Nearly a hundred people were
crammed into the small room. They stood, leant against the
walls, or sat upon the floor with their backs against the dirty,
peeling wallpaper, dressed in shorts, faded jeans, or skirts and
tie-dyed T-shirts, sipping cheap red wine and nibbling Salada
biscuits. A low wattage, naked bulb hung down from the ceiling,
looking like a caricature of a noose. The small, four-paned
window admitted bursts of light intermittently, whenever the sun
broke through the thick blanket of black clouds.
'A great day for a
march!' thought Chris Smith. But then he decided that anything
would be better than sitting round inside the gloomy
Chris felt silly sitting upon
the floor with the others, but he had agreed to join in the march
a week earlier, and couldn't find any way to back out now.
Still, he wondered why they couldn't at least have a few chairs,
or even beanbags, so he didn't have to feel childish sitting upon
the floor. Of course that was the whole point of the rally: if
they could afford to live in comfort, there would be nothing for
them to protest about. Still, they sat around upon the carpet
sipping wine and filling themselves full of dry biscuits and
onion dip. Perhaps it would have been better to settle for
coffee or tea, so they could afford to save up to buy some
second-hand deck chairs from the Footscray Auctions. Of course,
the Out of Work Peoples' Action Group only borrowed
theroom from the
local tech school, so they didn't want to buy heavy furniture,
but Chris couldn't see how a few deck chairs would
Looking round, Chris seemed to
see himself in a painting; something dark and sinister.
'Sitting around in the dying room! would be a good
title!'he thought. 'And Pablo Picasso the painter. Who
In the middle of the room, a
metres and a half from where Chris sat, stood the organisers of
the march: Tina Forrester, or Tiny Tina as she was known behind
her back, was almost, but not quite a dwarf, at 120 centimetres
tall, and barely 40 kilograms in weight. The other teachers at
the technical school teased her, saying she was one teacher who
could really see eye-to-eye with her pupils. Chris had always
felt an almost overwhelming urge to call her "kid". But he had
gradually come to accept that she was an adult, and had the power
to make him repeat a year at school. Henry Potter was the
"dominant male" of the trio, although he would be the first
person to object to the idea of being group leader solely as a
result of an accident of gender. A conscientious objector
during the Vietnam War in the 1960s and early '70s, he still wore
the long ponytail and pirate earring popularised by Billy Thorpe
in the 1960s. Although nowadays Potter supported equal
opportunity for women in the work force, gay liberation,
land-rights for Aborigines, and a better deal for pensioners and
the unemployed. He was also an active anti-nuclear campaigner
and was credited with having coined the expression, "No Nukes is
Good Nukes!" Gabrielle Provost had been Chris' fourth form
English teacher a few years ago. At 190 centimetres, with shiny
black hair which hung down to the start of her prominent
backside, and breasts so large it looked as though she were
hugging herself whenever she reached around them to write on the
blackboard, Gabrielle had been the technical school's resident
sex symbol for nearly a decade. Chris always thought it would
be more appropriate for Gabrielle to teach sex education, or at
the very least biology, rather than English.
"Right, is everyone ready?"
asked Henry marshalling his troops for the march. "The buses
are ready now; they'll take us to the City, where we'll join up
with the others for the march...."
Chris sat for a moment longer
than the others, mulling over a conversation he'd had a few hours
ago with his stepmother, Norma. "What do you hope to achieve
like this?" she had asked; "you should be out looking for work,
or doing your homework from night school!" "Well you're always
telling me I should get out more, to meet people my own age," he
had joked. "Yes, I know, but not this kind of people...They
just aren't your kind of people!"
"Are you coming, Chris?" asked
'Just one look at you is
enough to make me come!' thought Chris. Then for a terrible
moment he thought he'd said it aloud.
"Here, let me give you a hand,"
she offered, reaching down to help pull him to his feet. He
staggered a little and for a moment considered "accidentally"
falling against her, but then decided it would be a little too
* * *
Outside, climbing the two steps
up into the coach, Chris felt a touch of déjà vu,
remembering back to his school days when the bus had pulled up in
almost exactly the same spot to take them on a day's outing to
Luna Park, the Royal Botanical Gardens, or Healesville Wildlife
Sanctuary. And as Henry Potter stood in the centre aisle to
give his final address to the marchers before departure, Chris
half expected him to lead them in a few choruses of Tie Me
Kangaroo Down Sport, or Kookaburra Sits on the Old Gum
Tree. But then he decided that Blowin' in the Wind,
or We Shall Not Be Moved, might be more appropriate from a
man with a ponytail halfway down his back.
