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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 no. 10. 24 May 1972

Cullen Explains

Cullen Explains

The two days of violent -protest that occured during the PBEC (Pacific Basin Economic Council) Conference are probably the worst in the history of the University.

The Conference was a three day one with most of the Union Building being used on Wednesday and Thursday but only the cafe and Union Hall on Friday. The Conference booking was approved by Margaret Bryson in 1970 and the rate to be charged for the Union Building was approved by Graeme Collins in 1971.

The booking like any other, was in no way kept secret by the Union staff. The staff felt that as it was a booking approved by the Students' Association it must be honoured.

On Thursday May 18, the first indications of serious trouble occured when the delegates left the dining room to go to the Union Hall. Demonstrators attempted to get into the Union Hall and scuffles broke out. After some time the demonstrators said they were going home and disappeared.

A short time later "smoke" appeared and it was discovered that a borer bomb had been thrown into a Committee Meeting in the middle floor lounge. This was removed by the Union staff. No further serious incidents occured on Thursday.

On Friday the demonstration began when demonstrators banged their fists against the Cafe outer walls and windows to prevent delegates hearing Mr Muldoon's dinner speech. After about 15 minutes or so about 40 delegates left the Cafe and began remonstrating with the demonstrators who continued beating the wall. Shortly after, scuffles broke cut.

The Managing Secretary of the Union then ordered delegates back into the Cafe and they obeyed this direction.

The demonstrators then piled chairs on the cemetery end stairs to prevent delegates ascending to the Union Hall. When delegates began using the stairs at the Hunter end of the building the demons strators sat on the stairs and formed a barrier about 10 deep.

Delegates attempted to climb through these people and I saw several tripped over. Some delegates stumbled and fell: others attempted to climb the adjacent concrete wall and up over the stair railings. This was a hell of an effort, especially for the elderly. A number of ugly scuffles broke out. I asked the students to let the delegates through and when violence broke out I threatened to call the police.

Meanwhile the Union staff had removed the blockages at the cemetary end stairway and the remaining delegates began to use those stairs. The demonstrators then turned their attention to that end of the building and linked arms forming a chain to prevent the remaining trickle of delegates from entering the Union Hall. Again scuffles broke out, but it was only when a delegate had his leg jammed in the doorway that I decided to call the police. Again warnings were given.

When the first two policemen arrived they were flour-bombed as they tried to climb the stairs. When reinforcements arrived I asked them not to shift the demonstrators as they had given an assurance that passageways would not be blocked and that no further attempts would be made to enter the Union Hall. Following this I asked most of the police to leave and told the demonstrators that all but a handful of the Police had left the building.

About 15 minutes later half the 60 or so demonstrators left the top floor and threw a borer bomb into the small committee room containing the police. They then attempted to barricade the door with furniture. The police burst out and got rid of the borer bomb: a scuffle with police retreated to the committee room. The door was then thoroughly barricaded and the police remained in the fuming room.

One demonstrator made an unsuccessful attempt to stop the telephone operator allowing the police to call for help. Police reinforcements arrived and an ugly scene developed. After consultations with demonstrators and the police and assurance of non-violence, I asked all the police to leave.

Apart from two flour-bombs and a borer bomb being thrown into the Union Hall, wall banging and singing were the only forces to interrupt the remainder of the Conference.

Most delegates were subject to abuse as they left the Union Hall and one was flour-bombed, harassed by about 30 demonstrators and subject to a cracker attack.

The day was drawn to a resounding close when the Deputy Managing Secretary went to pick something off the floor only to set off an explosive substance that had been spread on the floor. He left to receive medical attention for his bleeding thumb and blackened hand.

I believe that the demonstration went beyond a non violent protest, and as I believed that injury to person and property was likely I feel I was justified in calling the police.

I also believe that regardless of my feelings towards PBEC, as the Association had approved the booking the Conference had to go ahead.

Finally, I found some of the protesters actions such that I could not support them and retain my integrity as a person.