By Karen Fredericks
Reclaim the Night marches, against protesting violence against women, gathered more support than ever around the country this year. Green Left Weekly spoke to women who attended marches in just some of the many centres in which the event was held, and all reported lively, noisy and determined crowds, with the largest proportions of young women seen at feminist gatherings for many years.
In Sydney nearly 10,000 women swarmed into Hyde Park to hear Robyn Archer introduce her "friend and colleague", outspoken magistrate Pat O'Shane. O'Shane was welcomed to the platform with a deafening show of appreciation for her decision, last year, not to convict feminists who sprayed graffiti on a violently sexist advertising billboard.
O'Shane spoke frankly about the problem of violence against women within Aboriginal communities, and soundly condemned those who use "Aboriginal culture" to excuse violence perpetrated by Aboriginal men. "Rape is not part of Aboriginal culture", she said. "Rape is rape, and in this we are all sisters." She spoke in support of a campaign for state funding for an Aboriginal Women's Legal Service in Sydney.
Thousands of Sydney-siders were drawn from shops, offices, restaurants and bars to watch the impressively noisy march make its way to Circular Quay. At First Fleet Park, a two-hour program of women's performances, including a rousing yodel from Robyn Archer, capped off a remarkable night.
In Perth about 900 women gathered in the Cultural Centre, Northbridge, on October 22 and then marched, together with a few male supporters, around the inner city suburb singing chants and waving placards.
Michelle Hovane, a member of the organising committee, told the crowd the event had been organised to protest at violence against women, whether economic, sexual, physical, psychological or political, and to celebrate women's strength and survival.
In Brisbane more than 500 women took part in the event, which was marred somewhat when the police (who turned up too late to escort the march as had been planned) fined a woman who led the march on a motorbike $300 for riding in the mall without permission. A collection was quickly organised to pay the fine.
The difficulties faced by sex workers under the Goss government's draconian anti-prostitution laws was highlighted by speakers. One sex worker who, two days before the march, had been secretly filmed by media while she argued with a local morals crusader, spoke of the constant violent harassment suffered by women in the sex industry.
In Hobart 150 women played instruments, blew whistles, carried banners and generally made a splash. At the end of the march the platform was opened and more than a dozen women spoke of the reasons they had decided to fight violence against women. A group of young men from the radical youth organisation Resistance received a warm welcome from marchers when they stood beside the route with a banner they had painted to support their fellow activists.
In Newcastle 250 women marched, and then stayed after the march to participate in the singing of feminist protest and freedom songs.
In Melbourne 6000 to 7000 women took part in what participants told Green Left was an "exhilarating experience", especially for the many young women, including large numbers of high school students, who were taking part in their first feminist protest.
Speakers included high school student and Resistance member Lian Jennings, and Amanda George from the Save Fairlea Women's Prison Campaign. George spoke of the increased violence women prisoners from Fairlea will suffer if they are transferred to Jika Jika high security prison according to current Kennett government plans.
In Adelaide 1500 women maintained high spirits throughout a very long march. At the rally the crowd was reminded that the Adelaide Rape Crisis Centre was still struggling to keep its doors open, at least to provide some limited services, despite recently losing all funding by the state ALP government. Speakers emphasised that, with a state election on the horizon, women should be putting pressure on candidates to support the reinstatement of funding for the centre.