Canberra’s Parliament House, an elegant 4,700 room building designed as a symbol of national unity, was opened in 1988 by Queen Elisabeth II and cost what was then regarded as a wildly extravagant $1.1 billion. The front forecourts are normally a sedate tourist zone, characterised by tour operators and the comings and goings of sleek white Commonwealth cars.
The Prime Minister in 1988 was Bob Hawke of the Labor Party, the last Prime Minister to have any genuine connection to Australia’s working classes.
Hawke passed away in 2019, and we will never know what he would have made of the nation’s great unwashed, that is its citizens, showing up on the doorsteps of the national capital.
The current residents of Canberra sniffed, turned the other way, or unleashed the hounds; their supreme arrogance and indifference intact.
Although to be fair not all of them behaved this way, with donations of food, clothing, toiletries and bottled water pouring into the camps.
The first members of the Convoy to show up on that Monday, 31st January 2022, all expressed themselves frightened, exhilarated, overwhelmed, both moved to tears and very much out on a limb; a few brave souls determined to protest in the face of the grinding, heartless and massive machinery of an authoritarian government.
By 2pm the normally sedate forecourts of the national parliament were packed with hundreds of protestors waving the white, red and blue Australian national flag, the Australian Red Ensign flag, traditionally associated with military service and thereby national pride, the Aboriginal flag with its bold red, orange and black colouring, and the blue and white Southern Cross Eureka flag, historically associated with worker revolts.
And thus the biggest story in Modern Australian history began.
Early footage shows campers parking on the lawns outside Parliament House, while police look on helplessly.
Stories emerged in the following days, whether apocryphal or not we cannot confirm, of numerous police in Canberra quitting their jobs rather than acting against their fellow Australians; or bursting into tears and throwing their badges on the ground; or of passing out ear plugs to protestors to help protect them against the hi-tech weapons their fellow officers were using to target the crowds.
What can be easily confirmed is that hundreds of police officers quit their jobs rather than comply with vaccine mandates, an estimated 1200 in Queensland alone, while many senior police who resigned provided moving online testimony of their absolute disgust with the authoritarian abuses against their fellow Australians they had been expected to execute.
Some of the nation’s most senior police condemned in no uncertain terms the politicians and health bureaucrats who had destroyed the lives of so many of the citizenry.
This particularly telling response by those expected to act as the frontline for the diktats of the nation’s politicians and bureaucrats is well documented on a Telegram Channel by a group calling itself Cops for Covid Truth.
The mainstream media were notable for their almost total absence from the protests; for their blatant lying about crowd numbers, and in any case were decidedly unwelcome when they did show up.
One piece of footage shows a middle aged woman giving a television cameraman such an earful he makes the professional mistake of arguing back. She is unrepentant: “Bloody disgraceful. I asked him which station he worked for and he wouldn’t tell me. That’s not doing his job. Other people in this country don’t have a job right now. Why should he have one?”
The mainstream media might have stayed away; but citizen journalists did not. One of the most prominent, Janaya Markwell, who posted under the tag Convoy Roller Girl, was exuberant when asked by celebrity streamer The Real Rukshan what she thought: “It’s absolutely incredible. I love every minute here. The energy here, electric, beautiful. Everyone is coming together, so excited, loving it. Seen the food tents? Locals are constantly dropping off supplies, food and water. We’ve even had games. It’s so exciting. Everyone is having the best time.”
There were impromptu concerts; drums, clap sticks, didgeridoos,
The massed, masked up and heavily armed police offered a sad contrast to the joyful attitude of the protestors themselves.
By midday of that first exhilarating day vehicle after vehicle were being welcomed onto the lawns in front of Parliament House by their fellow Convoy members. Police found themselves surrounded by a chanting, flag waving crowd every time they tried to intervene or block a vehicle from entering: “Let them go. Let them go. Let them go you dogs. You dogs. You’re outnumbered today.”
It’s not that often in Australian life you see the indigenous fighting with one voice alongside their white brethren, but today they did, with the Aboriginal flag everywhere to be seen.
And polite language was not on the menu.
“Wake Up Rise Up Australia” read just one of the handmade signs being waved in a sea of flags.
Police attempts to block entry the lawns ultimately failed.
As Michael Griffith wrote of the exhilaration of those opening hours: “Our culture has been raped, and now, within the trauma, turmoil and the shame of that, is a new future forming? A future never more visible than within the camp growing outside the front of the national library in Canberra.
“It is a camp forming from people who are arriving here from all over the country. Many are coming in waves of convoys, like the one I arrived in, others are turning up alone, some after driving for hours. One unemployed gardener I met came with his daughter from Mt Gambia, after racing out to buy a campervan. Another woman told me she drove all the way down from Cairns. It was a long way she said, a long way.
“And down here the police, at least on the first day, were trying various tactics to move us on. But on to where? The reason most of us had nowhere to go was the reason we were here.
“I believe that what is happening now is something that will not have been seen before. It is an ongoing explosion of courage, that will keep exploding all over the country, as those who have had enough will go fuck it, if not now, then when?
“For thousands of years people have awaited the second coming, and without question, most people in the resistance see this as a spiritual war, a war between good and evil. Well what if, under the darkening shadow of evil, this is the second coming? Except that what is good, call it God or call it what ever you like, is arriving within all of us. Forming within the conjoined souls, who, after still refusing to comply, are coming together and forming, organically, and without even knowing it, the womb of our new world.”
