#Occupy Melbourne diary: Six days of peaceful protest, then police violently attack
Green Left Weekly’s Sue Bolton has been part of the Occupy Melbourne
protest since it began on October 15, 2011. Below she recounts the past week
of the occupation in Melbourne’s City Square, which was broken up by a violent police assault on October 21. However, protesters have vowed to re-establish the occupation once more. For more updates on Occupy Melbourne, regularly check GLW's live blog at http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/49153.
We are still going strong with about 45 to 50 tents in City Square. I
estimate there are about 100 people camping each night with many others
staying until late in the night.
The occupation has been set up as a well-established occupation with a
24-hour roster for the info desk and the kitchen. The kitchen is
feeding homeless people who also use the square.
The first general assembly passed a motion to welcome the homeless
people who use the square. The kitchen has dispensed with meal rosters
and is cooking 24-hours a day.
Now a People’s Cinema is being set up and there’s even a People's Library and a free clothes store.
The first general assembly voted that it be a child-friendly space and there are families with children who are occupying.
Throughout each day, numerous people drop in to find out what the
occupation is all about. There’s a lot of curiosity but also public
The slogan of the campaign, that “We are the 99% against the 1%” is
very political, so most people coming to the occupation to browse around
the stalls are wanting to have big discussions about the future of
So far, there’ve been no problems with cops. The logistics working
group had extensive negotiations with the cops and the council in the
lead-up to the occupation. I imagine the Melbourne city council thinks the occupation
will fizzle out, but that is definitely not the case. The occupation is
growing as more people hear about the occupation.
The numbers down at the occupation are very significant given this is
the final assessment and exam period for students. There is one
final-year medical student who has taken a week off study to devote
himself full-time to the occupation. I’ve heard many other stories like
The occupation has become a home for many, with many blown away by
the caring and sharing atmosphere in Occupy Melbourne, where people look
after each other and everybody chips in to help out with various
Since the occupation began, there have been marches from Occupy
Melbourne to various corporate targets. The first day of the occupation,
October 15, coincided with a pre-planned Palestine solidarity protest
against Israeli-owned chocolate store chain Max Brenner. The protest at
Max Brenner then returned to Occupy Melbourne, increasing the numbers at
On day two, there was a march to the exclusive Melbourne Club. The
Melbourne Club is an exclusive male-only club that was set up in 1838 by
the squatters. This is a club of the 1%.
On day three, we marched on the Stock Exchange and had sit-downs and
speakers at intersections on the way back to Occupy Melbourne. At the
intersection of Bourke and Swanston Sts, two very well-dressed women who
looked like they were dressed for the races, joined the sit-in and then
joined the march back to Occupy Melbourne.
Each of these actions where marches have gone from Occupy Melbourne
out into the street to a particular corporate target have resulted in
media coverage for the occupation. But also, they have brought more
people back to the occupation as bystanders have joined the march.
Day four was a day of leafleting City Loop train stations and today
will include a march to the office of Serco, the company that makes
profits out of locking up refugees.
Occupy Melbourne has voted to support Friends of the Earth’s action on
October 20 against BHP’s expansion of uranium mining, and voted to
organise a corporate scumbags tour on October 21. October 22 will be a
day and night of Indigenous films.
The general assemblies have mostly worked well. Most people are
working towards unity. Many motions have been passed on issues such as
support for refugees, opposition to the Northern Territory intervention,
abolition of the governments industrial police force, the Australian Building and Construction Commission,
support for the Qantas workers and for troops out of Afghanistan.
There is now discussion about how Occupy Melbourne can develop a
statement of aims. The general assemblies have passed motions on a range
of issues but haven’t tackled the aims issue until now.
The occupiers are definitely seeing this as a permanent occupation.
They aren’t going anywhere. But eventually, the council and the police
are likely to try to end the occupation. That means that there is a need
to bring more unions and community groups down to Occupy Melbourne, in
particular the climate groups.
Day 6: Eviction looks imminent
It’s day six of Occupy Melbourne but the occupation is now under threat.
Yesterday, Melbourne’s Lord Mayor Robert Doyle said to media that the
protesters have “made their point and now they should leave” or else
eviction was likely to occur.
Over the past couple of days, the media have been scouring the nearby
businesses and cafes to find owners who are prepared to say that the
protest is causing damage to their business.
Occupy Melbourne has spoken to some of the same business owners who
say their quotes have been taken out of context and the media have been
badgering different staff members and owners until they get the quote
Despite having had no problems with police in the previous days, the police changed tactics.
That day, Occupy Melbourne linked up with a protest organised by the Refugee Action Collective outside Serco.
On the way back to Occupy Melbourne, the protesters had a sit-down in
the intersection of Bourke and Swanston streets , as we had on the
previous three days.
