About 300 anti-racism protesters rallied in Bendigo on October 10 as part of the Bendigo Action Coalition's Say no to racism and fascism campaign.
Local residents and activists from across Victoria mobilised at the Bendigo Town Hall to oppose the far-right United Patriots Front (UPF) who paraded in Rosalind Park opposing the construction of a mosque in town.
The UPF had called a national mobilisation in Bendigo on October 10, with members coming from Perth, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. About 400 attended the racist protest.
Four hundred police kept anti-racist protesters and racists apart at the entrance to Rosalind Park.
Jaara elder Gene Roberts read out a message at the rally from Uncle Gary Murray, one of the traditional owners of the Dja Dja Wurrung Country. He welcomed Muslims and anti-racist protesters to Bendigo and un-welcomed the racists and fascists.
The message said: "We warmly welcome our brothers and sisters and their families from all nations, creeds and religions across this globe as we have done since colonisation when the Tall Ships came here to our shores with many races on board … [but] racists, fascists, thugs, the United Patriots Front and the toadies of racism are not welcome on Dja Dja Wurrung Country.”
The UPF has used the application to build a mosque to forster an anti-Muslim racist movement since Bendigo Council approved the application in June last year. The Victorian Civil and Administrative Appeals Tribunal upheld that decision on August 5.
Bendigo Action Coalition spokesperson Lyndon Morley said: “Bendigo has proven once and for all that our streets are open to all cultures and closed to racists. We had a larger turnout on our side than last time, and we had more locals in attendance. We feel as though we have won back the streets of Bendigo.”
Tashara Roberts called on those present at the rally to respect those opposite them. “Their views are misguided, they have been shown falsified evidence and photoshopped imagery," she said. "We must lead by example, we must show tolerance, even to the idiots."
Bendigo City Mayor Peter Cox said he did not understand why the UPF had targeted Bendigo. He said the council had to better understand what was driving people's fears about Bendigo's future. “Part of the Australian constitution is that we can practice our belief systems, however there are concerns and fears that people have. We need to talk to those people”, Cox said.
Jess Cola, from the Bendigo Action Coalition said: “We had a moral victory over the UPF. It is becoming crystal clear that these anti-mosque groups are little more than neo-Nazis. Fascists need to be stopped in their tracks before they grow. The situation in Europe reveals that unless we confront these racists while they dwell on the fringes, they will grow.”
The rally came a week after 3000 people attended a Believe in Bendigo picnic to celebrate diversity in the community and condemn hatred. It urged all Bendigonians to show minority groups, cultures and all religions that they were welcome. The big turnout reflected support for the mosque and the Muslim community.
Believe in Bendigo member Jayson Tayeh said: "We need to continue to show those who in no way reflect the majority voice of our community, who use racism, violence and hatred to be heard and who instill fear in others, that Bendigo is a community of diversity and that enough is enough. Bendigo has rejected their views and their actions."
Since the rallies, the anti-mosque protesters have continued to target the council for supporting the mosque, organising protests at each council meeting. Residents supporting the mosque have also held protests supporting the council's pro-mosque stance.