Spotlight on the collection: St Patrick’s Day Bash, Brisbane, 1948

Amongst Fryer's manuscript collections is a folder of papers relating to the 1948 St Patrick's Day clash in Brisbane. The papers form part of the collection of Connie Healy, whose husband, Mick Healy, was secretary of the Trades & Labor Council of Queensland at the time. Mick Healy was the leader of the protest march that was met with such violence by the Queensland police.

On the morning of 17 March , a group of about 200 trade unionists began a street march from the Trades Hall building down Edward Street towards the centre of Brisbane.

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They were protesting the Industrial Law Amendment Act introduced by Queensland's Labor government a week before. Reacting to the strike by railway workers which had commenced in early February, the Hanlon government invoked State of Emergency legislation on 27 February. It now sought even greater powers to combat what it labelled civil unrest by militant communist-led unions. This additional legislation prevented picketing, marching and demonstrations, and extended police powers to the arrest without warrant of strikers and those who encouraged their activities.

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The unionists were met by more than 200 baton-wielding policemen. The onslaught led to multiple injuries and arrests, with a number of marchers being taken to hospital. One of the injured was Fred Paterson, MLA for Bowen, barrister, and the only Communist parliamentarian ever in the history of the British Commonwealth. Paterson had been observing the march and taking notes when he was felled with a blow from behind by Detective Sergeant Jack Mahoney. He was later taken to Royal Brisbane Hospital for treatment for concussion and a suspected fractured skull.

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Fred Paterson standing behind lawyer Max Julius taking notes.

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Greg Tippert being arrested, having had his nose broken by police

In the following days there was mass protest over the incident with more than 10 000 union sympathisers gathering in King George Square.

In June the government announced the repeal of the act which had brought the demonstrators to the streets. But the anti-communist paranoia which manifested itself in this brutal police action on Edward Street, Brisbane, on the morning of St Patrick's Day 1948 continued to be mobilised over the subsequent decades.

More about the 'St Patrick's Day Bash' can be found in Found in Fryer: stories from the Fryer Library collection.

Last updated:
18 January 2017