Police used pepper spray and mounted forces to quell violence as Reclaim Australia supporters clashed with anti-racist protesters today.
Tempers flared as thousands marched on Melbourne’s Parliament house against the United Patriots Front and Reclaim Australia group.
Anti-racist protesters massively outnumbered the far-right supporters, with organisers of the counter-rally claiming a resounding success by the end of the day.
After threats of violence earlier this week, police were demonstrably in control of the event, searching bags with metal detectors. Several hundred officers were backed up by mounted police, the riot squad, and a helicopter circling overhead.
At 11am, about 50 Reclaim Australia protesters played Men at Work’s Land Down Under, separated from anti-racist demonstrators by hundreds of police forming a human blockade along Spring Street.
Outside the police lines, anti-racist protesters formed another human wall to stop latecomers reaching the Reclaim Australia rally.
One attendee surveyed the scene from her boyfriends’ shoulders, describing it as “a little racist sandwich with a very thick buttering of police presence, sandwiched between two very thick slices of anti racist protesters”.
As the Reclaim Australia group gave a heartfelt rendition of the national anthem, anarchist anti-racist factions unfurled a banner reading “FUCK OFF NAZIS”.
Far-right demonstrators held up signs featuring slogans like “Stop non-white immigration”, “Stop white genocide” and “The truth about Islam: Intolerance, Slaughter, Looting, Arson, Molestation of Women”.
Tensions bubbled over shortly after the United Patriots Front arrived to join the Reclaim Australia group, and mounted police suddenly charged into the closely-packed crowd in an attempt to separate protesters.
Police used capsicum spray throughout the demonstration, and Little Bourke Street was turned into a impromptu triage area to treat affected protesters with Mylanta and milk.
Vas from the Melbourne Street Medic Collective was attending the rally to treat injured demonstrators. She said some protesters were so badly affected by the capsicum spray that they had to call paramedics, with many treated at the scene for shock.
Towards the end of the rally, a scuffle erupted between three prominent far-right agitators and anti-racist protesters.
Police handcuffed and questioned two of the men, while the third was locked in a divvy van.
Many far-right protesters covered their faces with Australian-flag bandannas, while anti-racists also obscured their features with sunglasses and hoods.
The anti-racists told Catalyst they were doing this out of fear of retribution from United Patriots Front.
Yarra City Councillor Stephen Jolly said it was heartwarming to see so many young people protesting against intolerance. “Many people say young people don’t care about politics, look around you today- they clearly do. They may not care about the bullshit that they see in Canberra everyday, but real politics they do care about.”
Counter-protesters found creative ways to diffuse the tension, with highlights including a glitter-bombing unicorn, and Nathan and his giant carrot.
“I usually carry it around, it makes people smile. I thought it might help to lighten the mood a bit.”
Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!