Some brought their children, smiling uneasily above t-shirts with slogans they couldn’t possibly understand. Others rode motorbikes or motorised mobility scooters. Almost all carried placards or waved upside-down flags – a sign, I was told, that “Australia is under distress”.
They were Broken Hill’s contingent of the national Millions March Against Mandatory Vaccinations, which saw thousands swarm into the business districts of the nation’s capitals and dozens of regional centres last Saturday.
As the crowd of 80-odd locals marched from the train station to Sturt Park, stopping briefly for a minute’s silence at the Anzac Memorial in Argent Street, their stories and views were expressed with different degrees of passion and intelligence. Some were die-hard anti-vaxxers, one or two clearly conspiracy theorists. But all shared the same central views: the Government has gone too far; alternative arguments are being censored; COVID hysteria is doing more harm than good; our rights, now removed, will never be given back
Some told of losing employment because of their refusal to be vaccinated. One man, who works in the health sector, saved his job, he said, by signing a “gag order”. He claimed there are serious repercussions for any doctor who doesn’t toe the Government line, pointing to a statement from the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA), which warns health workers to use language that “does not contradict or counter public health campaigns or messaging”.
“That’s just plain wrong,” he said.
Others were concerned that some of the drug companies involved in making the vaccines have histories of deliberately misleading people for profit (as recently as 2013, Pfizer pleaded guilty to “criminal misbranding violations” in the US, and in 2009 was fined US$2.3 billion in what the US Department of Justice described as “the largest health care fraud settlement in its history”).
Many of the people I spoke to had received both jabs – they had no problem with the vaccines, they said, but the lockdowns, border closures and politicising of the pandemic have made the virus harmful to everyone, rather than simply those who catch it.
Jenny, a two-time cancer survivor with “multiple chemical sensitivities”, said she “simply cannot take the risk” of the vaccine. Her disabled son, here with her in town, needs her. So, too, does her bi-polar son, who remained in Melbourne with his girlfriend when Jenny and the rest of the family moved here three years ago. Recently, the boy had an episode that saw police issue him with an AVO. He is now going between hostels and boarding houses, his mother unable to return home to help him.
“I feel like I’m banished without any citizenship,” she said, as children in the nearby Sturt Park play enclosure grabbed the bars of the security fence, peering out (or were they peering in?) with innocent curiosity.
“I want to look after all of my children,” said Jenny, “but I’m banned from doing so.
“I’m in exile.”
The event garnered a furious reaction on social media.
On one Broken Hill Facebook page, many expressed their “disgust”, mostly at the marchers’ “shameful behaviour in using the War Memorial statue … using the fallen from the horrors of war” to push their agenda.
“Soldiers followed the RULES,” wrote another, “and went to War to fight for Democracy!”
Yesterday, a man I photographed called to ask that I refrain from printing his picture. He’s been abused and threatened already, he said, and he didn’t want things to get worse.