For the record, this is my personal account of events that led to the Honourable Prime Minister Julia Gillard being dragged along by her body-guard and bundled into her waiting car. I am not claiming to speak on behalf of anyone else who was there. This is my individual, personal account of these events.
On the morning of the 26th of January hundreds of people gathered at the Australian National University for a welcome, music, dancing and talks before embarking on an organized march up to Parliament House and around and back to the Aboriginal Tent Embassy near Old Parliament House. The march was fantastic and we arrived at the Tent Embassy in the highest of spirits.
Some time after the march we were milling about with some people listening to speakers etc., when word spread that Tony Abbott had been reported as saying that the Tent Embassy is no longer needed, that people should just “move on”. Not only this, but that he himself – right now – was no more than 50 meters away at the Porkbarrel café. (Upon close inspection one can actually see the colour of the Tent Embassy infrastructure in the photo of the cafe below.)
We brisk-walked over to the café. In the main the feeling was that we should tell Abbott what we thought of his comments. There was also a feeling of outrage and disbelief – that he would be so insensitive and disrespectful to say such a thing and then think it peaceably dandy and fine to dine and quaff champagne at the closest possible venue to the Aboriginal Tent Embassy at the very moment they are celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the Tent Embassy and reasserting their people’s right or claim to sovereignty. It seemed almost unimaginable.
At this stage many people (including myself) were not aware that Gillard was also there.
When we reached the café we could barely believe our eyes – the café walls were double-glazed clear-as-clear-day glass. We could see absolutely everything that was going on inside and the venue itself was tiny – it was a tiny little fishbowl and we gathered around to see. And what did we’ith see? There before our eyes was not only Tony Abbott but Tony Abbott with the Honorable PM Julia Gillard, quaffing champagne and schmoozing. They were no more than five meters away and divided only by glass.
The café had three glass side-walls and we gathered around two of them. There were two doors to the café (neither of which were locked as far as we know). One of these doors was on the side where no one was gathered (until later in the piece).
Initially, we chanted things like “shame, shame, shame on you.” Abbott and Gillard pretended not to notice we were there. They continued sipping their drinks and making polite conversation with other guests in the room. One or two people started banging on the glass (with an open palm) at this stage.
In the twenty minutes following, more people at the Tent Embassy became aware of what was going on and came to join us. The various chants melded into a strong and steady chorus – “Always was, always will be Aboriginal land.” Abbott and Gillard continued to pretend they could neither see or hear us. More people started banging on the glass.
There were approximately sixty people (maximum) at this stage and one or two gathered around the far side where there had previously not been anyone. This is when a number of police entered the café without incident. They walked in through one of the two open doors.
A few minutes later there was a dramatic fluster of movement on the far side of the café (at the other entrance door). It was the kind of hurried dramatic movement that usually indicates an arrest or attempted arrest of demonstrators in situations like this. Everyone ran around to the side to see what was going on. It was not demonstrators being man-handled this time around – but the PM and opposition leader! It was completely surreal and ridiculously dramatic – they were bundled into a waiting car in the most ridiculously panicked and violent way.
If we had wanted to enter the café we could have at any stage; to our knowledge neither door was locked until police arrived – what were they so afraid of?
In the panic to bundle Gillard and Abbott like rag-dolls into the car Protective Services knocked a well-known and respected Indigenous elder down the stairs. Other people were pushed aside and pushed to the ground as well. Some people were shouting at the police. Some people were shouting at Gillard and Abbott for what they perceived as cowardice. A few people banged on the windows of the two cars (no more than four or five people). One person threw a plastic water bottle and two individuals (that I saw) attempted to stand in front of the two cars.
All in all the two cars left with a lot less fuss than I have seen at other demonstrations. The two individuals who stepped in front of the cars may have slowed their exit momentarily but that is all.
At this stage – after Gillard and Abbott had departed – the police and Protective Services started (re)acting hyper-aggressively. No one could make sense of this. They tossed people aside and to the ground and shoved people by the throat and began yelling “move back, move back” despite the fact that they themselves were not in any cohesive line. Many assumed they were telling us to “move back” to the Tent Embassy because they had not otherwise made it clear where we were supposed to “move back” to and we were all dispersed in any case.
By this stage there were approximately one hundred of us. Many were shouting at the police to stop pushing, shoving, grabbing and punching people. Yes, the police were punching people, in the face in some cases – I saw this with my own eyes. What was a dispersed crowd became a tight-knit gathering as people came to one another’s defense and told the police to back the f*** off and calm the f*** down.
Things became slightly chaotic at this stage because it was evident that the police were trying to escalate things or scale things up. One particular Indigenous elder from the Tent Embassy tried to calm everyone down and suggested we go back to the Embassy before things get worse – and what happened? He – this one particular elder who was calling for calm and a return to Embassy grounds – was set upon by Protective Services. In his defence and in something of a panic many people started yelling and screaming and trying to pull the police off and away. Things were getting crazy.
By this stage the police had linked arms to form a police-line. They started advancing towards us shouting “move back, move back.” Meanwhile individual Protective Service men were singling people out from the crowd – paying no heed to the police line at all. They singled people out – pointing directly at them – before shoving, grabbing and (in at least two cases) punching them – shouting “move rear, move rear, move rear”. What did they want or mean – “move rear??” In one case a pepper spray bottle was shoved into a woman’s face. There were additional threats of pepper spray and arrest that were made and at least one female police officer drew her baton.
Some people linked arms to form a counter-line to hold off and hold back the police. This was broken by the police who continued advancing – shoving, pulling and pushing people. The Protective Service men continued to advance as well, singling people out from the crowd and setting upon them.
We started to move back towards the Embassy faster than police were advancing and eventually the police-line came to a halt, to form a stationary line on the road.
The rest of the story is irrelevant to the Gillard ‘slipper-gate’ affair.
I would be interested to hear other first hand accounts if anyone would like to contribute.