However, the police changed tactics and immediately started pushing
people. A number of police from the tactical response group raced down
the street to tackle the protesters. Three protesters were dragged away
but later released by the police.
During the afternoon, the police had a heavier presence outside Occupy Melbourne.
The general assembly discussed the threat of eviction. Many expect
that the lord mayor wants to evict Occupy Melbourne before the queen
arrives on 26 October. Many are expecting the police to attempt to move
into the campsite tomorrow (October 21).
People voted unanimously to attempt to stay at Occupy Melbourne and
to peacefully resist eviction. The meeting also voted that if eviction
does occur, a mass protest march would be held the next day.
On Day 6, the police had a very heavy presence at the action against
BHP in protest about its plans to expand its Olympic Dam [South Australia] uranium mine.
Occupy Melbourne marched to join the BHP protest. After the protest, the
police had a heavier than usual presence around the camp.
Other motions passed at the general assembly on Day 5 included:
opposition to a proposed open-cut coalmine at Bacchus Marsh, support for
a protest against HRL, the company attempting to build a new coal-fired
power station in the Latrobe Valley.
The general assembly also heard from Matthew James, the winner of the
Melbourne Lord Mayor’s Writing Award. James, a Socialist Alliance
member, said he was told on October 18 that he had won the highly
respected award, and $2000 prize money. He notified the leaders of the
movement of his intention to donate the money as a result of the mayor’s
response to the occupation at City Square. “After reading an article in which the mayor called for
the authorities to use their eviction powers, I decided I did not want
to accept an award from someone who is in favour of using violence to
break up what is a peaceful, lawful protest.”
Day 7: Defiant after eviction
Occupy Melbourne protesters were woken at 7 am on October 21 by
Melbourne City Council officers issuing eviction notices. They gave
protesters a deadline of 9 am to leave City Square.
By 7.30 am, the police began to mass and council workers began
erecting barricades around City Square. One woman tried to get into City
Square and was threatened with arrest by the police.
The protesters had already decided that they would peacefully resist
eviction. About 150-200 people linked arms around the kitchen, and the
Indigenous tent from 9 am.
As well as regular police, the riot police, now known as the Public
Order Response Unit, got into position with their riot shields.
However, the police didn’t immediately move against the occupiers in
City Square because several hundred supporters had gathered outside the
barricades. Many people outside this cordon tried to join the protest
but were prevented and in some cases arrested. The protesters outside
City Square then staged a sit-in at the intersection, but were moved off
by the cops.
The police then erected a second fence around City Square. Council workers moved into City Square to dismantle the camp.
The riot police moved in at around 11.30 am with groups of about
eight to 10 police tackling each protester. To remove people from the
picket line, the police adopted the method of yanking at people’s heads
and necks to force people to unlink their arms.
Many protesters had bloodied faces from having their faces shoved
into the gravel. One 14 year old suffered severe head injuries as a
result of the use of police horses outside the square.
Once the police evicted people from the square, all Occupy Melbourne
protesters united to occupy the Collins Street and Swanston Street
intersection. Occupy Melbourne had made an appeal to the Rail Tram and
Bus Union not to drive trams on those routes because of the health and
safety risk. Yarra Tram drivers drove their trams away.
We also heard the news that the Victorian Trades Hall Council executive had passed a motion in support of the protest.
We were able to occupy the intersection for some time, until the
police regrouped and began pushing people up Swanston Street. It took
the police all afternoon to push the protesters two city blocks from
Collins Street to the Bourke and Swanston streets intersection.
The police intensively manhandled protesters with no consideration
for crowd safety and used capsicum spray. There were also a couple of
reports of tasers being used.
Most of the 60 arrests took place as the police were pushing
protesters up Swanston Steet. With each police push, more protesters
were arrested. Many protesters who were arrested had police place their
boots heavily over their faces while other police punched and kicked
them on the ground.
Two friends of mine shared a divvie [police paddy wagon] van with a 16-year-old high
school student who had wagged school to attend the protest. He was
punched in the stomach after being arrested.
Another person in the same divvie van was a well-dressed man in a
suit. He was passing by and stopped to help a woman who the police had
hurt, he joined the protest and was then arrested. There are many
examples of passersby who were picked up by the police.
The police brutality was a shock for many in the demonstration
because a large section of the protesters had thought that if they
respected the police, the police would respond with respect. That
viewpoint was smashed by the police.
Once the protesters arrived at the Bourke Street intersection, the
police left them to occupy the intersection for at least an hour.
The demonstration became much larger at this point as high school
students finished school and workers finished work to join the protest.
