Leaps and bounds
The war on terror comes to Adelaide Oval

Adelaide Oval as it was, circa 2006.

Adelaide Oval is a big deal in my home city.  After its first phenomenally successful season as an AFL stadium – complete with regular crowds of 50,000 and INXS previews to Port Power games – even some Victorians grudgingly accept Power president David Koch’s declaration that it’s now the best football venue in the country. Its new stands, steep and imposing, contrast with the hand-operated and heritage-listed scoreboard, now 103 years old.

I took my first look at the completed stadium last weekend on a visit from Melbourne, where I’ve lived for the last eight years. The Oval had always been part of the parklands that surround the square mile of the CBD, but its new entrances were blocked and locked so I jumped the fence. I only got a brief look; within minutes I was arrested.

Adelaide Oval is one of a handful of landmarks I return to, I suppose, as part of a pilgrimage of remembering. Paul Kelly, who also grew up in Adelaide, might sing that he’s “looking over the bridge / to the MCG”, but I know what ‘Leaps and Bounds’ is about when I visit the Oval.

As spectator, member, athlete, cricketer, coach, I was often there growing up. I remember being dragged to and from the Oval by my father before I was at all interested in cricket, and I remember looking at his name on one of the Oval’s famous white pickets after he was gone. “Dad’s hands used to shake, but I never knew he was dying,” sings Paul Kelly in his song about Adelaide. Dad doesn’t have a grave, and perhaps the Oval is, for me, a proxy memorial to him.

I suppose that’s why I vaulted a fence near the eastern entrance on Saturday. The Oval was empty ­– it would next be used the following day, for South Australian football’s grand final – and the fence was easy enough to get over. I stood looking up at the huge new Riverbank stand, and as my eyes swept along the bottom of the new western stands I noticed that the picket fence, such a recognisable part of the Oval since 1900, was missing. I was focused on the spot where my dad’s plaqued picket, paid for as part of an Oval fundraiser, would have been when I saw movement. An overweight security guard on a stand-up scooter was speeding around the northern concourse toward me.

“You climbed the fence,” he observed as he stepped off the scooter. He radioed to base – “C4 to B8. Yeah, I’m with him now” – and then said to me: “We’re off to have a little chat with SAPol.”  I began to say I didnt know I wasn’t allowed in. “What, the big fences and the locked doors weren't a clue?” Was I under arrest? “I’m not the police.” Was I free to leave then? “You can try, but then I’ll detain you til SAPol arrive.” What had I done wrong? “Get real, mate, it’s private property. You’re trespassing.”

I wasn’t, though: the law in South Australia is clear that trespass is criminal only if you refuse to leave when asked. Simply being inside a venue to which the public ordinarily has access – even if that access is ticketed – is not a crime. I wondered why the guard didn’t ask me to leave. “Stop talking to me,” he said as he escorted me to the eastern gates. “We’re in lockdown. High terror alert.”

But it wasn’t just the “high terror alert” that rendered out of place the unconscious sense of ownership and belonging I’d assumed over Adelaide Oval. It was the redeveloped stadium itself. The idea that it was normal to exclude me, and the rest of Adelaide, flowed from the new capacity to do so. I’d been accustomed to wandering into the Oval at will on days with no matches, but the new Adelaide Oval is privatised, corporatised. The logic of security is now built in.

When two police officers arrived they placed me under arrest. It wasnt lawful (they never told me which law I was suspected of having broken), but the logic of their actions was that of security, and not, for instance, democracy. “I don’t know what it was like before,” one said, “but you can’t just come in when you feel like it. There are tours if you want to see inside. Empty your pockets.” He patted me down before explaining that I was banned from Adelaide Oval for 24 hours.  “What are you doing? Where are you from?” I wanted to say I was from here, but suddenly I wasn’t so sure.

The changes to Adelaide Oval, and to Australia, are not all explained by mere progress. The last time we endured a terror scare, Parliament House was locked to the public when George W Bush visited in 2003 to congratulate Australia for its assistance in the war on terror. The symbolism was hard to miss: for the sake of “security”, the people were excluded from their own house of government. There were protests. Large sections of middle Australia marched, wrote letters, dissented. Thousands gathered at Parliament House and demanded the right of entry.

We were told then that restrictions on our freedoms were temporary, but the laws made in our name – the most draconian in the western world – have become permanent. “Regrettably, from time to time, Australians will have to endure more security than we’re used to, and more inconvenience than we’d like,” Tony Abbott told the nation this week as he made his case for more laws. “There may be more restrictions on some so that there can be more protections for others.”

It’s always tempting for those charged with securing our freedoms to lock them away, as if they need protecting from we who would use them. We’re asked to consider any restrictions on our freedoms of movement, assembly and speech as temporary impositions, but the danger is that each successive impost chips away at the culture of freedom. It happens regularly now: Sydney was locked down for APEC in 2007; Brisbane will be as well for the G20 leaders’ meeting in November. When we accept such restrictions and internalise them, they become permanent.

Parliament House is again refusing visitors because of “terrorist chatter” in a high-security environment. Aside from a few journalists complaining of the inconvenience, there’s little protest this time. What’s happening to our culture of freedom?

How many, now, would call me an idiot for thinking I could jump the fence at Adelaide Oval just so that I could remember?

Russell Marks

Russell Marks is a lawyer and an honorary research associate at La Trobe University. He is the author of Crime and Punishment: Offenders and Victims in a Broken Justice System (Black Inc., 2015). 

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