THE RIOT

We were trapped. There was no escaping. Graham Chuck saw the police blocking off ‘Darlinghurst Road from the El Alamein fountain end [to] William Street and people were [being] concertinaed’.[5] There was only one megaphone left. Someone yelled: ‘We’ll turn around. We’re just going to get out of Kings Cross and disperse’.[6] Without warning, police charged the crowd, arresting anyone who happened to cross their path.[7] It was on for young and old! Some plainclothes police were still wearing gay badges.[8]

Police targeted some activists, people they branded trouble-makers. Margaret Lyons thinks the police wanted ‘to arrest [people] they knew. They wanted to get [them] and prove a point to’.[9] ‘Plainclothed bruisers made forays into the crowd, throwing men and women into paddy wagons as if they were sacks of spuds …’[10] Police were very violent but ‘the crowds were fighting back’.[11]

 

The mêlée continued for about half an hour,[12] with police punching and kicking demonstrators, striking them on their faces, and dragging them by their hair and legs across the road to the paddy wagons. The National Times reported that there was ‘crying, screaming and panic’.[13] Peter Murphy was struck by the ‘silhouettes of people being thrown on the ground, being kicked, being hurled around, [and] punched’.[14] The first to be arrested was a man ‘who walked between the wagons at the William Street end. He was seized from behind. People began to protest ... because he hadn’t done anything’.[15] Another policeman grabbed Paul Terrett and was about to arrest him: ‘I said I was 17 ... he let me go. I ran to the side street and met my brother. We managed to get away’.[16] As they were making their escape, a woman spat on Paul’s brother and shouted, ‘You dirty poofters!’[17]

 

Police had underestimated the determination of those they planned to humiliate. Rather than retreating, gay men and lesbians fought back in what was to become our first ever recorded retaliation in Australia. Demonstrators went to the aid of others, making police arrests all the more difficult: ‘When one of us was being arrested, someone would come up and try to pull them away’.[18] Steve Warren remembers Jeff Stanton being dragged away by police towards a paddy wagon: ‘A few of us grabbed Jeff and pulled him away from the police and he did manage to escape then’.[19]

  1. Larry Galbraith thinks the police attacked an hour earlier: see Galbraith, Larry, 'Mardi Gras: the beginnings', Sydney Star Observer, 21 February 1992, 31. He writes: 'At about 11.30pm, with police vans in front and behind, the police made their first sweep…. About a dozen police vans rounded up 53 people (30 men and 23 women) and rushed them to Darlinghurst Police Station [then on the corner of Bourke and Forbes Sts at Taylor Square] as the marching, furious crowd followed'.

  2. Peter Murphy, 28 February 1999.

  3. The National Times, 8 July 1978.

  4. Ibid.

  5. Brougham, William, interview Graham Chuck (April 2016).

  6. Peter Murphy, 28 February 1999.

  7.  'Marchers Say Police Brutal in Making Arrests', SMH, 27 June 1978.

  8. Blazey, Peter, 'Arrests achieve what Gays could not … out of the closet and into a Darlo cell', Nation Review, 1-6 July 1978.

  9. Margaret Lyons, 26 May 2000.

  10. Blazey, Peter, 'Arrests achieve what Gays could not … out of the closet and into a Darlo cell', Nation Review, 1-6 July 1978.

  11. Brougham, William, interview Graham Chuck (April 2016).

  12. National Times, 8 July 1978.

  13. Ibid.

  14. Peter Murphy, 28 February 1999.

  15. National Times, 8 July 1978.

  16. Pride History Group, New Day Dawning: The early years of Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras (Sydney 2001), 45.

  17. Ibid.

  18. Gowland, Lance, ;Lance Gowland and Barry Power; in Templin, Jenny, Mardi Gras Memories (Adelaide, 1996) 10.

  19. Warren, Steve, 9 March 2015, Teru Café (33 Glebe Point Road).

 

Anticipating a police attack, some revellers-turned protesters began to lock arms. Police began to swarm in from all directions, from both ends of Darlinghurst Road and from some of its side streets. Steve Warren recalls seeing police ‘coming out of laneways behind the area of the Bottoms Up Bar’. Around midnight,[1] near what is now Kings Cross station, police drove their paddy wagons into the crowd and shone spotlights on anyone who happened to be there.[2] ‘I saw those headlights. I’ll never forget those headlights.’[3] Police sirens blared. One bystander feared someone would be killed as paddy wagons drove through the crowd, cutting off any retreat through the side streets.[4]