Instead Henry detailed the
course of the march: from Spencer Street Station, down Lonsdale
Street to Spring Street, where they would voice their feelings in
front of Parliament House for three hours, then down Collins
Street and back to the buses.
'Here comes the big
moment!' thought Chris as the bus finally pulled up in the car
park outside Spencer Street Station.
"What's your fancy, Chris?"
asked Gabrielle, two minutes later.
Chris almost told her. Then,
reluctantly he turned to look toward where she was facing,
watching Henry and the other group leaders who had assembled a
few metres away to distribute the banners.
"How about 'WORK FOR ALL!' or
'RIGHTS FOR THE UNEMPLOYED!'?" she asked, looking through the
banners. "Or how about this one?" she asked, stooping to pick
up a banner which lay on the ground beside one of the
"Great, great," said Chris,
watching intently as the short skirt rode higher and higher,
revealing ever greater expanses of Gabrielle's lightly tanned
thighs. "Fantastic!" he said, wondering whether he had gone too
"I'm so glad you like it as
much as I do," she said. "This is one of the ones that I
thought up." She held up a banner which said: "SACK BOSSES!
"Let me give you a hand with
that," offered Chris, seeing that she was staggering beneath the
weight of the heavy, wooden banner.
"Yes, it is a bit heavy," she
agreed as Chris steadied the banner. "I tell you what, how
about going halves with me?"
"Sure," said Chris, "that'd be
As they marched down
Street, as best they
could, staggering beneath the weight of the banners they carried,
Chris tried to conjure up an opening gambit to start a
conversation with Gabrielle. He wondered if he should
compliment her on how lovely she looked? She always did, with
her long, shiny black hair, high cheeks, and full-lipped Cupid's
bow mouth. No wonder the boys in her class went around the
school yard with permanent erections. Or perhaps Chris could
compliment her on her figure? Certainly it was attractive: the
sort of hourglass figure which all women had aspired to in the
days before emancipation became another name for
But as it was Chris didn't have
the makings of a lady-killer, or a bird-eater as they had said in
the late 1980s. He had only ever dated two girls in his life.
The first, a cousin from Queensland, had been more of a favour to an aunt than a
real date. They had gone to a discotheque in
after less than an hour, the girl had left with another boy who
she had picked up. Six months later they bad married and Chris
had been left out in the cold. The second girl was Cindi
Cooper. Chris and Cindi had dated together for nearly two years
before splitting up recently, but again their first date had been
arranged for them. By Cindi's brother Larry, who Chris had gone
to school with. Although opposites (Larry the trendy with
yellow and green dyed, close-cropped hair; Chris the
ultraconservative, wearing his black hair at the old-fashioned
shoulder length), the two youths had been close mates. When he
discovered that Chris' half-sisters, Colleen and Rosemary Bennett
were friends of his sister, Larry had more-or-less thrust Chris
and Cindi together. Then Chris found himself on the outer
again, after an argument with Cindi about her going to a rock
concert with another boy, and Chris was forced to do his own
dirty work for the first time, without really knowing how to go
He supposed Gabrielle must like
him, since she had arranged for them to march together. But
then he supposed she liked a lot of her former pupils, without
wanting to go to bed with any of them. And perhaps, he decided,
she had noticed how out of place he felt, and had set out to help
put him at his ease.
