The 1970s: An era of protest, civil disobedience, cultural awakening and free love. The Vietnam Moratorium heralded an intense period calling for revolutionary change, women’s rights and a growing Black Rights movement.
In early 1971, the Australian government invited the Springboks, South Africa’s all white rugby union team, to tour Australia. This resulted in a massive national campaign to oppose apartheid supported by incisive union action, a vocal, organized student movement, and a new alliance with the Black Rights movement.
Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen responded by declaring a month-long State of Emergency in Queensland. In Brisbane, protesters gathered outside the Tower Mill hotel where the team was staying, to demand an end of apartheid and an end to the tour. Aboriginal activists played a leading role in challenging white radicals to recognize and fight apartheid in Australia.
Premier Joh bussed in an additional 600 country police. Police were granted immunity for any action taken. The final Rugby match, Australia vs Springboks on 31 July 1971, was moved to the Exhibition Grounds.
The vigil that night at the Tower Mill was not peaceful. The violent assault on protesters, bystanders and film crew was unwarranted, brutal and whitewashed from history.
Fifty years on we reflect on the Brisbane protests, hear stories from the people who were there, and discuss the legacy of how Australian society changed.