The poster for the 21 August Nationwide Rally for Freedom, Peace and Human Rights – otherwise known as the anti-lockdown march – had been doing the rounds of social media for a number of weeks. And it stated that the event was set to take place at Sydney’s Victoria Park at 12 pm.
At ten to twelve, however, there didn’t seem to be any participants in sight. Yet, there was a significant NSW police presence. General duties officers, the riot squad and mounted police were scattered throughout the park and the surrounding area.
Over the week prior, NSW police had warned anti-lockdown protesters to stay away. And by Saturday, it was well known that 1,400 officers were being deployed throughout the inner city to ensure there was no repeat of the 7,000-strong march that took place on 24 July.
Indeed, traffic police were stationed along all major routes into the city, checking the identification of drivers attempting to come in.
But just after 12 pm, people started appearing on the street, and officers were quick to approach those walking along the park side of Broadway to check their identification to see if they were breaching the public health order on movement outside of one’s local government area.
Unvaccinated and unafraid
Meanwhile, people began gathering on the footpath outside of Broadway Shopping Centre, as well as on the opposite side of City Road, close to the Lansdowne Hotel.
And as the crowd grew, it became clear these individuals were the few anti-lockdowners who’d continued to assemble despite the enhanced police presence.
A group of those standing in front of Broadway Mall then crossed at the lights, and, on reaching the other side, they were descended upon by police.
A young man wearing an “Unmasked, Untested, Unvaxxed, Unafraid” hoodie, as well as another with a placard that read, “Anal, Not Vaccines”, were both promptly grabbed by officers in blue and led away.
The group of demonstrators on City Road then swelled as people streamed in and commenced marching down the footpath heading towards the CBD. But a large number of police kettled them in halfway down Broadway, causing them to turn back towards the park.
And as the procession attempted to cross City Road, a mass of officers swarmed them to the point that there seemed an equal amount of police and protesters in the middle of the road. And numerous anti-lockdown protesters were taken into custody and led away.
A blue blockade
As the skirmishes on City Road came to an end, groups of police officers made their way over towards the remaining demonstrators gathered out the front of the mall and began checking IDs and dispersing the crowd.
NSW police officers then made a thin blue line across Broadway blocking traffic from entering into the CBD. And another line of bodies was positioned at the other end, where the main thoroughfare meets George Street, which left the six lanes into the city completely empty.
NSW police reported on Sunday that 47 people had been arrested across the city and 260 penalty infringement notices had been handed out.
“That small minority has again chosen to blatantly ignore the very clear, repeated warnings of NSW police, which is disappointing, frustrating and – frankly – disgraceful,” said NSW police minister David Elliott in a statement.
“The actions they have taken are likely to prolong the very lockdown they were protesting about.”
The Berejiklian government announced on Friday that the lockdown will continue on up until at least 30 September. And as yet, there has been no indication as to whether the anti-lockdown protesters will attempt another demonstration over the weeks ahead.
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Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.