50th Anniversary of the ‘Tower Mill’ Protests

Demonstration outside the Tower Mill Motel during the South African Springbok Tour, 1971. Still from film by Peter Gray. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Just before I jumped, I saw a cluster of shadows crash over the wall to the north of us. Then a girl’s screams froze the night.

From A Book of Doors (2020), Dr Anne Richards

The challenge was set. Brisbane Writers Festival [BWF] asked me to find the ex-Wallaby footballer who’d addressed over 1000 students at the University of Queensland refectory in mid-1971. I was 18 then, and never had any personal contact with the legendary Anthony Abrahams since he took a fearless stance against apartheid in South Africa.

I googled and searched, checked recent internet profiles, followed random leads. I spoke with a sympathetic young man at University of Sydney’s Alumni, and sent an email: ‘Anthony Abrahams AM, c/- Uni of Sydney Alumni. Please forward.’ Fingers crossed! The next evening, I received a call from Anthony. He gracefully accepted the invitation to speak at BWF’s special event, marking the 50th anniversary of the South African rugby union tour of Australia.

Film by Peter Gray showing the demonstration outside the Tower Mill Motel during the South African Springbok Tour, 1971. (State Library of Queensland collection)

There were dramatic and violent protests across Australia, but the violence experienced in Brisbane was extreme. Joh bussed in 600 additional country police to enforce his brand of law and order. Hundreds of police attacked peaceful demonstrators outside the Tower Mill motel and throughout the streets of Brisbane. Young and old activists braved the brutal force of police retaliation. Importantly, this tour and the resultant protests united young white radicals with the groundswell of black activism that had been growing through the 1960s to fight apartheid and racism here in Australia. That struggle continues.

Find out more about this Brisbane Writers Festival event at the University of Queensland - Political Football: The Radical Legacy of the Anti-Apartheid Protests in Brisbane.

State Library of Queensland collections include a variety of items relating to the history of protest movements in Queensland.

Examples of resources in State Library's collection relating to Queensland protest movements


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I notice you have not included the significant protests surrounding the right to march as part of and in the context of the 1985 SEQEB dispute and Joh 's use of "state of emergency powers" to control workers' rights to associate, organize and stop work - it would say it warrants inclusion because of its significant impact and legacy on Queenslanders.

Hi Margie, Thanks for your feedback. I've altered the wording to make it clearer that the list of resources is not intended to be exhaustive.

Seems to me the struggle for women's rights has also been omitted in your list - the Take back the night and the right to free, safe abortion, finally recognised by legislation last year; as significant for women as the decriminalisation of homosexuality, legislation last year.
Anti -war protests - such as that against going into the war in Iraq [biggest march Brisbane every had] - have a place - shows the difficulties of a list unless the theme is very clear?

I can recommend this book, which I read a few years ago, published 2012 by UQP

The Tower Mill
by James Moloney

A gripping family drama that plays out against a turbulent and controversial political era, this book tells the tale of Susan Kinnane. She is the precocious daughter of conservative parents who spurns the attention of fellow university student Mike Riley in favor of a passionate romance with activist Terry Stoddard. When the South African Rugby team goes on the road, Terry, Susan, and Mike join the anti-apartheid demonstrations outside the Springbok’s hotel near the iconic Tower Mill. Late in the night, the riot police charge, and the terrified students are hunted into the darkened park below. What happens next changes each of their lives forever. Eight months later, Susan gives birth to a son, Tom, whose destiny is shaped by a man who is not his father, and by the events of that shocking night. As a lawyer working in London decades later, Tom must return to make peace with the past. This novel combines the youthful passion and enthusiastic activism of the 1970s with the racism of the apartheid era in a vibrant and tumultuous story that will enthrall readers to the final page.