If You Don’t Fight You Lose

Recently there was some discussion about the Right-to-March campaign in Queensland in 1977-79. I have dug up an old video made by the Media Committee of the Civil Liberties Co-ordinating Committee (CLCC) that traces the history of that campaign in its early months. The commentary on the video below is contemporaneous, any mistakes that were made belong to that time. It is not a reconstructed memory or a political justification.

Regardless of its shortcomings and ultimate failure to achieve it’s objective of bringing down the government of the day, the right-to-march campaign did have far reaching impact in Queensland and the rest of Australia. The campaign resulted in a 10% swing against the government in the metropolitan areas in the 12 November 1977 election because of people’s refusal to accept the state government’s denial of democratic rights through a ban on the right to assemble, march and to organise.

The CLCC campaigned effectively with activists attending ALP Branch meetings, union meetings, community and Campaign Against Nuclear Power (CANP) groups throughout the state. Speakers Notes were prepared for the Summer campaign of 1977-78. These notes spelt out the concerns of the Left on education, mining, democracy, society, racism, women’s rights and the economy. They were not quite a political program but they were as close as we could get under the repression existing at the time.

The most significant indicator of the effectiveness of right-to-march campaign was that the Red Contingent outnumbered the union contingent in the 1978 May Day march, 12,000 marchers to 8,000 marches. In all, there were about 20,000 who marched – a number that exceeded the number of unionists who marched in 2021 despite the population of metropolitan Brisbane being two and a half times larger in 2021 than in 1978.

Here is the history of that campaign in its early months as narrated in a video made at time. Depending on time a resources, this may be the beginning of a series on the right-to-march campaign, a history yet to be told, at least from the inside using objective materials recorded at the time: videos, super 8 film, leaflets, banners, arrest lists, meeting minutes, still held all these years later by LeftPress.

Finally I think the proposers of the name Civil Liberties Co-orinating Committee should have given more thought to the name in 1977. Subsequently people kept characterising the 1977-79 ‘right-to-march campaign’ as a struggle for civil liberties and made direct paralells with the 1967 civil liberties march. The 1977-79 right-to-march campaign was much more than a march for individual rights.

The CLCC always argued for democratic rights which are collective rights. Yes, meetings were stacked to oppose this, there were people only interested in a sectarian campaign based on opportunism and kowtowing to the churches and civil libertarians. But the CLCC was always open and argued for wide participation in stark contrast to the Qld Labor Party and to the Communist Party of Australia.

These democratic rights included the right to organise … if you go back to the video you will see the first illegal marches after the ban on 4th September was to a rally of trade unions in Roma Street Forum. This was because a Transport Workers Union official, Ted Zaphir, had been charged by the Bjelke-Petersen government under Section 359 of the Queensland Criminal Code, for doing his job as an organiser. Both Waterside Workers and students marched to the rally.

A demonstration of 5,000 – 6,000 stood up for collective rights on that day. And the government was forced to back down.

Another thing which differentiates the 1977 CLCC from the original 1967 civil liberties campaign was its approach to the collective rights of women i.e. the struggle for reproductive rights. It was mostly women who organised the 1977 CLCC campaign whereas in 1967 it was mainly men.


The democratic rights struggle of 1977-79 was the longest campaign of mass defiance in Australian history with the political purpose of bringing down the government (with the exception of the aboriginal resistance). It was a national campaign with trade unionists and MPs coming from interstate to march, getting arrested to show their opposition to the Queensland government. There were over 2,000 people arrested and more than 3,000 charges laid with the largest mass arrest of 418 people in one, hot afternoon of 22 October 1977.

Sadly organisation fell away after the right-to-march campaign and there was little organisation left when Bjelke-Petersen’s government attacked the SEQEB workers in 1985. In the end, the government fell when Joh got old and senile and that led us into an era of 40 years of the Labor Party, moribund in its pursuit of capitalism lurching from one crisis to another, a closed shop that looked to privatise railways, ports, roads and mines, slaves to neoliberal policies that would make the Chicago Boys proud.

