Reclaim Sydney attendees brave the rainReclaim Sydney attendees brave the rain | Source: Nick Shelley

On a bitterly cold Easter Saturday morning in early April, a crowd of 200 people began to slowly amass amongst the towering monuments of Sydney’s Martin Place. Spurred on to the tune of Peter Allen’s I Still Call Australia Home and seemingly unfazed by the wind and the rain, the crowd made their presence to the CBD known, joining as one in the well-known chant “Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi”. What was their mission? To Reclaim Australia.

Reclaim Australia’s Policy Objectives:
No. 6 – Freedom to attend our public functions without threat or fear of terrorism.

“Stop all forms of radicalisation within our shores until it stops. If that means removing imams, Korans and closing down all mosques and Islamic schools then so be it. Australian public safety is a primary mandate of our Government.”

The Reclaim Australia Rally was a coordinated protest held concurrently in 16 locations around the nation. Each of the gatherings sought to make a stand against political correctness, ‘illegal’ immigration and most notably, Islam.

Each capital city rally had at least one high-profile speaker. In Brisbane, former One Nation leader, Pauline Hanson took to the stage. In Melbourne, which attracted the largest and rowdiest crowd, controversial pastor and leader of the Rise Up Australia party, Danny Nalliah spoke and in Sydney, Shermon Burgess, otherwise known as “The Great Aussie Patriot” took to the podium.

Shermon Burgess addressing the rallyShermon Burgess addressing the rally | Source: Lisa Maree Williams | Getty Images

The Sydney rally, whose numbers had been somewhat subdued owing to the inclement weather, almost had a carnival feel to it. Friendly banter mixed with laughter between people huddled under umbrellas, T-shirts and other wares available for sale, the music of Jimmy Barnes and John Farnham playing in the background. It was like a country fete had placed itself in the heart of the CBD. It was the sort of atmosphere where people could feel they belonged to something, and that that something was seemingly good. This illusion was quickly shattered when the speakers took to the podium.

Reclaim Australia PostersReclaim Australia placards | Source: Reclaim Australia Website

Shermon Burgess wasted no time in sorting people into categories of good and evil, ally or enemy, Australian patriot or Islamic traitor. Starting with a diatribe about the amount politicians are paid and seeing themselves as being masters of the public, Shermon quickly turned his attention to what he called the “extreme ideology (of) Islam starting to gain a foothold in our societies”. He pointed to the Skaf Brother rapes, the plot to attack the AFL Grand Final at the MCG and the ill-fated plan to kill military personnel at Holsworthy Army Base as evidence supporting this claim. With every example given, the crowd booed the alleged aggressors and cheered Shermon on. The strongest reaction though was reserved for Man Haron Monis, the assailant responsible for last year’s Sydney Siege and for Australian citizens heading overseas to work for Islamic State. Shermon also claimed that funds from Halal certification on groceries were being used to fund Islamic extremism.

Does Halal certification fund terrorism? | Credit: ABC Fact Check

As I stood amongst the throng, sopping wet from the pouring rain, I could not help but be astonished at the sheer, unrelenting anger expressed by the increasingly enlivened and zealous crowd. It reminded me of the months and years following the 9-11 attacks. Before the Al-Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Centre, I doubt I had ever given a second thought to Islam or any threat it might pose to my safety or that of my fellow countrymen. But on that morning in September 2001, the world changed immeasurably forever, the long lingering shadow of which continues to hang over issues of race, religion and national identity to this day.

Extract from One Nation’s Multi-racialism policy statement:

“Multiculturalism has failed everywhere. It is negative and divisive, a weight that is drowning our once safe and cohesive society. One Nation will abolish multiculturalism and the Racial Discrimination Act and promote assimilation, nationalism, loyalty and pride in being an Australian.”

The crowd was predominately made up of middle-aged, Anglo-Saxons; except for one young couple, Jonnie and his girlfriend, both from Sydney’s North. Adorned in the Australian flag and, in the girlfriend’s case, painted on her fingernails too, the couple stated they were sick of “Islamic extremism” and “people coming over here changing our culture”, expecting welfare and disrespecting the Australia that people had fought and died for. When asked their thoughts on the appropriateness of the rally’s venue, they both exclaimed that Martin Place was an “excellent choice” given the Sydney Siege a few months earlier, before calling for the re-adoption of a policy of assimilation, monitoring of all mosques and the embrace of multiracialism instead of multiculturalism. In listening to them both, I couldn’t help but feel their reaction to Islamic extremism and to the events of last December was one based on fear, although this suggestion was roundly rejected by Jonnie’s girlfriend.

Rally attendee, Angela, holding up a placardRally attendee, Angela, holding up a placard | Source: Nick Shelley

I came across Angela, also draped in the Australian flag and carrying a range of placards, some self-created, others sourced from the Reclaim website. Angela presented the Koran as a war manual, which offers little to no guidance on love, instead focusing on jihad, war and struggle; before offering the Bible as an example of a religious text which spoke far more positively about love.

Cat Delaney addressing Sydney RallyCat Delaney addressing Sydney Rally | Source: Nick Shelley

Cat Delaney, also known as the Sydney tissue lady, was next on the podium, speaking about her own experience of being raped at the hands of several Arabic men 12 years ago. She ended up in hospital and a women’s refuge, before living on the street and being terrorised by men with beards who appeared to be Muslims. As the crowd heard this, screams of “f*** Islam”, “Mohammed is a pedophile” and “filthy degenerates” began to echo around the square. By now, a large police contingent had surrounded the rally, isolating it from a counter protest located closer to Channel 7’s offices.

Counter protesters on stageCounter protesters on stage | Source: Lisa Maree Williams | Getty Images

The most confronting moment of the whole morning was when two of the counter-protesters managed to break police lines and make it on stage. One said “You people should be ashamed of yourselves” whilst the other made a rude gesture to the audience. The crowd charged towards them as the police acted swiftly to move them both off the stage and out of harm’s way.

Counter protesters removed by policeCounter protesters removed by police | Source: Lisa Maree Williams | Getty Images

As the rally drew to a close I met Marie, a grandmother from the Hunter Valley, who stated that the rally’s attendees were “realists, not racists”. Whilst largely reiterating many of the points raised by the speakers and other members of the crowd, Marie’s solution of the Abbott Government needing to “grow some balls” on this issue was one of the more unique proposals I heard throughout the day. Marie’s comments were compelling, they seemed to come from a genuine place of concern for the safety of her children and grandchildren, rather than being solely motivated by fear or hate.

A follow up rally is scheduled for Saturday 18 July in Melbourne and Sunday 19 July for 16 other locations around the nation.