Chris didn't want to overstep
and put his foot in his mouth. Gabrielle had taken a lot of
caterwauling and wolf-whistles from the boys in her classes
during Chris' school days. Usually with good humour, however,
she had been known to put students smartly in their place at
times. On one occasion, when a particularly lecherous boy had
dared to pat her playfully on the backside in class, Gabrielle
had retaliated by brandishing a thick, wooden, metre ruler. She
had missed the boy by centimetres, but the ruler had connected
with the laminated top of his desk with a crack like a rifle
shot. Even Chris, sitting four rows behind the boy had almost
jumped out of his skin. The boy himself had gone as white as a
sheet and had almost fainted. For nearly a month afterwards the
wolf calls had been unknown in Gabrielle's classes and around the
As the marchers continued
couldn't help thinking of the Anzac Day marches he had attended
as a boy. His Uncle Bill, his mother Beth's older brother, had
been a member of the second-fifth infantry battalion during World
War Two, so as a child Chris had been allowed to march in the
Anzac Day parade down Swanston Street alongside his uncle. Chris could still
remember the pride he had felt at the time, at being told one
year that he was the only one marching in step.
'The big difference,'
thought Chris, 'was the reception they received.' The Anzacs
were greeted with cheers, or at worst with stony-faced
indifference. Whereas angry Melburnians lined the footpaths on
both sides of the road to hurl abuse at the Out of Work Peoples'
Action Group as they marched down the centre of the
"Bludgers go home!" shouted an
old man, whose frail body belied the strength of the anger that
welled up inside him at the sight of the marchers.
"You ought to be out looking
for work, not marching down the road like drongos!" shouted a
middle-aged housewife, in the City to do her weekly
Chris felt naked beneath the
glare of thousands of angry eyes. He tried to remember whether
it had been George Orwell or Aldous Huxley who had said that in a
crowd people lose all trace of humanity and revert to
For the umpteenth time Chris
wondered what he was doing in the rally, marching with people he
barely knew. He remembered his half-sister, Colleen, telling
him, "Demonstrating is strictly a middle-class preoccupation.
The upper class never demonstrate, because invariably their
callousness has caused whatever the demonstration is about. And
the working class simply doesn't have the time to demonstrate;
we're too busy trying to keep a roof over our heads and get some
kind of food to eat!"
'Perhaps she's right?'
thought Chris. 'Everyone says Collie is the brains in our
family, and as she says, what has demonstrating ever really
achieved? The Aborigines are still treated like animals, the
unemployed, disabled, and age pensioners like lepers, Victorian
classrooms still have forty to fifty students per teacher, and
nuclear reactors are still being built...So what has protesting
So what was he doing
at the rally, he wondered. Admittedly he was sharing a banner
with the woman of his wet dreams, but he wondered if he was such
an unashamed sex maniac that he would take part in a rally,
suffering the abuse of the jeering crowd, just for a chance to
chat up a beautiful woman? He stole another glance at
Gabrielle's gorgeous, full-lipped face, and melon-sized breasts,
and legs which seemed to go on forever and decided, 'Yes, yes I
am such an unashamed sex maniac!'
Like his half-sister,
Colleen, Chris considered marches a waste of time, but he
couldn't pass up a chance to be near Gabrielle. Even if he
hadn't split up with Cindi, and Gabrielle hadn't invited him to
march beside her, he would have found some excuse to march near
her. Or at least behind her, so that he could drool over the
sight of her wonderful buttocks in motion as she walked. Chris
had never seen the beautiful teacher naked, as much as he had
dreamt of it, but he had seen her from behind in skin-tight
jogging shorts and thought, 'An anal-erotic would kill for a look
at Gabrielle naked from behind!'
* * *
Chris was relieved to see that
at last they had reached Parliament House. Now, hopefully, he
would be able to fade into the background, while Henry Potter and
the other group leaders took over the limelight.
As they crossed Spring Street,
heading toward Parliament House, Chris could see a dozen or so
police cars parked upon the lawns around the building. In front
of the cars stood nearly a hundred policemen, -women, and
"Could we have all the group
leaders up the front, now?" called out Henry.
"Do you want we to take the
banner?" asked Chris as Gabrielle started toward the front of the
"No come on, you can stand up
the front with me," she said to Chris' horror, as he found
himself more prominent than ever.
As they walked up beside him,
she explained to Henry, "Chris is helping to carry my
"Good on you, Chris," said
Henry, giving him a hearty pat on the back.
After a few moments the crowd
settled down a bit and Lennie Dean, an arts instructor, moved
toward the front of the group leaders. Dean wore short back and
sides, granny glasses, and a once expensive black suit, which
looked and probably was at least twenty years old.
