During the afternoon of the second day of the Forbes protest news came by text message that the Forbes Conference CEOs were to occupy the Art Gallery of NSW for dinner. The kow-towing NSW government had obligingly closed the Gallery to public access for the day and the night.
I decided that bearing witness at the Art Gallery would be the Peacebus.com Forbes finale, and assembled lanterns in preparation, lanterns left over lanterns from the Refugee Action Coalition Tampa Day action of the previous week, lanterns that had come back from police lines on the night before.
The action was not expected to be big. The young anarchists were exhausted and retrieving their arrestees from Sydney Police HQ in Surry Hills and the 30A Network was a spent rump. In fact only Kirsten, Simon, me and my dear friend and Peacebus companion, John Peace, rallied to it.
Kirsten arrived early and, disguising herself as an art patron and member of the Forbes unoffended general public, she got close enough to see the CEOs and their coaches arrive for the red carpet treatment. For the Forbes offended general public, those with the temerity to want to protest, the police, we learned, had decreed a 500-metre exclusion zone.
Police guard at the Art Gallery of NSW, 31 August 2005
Here is the report that Kirsten later posted this to the 30A list:
"I went and had a look-see at the NSW Art Gallery last night at about 6.30pm. The scene there was surreal and more disturbing than the one at the Opera House.
The Art Gallery is ordinarily open until 9pm on Wednesday nights. There was a Margaret Preston exhibition on and dozens of gallery goers were turned away by police on approach.
Mounted police patrolled the domain. A red carpet was on the front steps of the Art Gallery, temporary flood lighting lit the statues at the entrance with an eerie purple hue and police stood in formation on the entrance landing. Busloads of police wearing jumpsuits arrived and did their hut hut gig.
A police motorcycle convoy escorted a series of coaches with the conference delegates. The coaches stopped one by one at the edge of the red carpet and the delegates walked up the steps. The blokes were wearing mainly black and navy corporate suits.
The women were glammed up in mainly black, red and white posh frocks. Without the knowledge that this function was about the collaboration of big business and government, an onlooker might reasonably have assumed it was a set for a movie about the Third Reich."
When Peacebus.com all loaded up with speaker horns, flags and signage, arrived I told the police at the blockade on Art Gallery Road that we had an official invitation. A man in a suit whose job it was to distinguish between the rich and the poor, the Forbes offended and the non, told the officer to "piss us off" and I was directed down Hospital Road and there I parked. From there the Art Gallery was about 150 metres away across The Domain.
The Domain is a parkland which has special significance for Sydneysiders for it was once a free speech venue adjacent to the Parliament. It had added significance for me because I recalled the time when President Lyndon Baines Johnson came to town in 1966 and not only did we stop his State sponsored motorcade (see www.peacebus.com/graeme/LBJ.htm), we dissenters to the Vietnam War also converged on the Art Gallery to whence he had fled for a State reception.
The roar of the hatred and distain of the fierce crowd that gathered outside still echoes there for me, the mob sound of outrage, the media people of the time stared at the crowd agog. The event was a turning point in local resistance to conscription and the Vietnam War, all down hill for the warmongers for a while there after.
But this evening I saw our mission as one of peace and the idea was that, as a lantern lit peace mission, we would seek audience and make a peace offering to Steve Forbes.
The offering I had in mind was that if he and his CEO mates would get serious and take action on global warming, I would stop calling him a scumbag in the Sydney media, something I had been doing a lot of in the previous few days.
Over the course of many media interviews, the script had distilled to "masters of greed, war whores, poverty pimps and planet fuckers. CEOs cost the Earth!"
While assembling the lanterns John and I were interrupted by an OSG police sergeant who informed us that it was illegal to erect a structure in the Domain without proper permission. He seemed to think we were setting up a tent.
