Despite that climate of unrest this rugby tour took place, and it was bedevilled from beginning to end by protests and protestors. One of the more serious clashes between protestors and police occurred right here in Brisbane outside the Tower Mill Motel, where 500 police lined up to "protect" the South Africans from the demonstrators who only numbered about 400 consisting mainly of unionists and students, including many females. The police lined up on the Tower Mill Motel side of Wickham Terrace, facing the demonstrators who had gathered across the road on the side of the actual Tower Mill. The following photographs provide some perspective of the scene.
(Photo: via mypolice.qld.gov.au)
(Photo: QLS Criminal History Tour booklet 2012)
I wasn't there, but some accounts say that there were plain-clothed police amongst the crowd who started it all. In any case, the police charged the demonstrators and hurled them down the hill behind the mill. Many of the protestors were arrested, many were injured.
Statements from those present indicate that many of the police had removed their ID badges so that they could not be called to account. Queensland's new (at the time) premier, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, had declared a State of Emergency - thus providing police with greater powers of arrest and detention. Peter Beattie, later to be premier of the state himself, was one who was beaten and arrested - he later said that he was verballed by the police who fabricated charges against him. Later information indicated that Bjelke-Petersen gave the police carte-blanche to deal with demonstrators and that he even told a police representative that their claim for higher wages that was in arbitration would go through if the police followed his instructions.
The result of the events of that evening was that when the match took place at the Exhibition Ground, a small crowd of only about 10,000 (including me) was all that turned up to see the football. What demonstrators that were present were kept well away from the players and spectators. It was an eerie walk down Gregory Terrace to the football pitch with police lined up virtually shoulder to shoulder.
The match? Well, it was easily won by the visitors. The unrest and protests had little effect on the clinical display of the Springbok side and they disposed of the Wallabies by 14-6. The Australian players, on the other hand, looked nervous and ill-at-ease and were never a threat to the South Africans.
At the time I did not agree with sporting boycotts. I felt that young South Africans should be able to mix with athletes from other countries to gain an understanding of how races could come together. I was proven wrong though - most South Africans felt that sporting boycotts were one of the principal reasons for the breakdown of apartheid and the move towards democratic government.
However, I always thought that people had a right to protest against apartheid as long as they were lawful gatherings and there was no violence. Police here in Queensland had a "no demo" policy under Joh's instructions, so this and other demonstrations that could have been peaceful were violently broken up by the coppers. I knew of plenty of young people who left Queensland at that time as a result of this poisonous political atmosphere.
Here is a current photograph of Wickham Terrace, taken from the Tower Mill Motel and looking towards the Tower Mill and the area where the protestors gathered. It is a much more peaceful scene now.
Click here for a Google Map.