Ian Curr
24 Jan 2022



District Superintendent of Traffic

Harry Hauenschild (Qld Trades & Labour Council), Ian Curr (Civil Liberties Co-ordinating Committee [CLCC]), Peter Annear (Australian Union of Students [AUS]), Pete Seeger (singer), Toowoomba spokesperson for Right-to-March Group, Holly Near (singer), Brisbane District Superintendent of Traffic, Speaker at Toowoomba Rally, Leslie Mannison (CLCC), Joseph Monsour (CLCC), Graham Grassie (student speaking at UQ Forum on 22 Sept 1977), Police Superintendent of Traffic, Carole Ferrier (University Lecturer), Terry O’Gorman ( Lawyer & Council for Civil Liberties).

Police Superintendent of Traffic  00:25

This is an unlawful procession as no permit has been issued. I now prohibit the holding of this procession and direct that you take no further part in the procession. Any persons continuing in procession in any carriageway or footpath will be committing an offence.

Song  00:42

I can whisper and I can sing but I was born to this world hollering if I can’t be heard talking, I’m gonna shout, nothing on will drown me. Listen, there’s a lot I’ve got to say.

Leslie Mannison  01:03

In early August 1977, uranium demonstrators held a three day picket at Hamilton Wharf in Brisbane, acting on information given to them by railway workers about an impending shipment of uranium. The ecology organization, ‘Friends of the Earth’ called the demonstration. The picket lasted three days and culminated in police attacking demonstrators standing on railway tracks, in order to stop the shipment going through. Three people were arrested after the shipment had been held up for four hours.

Government jingle  01:40

He’s a man that you can talk to, a man that you can trust.

Joh Bjelke-Petersen at UQ in 1978

Leslie Mannison  01:49

Following a demonstration against Fraser’s uranium decision, the premier of Queensland issued an edict that ‘the day of the political street match was over.’ Immediately a meeting of civil rights protagonists was held and called the forum at the University of Queensland. 250 people attended the forum and the decision was made to march to public rally organized around trade union rights. On the following day, the 7th of September, more than 400 students attempted to march from the University of Queensland to Roma Street Forum. They were stopped at the end of the university grounds by 200 police. They dispersed and continued to the rally by other means.

Pete Seeger  02:30

We will stand and fight together, We shall not be moved.

Leslie Mannison  02:33

Two hundred (200) waterside workers marched on the footpath without police intervention through the city to the rally where 5000 people were massed to protest the erosion of trade union and civil rights.

Ian Curr  02:44

The government responded quickly and rushed through Parliament amendments to the Traffic Act that abolished the right of appeal to magistrates against police refusal of march permits.

Graham Grassie (speaking at UQ Forum on 22 Sept 1977)  02:53

… came to power. He didn’t suddenly put blanket so it’s become a victim of this. And it’s a it’s the aim of this movement.

Leslie Mannison  03:03

At a meeting of 700 people, an open Civil Liberties Coordinating Committee was formed and a march was planned for September the 22nd. On that day, over 800 protesters marched from the University of Queensland and once again were blocked by large mass of some 300 police.

People  03:22

Chanting – ‘Fight Joh, join the march, Fight Joh, join the march!’

Disrrict Superintendent of Traffic  03:27

Those persons taking part in this procession are participating in an unlawful possession as no permit has been issued by the District Superintendent of Traffic for holding a procession on this road on this date. I, the Superintendent of  Traffic for the state of Queensland do now  prohibit the holding of this procession, and I direct all persons taking part in this unlawful possession to discontinue doing so forthwith and to disperse {booing}.

Song  03:55

I can whisper and I can sing but I was born to this world hollering …

Ian Curr  04:02

And they continued to the city square via the footpath …

Song  04:07

… drown me out.  Listen, there’s a lot I’ve got to say … or I will shout it till you hear me anyway. I was born to this world like everyone with a hungry belly to drive me on. I was born to this world like everyone else with my own two …

Leslie Mannison  04:32

A rally of 2,000 people in City Square was surrounded by 700 uniformed and 100 plainclothes police.

