The people protest: The democratic vibe of Melbourne’s streets

We Protest! is Malcolm McKinnon’s latest curation which captures the democratic life of Melbourne streets. Pictures SALONEE MISTRY


Have you ever been a part of a street protest? Felt the rush of chanting slogans and marching down the road with people who share your passion?

It is this feeling that Australian filmmaker, artist and curator Malcolm McKinnon has tried to capture in his latest exhibition, We Protest!

• We Protest! will be on display at the City Gallery, Swanston St, until August 11.

Having been a part of street protests himself, Mr McKinnon said he had always loved the lively materials, diverse range of people and the opportunity to learn that these events brought about.

“The streets of Melbourne have always been a democratic realm and this is worth celebrating,” he said.

“We are fortunate to have the right to protest without too much resistance from the authorities and it is an experience worth having.”

Protests during the Vietnam War are his favourite part of the exhibition.

The exhibition is an episodic history of street protests, spanning over a century. It is made up of photographs Malcom collected from the city library and from a few collectors’ personal archives.

We Protest! covers everything from opposing protesters to the introduction of military conscription, annual May Day marches celebrating workers’ rights and demonstrations for Aboriginal rights. There is also a short documentary on dairy farmers fighting for their rights.

Mr McKinnon said he was spoilt for choice in curating the exhibition, with the extent of the material becoming his greatest challenge – but 20 years of film-making experience came in handy.  

“I never went into the process of curation with a fixed thought process. All I knew was that I wanted to be surprised,” he said.

“I was keen to find interesting stories that would not only encourage engagement but also be a learning tool for those who aren’t familiar with the city’s history.

We Protest! at City Gallery, on till August 11 looks at almost a century of Melbourne’s history of street protests.

“I have tried to tell a story and evoke emotions, attempting to connect through different elements of the exhibition.”

Mr McKinnon has no professional degree in filmmaking despite spending more than two decades in the industry. He graduated with a degree in painting but said he felt fortunate to have worked on projects that interested him.

“A degree I believe limits you in a few ways. Not being institutionalised helped me think out of the box and probably connect with a larger audience,” he said.

“Money has also never been a priority for me but I have been lucky to find the balance and convey stories of what other people are passionate about, which makes me passionate about what I do.

“This is also the most rewarding part of what I do.”