when an earlier movement in February 2016. They rescued Baby Asha and her family from the clutches of Border Force outside the Lady Cilento Children’s hospital at South Brisbane.

Have we reached critical mass to prevent further ‘extractions’ from Main Street Central Prision? Maybe. However I do not think the 116 or so remaining refugees will be moved in the near future.

For one, the state government is on tenterhooks with an election in November. True to form they are practising what the Labor Party does best, ‘a pair of safe hands‘.

Meanwhile police do as they wish. Near the close of the solidarity demonstration we were ringed on both sides of Main Street by riot squad. I asked three officers if I could leave by the roadway. They each said no including a senior officer. Police told me to walk through the crowd kettled on the footpath. I said if I do that my pedals will hit their legs so tight was the mob formed on the footpath. I said politely I want to go home this is a road bike (not a meant for the footpath). “It is too dangerous” was the reply from the copper. As he said this cars banked up at the lights and there was a free lane just behind him. So I waited for another 20 minutes until the crowd started to leave and road up Walmsley street to my home waving to the refugees as people through paper planes wishing them all the best.

Ian Curr
22 June 2020

Banner Photo: Peaceful Assembly on Main Street 21 June 2020. Phil Monsour.

3 thoughts on “Exile on Main Street – changing of the guard

  1. Refugee rights, peaceful assembly and the 'rule of law' says:

    You can be proud of your mess
    You can keep us in detention
    You can kill us by this disease
    You can give us COVID 19
    – song by Kazem, refugee in detention on Main Street.

    Thanks to the video (below) by Kazem, a refugee on the balcony of Brisbane’s Central Prison apartments for asylum seekers, we can trace what the police did last Sunday 21 June 2020.

    About 1,000 people walked from the park behind the Pineapple Hotel at about 2pm. We were joined by other refugee suppporters already at the Central Prison apartments and some coming from nearby streets and shops. One man told me he came early from the northside because he did not want to get caught in the traffic jam on the Storey Bridge that occurred last week when police failed to make proper arrangements and divert traffic to other bridges or through the cross river tunnel. Ordinary police divert traffic for big games at the Gabba why do they need the riot squad for peaceful refugee supporters. We have a right to peaceful assembly or do we?

    Anyway police blocked off Main Street prior to our arrival and long after we were forced to leave via Walmsley Street. The Riot Squad marched up behind us and forced us up into that narrow street paying no heed to our safety from Covid 19.

    While on Main Street we were ‘socially distancing’ with our arms outstretched. But as soon as the riot squad forced us into Walmsley (little more than a laneway) all that went out the window. Thanks to good planning by organisers they had already provided us with masks and sanitising gel. Police left Main Street blocked for long after people had vacated Main Street. Why? Well you would have to ask them. Good luck with that. #FreetheRefugees

    Ian Curr
    23 June 2020

    Window on western democracy


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