As Dean began to speak, a
heckler in the crowd called out, "I haven't seen a demo this big
since the night they drove old Dixie down!"
Ignoring the heckler, Dean
said, "I'm sure you know why we're here..."
"If we don't, I'm sure you'll
tell us!" called the heckler, to the snickers of the large crowd
which had begun to gather around the demonstrators.
"We don't want any special
favours from the government, we just want a fair go," said Dean,
slamming his right fist into his left palm for emphasis. "And
we haven't been getting it. We're tired of being treated like
the dregs of society!"
"Then why don't you stop acting
like it?" demanded the heckler.
"Would someone please throw
that piece of trash into the nearest gutter, where it belongs?"
asked Dean, pointing toward the heckler.
As four marchers stepped
forward to comply, the heckler quickly backed away into the
crowd. And Henry Potter stepped up to say, "Now, now, Lennie,
there's no need to sink down to his level."
But too late; a dozen police
officers had already rushed forward to protect the
At first only a minor fracas
broke out between the police and the marchers. But then, in the
heat of the moment the police began swinging their batons
indiscriminately, and, as marchers fell to the bitumen concussed,
some with blood streaming from ugly gashes in cheeks or
foreheads, the battle began in earnest. Within minutes three
hundred demonstrators and one hundred police were
three-to-one, the police, using batons, were able to more than
hold their own against the marchers, who used only fists and
banners (which for the most part were too unwieldy to be much use
Marchers fell by the score and
were trampled underfoot, much to the pleasure of the onlooking
crowd. After awhile, fearing they were losing ground, the
police unleashed their dogs. Men and women alike were savaged
by the dogs, which had been carefully trained to bring out their
killer instincts. Blood streamed from torn thighs, bellies and
arms. One teenage girl had a cheek almost torn away from her
face, blood gushed from the gaping wound which made the girl
appear to be grinning from ear-to-ear, with the teeth revealed to
the gums on one side of her face. The girl fainted from the
shock, before the pain could set in, and was dragged out of the
melee, by the feet, by her boyfriend. Who was then cudgelled
unconscious from behind by a young, redheaded policewoman, who
then stepped backward and felt her heel sink into something
Looking down she saw that the
heel had sunk into the eyeball of a man of forty, who lay
unconscious on the footpath. She quickly extracted her heel,
then returned to the battle, eyes shining from
At the front of the crowd Henry
Potter moved about, waving his hands around, calling for order.
He was felled from behind by a policeman who then moved on to
cudgel two teenage girls who were standing in the crowd watching
Gabrielle and Chris sped into
action to drag Henry out from under the feet of the
"Take his left arm, I'll take
his right," instructed Gabrielle and they dragged Henry out of
the melee, toward the steps of Parliament House.
In the distance came the sound
of sirens, as more than a dozen paddy-wagons sped toward the
As the paddy-wagons pulled up,
the police quickly retreated from the fracas, so that tear gas
pellets could be fired into the marchers. One pellet exploded
directly into the face of a youth, who ran about wildly,
screaming and beating at his face with his hands, until finally
collapsing from the pain.
Donning gas masks the police
moved back into the crowd and led or carried the demonstrators
across to the paddy-wagons. The most seriously injured were
taken by ambulance to whatever suburban hospitals could make room
Gabrielle and Chris sat on the
steps outside Parliament House, nursing Henry Potter, watching as
the police rounded up the demonstrators.
"You too!" ordered a young
policeman, standing over them, tapping his baton menacingly in
his left palm.
"We can't leave our friend,
he's been hurt!" said Chris, with a boldness which he didn't
feel. He found himself entranced, unable to take his eyes away
from the sight of the heavy baton, as it continued to
tap-tap-tap against the young officer's palm in half
"He'll be taken care of...Now
are you two coming along of your own accord, or what?" demanded
the policeman. He tapped the baton noticeably harder into his
palm, leaving no doubt what "or what" would entail.
Two ambulance men ran across to
place Henry onto a stretcher, so Gabrielle stood, and to Chris'
relief, said, "Come on Chris, we'd better go with him." And
they allowed themselves to be herded into the back of the nearest
paddy-wagon, which raced away, siren shrilling, toward
© Copyright 2010