Peter Annear (AUS) being arrested on 12 Sept 1977

Peter Annear  04:48

[Applause] I think you should move off very shortly after (inaudible) from Sian Lewis …

Leslie Mannison  04:55

Demonstrators were attacked by police while sitting on the steps of the square. Thirty-two (32) people were arrested.

Crowd  05:14

Woman accusing police in King George Square during right-to-march demonstration in 1977.

[Peter Annear arrested … Keith Horsely arrested] Police are blocking the streets, Police are blocking the streets.

Leslie Mannison  05:21

Five of the arrests were women who were stripped in jail, which was later denied by police. The activity was not confined to Brisbane. In provincial centres there were already anti-uranium organizations. At this time, right-to-march groups were founded,

Speaker at Toowoomba Rally  05:37

This is a peaceful demonstration, and all reasons that they may have put forward but being any otherwise, are hereby prove to be invalid.

Toowoomba spokesperson  05:47

In Toowoomba, a regional city of Queensland, a rally was held in one of the parks in support of the right to march. No violence occurred.  

Speaker at Toowoomba Rally  05:56

in many ways in Toowoomba for many years or more … And there has never been a violent demonstration of any kind in Toowoomba …

Toowoomba spokesperson

The Toowoomba Right to March Group which organised the rally later  issued a press release which said in part ‘Peaceful rally ringed by police’ After several others speakers which we had insufficient tape to record,  the rally ended quietly and the police left after what must have been a hot stuffy time in their buses and cars …[music].

Leslie Mannison:

In Brisbane, a further march was planned for October 12. Students and staff started in march from Queensland University to city square at the blockade 400 police at the entrance of the university. The march parted and walked in small groups joining a meeting of 1000 people at 5pm.


What do we want? The Right to march! When do we want it? Always!

Leslie Mannison:

An Open Forum was held to discuss further attacks on civil and trade union rights. A request for permission to march was made to the police and was refused. The meeting then voted to sit down on the steps of City Square where it was confronted by 700 police for three hours. During this time, police trampled on seated people and confiscated speaking equipment being used to address the meeting. Eight people were arrested.

Joseph Monsour  08:14

Early in 1977, the National Conference of anti-uranium organizations proposed a national day of mobilization for October 22nd. In Queensland, applications for permits to march in Brisbane, Toowoomba, Nambour  and Townsville were rejected by police chiefs. The anti-uranium mobilization committee, consisting of the Campaign against Nuclear Power, the Civil Liberties Coordinating Committee, the Uranium moratorium, various church groups and the Friends of the Earth organization proposed a rally and march.  In Sydney, 20,000 protesters assembled and marched down George Street to Hyde Park in the presence of 20 police. There were no arrests. In Melbourne., 10,000 protesters assembled in the city square and marched to the Trades Hall. There were no arrests.

Leslie Mannison  09:03

In Brisbane, 5,000 people attended the rally in city square. There were over 700 police present. A motion which proposed that people walk in two’s and three’s on the footpath around city streets was put and carried. However this was blocked by a large contingent of police, some carrying batons.

Pete Seeger  10:21

[singing] When the unions inspiration through the workers blood shall run, there can be no power greater any were beneath the sun. Yep what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one but the union makes us strong. Solidarity forever … Solidarity forever  .. Solidarity forever … … union makes us strong. It is we who ploughed the prairies built the cities where they trade, dug the mines and built the workshops, endless miles of railroad laid. Now we stand outcast and starving amid the wonders we have made but the union makes us strong … Solidarity forever …. Solidarity forever  … Solidarity forever  …

Protestors  12:01

The police are blocking the streets … The police are blocking the streets …

Leslie Mannison  12:52

People regrouped in the square and a proposal to march is an act of civil disobedience was passed. The protesters lined up on the steps and marched into Albert Street, some with arms in the air ,altogether 418 people were arrested.

