HUNDREDS of people have taken to the streets of Cessnock to protest against a proposed mosque at Buchanan.
More than 700 people marched along Vincent Street on Sunday morning chanting “no more mosque” as part of a rally organised by Reclaim Australia, before they gathered at Civic Park and listened to arguments against the proposed development.
Meanwhile, a group of about 150 people stood in the Cessnock Performing Arts Centre car park, only a few hundred metres away, and protested against the Reclaim Australia’s march.
Some who spoke at the Reclaim Australia rally insisted the group did not condone violence.
But a speaker who identified himself as a Christian Democratic Party representative told the crowd: “We need to stop building mosques, but if it keeps going maybe we need to push a few over and bulldoze them.”
In between chants of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi, oi, oi”, some individuals yelled comments including “say no to Islam” and “there’ll be an Islamic caliphate here within the next five years if this mosque goes ahead”.
Before the rally, the rival protest groups faced-off near Civic Park and it took a strong police contingent to stop a clash. However, there were no major incidents or violence from either side, unlike scenes in Sydney and Melbourne on Sunday.
Reclaim Australia lead organiser John Oliver said the proposed Muslim prayer and funeral centre at Buchanan, which has not yet been approved by Cessnock city council, would cause various problems for nearby residents.
While he said that the mosque would cause traffic and crowding problems for nearby residents, none of the protest chants during the rally referred to infrastructure issues.
“Today it’s all about stopping the mosque at Buchanan,” Mr Oliver said.
“We had 6500 likes on the Stop The Mosque [Facebook] page. We had over 400 residents inbox us and say: ‘we don’t want this mosque here, can you please come and help us’.
“They’ve got a right to protest against a mosque in their area,” Mr Oliver said.
Rally Against Racism spokesperson Erin Killion said the counter protesters wanted to promote the idea that people had nothing to fear from the Muslim community.
“There are rumours going around that the mosque is going to be dangerous for this area and I think that it’s important that people actually get to know Muslims, because there is nothing to fear,” she said.
“Groups like Reclaim Australia are building these straw men [arguments] that Australian culture is under threat and we’re being overrun. None of those things are coming into being.
“They are using it to try to build a far right political movement in this country and we know that when those groups build, so do attacks and racism.” It was unclear how many Cessnock residents were in either group.
Rival protesters battle it out with rock ballads
COUNTER-protesters have claimed victory against Reclaim Australia supporters in Brisbane after the two sides became locked in a raucous and heated, but peaceful, battle.
About 250 Reclaim Australia supporters left their anti-Islam protest in Brisbane’s CBD on Sunday as pro-diversity groups chanted ‘‘na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye’’ across metal dividing barriers with up to 30 police stationed in-between.
Reclaim speakers were constantly drowned out by the counter-protest of around 350, with chants like ‘‘Nazi scum off our streets’’ and ‘‘Muslims are welcome, racists are not’’.
Organisers responded to the counter-protest by blaring Cold Chisel’s Khe Sanh across the police cordon at their opposition.
But, in a battle of Aussie rock ballads, the counter-protesters returned fire with John Farnham’s You’re The Voice through their much louder speakers.
A 64-year-old was arrested after jumping the barricade between the two groups.
Despite the raucous opposition, event organiser Mike Holt insisted Reclaim Australia represented the majority of Australians, particularly after the Paris terrorist attacks.
‘‘I’ve got two young daughters, I certainly don’t want them having to wear a burqa.’’
Socialist Alternative’s Rebecca Barrigos, who organised the larger opposing rally, said she and people like her felt obliged to speak out against racism.