By 1917, prime minister Billy Hughes had copped so many rotten eggs over his political career that he’d taken to carrying a pistol for protection. That year, at a railway station in south west Queensland, he was calling for wartime conscription when an egg flew from the crowd and knocked his hat clean off his head. Luckily for protesters Bart and Pat Brosnan, he’d accidentally left his weapon on the train.
The impact of this egg in Australia’s history cannot be overestimated. When local police refused to arrest the brothers responsible, stating that Hughes did not have jurisdiction, Hughes created a new federal police force under Commonwealth control. The egg was a rallying cry that made national headlines, and arguably helped in the defeat of Hughes’ conscription plebiscite. When Pat Brosnan was asked why he threw the egg, he said simply that he “did not want to be conscripted”.
Up until last weekend, this was Australia’s most notorious egg. Now, as Senator Fraser Anning attempts to wash yolk from the back of his head there is another now infamous egg to mark a significant moment in our history.
Anning was struck by this egg at a far-right meeting, after sending a series of Islamophobic tweets. The tweets blamed the white supremacist terrorist attack in Christchurch on a rise in Muslim immigration. For Anning, this rhetoric was not unusual: earlier in the same week he had called for “the right to bear arms” in Australia to “defend against … dangerous African gangs and Muslim terrorists”. A chilling sentiment given the incident that followed.
The wielder of the egg, a 17-year-old boy named Will Connolly, was punched in the face by Anning and violently tackled to the ground by Anning’s supporters. He was subsequently arrested and then released by police.
The protest has been largely applauded internationally, and yet Australian comedian Adam Hills tweeted that he did not think Anning should have been egged, stating “it makes him a victim, and emboldens his supporters”. Hills’ comments sparked further debate online as to whether or not protesters should egg.
In the wake of Christchurch, it is difficult to comprehend why there is so much attention being given to a single egg. “To egg, or not to egg?” is a question likely bubbling around water-coolers today, especially from colleagues grateful for the diversion from confronting the very real and dangerous surge of white supremacist ideology in this country.
It is, after all, far more comfortable to talk about the ethics of eggs — is it an act of civil disobedience, or violent antagonism? Will one egg lead to a barrage of eggs raining down on politicians everywhere? And are these eggs even free range?
A more interesting question, however, is what does this egg represent?
Throwing things at politicians is arguably a tradition of Western democracy, but the intentions behind such protests are diverse, to say the least. After she’d given her famous misogyny speech in parliament, then-prime minister Julia Gillard was hit with sandwiches twice in one month. Shoes were thrown at former PM John Howard on ABC’s Q&A after he deflected a question about his culpability in the Iraq War, and former NZ minister Steven Joyce had a dildo thrown at him in direct protest of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
In the UK, politicians David Cameron, Nigel Farage, and Ed Miliband have all been egged. And most recently, Jeremy Corbyn was struck with an egg by a pro-Brexit protestor while visiting a North London mosque. The same mosque had been subjected to an anti-Muslim terrorist attack in 2017.
In 1917, the “Wawrick Egg Throwing Incident”, as it came to be known, represented the frustration and powerlessness felt by young men who might be sent off to fight in an overseas war against their own will. The nation had already voted against conscription during a plebiscite in 1916. But the prime minister, who had been expelled from the Labor party for his vehement support of conscription, was relentless.
After confronting Senator Anning, Will Connolly made the intentions behind the egging clear, writing on twitter that “Muslims are not terrorists, and terrorism has no religion”. Connolly was born after September 11, which means that for the span of his lifetime the face of terrorism in the West has been erroneously portrayed almost exclusively as Muslim and brown.
Beyond the ethics of throwing an egg at a politician, Connolly’s protest tells us of a potential turning point in our discourse. It might well be that this egg represents the frustrations of a boy, and an entire generation of young people who have grown up bombarded with a monstrous lie. A lie that is radicalising white people, threatening the safety of communities, and leading to unimaginable violence.
In the wake of Christchurch, this egg might come to represent a growing population outside the Muslim community who are willing to listen to Muslim people, and who will no longer passively submit to the lies of white supremacists. But to do this we must think beyond the egg, and confront uncomfortable truths.