Refugee supporters, Eltham residents and anti-racist activists rallied to oppose a far-right demonstration in Eltham today.
The Sydney based Party for Freedom called for a “Battle of Eltham” today, ostensibly in response to plans by the Victorian state government and St Vincent’s Care Services to house Syrian and Iraqi refugees in disused section of an Eltham aged care village.
Under plans pitched by St Vincent’s Care Services a year ago and later announced by the state government, up to 120 women, children, and couples with a single child, will be housed in sixty vacant units at the facility.
According to St Vincent’s Care Services:
These units are stand-alone and separate from the residential aged care and independent living facilities on site.
The 60 units have been vacant for a number of years and have been refurbished by St Vincent’s Care Services to make them liveable.
The refugee housing project will run for two years and then the accommodation will be transitioned to be used as affordable housing for seniors.
There will be no impact on the residential aged care or independent living residents who live at the Eltham site.
The Party for Freedom have been using this announcement to stoke fears about the “safety” of residents in the facility, who are presumably so old and frail they would have a heart attack and die if they saw little brown kids playing in the park across the street.
In reality, what the Party for Freedom want is a chance to stoke racism and expand the reach of their paltry organization into Victoria. Their previous attempts at holding an event in Victoria (a picket at a Halal food expo) flopped when some people jumped off a tram.
The Counter Rally
A counter-rally called by Diamond Yarra Valley Resistance Solidarity (DYVRS) drew the participation of 100-200 people (ABC reports 200, I thought maybe closer to 150).
The counter-rally gathered at the Eltham Cenotaph where there were speeches from DYVRS organizers, local Eltham residents, as well as anti-racist activists, union members, and a member of the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism.
DYVRS then led the rally on a march through Eltham, past the far-right rally and St Vincents Aged Care, before returning to the centre of town.
Marching through Eltham:
— Ro (@Ro_Downing) November 5, 2016
We gathered silently across from the far right rally, outside St Vincents Aged Care:
— Kieran Bennett (@KieranBennett) November 5, 2016
And my favorite banner of the rally…
— Kieran Bennett (@KieranBennett) November 5, 2016
It is worth noting that whilst this rally in support of refugees was taking place in Eltham, a further two thousand people gathered as part of the Refugee Action Collective rally at the State Library in central Melbourne:
— Swamped Thing (@JoelRDodd) November 5, 2016
The Fascist Rally
Party for Freedom “chairman” Nick Folkes announced that his Eltham rally would be a “battle” in a crude attempt to drum up media attention.
Folkes specializes in buffoonish media stunts; in the past year he has invaded church services, held a BBQ to celebrate the Cronulla riots, attempted to enter Parliament dressed as a member of the KKK, and held some seriously strange protests targeting the queer community. He is a very strange man.
— Andy Fleming (@slackbastard) November 5, 2016
Unfortunately for Nick, no “battle” eventuated. There were no fights, arrests or scuffles that I am aware of.
The bulk of the far-right rally were associated with the True Blue Crew, with a smaller contingent from the Soldiers of Odin.
Media reports of the turn-out at the fascist rally vary between 70 and 100, our spotters estimated “maybe 100”. The True Blue Crew and others have published photos showing a small rally amply endowed with flags and branded merchandise.
Blair Cottrell and Thomas Sewell of the United Patriots Front (UPF) were spotted without their usual UPF merch, as was valour-thief Ralph Ceminara.
The True Blue Crew organised a bus from Bendigo, through Melton, to Eltham. Tickets were reportedly $40 a head, and our spotters counted 20-25 assorted fascists disembarking at midday.
Apparently, the TBC were struggling to cover the hire costs, but Danny Nahliah and Rise Up Australia Party came through with a $200 contribution at the last minute. The charter bus was provided by the Bendigo Bus Company.
We should call the racist rally what it was, a flop.
A Melbourne neo-Nazi Facebook page (that I won’t promote by naming) complained that they found themselves “standing in the corner of an unused playing field; in an out of the way suburb; listening to speakers drone on…”.
After a dismal time standing in an “unused playing field” the TBC went to the Eltham Hotel for drinks, and they were reportedly still there getting sloshed at approximately 4pm.
Some people are slow learners…
In the lead up to the Eltham rally, super-brain Chris Shortis decided the best thing he could do was… stage a mock beheading.
Chris Shortis is the former UPF “lead Senate candidate” (they never obtained the signatures required to register) who has since split from the UPF and teamed up with the Australia First Party and a certain local neo-Nazi outfit.
Shortis was recently charged with religious vilification for his role in producing a mock beheading video. So… producing another beheading video probably wasn’t the smartest thing he could go out and do…
The far-right were outnumbered in Eltham today but they were not substantially disrupted.
The counter-rally organized by DYVRS was a solid demonstration of opposition to the far-right and support for refugees, however more has to be done to build the kind of movement that will be able to stop far-right groups projecting a presence in public.
The True Blue Crew, Soldiers of Odin, and Nick Folkes came to Eltham looking for a fight. They were unable to get one primarily because counter-rally organizers decided not to accommodate them.
The far-right may have had a boring day, but they are continuing to organize. The Soldiers of Odin have announced an “Eastern Suburbs Meet and Greet” in Ringwood tomorrow, no doubt intending to build on any contacts or interest they may have garnered from their outing in Eltham today.
Today the far-right had to bus in the numbers, but anti-racists and anti-fascists in the eastern suburbs must be prepared to disrupt them in future, lest these fascist groups build a permanent presence in their suburbs.