Soapbox Speakers

The Red Flag Riots

After World War I, Military Intelligence organised loyalist groups from returned sailors, soldiers, and airmen.  Their aim was to stop Bolsheviks in Australia.

Trouble began on July 29, 1918 when George “gunner” Taylor, a returned soldier and radical, raised the first red flag in Australia while addressing a large crowd of 1,500 in the Brisbane Domain. The Domain is located directly under the Captain Cook Bridge at Garden Point, behind Queensland Parliament House.

Taylor was attacked and knocked from his platform by six returned soldiers. A riot ensued. Police restored order while Taylor’s supporters sang the radical song “The Red Flag” and the attackers sang ‘Rule Britannia” and “Australia Will be There”.

The riot escalated when 5,000 returned soldiers rallied and marched on to the North Quay (also a regular Speakers’ Corner) and attacked the Industrial Worker of the World (IWW) platform. More returned soldiers, some armed, then marched across the Brisbane bridge to the Russian Headquarters in South Brisbane. Some of the Russians in the Headquarters fired shots in defence. Next day, newspaper headlines made sensational reading: “Police and soldiers badly mauled”.

Loyalists rallied from far and wide 8,000 (many armed) marched on the Russian Headquarters again. This time, police cordoned off their approach. The police were armed with bayonet rifles. Mounted troopers then attacked the crowd without reading the riot act. The troopers whipped and charged through the mob. A two-hour battle ensued.

The police, though outnumbered, kept to their lines despite many being injured by hails of bricks and timber fencing. Returned soldiers fired shots, narrowing missing many troopers. Hand to hand fighting was so close that the Police Commissioner Urquhart was accidentally wounded with a bayonet. 14 police and 100 demonstrators were wounded. The riot subsided, but the anger of the returned soldiers manifested into a week long series of anti-Bolshevik rallies and parades.

One of  the main political outcomes of the riot was the rise in popularity of the RSSAL (Returned Sailors, Soldiers, and Airmen League) which later became the RSL.

Both Taylor and Urquhart survived.
 George Cuthbert “Gunner” Taylor (1886-1957) later became the Labor member of Enoggera in Brisbane between 1932 – 1944, and the State President of the RSL. Frederic Charles Urquhart (1858 – 1935) was appointed as Administrator of the Northern Territory in 1921.

References:
George Cuthbert Taylor (Wikipedia.)
Frederic Charles Urquhart (Australian Biography)
‘Long Blue line’, P190. 23 march 1919.
Daily Mail correspondent in September 1918.
The Red Flag Riots by Raymond Evans. University of Queensland Press.

Steve Maxwell.

 

 

 

 

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