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Swanson Dock – An Eye-Witness Account

It’s 9.20am and I’ve just got home after having been at Swanson Dock since 12.30am.

It really was a remarkable evening of standing around doing nothing, occasionally linking arms “in practice”, cheering at speeches, laughing at jokes, catching up with people I hadn’t seen for ages, discussing politics, ALP pre-selections and the like.

Around 4.55am the police helicopter started circling clockwise around the dock, something it kept up until just after 6.30am. Searchlights from the helicopter shone into the crowd most of this time and were met with raised fists or one-finger salutes!

After many false warnings that they were “nearly here”, the police contingent arrived just after the helicopter. Two lines of police, numbering about 100 men and women, stretched the 30 yards or so across the entrance to the dock. Four policemen on horses took up position behind these lines. There followed over two hours of restrained confrontation, occasionally moving to a state of readiness, but mostly consisting of quiet, peaceful protest, singing and chanting.

The crowd, numbering now around 3000 according to the ABC radio news, but consistently maintained at 5089 by the superb operator of the loud speaker system, was variously concerned at the impending police attack, but mostly cautiously casual, many venturing along the side of the road to view the police at close quarters.

A quiet and serious mood developed when the police were invited onto the picket line by chants of “join us”, a chant quickly replaced by “show us your badges” when it was announced that some police had removed their badges.

Around 7.00am it was announced the building workers from city sites were massing in Footscray Road, the numbers variously thought to be 500, 900 or 2000! Whatever the number, their arrival at around 7.30am was met with tumultuous applause and cheering, especially when it was realised the police were surrounded and cut off by the now massive crowd. When the police assembled in two lines facing back towards the road, it was obvious that the peaceful confrontation had been resolved in the MUA’s favour. To raucous taunts of “left, right, left, right”, the police took their leave.

News reports now suggest that the police have secured another smaller entrance to Swanson Dock. An eye-witness account I heard had the police arriving in buses and pouncing on picketers the moment they alighted. One woman has reportedly been taken to hospital.

What isn’t in doubt as far as I’m concerned is that without the large numbers of people present at the main gates to Swanson Dock, the police would have secured it as well. It is a splendid victory

As someone who spends his working life educating children about the political and constitutional processes in this country, I believe it was an important night and morning in a dispute not yet over. To see the forces of the state arrayed against some of its people is not something I will quickly forget. The intimidatory helicopter, an image straight out of a Cold War melodrama, is etched on my memory.

I’m glad I went.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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