Portraits of Protest

Kasun Ubayasiri, Kaya Barry, Ari Balle-Bowness

Portraits of Protest captures a pivotal moment in Brisbane’s social history and the community of everyday people at its core. 

Portraits of Protest: The Kangaroo Point 120 is the story of a community that rallied around a group of refugees and asylum seekers who stepped on to the balcony of their makeshift detention centre in a Kangaroo Point motel, holding hand-scrawled signs pleading for freedom as Queensland entered COVID lockdowns. Facing the first wave of the virus, unable to practice social distancing, and with security personnel moving in and out of the compound unchecked daily, these detained refugees feared the pandemic.  

Within days, anti-detention protesters, under the pretext of engaging in permissible exercise, begin walking, cycling and jogging around the motel in support. Their protest grew. 

Supporters from the community on the streets below held twilight vigils and a round-the-clock blockade, while the refugees inside made ad-hoc signs out of cardboard, garbage bags, tape, and whatever other remnants they could spare. The protesters – concerned, local residents and advocates – disrupted local traffic and gained national and international attention, leading to similar protests elsewhere across the country. Protester numbers would ebb and flow, but a constant presence would be retained for more than 300 days.  

This exhibition captures the portraits of 120 of these street protesters, reflecting the 120 men detained inside the motel.


07 Jun – 23 Jul
Mon-Tue: 10am to 5pm
Wed-Sun: 10am to late


Below is a brief timeline on the events leading up to the protest.

July 19, 2013: Prime Minister Kevin Rudd declares no asylum seeker arriving by boat will be settled in Australia. 

July 27, 2014: Between July 19, 2013, and July 27, 2014, 79 boats arrived in Australia – some carrying refugees who were already at sea when Rudd made his announcement. Of the individuals on board, 1596 were transferred to the Nauru Regional Processing Centre, 1523 were transferred to the Manus Regional Processing Centre and 1414 were issued with bridging visas to Australia. The selection is random, arbitrary – a case of the immigration minister exercising his “non-delegable personal power” without any application of criteria or process. 

March 1, 2019: The Medevac Bill becomes law, paving the way for doctors to make medical rulings to evacuate refugees and asylum seekers detained offshore to Australia for urgent medical treatment. By the time the law is repealed a year later, 192 detainees had been evacuated. They are detained primarily at Brisbane’s Kangaroo Point Alternative Place of Detention (APoD), and Melbourne’s Park Hotel APoD. 

April 2, 2020: When Queensland enters a hard COVID-19 lockdown, 120 Medevac refugees locked up at the Kangaroo Point APoD, step out on to the balcony of their motel detention centre holding handwritten pleas for freedom clearly visible to passing traffic and pedestrians. Within days anti-detention community protesters, under the pretext of engaging in permissible exercise, begin walking, cycling, and jogging around the motel in support. Over the next few months, the protester crowd would swell, numbers would ebb and flow, but a constant presence would be retained for more than 300 days. 

March, 2021: Two large groups of refugees are released from APoD, about 11 months after the protests began. Most are given bridging visas but continue to face an uncertain future, with the directive that no asylum seeker be settled in Australia still in force.  

April 16, 2021: 54 weeks of community protest outside the Kangaroo Point APoD comes to an end when the last 19 detainees are transferred to other on-shore detention centres in Brisbane and Melbourne.