Paul Fry waits for the action to begin while covering another protest rally.
Paul Fry waits for the action to begin while covering another protest rally. Contributed

In the front line of protest action

I COME from Palmwoods and went to school at St Joseph's Primary School in Nambour before finishing high school in 1993 at St John's College.

I was adopted by the Fry family at four months of age. My indigenous birth family is from Cape York.

I began a Certificate IV in Photo Imaging at CATC Design School in Melbourne, before transfering my studies to RMIT. It was during my studies at RMIT that I worked as a freelance photojournalist and documented many protests marches in the city.

I have met photojournalist Megan Lewis, who used to work for Reutuers, at one of RMIT's photojournalism conferences in 2016. She has inspired me, as a freelance photographer, to go out into the world and capture political events in major cities.

Photographing protest marches was definitely an eye-opener for me as I grew up on the Sunshine Coast and had never experienced anything like them until I attended the very first Reclaim Australia protest in Melbourne's Federation Square.

One of Paul Fry's protest photos.
One of Paul Fry's protest photos. Paul Fry

I have always been interested in protests and civil disobedience and this opportunity arose when I witnessed violent confrontations in nearly all the anti-racist campaigns held in Bendigo and Melbourne.

In June 2016 I also attended an event where a group of protestors followed a True Blue Crew rally through Melbourne, then assaulted photographers and set a few Australian flags alight.

Capturing emotion at a protest is very challenging.

In the two years I lived in Melbourne I covered about 90 protests and events on topics such as indigenous rights, refugee rights, student rights, workers' rights and marriage equality.

In protest photography, I was always looking for a memorable scene as pictures always mean more if they have a unique, historic context.

I wanted to get into the thick of things and I ended up buying a helmet, camera vest, goggles for capsicum spray and comfortable clothes to keep me warm during those cold wintery days as some Melbourne protest's lasted for 10 or 15 hours.

I think the worst protest I documented was in the multicultural suburb of Coburg where seven people were arrested after scuffles broke out between rival groups of anti-racism and anti-immigration protesters.

One of Paul Fry's protest photos.
Police hit photographers with capsicum spray during the anti-immigration protest in Coburg. Paul Fry

Two people were arrested before the protest for carrying weapons as police were monitoring and searching peoples' bags at the train station in Coburg.

About six photojournalists and I were capsicum sprayed by the police as we documented the protest in which a massive brawl broke out at an intersection near a school.

After documenting the very first few of the anti-racist campaigns, I became more aware and vigilant with my surroundings as the conflict over multiculturalism was becoming more daunting.

When things got a little bit rough out in the field I always maintained a close relationship with other photographers for protection and kept an eye on fellow photographers in case they needed help.

I had always done my research on upcoming protest always made sure I told people where I was going and when I was planning on coming back home to the university student hostel.

Paul Fry
Ready for the action, with warm clothes and goggles to protect against capsicum spray. Contributed

I have found the experience of documenting protests to be emotional but also very fulfilling.

I am now studying at the University of the Sunshine Coast and will hopefully get into the Bachelor of Creative Industries course and study my major subjects such as photography and journalism.

I am planning to move back to Melbourne to cover more protests.

I have a long road ahead of me in studying at the University of the Sunshine Coast but at the same time I am confident that this will be a benefit for me as an individual and as an indigenous freelance artist or photographer.