They met at noon. Donning face masks, megaphones and dark clothing, the protesters arrived on Eastern Avenue. They organised via the encrypted messaging app, Telegram. Up until now, two similar rallies had been cancelled at the University of Sydney. Even the organisation of this protest stalled earlier in the week when its promotional Facebook event was taken down after the host’s account was reported.
But a late-Winter downpour did not deter more than 50 Hong Kong students and recent graduates from rallying behind the five demands of protesters in Hong Kong. Across the Pacific, protests entered their thirteenth consecutive week in Hong Kong.
They were separated from a handful of peaceful counter-protesters bearing Chinese flags by a row of police officers.
One of those counter-protesters, a student from Macquarie University, told Honi that there was an increasing sense of “bad blood between Chinese and Hong Kong students.”
“Our intentions are peaceful, we are here to support mainland students who might walk past the protesters and do something irrational,” the student said.
Those counter-protesters held signs and placards branded with a hammer and sickle with the words “Trotskyist Platform.”
One sign read: “HK rioters = rich kid allies or dupes of right-wing HK media billionaire Jimmy Lai – HK’s Rupert Murdoch.”
“Defend Socialistic China against Imperialism! Resist meddling in Hong Kong by colonial powers,” read another.
An official university spokesperson told Honi that it had taken precautions to avoid the violent clashes which occurred at the University of Queensland.
“Whilst we hope the protest will be peaceful, our security team will be present.”
A sizeable Campus Security presence flanked the protesters. This was the first large-scale operation for new security contractor, Australian Concert and Entertainment Security, which took over from Wilson Security earlier this year.
Across the police line, the Hong Kong protesters delivered speeches in Mandarin and Cantonese. Amongst the speakers was Kurt Iveson, President of the National Tertiary Education Union branch at the University. During the speeches, a speaker was briefly heckled by a Mandarin-speaking student who made an offensive gesture.
“We are a leaderless movement,” another speaker said. “We do not speak for everyone.”
In a letter to the Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor last week, the Hong Kong Students’ Association demanded the University condemn the removal of the Lennon Wall as an “attack on freedom of expression.” The Eastern Avenue Lennon Wall was dismantled earlier this month and a Lennon Wall in the Graffiti Tunnel was found in a bin.
Today’s protest comes after comments by Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence in the Sydney Morning Herald, where he described rising sinophobic sentiments as reminiscent of the White Australia Policy.
Earlier this week, Spence also wrote to staff and students reiterating the University’s commitment to diversity and free speech on campus.
“There’s no doubt that there are newsworthy things happening across the globe and there are students who may be personally impacted or have strong opinions about what is going on.”
“These feelings can be exacerbated on a genuinely diverse campus like ours.”
Support for today’s protest from the student community has, however, been mixed. Liberal-aligned club Students for Liberty pulled support for the protest when it became clear that it would endanger a deal between Panda and the Moderate Liberals to support Josie Jakovac for President in this year’s SRC race.
Students for Liberty founder Kerrod Gream expressed his disappointment at the decision in a Facebook post.
“Never have I been more ashamed of the legacy I felt at Sydney University than I am today.”
“Sydney University Students for Liberty refused to share a protest event supporting Hong Kong against a state that has threatened military action if protests calling for more independence from China weren’t stopped,” Gream said.
Organisers of today’s protest told Honi that if the University did not heed the protesters’ demands, another protest could well be on the horizon.