Apparently there were some disturbances in the centre of Melbourne this weekend. As a philosophical type, I’ve never been one for rushing to the barricades with a hand painted placard – but rather more likely to quietly reflect on a passage from Marx or Engels, with a decent shiraz in hand, when contemplating revolutionary metaphysics. Hence it passed that I did not observe these events in person, but relied instead on media reports.
I expect this is so for most of my fellow Melburnians who, on the whole, passed a pleasantly sunny winter’s afternoon in the garden, walking the dog, riding a bike along Beach Road, or, perhaps fox hunting as is the want of a certain ABC journalist. Whatever floats your boat, as they say in the prophets!
Reading the breathless reporting on the homepage of the Age or the Guardian, whose reporters seemed indecently keen for a good, old fashioned stoush of some sort developing on the steps of the State’s legislature, it was clear there had indeed been a disturbance of some description – ‘Police have deployed capsicum spray and the horse squad, as well as hundreds of uniformed officers, in a bid to control violent protests near Parliament House,’ The Age told its readers in the first line of its report. Curiously, both the Age and the Guardian were somewhat coy, if not intentionally obscure, over who was to blame for the violent scenes each went on to describe, but were not leaving their readers guessing over who they wished to be at fault.
Over at the Guardian, the headline was on how the ‘Reclaim Australia’ was ‘hurtful’ to migrants and refugees – I doubt the sub-editor meant it literally, but it did transpire that the rally was subsequently about as hurtful as a blast of pepper spray in the face for some of those present.
Discontent with the Age and the Guardian prompted me to move on to the surely reliable ABC, recipient of a large cache of taxpayer funds, and whose report featured as many distressing pictures of stricken protestors pouring milk over their watering eyes as could be crowded onto one webpage, but could shed no light whatsoever on what had happened, or how, or who had caused it, other than by quoting ‘a member of the Socialist Party’ who was sure they had done nothing wrong, and that the police had given a number of their peace loving members an up close encounter with concentrated capsicum for no reason whatsoever.
This went completely unchallenged or disputed by the ABC, who then rushed to a headline noting that federal MP George Christiansen was attending a Reclaim rally in Queensland. One half expected the next photo to be one of Tony Abbot addressing the Sydney Reclaim rally in front of a ‘Ditch the Witch’ sign someone had found on the lawn at Parliament House Canberra.
Returning to the Age, I learned that several people were arrested when some of the protestors tried to break through the police line separating the two rival groups. The Age kept referring to the protestors as ‘right wing extremists’ and seemed especially eager to highlight the fact that members of the Reclaim Australia group ‘included a man with Nazi tattoos’ who, reportedly, delighted in taunting the anarchists and socialists trying to break through the police lines with calls of ‘lefty scum’.
I have never aspired to have a swastika tattooed across my chest, nor anywhere on my person for that matter, but I did have some sympathy for the ‘lefty scum’ shouting Nazi misfit, since it transpired further in the article that the objects of his chanting were a group of masked counter-protestors who had breached police lines and were rapidly advancing on his person. The Age reporter didn’t say so, but it seemed certain they weren’t wanting to introduce themselves and exchange phone numbers.
The picture painted by the Age, the Guardian and the ABC, for the simpletons who begin and end their daily dose of news there, was something like this – the ‘Reclaim’ protestors were comprised entirely of overweight middle-aged men with swastikas tattooed across their foreheads, intent on violence, and poised to rampage through the streets of Melbourne seeking out helpless taxi drivers of ethnic heritage (i.e. any taxi driver) for a summary beating.
Although beginning with a small gathering (about 50 according to the Age), the number of the barbarian hordes ‘swelled’ when a group of even more ‘hardline extremists’ arrived (another 50 or so the Age begrudgingly admitted). The ABC couldn’t conceal that the counter protestors, made up largely of Socialist students with a sprinkling of mild mannered anarchists, were far more numerous in number, much louder, and, it became clear, much more intent on violence.
Not until settling in for a welcome Heineken over the six o-clock news, wherein the rally and counter protest featured prominently, and with ample vision, did what had actually taken place become clear. The police line, several hundred strong and with equine reinforcements, was all looking one way, at the socialists and anarchists, and the vast majority of the expletive supplemented abuse was coming from this direction, as were the attempts to break through the police line and visit some form of physical harm on the rival group.
When the police were pressed into action, it was to pepper spray some over enthusiastic socialists, and arrest some anarchists, who had seemingly come straight from the snowfields, or who were intending to visit some form of illegal violence on someone and did not want the footage of them in said act to be featuring on Crime Stoppers at a future date. Curiously, the tattooed racists on the other side who so offended the Age, the Guardian and the ABC, left with their hair not resembling a Mexicana pizza with extra capsicum, and made their own way home, as opposed to being bundled into the divvy van for a trip to the now blissfully smoke free lockup.
Of course, this is not the story the well rehearsed Socialists and anarchists will be telling over their lentil soup in the morning. Their narrative, eagerly consumed by the gullible types at the Age and the ABC, will probably go something like this: Two of their number were innocently making daisy chains when trampled on by a police horse; another group were about to join hands and break into a rendition of Kumbaya when randomly sprayed with pepper; for another, the puff of wind from a police horse passing nearby somehow caused her to be flung violently to the ground; yet another was left crying in pain when seized by the forearm by a police woman with a curiously extra-human, vice like grip, that caused extensive muscular damage, ongoing pain, and entailed treatment for shock. Such are the fantasies, these or other, probably being prepared, even as the events themselves unfolded, by teams of pro bono lawyers.
The Age ended its report with a quote from ‘No Room For Racism’ rally speaker, the superbly named Ezekiel Ox (* XYZ is pretty sure this is not his real name, but if so, we congratulate his parents for achieving an especially obscure biblical allusion), who claimed victory by telling his audience in hoarsely megaphone enhanced voice ‘make some noise because it is three-nil.’
By day’s end ABC news was giving the score at 4-0: ‘four arrested’ that is, for ‘violence at Reclaim rally.’ The curiously uninquisitive ABC reporter wasn’t saying on which side of the police line the four arrested had been located, nor why they were wearing ski masks, but readers can no doubt join the dots by now…