Residents of The Grampians in western Victoria have been left shocked and angered after witnessing a group of white supremacists in balaclavas rallying in the national park.
Police investigated the incident at the weekend which involved about 20 or 30 men who could be heard chanting white power slogans and “Heil Hitler”.
Halls Gap resident Luke Baker said he and some friends and their families had gathered at Lake Bellfield on Sunday night when they heard a group of men.
“There were couples with kids [at Lake Bellfield] and the kids had sort of said ‘could you hear what they were saying across the lake?'” Mr Baker said.
“They had heard them yelling out ‘white pride’ over and over, and then they were chanting ‘Ku Klux Klan’ over and over, then ‘white power’, then there were these ‘Heil Hitlers’ over the course of two-and-a-half hours.
“You could hear it quite clearly. It sounded like a fairly large group.
“They had a fire, which you’re not permitted around the edges of Lake Bellfield. But we live here, you often see young couples with little fires.”
Mr Baker said he called triple-0 and explained what he had heard.
“The camp was still there [Monday] and I got a call from another police officer from beyond the region, and he asked me to take photos of the vehicles at the lake for him.”
Another resident took to social media claiming the group had been placing stickers along walking trails purporting to be from the National Socialist Network with the slogan “Australia for the white man”.
No laws broken
Western Region Division Four police superintendent Ian Milner confirmed officers had been notified and investigated a group of 20 or 30 men.
“My advice is they were a group of males from Melbourne that had come up and were doing part of The Grampians Peaks trail over three nights, and came to our attention because they were displaying signs and putting balaclavas on and taking photos of themselves,” he said.
“Our members deployed to that group and spoke with them and identified that they weren’t breaking any laws, and that was the extent of our involvement.”
It comes as a man dressed in a top emblazoned with ‘Proud Boys’ was briefly detained by police on Tuesday after he clashed with those attending the Invasion Day march through Melbourne’s CBD.
When asked about the recent far-right displays, Premier Daniel Andrews said there was evidence that “evil and wicked” anti-semitism was on the rise in Victoria.
“There’s no place for that kind of anti-semitism in our state, no place for that sort of bigotry and hatred,” he said.
“There’s no place for violence … no community should be treated that way.”
Deakin University global Islamic politics professor Greg Barton said regional areas were appealing places for people with far-right views to gather.
“With all kinds of extremist movement, we are dealing with social movements,” Professor Barton said.
“People feeling like they are with people who accept or acknowledge them.
“There is a desire to get together face to face and do things, and if you’re a group on the edge of the law a rural location is going to be attractive for a bunch of reasons.
“You can be outside and act more freely.”
It is not the first time neo-Nazis have used The Grampians as a place to gather.
Professor Barton said residents should make connections with Victoria Police so they could report specifics and know what to do should such groups return to the area.
Mr Baker, who is the family services manager at Horsham’s Goolum Goolum Aboriginal Cooperative, said a number of people contacted him about the incident.
“Gariwerd (The Grampians) is part of the creation story for Wotjobaluk, Jardwadjali and Jupagulk Indigenous people, and leading up to such a complex day [Australia Day] my thoughts are with them as this becomes public,” he said.
“My kids go to a local school and there are a number of Indigenous children there, so I can only wonder the effects it has on those children who have to have the concept of ‘white power’ explained to them.
“Having a large group of men chanting ‘white power’ is an act of violence that can have a significant impact on people.
“Our grandparents’ generation went to a lot of trouble to put this ideology to bed.
“It’s the job of our current government to make sure it doesn’t re-emerge.”
Victoria has two criminal offences for serious racial or religious vilification.
A Victorian government inquiry into the adequacy of racial vilification laws is set to hand down a report in March.