Some events around Peace Day 19 July 1919, as reported in the Melbourne press over one week
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The Police Condemned.
The meeting in the morning was called by the executive of the Victorian Branch of the League. The State Commandant (Brigadier-General Brand) was present by invitation. The proceedings, though orderly, were very excited, and fiercely vindictive towards the police.
The speeches were mainly a series of denunciatory remarks of the police. On the motion of Mr. Whelan, seconded by Mr. Lowe, the following resolution was carried:
“That in the interests of life, property and the maintenance of good order in our city, this meeting urges the Government to dismiss or remove to a safe distance the irresponsible officer, Senior Constable Scanlon, whose conduct insanity alone would explain, who caused the unwarranted attack and indiscriminate battening of loyal citizens who were listening to the bands outside the Town Hall on peace night.”
Persons who were injured in Saturday night’s disturbance, but who were not concerned in it, stated the circumstances in which they were struck by the police. It was complained that the troopers rode down civilians, soldiers and women and children, innocent people who were taking no part in the street proceedings...
The motion was received with loud cheers, which became derisive when the chairman suggested that they should await the result of the interview with Sir George Steward. The meeting, however, was prevailed upon to take this view. It refused, however, to adjourn indefinitely, but “declared an armistice until 2 p.m.” “In the event of the deputation failing, we will then take action ourselves” announced Corporal Coote, and, with loud cheers for this suggestion, the meeting dispersed.
An Uproarious Meeting.
Before the adjourned meeting in the afternoon the returned soldiers assembled outside the league offices, and demanded that the flag flying from the roof should be lowered to half-mast in honour of the soldier who was shot on the previous evening. This was done, amid cheering, and subsequently, on representations being made by the men, other flags in the neighbourhood were also lowered.
The men lined up and marched to the Athenaeum, where an uproarious meeting of about 1500 persons was held, under the chairmanship of Mr. F. Caldwell, vice-president of the league. Members of the deputation which had waited upon Sir George Steward reported the result of the interview. While appearing for an observance of law and order, their speeches merely served to inflame their hearers...
The audience became more and more rowdy, and it was evident that nothing short of conceding their demands would satisfy them.
The chairman suggested a deputation from the meeting to Sir George Steward, and someone shouted “We will all go.” The idea caught on immediately, and there was a general demand for a procession to Sir George Steward. Several attempts were made by various speakers to address the meeting, but a hearing was refused to them all.
Pandemonium prevailed, and eventually Captain Burkett restored a measure of order by agreeing that the procession should be held. The audience filed out of the hall, and, reinforced by larger numbers in the street, formed fours and marched via Collinsstreet, Elizabeth-street, Bourke-street and Russell-street to the police headquarters. There was no disorder, en route, but every policeman who was sighted was loudly jeered.
Procession to Police Offices.
A sulky, which had led the procession from Collingwood, served as a platform outside the police offices, and around it a crowd of 5000 or 6000 people gathered... Sir George Steward promised the crowd that he would hold an immediate inquiry concerning Senior Constable Scanlon.
ASSAULT ON THE PREMIER. State Offices Raided
Having satisfied their desire for revenge against Senior Constable Scanlon, the crowd raised a fresh demand for the release of the men imprisoned as a result of the previous riots.
Sir George Steward said this was beyond his power, and, after much noisy argument, the procession was re-formed and proceeded to the Premier’s office. By the time it arrived the numbers had swollen to probably between 8000 and 10,000 people, and the soldierly formation that existed at the outset had given place to a rabble... The crowd shouted that (possibility of bail) was not what they wanted. They wanted “Yes” or “No” there and then...
They surged around the Premier, who tried to reason with them, but it was useless. A hundred men wearing returned soldiers’ badges mounted the large horse-shoe shaped table in the room and shouted to those near the door to lock it. “Don’t let him get away,” they said, indicating the Premier; “make him give his answer now.”
While the Premier was fighting his way to the door the soldiers lost their last relic of self-control... During the uproar the Premier was edging his way to the door. Without warning, he was struck in a cowardly manner on the head with an ink stand...
No digger did that.” said several returned men. “We don’t stand for that type of thing.” Three or four soldiers formed a pocket and escorted the Premier into the corridor.
The affray took place outside the city court, where the crowd had gathered to demand the release of men who had been arrested in connection with previous disturbances.It was shortly after 6 p.m. - the busiest period of street traffic - that the crowd began to gather in front of the rooms of the Returned Soldiers’ Association. Groups of soldiers besieged the building, seeking information from club officers.
Outside excited groups surged across the roadway, and the air was filled with vague rumours of attacks, which were to be made later in the night... Two youths who jumped on the back of a ramshackle old cab were the vanguard of the first move. The crowd surged up Swanstonstreet, with the intention, presumably, of massing in front of the Russell-street police depot...
By 9.30 p.m. the strength of the crowd had considerably increased... Again they commenced to march, but the police stood fast, and, despite menacing cries from the fringe of the crowd, they compelled the procession, which, it is estimated included about 5000 men and women, to halt...
Several police were injured as a result of this encounter. Constable Power received a serious cut on his head, which had been struck by a lump of road metal. Afterwards a number of civilians were treated at Melbourne hospital for cuts and abrasions.
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