Peacebus.com companions, Graeme Dunstan and John Peace, with lanterns in The Domain on their way as a peace mission to see Steve Forbes at the Global CEO dinner which occupied the Art Gallery of NSW, 1 September 2005
While I contested my citizen's right to bear light in a public place, he was joined by the patrol of mounted police. Nineteen of them! More horses and fluoro vests than we had lanterns!
Once more I called the number of police liaison. Alas Andrew had not got my message about the action and he was at home, off duty with his wife and newborn son. Good on him. He offered to speak to the OSG sergeant but the latter refused to take the phone as did the officer commanding the cavalry.
I walked down the line of horses holding the phone aloft and wailing: "What is the use of police liaison if no one will talk to them and no-one will listen?" My performance seemed to embarrass the mounted police and they moved off, declining my invitation to return as an escort for our lantern lit peace delegation. Likewise the OSG Sgt, now assured it was not a tent that we had in mind.
When the lanterns were assembled and lit we saw coming across the parklands towards us, a swagger of six OSG officers. By any measure of policing numbers experienced that day, they were much too few. I hailed them as they approached: "There are not enough of you. Retreat now and get reinforcements!"
I was feeling cocky because I was expecting a photographer from AAP. There had been some international demand for news on the Forbes protests, but even as I revved up, a text message came saying a crowd panic on a bridge at a religious festival in Baghdad had knocked Forbes out of the news and that we should expect no media witness.
On came the OSG with all due gravity to deliver a message from their OSG commander. No poles! Groan!
When the OSG departed we sat about and talked by lantern light. A principle of bearing witness is to go to the boundary, wherever that is, speak truth and watch and listen well. My plan was to take the lanterns on their poles across the park to the Art Gallery and see how far we got. Simon and Kirsten made it clear they didn't want to risk arrest but agreed to accompany John and I as witnesses.
So off we set off, John Peace and I, lantern bearers for peace. The lanterns floated beautiful and serene through the darkness that separated us from the illuminated portico of the Art Gallery.
In mid Domain we were met by another swagger of OSG, six of them led by a Sergeant Ilk (as I recall), who had a Cockney accent, a ready smile and a hard line. He recognised at once we were no threat but would not let us proceed.
"We are a peace delegation," I explained. "Please convey a message to your commander that we have come seeking a meeting with Steve Forbes to make a peace offering."
"Listen," he replied. "I am not here to take orders from you. I am here to give orders and tell you not to proceed further."
Rebuffed at this point John and I separated to further explore the boundary of light and darkness, he going south, me north. Sgt Ilk split his patrol and he walked beside me as I trod close. "British Army?" I asked. He confirmed this and rattled off a list of places where had served, a list that included Belfast, the Falkland Islands, various African and Middle East states and the USA.
"SAS?" I asked. "Special Forces," he replied with pride. Here was the globalization of policing. From the other side of the world and trained to the teeth events had brought this man to defend the global rich and tell me that I might not bear light in The Domain, once a place of free speech for all Australians.
Together we did this lantern tango for a while until the OSG officers wearied of the game and my insolent prattle. Their commander came and laid down the law. "We will confiscate your poles if you cross this path," he decreed and left us.
We wandered up to the police block at the entrance to Art Gallery Road and there the traffic patrol officer was totally laid back. Just another night on duty with his car, and he was pleased to have someone to chat to.
Simon and Kirsten had been enjoying the action immensely, many a belly laugh. John Peace too had found deep satisfaction in it. French Sam of the Nimbin Hemp Bar arrived at the end to cheer us. As the action the night before had begun with the three of us HEMP Embassy mates, so it was completed.
"Bearing witness is not about numbers and it is not about media," John observed. "Sometimes you do it for the good of the soul."
Deeply fatigued I packed up the lanterns and the poles and made a cup of tea for John and I. John feeling the cold sheltered in happy Wheels while I sat on the grass and gazed across the parkland to the Art gallery, reflecting on what a mighty effort it had been and what mighty frustrations experienced, bringing witness to the Forbes Global CEO Conference.