Greeted like conquering heroes after what was inevitably a long drive, new arrivals were grinning from ear to ear.
By midday the protestors were gathering around the front of Parliament House, the mood a surprising mix because nobody knew what to expect, nobody knew what was about to happen, and the initial confrontations with police attempting to stop the campers from setting up on the most public and symbolic lawns in the country had already set a sour tone of conflict and confrontation.
Just to add to the atmosphere, a violent storm appeared, with dark clouds hovering over the nation’s seat of government.
By half past one the chants outside the doors of Parliament had begun. “Sack them all. Sack them all.”
A spokesman for the group Informed Medical Options said the “Sack Them All” chant exemplified the frustration many people were feeling.
“They feel they are not being heard,” he said. “And they are not being heard. The mainstream media will probably label us as crackpots. That there is something wrong with us. No. No. It is well past time when they can hide out in this house and ignore the people of Australia.”
The atmosphere was defiant, but the hundreds of thousands of people who had marched in towns and cities had done nothing to change the incompetence and the cruelty which had characterised the state and federal government Covid responses to date.
Most protests outside parliament, however noisy, fall flat; with a few hundred chanting, placard waving civilians unlikely to change an aloof and unresponsive government, either its politicians or its phalanxes of bureaucrats. There may have been plenty of bravado, but at this point in time nobody realised that they were about to be bolstered by well over a million supporters in the largest spontaneous uprising the country had ever seen.
Truckers of the world unite
This is a battle we all have to fight
Hitch up your rig, trailers & gates
Go fight this battle with all your trucking mates
Start up your rig throw it into gear
This is the battle of the year
Politicians have let us down
Time to throw them out of town
We the people must take control
No more mandates no more jabs
No more lockdowns by these scabs
Without our truckers we’d be lost
You carry the country through sun hail ice & frost
Honk your horns loud & clear.
Even as protestors wore their “Real Men Don’t Wear Masks” t-shirts and waved “Hands Off Our Kids” placards, and thousands more continued to pour into Canberra, their vehicles festooned with variations on the “My Kids Are Not Lab Rats” theme, came the news that GoFundMe had frozen access to more than $160,000 in funds raised by supporters.
The action followed a similar move in Canada, where more than $5 million in funds had been frozen.
And then the heavens opened up and poured rain upon the protestors; with dogs and children and flag draped protestors splashing cheerfully through the environs of the national parliament.
From the very beginning the politics of it all were remarkably confused, with various factions competing for their points of view to be heard.
While there was a remarkable atmosphere of collaboration and good will between protestors, there were deep divisions between sections of the movement on clear display; both personality clashes and political differences. The division ran along the lines of those who wished to work within the system to reform the policies they disliked, such as lockdowns and vaccine mandates, and those who wish to dissolve parliament altogether and establish an new kind of polity.
Not that any of it mattered. Australia’s political system had failed everybody. Professional politicians were not welcome. This was a people’s uprising.
In the end the reality was clear: both sides of Australia’s Tweedledum Tweedledee politics of left and right had ramped up Covid hysteria to ridiculous levels, abrogated previously unheard of powers to themselves, destroyed the liberties and freedoms of Australians and betrayed the people they were meant to serve.
One figure who enjoyed some community respect was avowed Christian and former Qantas pilot Graham Hood who said that on his journey there he had spent the previous night at Pheasants Nest. “I saw hundreds of people in tears, not because they were sad but because they finally realised they were part of something that was worth being part of. They are proud and they are alive and they are part of Australia. We have allowed this country to degenerate into something that sucks.
“The last time Australia mobilised like this was during the Wars. They rode to enlist on horses, motorbikes, they caught trains, they walked. They went because they wanted to defend and protect this country. That is what we have done.”
Another polarising figure to emerge was former SAS officer Riccardo Bossi, who repeatedly and passionately called for the dissolving of Parliament and fresh elections: “This is a moment in history. We either win or lose. Those bastards up there are already killing our kids. What do you think they’ve got in store for us next? We have to end this here and now. This is it.”
Somehow in this entire melee the conflicting personalities and agendas were of no great import; it was clear, Australians had had enough.
As one of the many flags declared: “The People’s Revolution”.
There were no camping permits; there was no coordinated plan, there was no administrative structure or elected leaders, but most startling of all was that after the vicious idiocy which had destroyed all semblance of community life over the previous two years, the prevailing atmosphere was one of immense good cheer.
One participant amongst those first campers, Simon Hunt, who spent three nights between Old Parliament House and New Parliament House and outside the columned edifices of the National Library and Australia, described the atmosphere thus: “We rolled in. There were so many people there; and they just kept on coming. The atmosphere was incredible. Families and dogs, and wherever you went everybody was engaged in conversation.
“Above all it was very welcoming, like finding yourself in a crowd of old friends after getting out of a two year stint in prison.
“So many people came with nothing. Many came by themselves. But everyone was on the same page.
“Australians are reticent on the whole; but everyone was friendly, supportive. Food tents started up. Kitchens were organised.
“All the people who came with no money got fed.
“There was so much good will and camaraderie, it was incredible.
“Then the police started hassling us.”