G20: A less hysterical account

On the ground at the G20 protests

By Cam Smith, riot reporter and campaigner with the anti-racism group Fight Dem Back!

Halfway through the riot I began to worry that I’d never be able to write about it. It’s not that I thought I was going to die out there on Russell Street – it’s just that the protest was quite lame. My fears were averted some hours later when I picked up the first editions to see that there had actually been total chaos on the streets as warriors of hate chased their slice of infamy.

The Herald Sun managed to stretch the single exciting incident of an innocent divvie van having its windows knocked out across six pages. The Age had it on the front page. When I tried to take a photo I got a baton in the guts.

According to the [Herald Sun], we marched from the State Library up to Russell Street where a tense 15 minute stand-off ensued, then fled around the corner to converge on the police cordon from Collins Street.

I don’t remember a tense stand-off, though I do recall standing around looking suave while some people drummed and chanted. “Do you want us to take over so you can have a bit of a rest?,” I asked a friendly officer. He assured me that the current set-up would suffice.

We then ambled nonchalantly around to Collins Street to see how the state-smashing was progressing there – ballerinas were dancing to NWA. On the corner of Flinders Lane and Exhibition the aforementioned truck was moved back down the lane, looking decidedly worse for wear.

The mother of a toddler asked the riot squad if they would hurt her child. “It’s your f-cking choice, lady” explained a helpful officer. She remarked that all involved had a choice, but decided to retreat with child to safer ground. We had a chat with one of the riot squad about whether he was being paid extra for donning all the gear. He wasn’t, but still didn’t feel it was appropriate to join the protest.

The police retreated down the lane. Some young ruffians remarked upon the shades of defunct currencies and one bloke was arrested when he scaled a fence for reasons unknown. One of us got a bloody nose when pushed into police by snappers and we decided to head back up to Collins Street. Our path was blocked by another line. “Can we come through?” asked one scallywag. We were told to exit at Flinders Street. “That’s a long way,” I interjected, “You need to understand that as protesters we are inherently lazy.”

Moments later bottles began to smash around us and we decided to leave. Our path was blocked by more riot police who had made a new line behind us. I was told to “GET BACK!” “They said we had to come through here,” I informed him. “F-ck off,” he replied. About an hour after The Age reported the protest was broken up, we headed home.

All in all, Christine Nixon’s professional agitators from Europe didn’t do a very good job and the sinister anarchist cabal who funded their airfares should demand their money back. The opportunity for real chaos was present but not exploited – the police constantly left large gaps in their lines and were surprised on a number of occasions to find people on the wrong side of them: on one occasion naive pedestrians wandered up an alley and had been standing outside the “secret” command central for a while when they were finally noticed.

No apparent plan was in place in the event that the protesters turned heel and began to smash up the Bourke Street Mall (where shopping continued unabated), nor was anyone posted in the empty Collins Street Plaza, the perfect location for serious rioters to take the back of two of the police lines by complete surprise. The fact that the Red Army didn’t storm the Hyatt and bring Peter Costello’s head out on a pike had less to do with flawless policing and more to do with a largely benign and disorganised crowd.

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2024 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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3 Responses to G20: A less hysterical account

  1. Sophia says:

    Quite accurate, as far as I can tell. Then again, compared to what has been reported in the media, it isn’t too hard to be less hysterical. This was only my second large scale protest- most of the polical actions undertaken by myself and my friends are done in very small groups or as individuals at a local level, and I’m more than a little disappointed with the outcome of this whole event. I’d agree completely with what was said about how disorganized the entire thing was- the police in particular did quite a horrid job, and had no idea what was going on. One thing Cam didn’t mention that I feel needs addressing is that quite a few of the younger ones involved had no idea what they were doing- openly doing things without even attempting to hide their faces, in front of corporate news crews, no less- out of everything, this saddens me the most. Even the slightest bit of organisation amongst a small number of people could have quite easily broken the barricade in Flinders Lane, as an example.


  2. Dr. Cam says:

    Yeah, I am a pretty tip top riot reporter, I agree. I’d only read the Sun and the Age when I wrote that. I’ve since watched some television news reports and I am a little bit surprised at just how much they have beat up the story.

    I’ve worked in that industry for a number of years, and I know how it works (I must confess that I was looking for shit I could beat up about the protest at the time so I’d have something to write) but still… it was a bit much. I’d like to see a repeat of the ill-fated S11 press council complaint – I reckon they might get a better result this time.

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