By Elliott Brennan
Shoppers arriving at Marrickville Woolworths on Saturday morning (July 26) were confronted with road closures and scenes of protest in the place of the celebratory Ramadan signs they had been hanging in the store for most of June and July.
Members of the Party for Freedom organised the rally in response to the signage around the Wooloworths aisles which read ‘Happy Ramadan,’ but with only ten participants, were outnumbered nearly six to one by counter-protestors from various groups who took offence to their ‘Anti-Ramadan’ protest.
Police closed the Renwick Street exist from Illawarra Road and had a visibly strong presence which was bolstered by Woolworths Security staff.
The two groups clashed on first sight with the counter-protestors forcibly taking possession of the Freedom Party’s signage and destroying it.
As this was happening customers leaving Woolworths reported to have seen several female Muslim staff members moving quickly to the back of the store and in to a lockable room.
Police broke up the conflict after about 30 seconds and momentarily detained one of the counter-protestors before banishing him to the back of the group.
The Party for Freedom stated “Woolworths’ appeasement of radical Islam is a slap in the face of the Australian shopper”.
Valerie Feigen, a local resident who joined the rally after meeting a counter-protestor, said: “Supermarkets have Easter promotions and people only complain that they’re too early. When it’s Ramadan, they complain about terrorism.”
“We are quite a diverse population in Marrickville, so when they asked me to support them, I had to. I even brought my husband and my child.”
Woolworth’s had previously defended the decision to celebrate the holy Muslim month of Ramadan in 239 stores across Australia, but the Marrickville signs were not displayed on the day.
“By taking the signs down it makes it look as though Woolworths were actually wrong to put them up in the first place. It’s very disappointing,” said a Student Union protestor from the University of Sydney who preferred to remain nameless.
The store managers were unwilling to comment on any issues surrounding the rally.
The two groups shouted slogans back and forth for half an hour before Police disbanded the Party for Freedom protestors and asked them to leave the site to the applause of the counter-protestors and locals.
“When I looked at them I saw a group of people wrapped in Australian flags, holding poorly worded signs talking about a society that doesn’t exist. Nobody is interested in that racism,” said Marrickville resident Sam Russell.
The counter-protestors then marched to the Australia First Party Headquarters in Tempe where the far-right party was holding a meeting.
A megaphone was passed around to community members who shouted their opposition to the Party’s staunch views.
A fight broke out between a group of more radical masked members of the counter-protestors and an Australia First Party sympathiser, which lead to one person being arrested and charged with affray – a serious offence pertaining to the instigation of riotous behaviour.
The Student Union spokesperson didn’t believe this was representative of the action on the whole.
“We went there today to show them that the community of Marrickville, the Inner West and Australia don’t feel the way that they do. We are happy for Woolworths to wish people a happy Ramadan – and we do too.”