On February 16, 2003, one of Brisbane’s largest mass protests took place when an estimated 100,000 people rallied against a military invasion of Iraq, though police more conservatively assessed only half that number turned out.
Two days earlier, 150,000 protesters had marched through the streets of Melbourne. On the same day as the Brisbane demonstration there were rallies held in Adelaide, Darwin and Sydney, where it was believed 200,000 people had taken part. (Again, figures differed according to the source.)
At the Brisbane protest, “Children darted away from perspiring parents; babies rolled in strollers; platoons of placards were hoisted overhead; the ‘no war’ chants echoed off city buildings”, reported The Courier-Mail. The rally gathered at Roma Street Parkland before moving through city streets to finish at the Botanic Gardens. Many were carrying banners calling for peace, with slogans such as “War is not the answer – just peace!”; “It’s not just – it’s just wrong” and “War is expensive, peace is priceless”.
Among the speakers present that day was then federal opposition leader Simon Crean, who was shouted down with chants of “no war” after suggesting that Australia should wait for United Nations backing, rather than abstaining from an invasion altogether. Prime minister John Howard remained resolute – “My charge as prime minister is to take whatever decision I think is in the best interests of the country, and I believe the way we are handling this is in the best interests of Australia”.
The State Library of Queensland holds a digital collection of photographs documenting the events of this day which can be viewed online. The photographs were taken by SLQ’s former photographer Reina Irmer.
Freedom Then, Freedom Now, an exhibition exploring the freedoms enjoyed and restricted in Queensland, opens on 5 May 2017 at the State Library of Queensland. Freedoms often depend on age, racial or religious background, gender, income and where you live. Freedoms change over time and with public opinion. Freedom Then, Freedom Now draws on the extensive collections of SLQ to reminisce, reflect on and explore freedoms lost and won in Queensland.
Myles Sinnamon – Project Coordinator, State Library of Queensland