Small contingents of members of unions joined the protest. Some of these
unionists were from the Communication Workers Union, the Maritime Union
of Australia, the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union, the
National Union of Workers, the Electrical Trades Union and Unite.
Eventually, the police made another big push on the protest. The
protesters had intended to rally on the lawns of the State Library but
the police blocked access. Instead, the police kept pushing the crowd
several blocks, all the way to the Victorian Trades Hall.
Once at Trades Hall, hundreds of police barricaded protesters onto
the footpath outside and remained there for several hours while Occupy
Melbourne held its general assembly inside Trades Hall.
In a massively expensive operation, more than 400 police were
mobilised to attack Occupy Melbourne. Occupy Melbourne was a peaceful
protest against corporate greed. It was a protest that was beginning to
attract the support of enormous numbers of people who had never
previously had any involvement in activist/progressive politics before.
Despite the police brutality, Occupy Melbourne managed to defiantly
occupy the city streets for many hours after being evicted from the
camp. The intention of Occupy Melbourne is to reoccupy another space, if
we can’t get back to occupy City Square again.
So yesterday (Friday October 21) the inspiring Occupy Melbourne protest
in City Square was violently evicted in what would best be described as a
I arrived at the protest after the main eviction had occurred. Nicola has a description of some of that earlier action up on Indymedia. That was the most violent part of the day.
When I returned late in the morning, many who had been dragged through
the dirt and dumped on the kerb on their face were wandering around, a
bit shocked. Supporters had gathered and witnessed the eviction,
occupying the intersection of Collins and Swanston St.
Soon the police pushed us out of the intersection in a big line, shoving
the protesters, who slowly gave ground and mainly converged in front of
the town hall on Swanston St. Dave, a respected union veteran , was
holding the protesters organised into a peaceful line, with the intent
of moving slowly up Swanston St in front of the police, as they pushed
us. "Do not contest - when the push, we move slowly" was the chant.
Dave was quickly dragged away in a headlock by about four police, and we
didn't see him until he was released that evening. Happy 60th birthday,
Dave! Right after this - thinking, probably, that they had removed our
"leader" - the riot squad formed into a V and pushed right into the
protest, apparently trying to drive us onto the footpath and up the
This great pic was borrowed from facebook
This was the most police violence that I personally witnessed. We were
pushed up against rows of police cars on the side of the street so we
couldn't move, while the psychos of the riot squad kept pushing and
shoving aggressively, and occasionally grabbing people. People fell
over; one guy fell in front of me under the police line and immediately
had a riot squad goon (without ID badge) jump on him, punch him in the
face, and drag him away.
I suspect this was the point where Greens upper house MP Colleen
Hartland, standing aside and watching, was randomly shoved into a wall
by one of the uniformed goons. Many in the police heirarchy will be very
uncomfortable with these excesses that are so well documented on so
seems to have seen (and felt) much worse than me at this point. When I
say the police were violent, it is not a rhetorical flourish.
They pushed us up the street to the next intersection (Bourke St), where
the protest stopped and some attempt at discussing what to do next was
made. Eventually various people decided Trades Hall would be a safe
space to retire to; we were pushed up the road again by the police,
retreating slowly all the way, arms linked in a line. There was less
aggro at this stage, just grumpy cops and some fairly outraged
What flabbergasted me was that, even after all the protesters had
decided to move to Trades Hall, the police line followed us, pushing,
still grabbing random people out of the crowd in headlocks and dragging
them away for arrest. The police were truly out of control.
Even as the crowd arrived at Trades Hall, the police lined up outside
and herded the crowd onto the lawn at the front of the hall, as though
they could chase us right into the union hall. The police association
ought to be ashamed: just a week or two earlier, they had a huge banner
on the hall, supporting their claim for a pay rise. Today I think many
would agree their membership in Trades Hall ought to be brought into
However little the rank and file police have to do with the decisions to
evict protesters, there is no excuse for the kind of violence I saw.
Arresting people need not be accompanied by a punch to the face, a knee
on the chest, or a chokehold on neck pressure points that was shown
graphically in Herald Sun photos today.
The remaining protesters camped in the trades hall and held an assembly,
where they decided to meet again and peacefully rally in the city
I just came back from this: despite pouring rain, around a thousand
marched through the city centre, held another assembly in front of
Trades Hall, and decided to march back past the City Square again, to
identify it as the point for a re-occupation next Saturday when the plan
is to return with enough numbers that we cannot be stopped.
I'm happy that I arrived early in the morning on Friday and collected up
two tents. The police and council demolished the camp without regard
for people's property: it was compacted and taken to the tip. I may be
needing those tents again!
Today also saw a clear demand from this "demandless" movement: for Lord Mayor Robert Doyle to resign. Amen to that.