Of all the things we made at the 30A Creative Workshop, the big banners at Macdonaldtown Station, the backpack skelly puppets and Ned Kelly costume was what we got out and got noticed.
The Ned Kelly costume arose from a suggestion of Joey Nipress when our police liaison meetings hit a wall. Joey, a street performer of some extensive experience, strode about the Workshop wearing a welding mask, saying that Ned Kelly knew best how to liaise with police.
Ned Kelly (aka Joey Nippress) under the banner rig at Sydney Police HQ, 23 Ausust 2005
For the information of non Australians reading this, Ned Kelly is giant figure in Australian folklore, an outlaw who was driven by police harassment of his dirt poor Irish family to take up arms. While hiding out in the Wombat Ranges in northern Victoria, he ambushed a police party sent to ambush him. He hunted down and shot dead 3 police officers.
As an outlaw he ranged far, robbed banks and held up whole towns, ever protesting the injustice of the police. He was captured when an attempt to derail and ambush a train bearing police reinforcements from Melbourne was itself derailed, betrayed by a school teacher to whom Ned had shown kindness and consideration. For the ambush Ned, his brother Dan and his friends Steve Hart and Joe Byrne had made body armour from ploughshares. Hanged in Melbourne jail on 11 November 1880, Nedıs immortal last words were: "Such is life."
The idea tickled my fancy and on the evening before action at Sydney Police HQ on Tuesday 23 August to protest the refusal of the police commander, Assistant Commissioner Superintendent Bob Waites, to meet with us to negotiate the peaceful management of the 30A protests, I set to work fashioning Nedıs armour from cardboard and memory.
The 30A Police HQ action was a set piece Peacebus.com action; few in number, great in art, powerful in symbolism and media impact. We had told the policed we were coming, that we would be few in number, that media was expected and that we would not stay long or attempt to invade the HQ building or obstruct police operations.
We set off from STUCCO loaded up with flags and dogs, John Peace in the front, Kirsten and Simon in the back and me singing: "Hi ho, hi ho, itıs off to protest we go " Miffy dog, Kirsten and Simon shared this in common: it was their first Peacebus.com action. Simon and Kirsten proved steadfast companions and though the arrival of Jennifer and Miffy delighted the squad of women police officers guarding the HQ driveway, Miffy, skittish by nature, found it all too much and took off up Campbell Street, Surry Hills, looking for country peace and quiet.
About 30 police including our police liaison officer, Andrew Lahey were waiting to greet us. Assuming legitimacy of our protest we ignored orders to move Happy Wheels and set about unloading and deploying flags and banners and chasing dogs.
Rigging banners at the Sydney Police Centre and Ned Kelly (aka Graeme Dunstan) making his approach, 23 Ausust 2005
While bemused police officers and media people watched, we arranged flags about the 30A banner, tying them with rubber ties to a balcony railing. The media had been told 11 am and we had arrived only 10 minutes earlier, set up and were ready for the media scrum at 11 am precisely. "Listen fellas, this is how it is..."
Now fate had been kind to us for Bob Waites was already in the media gun for cancelling, in the week before, the attendance of the federal Minister for Health Tony Abbott at a debate with students about VSU on the Sydney University campus. Bob Waites claimed that he could not guarantee the Ministerıs safety given the hostility of the students. Abbott, one of the major ideologue of the neo-conservatism in the federal Cabinet, had ridiculed Waites as over reacting and denying him freedom of speech. Waites, on leave and holidaying at the snow resort in Thredbo, had fielded media cameras in a ski suit: not his finest hour.
Now we 30A organisers were ambushing him from left field and Minister Abbott, having prepared the field of advocacy for freedom of speech, quickly went silent when he realised the same demand was being made in relation to a gathering of the rich.
Furthermore the Daily Telegraph, a Murdoch owned daily and no friend of protestors, happened to be running a story about how changes in NSW police policy were obliging penny poor country shows and festivals to pay for their policing. This day we were bearing witness to the fact that the Forbes convergence of the global super rich was to be provided with a massive security force of NSW police at no charge at all.
The media were eager and ready when I fronted them, backed by my friends (John Peace, Bob, Joey, Kirsten and Simon) bearing A3 sized placards with slogans such as "Why wonıt you talk to us, Mr Waites?" "Opera House. Only for the rich?" "Human need not corporate greed" and so on.
As part of the theatre I went to the door Police HQ with the cameras and asked the embarrassed Superintendent who received me there if, given that Bob Waites was still away skiing, there was anyone else to whom I might talk in regard to the police planning for the Forbes conference. It was revealed that there was none such. A week away from a security operation involving a 1000 police officers and no one in HQ who could speak about it! Amazing.
Graeme Dunstan fronts the media at Sydney Police HQ, 23 Ausust 2005
Getting the final no in the witness of the media, I said: "Wait a minute. I will be back." I turned on my heel, went to Happy Wheels and, with the aid of Joey, donned the cardboard Kelly armour, and strode back to the door of police HQ.
For this exercise Kelly was bearing not a gun but a small peace flag, a white dove on blue with a rainbow trail, a flag made for the Byron Peace Carnival of September 2004. But with a twist, for I noticed as I walked back to the door of police HQ that Joey had taped the flag to its stick upside down. Peace in distress!
Back at the door I went through the inquiry routine again with the embarrassed Superintendent. Through the Kelly visor I watched the journalists and the camera men grinning widely. They were loving it.
The action did not win us the love and cooperation from the beleaguer Bob Waites, but that he had already been denied us. But it sure lifted our media profile to the sky and from then on our 30A organising was news and very, very interesting. Later I learned from a media surveyor that our action got 39 different media mentions that day. But there was a downside: more about that later.
The point being made here is that it was the existence of the 30A Creative Workshop, its organising focus and its on-call resources, that gave us the momentum and means to respond artfully and effectively to police obstruction and turn it into a media advantage.
Making stuff with your hands is not only grounding, it also gets the brain thinking in different ways. Sharing hands-on creativity with friends is the best possible of support in a crisis. When our police liaison hit the wall, it was the companionship and inspiration of Bob, Joey and John Peace in the 30A Creative Workshop that quickly got me past disappointment and into creative thinking again.
"What would Gandhi do in these circumstances?" I asked myself aloud. Ever a creatively productive question, the answer of the ancestors came at once, words so clear in my head that they might have been spoken: "Go to door Police HQ in person and ask to speak to the Police Commander." Bingo!
When I told Det Snr Sgt Andrew Layhe of the intention he said at once: "That is a reasonable and valid response." and he set about clearing the way. Afterwards Andrew commented that the appearance of Ned Kelly had been "left field" and congratulated us for being the first ever protest to take place at Sydney Police HQ.
The Ned Kelly costume was given to he who inspired it, Joey Nipress, and he used it to great effect during the 30A protests. With Bob wearing the Prime Minister Howard mask borrowed from Greenpeace, they teamed up in street performance and the Reuter photo of Ned Kelly arresting PM Howard caught red handed selling Australia, went around the world.
Ned Kelly arrests Prime Minister John Howard on his way to the Forbes Global CEO Conference to sell off Australia. Dirty little rodent. Look at those filthy pants! 30 August 2005. Thank you Reuters