South Australia has long prided itself on its free origins, being an Australian state which was not founded by convicts. We consider ourselves progressive and independent thinkers, and are proud of our many South Australian firsts.
The South Australian constitution is said to be one of the most democratic in the world, allowing a secret ballot, voting rights for indigenous people, and in 1896 women were granted the right to vote in SA ahead of most countries in the world.
Of course our freedoms haven't always come easily. There have been vigorous protests, public demonstrations, and riots before change was achieved. In this article let's take a selective and light hearted look at protests in Adelaide over the years. I'll leave it to you to decide their merits.
Protesters for an Eight Hour Day (State Library South Australia PRG-280-1-8-432)
No Peace Until We Get Eight Hour Day Workers have needed to fight for their rights from time immemorial. In 1911 workers on a horse drawn wagon paraded in front of the Adelaide High School on Grote Street, before taking part in the Eight Hour Day procession.
World War 1 Anti War Protest: All is Vanity (State Library South Australia PRG-1316-16-11)
Anti War Protest: All is Vanity Patriotic fervour during World War 1 carried us on a tide of death and destruction. Most opposition from protesters and pacifists was subdued, such as this postcard sized picture from 1915. The picture shows a woman sitting at a table looking into a mirror, which reflects a skull wearing a military cap.
World War 1 Peace Protest in Adelaide (State Library South Australia PRG-280-1-9-62)
Peace Protest in Adelaide There must have been such an indescribable feeling of joy and relief when World War 1 ended. These women on horseback gathered on Angas Street in 1918 before attending a peace protest in Adelaide.
Protests in Adelaide: Speakers Corner Botanic Park Adelaide (State Library South Australia PRG-280-1-18-70)
Speakers Corner, Botanic Park Adelaide For many years Speakers Corner in Adelaide was a rowdy place for public dissent and political discourse. Today there is little sound at Speakers Corner other than from a colony of bats and passing traffic.
Waterside Workers After Riots at McLaren Wharf Port Adelaide (State Library South Australia B-4919)
Waterside Workers Riots 1928 saw the Port Adelaide docks become a battleground with riots after the government sought to change awards and allow non-union labour to work there. Times were tough for workers with the Depression looming, and violence was rife. The police enlisted militia which were supported by the Army at Fort Largs. The divisions caused during these Port Adelaide riots remained lasting memories for many protesters.
Women Protesters Supporting Six o'Clock Closing (State Library South Australia B-10324)
Six o'clock Closing Back in 1938 there were few things more important to workmen than a beer after work. Of course their wives had a very different view, and when extended closing hours were proposed there were protests in Adelaide from women demanding a referendum.
Delivery Vehicles Outside East Terrace markets (State Library South Australia B-4936)
Strike for Fruit and Vegetables
During World War 2 the price of vegetables was capped, and fruit and vegetable vendors at the East Terrace markets threatened to strike if prices were reduced. Greengrocers were outraged that the price of rhubarb would drop from sixpence (5 cents) to threepence, and many children would have been concerned too!
Wrestling Riots at The Stadium in Adelaide (State Library South Australia B-9545)
Riots at the Wrestling Stadium
Audiences at wrestling matches can get a little heated, but a full blown riot erupted in 1947 at a match between La Verne Baxter and Dutch Heffner at the Adelaide Stadium (now the location of the popular Superfish bar.). With the referee lying unconscious outside the ring, Sergeant Sharpe of SA Police had to jump into the ring and tell both wrestlers to "cut it out."
Hiroshima Day Demonstrations in Adelaide (State Library South Australia PRG-1561-4-F2-34)
Anti Nuclear Protests
The recent discussion about a nuclear fuel dump in South Australia attracted many demonstrations and protests in Adelaide outside Parliament House and elsewhere, but those feelings are nothing new. Way back in 1965 Hiroshima Day protesters were equally concerned about nuclear waste and the nuclear bomb when they held demonstrations.
Protesters at Vietnam War Moratorium Demonstrations in Adelaide (State Library South Australia PRG-1561-4-F17-3)
Vietnam War Moratorium March
The Vietnam war created many divisions in our society in the early 1970's, with thousands of protesters taking part in regular Vietnam War Moratorium marches held around Australia. When Gough Whitlam was elected Prime Minister in 1972, the war in Vietnam faded to become a tragic memory for most of us.
Save Fort Largs Rally
When the state government announced plans to sell historic Fort Largs, the National Trust of South Australia swung into action. A rally to save Fort Largs was addressed by National Trust President "Stormin" Norman Etherington, and the government appears to have now backed down from its plans for Fort Largs.
Save the Repatriation Hospital Protests at Parliament House
Save the Repat Protests
The Weatherill government's plans to close the Repatriation Hospital have attracted more protests in Adelaide than almost any other issue in recent years. Rallies, demonstrations outside Parliament House, and a lengthy vigil by veterans have all been tried to block the move. Although the government seems intransigent in their plans to sell this critical asset, opposition continues from the protesters in Save the Health System Alliance led by Professor Warren Jones.
Most governments are not known for their sensitivity to public opinion, and one thing is certain: the history of protests in Adelaide is not yet complete. Will that history be in your future?