Pete Seeger  13:16

We shall not we shall not be moved … we will stand and fight together we shall we will stand and fight together. We shall not be moved …  just like a tree that is standing by the water we shall not be moved. We are black and white together. We are black and white together. We shall not be moved …  just like a tree that is standing by the water we shall not be moved.

Leslie Mannison  15:03

While the 418 people arrested in the anti-uranium demonstration on October 22, discussed in the park beside the courts how to approach their cases. Police give them orders to move onto the roadway in front of the court so as to facilitate the quick processing of defendants. In the confusion, Special Branch police arrested one demonstrator, and another two for inquiring what the first was to be charged with. To prevent further police harassment, the demonstrators moved back into the park.

Demonstrators outside the courts 24 October 1977

Protestors  15:32

What do we want? The right to march, always. What do we want? The right to march When do we want it? Always. [Music}

Terry O’Gorman (Council for Civil Liberties)  15:40

We are recommending that you go into court ask the magistrate that the charges be read, plead ‘not gulity’ and leave it at that, alright.

Leslie Mannison  16:15

Activities continued during both the state and federal election campaign and climaxed on the eve of the state election on November 11. The two major forms of activity were pickets and negotiations with the trade union movement by civil rights protagonists. However, the Trades and Labor Council refused to co-sponsor the proposed rally on November 11. On that day, a rally was held under the slogans ‘the right to march’ and ‘the right to organize’. The rally started at 4:30pm. and about 2,000 people attended.

Carole Ferrier  16:49

One to broaden out the committee was about this Thursday’s activities. And then they need to be that there’ll be a forum out here at one o’clock this coming Thursday.

Leslie Mannison  17:00

After an open forum at 6:30pm. The proposal to march was put and carried. The marches were cut off and besieged in Albert Street by police. [Get up Stand up for yours rights] Civil Rights Movement engaged in forms of protest rather than marches in November of 1977. Pickets were held at the executive building, police headquarters and the Brisbane jail at Boger.

Holly Near  19:01

When you fire, you hold a rifle, when you sleep you hold the child and when you fight to get a hold of freedom i’ll feel stronger when I get to …

Leslie Mannison  19:14

On the 18th of the same month, the peaceful picket was held to protest the withholding of illegally confiscated speaking equipment by traffic branch police. Placards of legal size, under 610 millimeters square, were impounded by police and seven protesters were arrested. Police said that the protesters were part of an unlawful procession. While negotiations continued between the Civil Liberties Coordinating Committee and the Trades and Labor Council, a small march of 60 people was conducted around city streets with only one policeman in attendance. There was no police violence. 100 police arrived minutes after the event. The trade union movement accepted the Civil Liberties Coordinating Committee proposal to sponsor a rally on December 3.

Song  20:08

Leslie Mannison  20:08

On the morning of December 3 Brisbane witnessed the Queen Elizabeth silver jubilee spectacular, organized by Harry M Miller. The parade involved over 3000 troops: a display of military might unparalleled in Brisbane since the war. This procession held up Brisbane traffic for more than two and a half hours. [Noise of tanks and aircraft flying over Queen Street. People clapping.] At 10:30 a rally for the right to march and the right to organize was held. I will leave you young people … I’m impossible to march, I’m just on 75. [Applause. Good onya] After a long discussion, a resolution to march was put and carried overwhelmingly.

Harry Hauenschild  21:30

The decision is to march [Applause] and I would warn you …

Leslie Mannison  21:36

Further speeches ensued and at the end of the rally, people marched once again into Albert Street to be encircled by 700 police.

Song  21:46

 Look my comrades, re-inforcements now appearing, victory is nigh … hold the fort for we are coming. Union men are strong.

Leslie Mannison  22:14

 210 people were arrested

Ian Curr  22:23

While people were being arrested in Albert Street, a plain clothes police officer was mistakenly accosted, taken about five meters and then released.

Crowd and then singing  22:33

Over me, over me … the whole human race can be free.

[Ian Rintoul points his finger from inside a paddy wagon].

Transcript by Ian Curr

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