The Long March

Gough Whitlam opens an extension of the UQ union complex in the early 1990s.

“Let me tell you this: that I regard your notion of the ‘long march through the institutions’ as the only effective way…” – Herbert Marcuse to Rudi Dutschke in 1971

The aim of the demolition of the UQ Union complex is to wipe out the last vestiges of radical opposition to the corporate university and the capitalist society it represents.

This opposition may be part of a wider project which may fall under the Rudi Dutschke slogan – ‘The long march through the institutions’.

I see the application for heritage listing by the Committee to Save the University of Qld Union (UQU) complex as part of this long march. It should be noted that government ministers have a history of over-riding ‘Heritage Listing’ and demolishing historic buildings. Gough Whitlam’s childhood home in Kew in Melbourne was demolished despite heritage listing. The Hazelwood and Morwell power stations in Victoria were demolished despite heritage listing. It is likely that there is an override clause in the Queensland Legislation as well.

‘… organised, systematic, non-violent and absolutely massive
Recently I received an email about my role key meetings held in the UQU Relaxation Block leading up to the 1977-79 street march campaign” .

I can recall only one meeting of any real significance held in the Relax Block in the campaign to defy the ban on street marches. It was a very large meeting (over 400 people) in the Relax block on Thursday 15 Sept 1977 that set the tone for later events. Interestingly that meeting overturned a motion at a smaller meeting earlier that day in the forum area not to defy the ban on street marches but to wait till the campaign was ‘organised, systematic, non-violent and absolutely massive’.

Student protest - Quang - 4 Sep 1970 S177 p714

From Left: ? woman, Ann Berquier (wearing hat), ?, Graham Jones (seated) ? standing, blond man with the glasses is Bill Denham, John Jiggens (standing behind Denham), ? Rolph, Secretary Quang (seated)

Anti-war movement
I can also recall attending the ‘Quang Incident’ in the Relax Block on ‘Black’ Friday 4th September 1970 which was a significant event in the conduct of the anti-Vietnam war movement. Moratoria both preceded (May 1970) it and followed it (Sept 1970). In the same week people broke into the University Regiment barracks (the C.M.F. Occupation) on campus and destroyed a number of files. Around that time, offices of DuPont Chemicals in Toowong were firebombed. The second moratorium was smaller as state repression increased. The following year the anti-apartheid movement grew when people confronted the SA Rugby team at the Tower Mill. The UQU complex was critical to the organisation of the anti-apartheid movement, for it was in the Refec that over 3,000 staff and student voted to go on strike against apartheid.

Afternoon for Change and the CLCC move off campus
Other significant events not mentioned were the series of meetings titled ‘Afternoon for Change’ held in the EG Whitlam Room each Wednesday during 1977 and 1978 where we showed films and discussed revolutionary events at home and abroad. Lachlan Hurse and Joseph Monsour could also speak to that. There was a Civil Liberties room on the first floor of the old union building where much of the organising of the campus street march campaign occurred. We printed hundreds of leaflets on an old roneo machine and made thousands of posters in Clubs and Societies in 1977 under the Refec.


Brisbane Trades Hall

In 1978 the CLCC moved off campus establishing its headquarters at Birley Street Spring Hill.  Most of its meetings were held in the old Trades Hall  and some at the Waterside Workers Federation  rooms  in MacLachlan Street.

Student/staff participation in mass defiance of Queensland government
On 22 Sept 1977 about 500 people marched from UQ campus and proceeded to King George Square to attend a rally of 2,000 people where 32 people were arrested. This march and others helped build the democratic rights campaign to defend the right to march and assembly until 5,000 attended a rally in KGSq on 22 Oct 1977 where 418 people were arrested. Thus began the longest period of mass defiance (3,000 arrests) against any government (not including the aboriginal resistance).

Strangely this defiance is not generally recognised.

Police surround demonstrators at Tower Mill

Anti-apartheid picket outside Tower Mill motel on Wickham Terrace Brisbane

Why? Only this week reports were claiming the Stop Adani movement is a campaign of civil disobedience of greater size. This is incorrect, there is little civil disobedience in that movement and numbers attending marches are smaller even though population has nearly doubled since 1977.

The democratic rights campaign engaged a wider selection of the community, including workers and their unions than any movement since. It brought in a large section of the environment movement because one of its demands was to stop the mining and export of uranium.

I think UQ academics, Dan O’Neill and Carole Ferrier, while not agreeing fully with my characterisation of the street march campaign, can attest to just how broadly it touched on the lives of people throughout the state. For example, the Civil Liberties Co-ordinating Committee (CLCC) organised a Summer Campaign early in 1978 that involved a speaking tour throughout Queensland, visiting regional centres, talking at ALP Branches and community groups using prepared information pamphlets covering a variety of topics from transnational mining companies to the role of the police.

Ian Curr
July 2019

Errol O'Neil megaphone2

Errol O’Neill is speaking in front of the Tower Mill motel in July 1971