QSA DID 2803: Telephone message from Inspector Coman, Cairns, to the Commissioner of Police, Brisbane, regarding the riot which occurred between unemployed workers, the Police and Cairns citizens at the Cairns showgrounds, dated 17 July 1932
News of the day


Townsville Daily Bulletin, Tuesday 16 August 1932, page 8


Deputation to Home Secretary.

Show Officials 'Lack of Intelligence.'

BRISBANE. August 15. 'The brutal bashing of men at Cairns and the tactics of the police are matters for consideration, and we wish to protest to you and ask for the release of the men now in gaol and tie withdrawal of the charges against those awaiting trial.' In this manner a deputation representing the International Labor Defence Workers' International Relief and the United Front of Unemployment, approached the Home Secretary,

The speakers alleged the Mayor of Cairns incited the crowd to attack the unemployed and that there was no good cause to arrest members of the unemployed, who had a right to protest against being removed from the show grounds. They said the men should be released, because they were not the attackers, but merely attempted to defend themselves. The deputation also asked that some action be taken against the irritating methods of the police in moving on unemployed from one town to another. The men said they were entitled to have shelter provided for them. Mr. Hanlon was asked to take up the matter of an inmate of Goodna Mental Hospital, who, the deputation said, was quite sane and suffering only from chronic asthma. It was suggested Mr. Hanlon should go over the heads of his officers and see the man and have him released.  Mr. Hanlon: How can I do that. This man was certified by two medical men, and it is not my place to go over them, and say they are wrong. I will see the man and inquire into his case but more I cannot do at the present.

Referring to the trouble at Cairns, Mr. Hanlon said the matter was now one which was beyond investigation. As he had previously said, the cause of the trouble was lack of intelligence on the part of the Cairns show ground officials for not having gone about the removal of the unemployed in a constitutional way, that of charging the men with trespassing. The assault on the police was inexcusable said Mr. Hanlon. A policeman was the first to be struck. Once that was done, he was perfectly justified in getting his man. I want you to remember I will not allow the police to be assaulted, or to be used as footballs by a mob. Any man convicted of such an assault will pay the penalty of the law. So far as the men sentenced and awaiting trial were concerned, he would not interfere with the verdict of the Court. If the deputation cared to approach the Cabinet. he would submit their request, but he would not make any recommendation on the matter.


While there were a number of violent clashes between the unemployed and authorities during the Great Depression, one of the most symbolic incidents occurred at Cairns in July 1932. When Cairns City Council failed to honour its promise to provide accommodation, approximately 200 unemployed men formed a camp in Parramatta Park, venue for the annual agricultural show. As the opening of the show approached, Mayor W.A. Collins warned the squatters that they would have to vacate the site. When threats failed to have the desired effect, the city fathers organised a large vigilante force which, armed with lethal makeshift weapons, descended on a hastily-erected barricade set up by the unemployed. The vigilantes were supported by approximately 30 police, and with overwhelming numbers on their side they soon took possession of the grounds. At least 100 people, mostly unemployed, were injured - some seriously. Yet it was three of the unemployed who were convicted and imprisoned for assault. Another four were charged with the same offence and acquitted. They had in fact done little more than demand their basic rights, and the ‘Cairns Unemployment Riot’ had an important two-fold impact. On one hand it created a new militancy among the unemployed and destitute. On a more positive note, the incident encouraged local authorities elsewhere in Queensland to avoid similar violence by providing temporary accommodation for the unemployed.


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