Peace Pilgrim caught napping
Report of Talisman Saber 2013 Wilderness Peace Pilgrimage
in Shoalwater Bay Military Exercise Area,
Queensland, 23 - 24 July 2013
When the search party found me in the Shoalwater Bay Military Exercise Area, i was napping, head on my shoulder bag, curled up at the base of a paperbark. The crunch of a nearby foot tread woke me and then a voice, "Excuse me, sir."
He was a reservist from Tasmania, i was soon to learn, and also a serving police sergeant. "I thought you were a sandbag." he said.
Led out of scrub, I saw my fellow Peace Pilgrim, Greg Rolles, sitting by the road less than 100 m away surrounded by 20 or so reservists and Military Police.
Greg was surprised to see me and i was feeling pretty foolish.
The plan had been that he would blockade the road, that i would take photos and then scamper off into the scrub to lie low another day or two before blockading again.
That morning we Peace Pilgrims had walked maybe 5 km along a road leading north east, the supply road we presumed for the invasion rehearsal that took place on the beach up there a few days earlier.
But not a single military vehicle did we see in three hours. So we decided to go south to Samuel Hill and follow the road that forks north west from there.
We had not gone 200m past the junction when, BINGO!, we saw a convoy of Humvees rolling towards us.
After over 24 hours of prayerful walking and camping, Greg now strode towards his fate carrying Peace Pilgrim tracts in his hand and an Afghan Peace Volunteers blue scarf about his neck. Alongside i stumbled readying the unfamiliar phone camera to record the meeting.
The front Humvee slowed and stopped. Behind them, at regulation intervals, thirteen others came to a halt. "What are doing here?" the front driver asked, more curious than alarmed.
"We are here for peace," Greg replied relishing the opportunity for dialogue.
We were soon joined on the road by a chipper Gunnery Sergeant. "Once a Marine always a Marine," he courteously explained. "How can we help you? The Marines are here to help."
He must have supposed we were lost bush walkers for the Marines were later to report that they had found us rather than the other way around.
"What about Fallujah?" i countered as i struggled with the camera which was responding to my clumsiness by throwing up screens which i neither wanted nor could close. My question went over the Sergeant's head.
To get a photo of the very dramatic looking top gunner, i went around to the side of the Humvee.
"Keep clear of the vehicle," ordered the gunner sternly. As i got the shot, I reflected grimly that if this had been in Iraq and and i was an Iraqi, i would be dead meat.
Marines, i wanted to know if they had heard of my former Marine friend and organiser for Veterans for Peace in Chicago, Vince Emanuele. That name drew a blank from the Gunnery Sergeant and a look from Greg that indicated the gig was his and that i should get away.
So into the scrub i scampered with the Gunnery Sergeant calling after me, "Excuse me, sir! Excuse me, sir!" Only Queensland Police and Military Police can apprehend civilians in a military zone, so there was no stopping me. Police liaison later confided that there had been much mirth on the radio net at the idea of a 71 year old man evading a young and fit Marine.
It was a low scrub of banksia and paperbark trees and i was soon out of sight. My first priority was to get the photos posted, so i sat down and fumbled some more with the camera phone. Then i switched on my other phone and noted the missed calls from police liaison, inquiring about my welfare and inviting me to surrender. "We'll come and collect you," offered the ever caring Sgt Kerrie Duffy.
There was also a call from Radio Zinc FM so i rang back and did an interview.
The day was warm and our exertions had been many. Lulled into a false sense of security by our earlier soldier-free, prayerful wanderings, I thought it better to stay still. My mind neglected to appreciate that now they had a sighting, the Army search would be intense.
So it was that i lay down and, feeling totally at ease, slipped off to sleep.
Greg, who had expected me to have gone further and taken evasive action, later apologised for concentrating the search by misdirecting the reservists in my direction.
Before surrendering my phones, i called Sgt Kerrie Duffy to tell her of my capture. "Saves us doing it," said the reservist police sergeant. Kerrie was thrilled by the news and promised to be with us pronto.
A handsome, young and callow MP gave me warnings and escorted me back to Greg and the camou clad crowd by the roadside.
The Humvees had gone but further up the road were two U.S. Marine Corps Assault Amphibian Vehicles which had pulled off the road. Judging by the lean of the vehicle and the crowd of curious soldiers about it, one of them was seriously bogged. A quiet cheer from me.
The MPs sat Greg and i together by the road and put a video camera on us. A captive audience and a recording camera, i could not restrain myself and for the next 45 minutes i spruiked about the cost of the US alliance and its baleful influence on the Australian Defence Force.
I finished on an up note by congratulating the Military Police for their integrity. MPs are not often praised. Earlier this year it was reported that MPs in Afghanistan had not only refused to cooperate with SAS demands to "render" (= torture) the Afghan prisoners surrendered to their charge but also officially complained about the demand.
Now under the command of US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the Australian SAS has for a long time now lost its moral compass and brings shame to the descriptor "Australian".
And our moral compass? The footsteps of Buddha, Jesus, George Fox, Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King Jnr and all the prophets and way makers for peace.
On entry the Exercise Area early on Tuesday 24 July, we rested and had a prayer session to affirm our faith and our mission. Then we switched on the GPS and found we were within a kilometre of the Franz Jaegerstaetter Shrine that the Three Jaegerstaetter Amigos - Margaret Pestorius, Andy Paine and Robert Jones - had set up during Talisman Sabre 2011.
Off we Peace Pilgrims set following a compass bearing.
The bearing led us through a vast field of tan brown, old man Banksias, slender paper barks and spiky fronds of stubby grass trees. The grey clouds that had been threatening rain since dawn began to clear. Far away the rata tat fire of blanks. We walked fearlessly, reverently, intensely aware of the lushness and luminosity about us.
We found Shrine in a bright green wooded grove by a rill. All the paper and laminates had rotted - Shoalwater Bay has known two very wet, wet seasons since the Shrine was set up - and the plaster angel had fallen, possibly knocked down by a snuffling wild pig.
We righted the angel, redressed the Shrine and prayed some more.
Together we remembered the fearlessness and faith of Franz Jaegerstaetter and the Peace Pilgrims who had gone before into the Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area to bear witness for peace. My prayer was for guidance and protection. To Ploughshare or not to Ploughshare?
We both agreed the grove was well chosen. A sense of immanence there, of guardian angels roosting in the gnarled old gum trees. A sacred grove indeed. When we resumed our pilgrimage, a mistaken position fix led us in a big circle right back to that Grove as if to get us back on track again.
And for the rest of the day we walked in easy confidence.
When police liaison arrived, it was smiles all around like a family reunion. The police had made a huge effort to prevent us from entering the Military Exercise Area, with lots of personnel tasked and lots of patrols, Peacebus followed, informers sought and so on. But we had evaded them.
Now we were found, the cops were joyous. Even the arresting officer was smiling as he did his business. How amazing! What grace!
Friendliness is the path of the peace makers.
Friendliness is the blessing of the peace makers.
29 July 2013