A crowd of at least 10,000 ignored COVID-19 restrictions to attend Perth’s historic Black Lives Matter protest today which organisers have promised is just the beginning in their fight to improve Indigenous lives and end racism.
There was one moment which threatened to derail what was a peaceful process at Langley Park after a confrontation between police and protesters just before thousands walked through the city.
Three marchers, including a boy aged under 14, were handed chalk-based spray paint cans and started to write “BLM” on the road.
Police, seemingly unaware the paint would wash away in the rain, stepped in to take the cans out of the hands of the protesters and started talking to the young boy who was reduced to tears.
Older protesters, including Noongar activist Herbert Bropho, clashed verbally with police and started a chant telling them to leave.
After a tense five minutes the police stepped back and the situation was calmed when Noongar elder Uncle Ben Cuimara Taylor arrived.
Noongar Whadjuk man Christopher Reed was one of the other three protesters who painted BLM on Victoria Avenue.
He said police had scared the young boy and his sister and made them feel upset.
“We’re there trying to demonstrate our rights,” Mr Reed said.
“They (police) should have handled it a bit better instead of just grabbing us.
“I came here to stand for my people, stand for the historic moment I’m in right now and stand for the people that’s not standing for themselves today past and present.”
Mr Reed, who did not know the young boy and girl, made sure they got a lift home and said beside that one incident he felt the rally had turned out well and gone to plan.
Yued woman Jacinta Taylor-Foster, who was one of the main organisers of the event, said it sounded like there had been a misunderstanding around the spray cans but it was hard for her to say yet having not seen the incident.
She said the event had otherwise been successful thanks to collaboration with the City of Perth and WA Police.
“It really shows the value of having that relationship and communication in the lead-up of all of this,” Ms Taylor-Foster said.
“The whole point in this is people aren’t wanting to cause trouble, they are just wanting to be heard.”
The activist said it was now up to everyone to keep pushing for change by being aware of what was happening in WA politics with current debates happening in Parliament around reforming fine default legislation so people were no longer locked up for not paying fines.
“The younger group of organisers have started up their own group Boorloo Justice,” she said.
“They’re very keen to keep this all going and keep the stories going.”
Ms Taylor-Foster said the support from the wider community had been immense with not just the 11,000 face masks donated by the Chinese community but also a donation of food from the Maori community.
An adherence to COVID-19 safety rules started well with plenty of hand sanitiser and face masks stations around the park and protesters keeping to their own groups.
As thousands continued to arrive, however, the 1.5m physical distancing in the crowd got worse the closer people got to a stage central to the event.
More than three quarters of the crowd did appear to be wearing a face mask.
At the rally’s peak there was an absolute throng of people spread out on the grounds between Victoria Avenue and up to just before the park’s playground.
Police were out in force and lining the streets surrounding the park with safety glasses, face masks and gloves.
Officers kept their distance from the rally but there were also small teams standing guard at several statues of historic WA European figures around the Perth CBD including John Septimus Roe and Alexander Forrest.
Noongar Whadjuk woman Tanesha Bennell, who was one of the other key organisers of the event, told The West Australian she was humbled by the turnout.
Wongi woman Yarnus Thomas drove down from Kalgoorlie with her family to be at the event after hearing about it on Tuesday.
She said she was there for her cousin Elijah Doughty who was killed when he was 14 after being run over by a ute whilst riding a motorbike in 2016.
The driver was charged with manslaughter but was found guilty of dangerous driving causing death one year later.
Ms Thomas said this was the biggest rally she had ever attended.
“I just come to support all my peoples and I thank everybody else for coming down to support us as well,” she said.
“I found out at about this rally on Tuesday and as soon as I found out about it I knew I was going to bring my family down.
“I think everybody is spaced out correctly and abiding by the rules of social distancing and I think it’s turned out great. I like how they’ve set it all up. During this pandemic everybody is keeping each other safe.”
There were plenty of non-indigenous protesters present including rock superstar Kevin Parker from Tame Impala.
Greens MP Tim Clifford said he had gone down to the event to show support for First Nations people.
“You understand the frustrations and seeing the actions of Rio Tinto, especially blowing up that heritage site on Sorry Day of all days,” he said.
Mr Clifford said Greens politicians had made their own individual choice on going to the rally but said the party had always been a strong supporter of First Nations rights.