Lismore. Friday, 10.10am
There’s something weird about marching in protest through a town which is pretty
much empty. Chants go up – ‘We can’t relate, change the date!’; – and signs are waved
– ‘Human rights, not wrongs’; – but the streets are empty of people to hear or read
What’s the point?
I’d forgotten it was a holiday. I drove into Lismore from my shack under the cliffs
with a shopping list as well as a desire to make a difference. But there’s no audience
to protest to. What am I doing here? I could be at a barbecue.
There are lots of marchers – more than I expected – doing a blockie around the
Lismore CBD. As we walk up Keen Street, we spy some people having breakfast
outside the New Tattersals Hotel. An audience at last!
‘No pride in genocide!’
A few look up from their breakfast and smile awkwardly at the noisy intrusion. Others
remain determinedly focussed on their poached eggs.
The Tatts is open for business, but most of Lismore is on holiday. And, as is the
modern way, the people have not gathered in their public space to celebrate together,
but are gathered in backyards and air-conditioned living rooms across the town.
Use of public space is discouraged; it’s a threat to government. People might
remember that they own the public space. People might remember they are part of a
community entitled (and obliged) to discuss and protest issues affecting them. People
might remember that government is supposed to be for them.
It’s convenient for our rulers to make public spaces increasingly unusable through a
plethora of regulation (can’t drive to town if you had a joint in the last two days) and a
profit-before- people mentality (who needs public space when we can have more
shops?). It’s easier to stay at home with ice-maker and ashtray.
A population divided and weakened by private ownership and first-world privilege
will never be an obstacle to the salivating advance of a predatory capitalism replacing
society with marketplace.
But, here and now, the streets of Lismore are public spaces being used by citizens, not
clients, for societal business, not shopping.
A woman in a Toyota Hi-Ace drives by and honks her horn in support. The marchers
cheer her in return. Inspired, a Tatts breakfaster gives a thumbs up to the marchers,
who cheer her too. She smiles.
I’m smiling too. What?
I’m feeling good. It doesn’t matter there’s no audience (except for the breakfasters and
the driver). How can this be? Maybe doing the right thing brings an immediate
reward, no matter the outcome, win or lose. Maybe it’s more important to be on the
right side in battle than it is to be on the winning side. The thing is: You must be in
battle. Complacency means you lose.
Looking around, I can see this reward reflected on the faces of my fellow chanting
warriors. There are smiles everywhere, despite the serious reason for this march.
I woke up frustrated and angry, but now in this march, sharing the frustration and
doing something about it, I’m, um, a happier person.
I’m not interested in barbecues and beer. (Well, not right now.) I’m not here to argue,
either. What’s to argue? Of course, we need to acknowledge the consequences of the
European invasion of Aboriginal country exactly 230 years ago. Of course.
I don’t expect such acknowledgement to come quickly from government. The
Australian government is more focussed on shutting down the democratic right to
protest than dealing with a moral blight in Australia’s recent history. At this stage of
capitalism’s evolution, there are no moral considerations. It’s pretty sad.
But, I’m happy to be with these citizens, doing this right thing, no matter what the
And I’ll have a beer later.