A COUPLE of friends invited me to attend the Reclaim Australia rally at Bundall on Saturday morning. I didn't know anything about the group except what I'd pre-read on social media. They say they want to send a message about Australian values and speak out against the rise of Islamic extremism.
Now, I have to admit, I don't see any evidence of Islamic extremism on the Gold Coast, but there's plenty of evidence of it around the world, including incidents in Sydney and Melbourne, and 100 or more Australians who've decided to head off to fight for Islamic extremists.
The weekend Reclaim rallies were held in 16 locations around the country with several in regional Queensland centres, and Brisbane.
The kids and missus were off to Pacific Fair for some last minute Saturday morning Easter egg hunting, and well, to be frank, shopping malls and I don't particularly get on. I blame it on the car parks, the acres of walking, and 'buyers remorse' a month later when the credit card bills hit the mail box.
What struck me when I arrived at the Bundall rally location about 10.30am were the numbers, which I estimated to be about 800 to 1000. I looked around for the neo-nazis, fascists and white supremacists but I was a little disappointed to see it was majority mums and dads and kids looking like they had mistakenly turned up for an Olivia Newton John concert in the park.
The kids were lining up for a go on the humungous jumping castle, while their parents were setting up their fold out chairs and rolling out picnic blankets. I was pretty sure I must have got the location wrong. This all seemed rather normal and civilised. Aren't protests supposed to have screaming loonies, throwing marbles under police horses, while waving extreme placards in front of cameras?
I did note half a dozen or so bikie looking types (jeans, leather vests, tattoos, beards, shaved heads), and around 20 or 30 police, but they all seemed to get on together, chatting and walking amongst the crowd. No arrests or abuse. All good so far.
I made my way up to the front stage area, which again challenged my pre-conceived notions. The whole stage was adorned with more national flags than a United Nations convention.
The largest flag of all was the aboriginal flag, which covered at least a third of the stage. Neighbouring the stage was a a yummy variety of cultural foods, from home made dims sims to German sausages.
The MC took to the stage, welcoming all comers from every race and religion, even Muslims if there were any. He explained the purpose of the rally was to embrace Australian values of fairness, tolerance, free speech and equality; that Australia was a nation of inclusiveness, not exclusiveness.
Everybody was welcome to come to Australia, but that's a two-way street. All cultures irrespective of beliefs or religion must in return embrace the values of Australia.
He then introduced a beautiful young nine year old girl of aboriginal heritage who sang the Australian national anthem in her Dharawal tribal tongue. I snuck a peek around and saw more than a few moist eyes being wiped.
Golly, there just weren't any signs of racists and bigots so far. But reading the reports the following day, there must have been, because social media activists said this was a neo-nazi rally. The only violence anywhere stemmed from anti-rally protestors in Melbourne, Sydney and Hobart who seemed to be determined to turn a peaceful rally into a violent shut down of free speech.
The rally speakers were all well informed, researched and experienced. I was particularly transfixed by the three returned Australian servicemen from Iraq and Afghanistan regaling shocking stories of the treatment of women and children at the hands of strict Islamic cultures.
A young village boy in Afghanistan would receive an horrific beating if his father learned he had accepted a chocolate from a coalition solider, or worse, shot at by a Taliban sympathiser if he or she happened to be too friendly to one of our Aussie soldiers.
A young teen girl could be horribly punished if she simply waved back at friendly coalition troops while guarding the village.
Other speakers included a radio broadcaster, an author, an iconic Aussie cartoonist and an ex-female police officer who served at the Lakemba police station in Sydney, which was peppered with gunshots while she was working inside. The stories were riveting and informative.
But it wasn't all serious, there was a variety of live musical entertainment including the singer of Redgum who wowed the gathered throng with the legendary hit, "I Was Only Nineteen".
Well, there must have been two rallies on the Gold Coast because the family friendly event I attended exhibited all the best Australian values I've become accustomed to as an immigrant's son - tolerance, inclusiveness, free speech and fairness. Not a racist or a bigot in sight.
* Paul Zanetti is a cartoonist for APN News and Media