17 August 2011
As a journalist, I've covered a string of gangland murders, reported from burning bushfire zones on Black Saturday and braved boozed-up mobs of feisty footy fans after their team lost the Grand Final, but nothing could prepare me for the perils of an anti-carbon tax rally.
Several dozen foaming protesters, amid a crowd of several thousand, wildly gesticulating at me, yelling "liar!", "go-home!" and "tell the truth!" wasn't the way I thought the day would pan out.
It all started so amiably.
After interviewing "Grover" the truckie early in the morning as he limped the final leg of his 368km walk to Parliament House, I was the first journalist on the lawns out front. As I moved through the crowd chatting to protesters, I was met with the pleasant smiles and polite greetings I'd come to expect from older Australians (most in the crowd were over 60, but there were people there of all ages)
Within an hour, a large number of Grey Nomads wanted to crush my gonads.
During my live cross at 11am, an hour before the protest was due to start, I told the viewers there were already 400 odd people there and more arriving by the coach-load. I thought that was a fair indication that it was going to be a big turn-out.
And it was.
By Midday there were between 2,000 and 7,000 people there, depending on who's reportage you believe. (I thought there were about 3,000 but after a discussion with a colleague, we settled on 4,000)
But when the man who literally made a name from rage, "Angry" Anderson got on stage to rev up the crowd, the first thing he pointed out was that Sky News was reporting there were just 400. He made out it was a deliberate attempt to distort the strength of the protest.
From that moment, my Sky News labelled microphone, became a bullseye.
It didn't matter that we were the only TV news network to play a full hour of the protest, complete with sweeping shots of the crowd that instantly showed, better than any reporter's figure, that it was a whole lot of people. And it counted for naught that every live cross after that, I talked of around 4,000 people turning out.
It was a fascinating, if slightly scary, insiders look at the psyche of a angry mob.
One person would spot me and shout "Sky News!" and then others would latch on and start yelling as well. If I tried to explain why I'd said 400, it would only make them more angry. If I tried to ignore them, they would think I was being arrogant. The only thing that worked was to put my head down and walk away until the next group noticed me.
There were a few noble souls who pushed through to give me a pat on the back and an apology and, to be fair, most in the crowd (by far) were polite enough when they asked witty questions like "Did you wag maths class or something?".
But a couple of people were seriously enraged. And to be honest, I was a bit concerned. Just a bit.
It's no wonder Tony Abbott has urged his party to exert a "calming influence" on public debate.
To anyone I annoyed: I'm sorry. I was genuinely trying to do my job in the fairest way possible.
To those who I'm sure wanted to hurt me: Chill.
To Angry Anderson: From tonight, my Rose Tattoo records will start gathering dust.
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