Melbourne’s rowdy street protest history celebrated

It's Costing the Earth - photo by John Ellis (University of Melbourne Archives)On display from Friday 11 May, Melbourne’s long and rowdy history of street protests is the subject of a new City Gallery exhibition that celebrates democracy at work in the public domain.

Wars, social justice issues and international causes, together with the right to a fair go for everyone from farmers to taxi drivers, are among the demonstrations featured in WE PROTEST! Curated by artist and filmmaker Malcolm McKinnon, the show includes images, posters and flyers dating back as far as 1916.

Deputy Chair of the Arts, Culture and Heritage portfolio Councillor Kevin Louey said the exhibition would resonate with Melburnians who have participated in rowdy protests in the central city over the decades. “WE PROTEST! shows how Melbourne’s streets, parks and open spaces have been open to anyone with a barrow to push, placard to wave or slogan to shout,” said Cr Louey.

“With countless demonstrations taking place every year on all manner of social and political issues, this free City Gallery exhibition will appeal to anyone who has ever taken to the streets for a cause they are passionate about.”

From a sea of hats and bonnets on the banks of the Yarra in 1917 opposing military conscription and Vietnam War protests to the annual May Day marches and more recent gay rights’ demonstrations, WE PROTEST! offers an opportunity to reflect on the protests that have helped shape history.

Malcolm McKinnon interviewed people from all sides including vegan and peace activists, a former police officer and a dairy farmer for a short film that will be shown as part of the exhibition. “In the 1830s, New South Wales Governor Richard Bourke requested of surveyors that the new southern metropolis of Melbourne should not include a city square, warning that such a space would only encourage ‘a dangerous spirit of democracy’,” said McKinnon.

“But despite Bourke’s intent, rowdy mobs of impassioned people have frequently and conspicuously occupied city spaces throughout its history. In the perpetual contest for hearts and minds and in the larger campaign for justice, street protest in Melbourne has an illustrious history and a rude vitality.”

Malcolm McKinnon is an artist, filmmaker, curator and ghost-wrangler working mainly in the realms of social history and digital media. He has an abiding interest in the labyrinths of living memory and the peculiar beauty of local vernacular. Over the past 20 years his work has encompassed documentary filmmaking, oral history, urban planning, public and community art projects, critical writing and exhibitions.

City Gallery – Melbourne Town Hall, 90-120 Swanston Street, Melbourne
Exhibition: 11 May – 11 August 2018
Free admision

For more information, visit: for details.

Image: It’s Costing the Earth – protester and performance artist Benny Zable, in the role of his? ‘Greedozer’ character, takes centre stage at the Palm Sunday peace rally in 1984 – photo by John Ellis (University of Melbourne Archives)