CARE Taking at the Gates of Corruption
A Report of the Resident action by Corrimal Action
for Rehabilitation of our Escarpment,
9 October 2008
There were a ten of us and we hacked, cut and pulled lantana under the eye of news cameraman from WIN Tv, Wollongong.
Our purpose was to claim and clear the long promised, but never delivered, access to the public reserve of rainforest under Mount Corrimal, the escarpment peak that presides above the Wollongong suburb of Corrimal.
The lantana was thick and plentiful in the forest littoral and our efforts to subdue it paltry. But just as Gandhi's making salt was not truly about making salt, it was the symbolism of our actions which was significant.
The broken promises and the land which we had entered by bypassing a locked gate, were those of Frank Vellar, the Wollongong's biggest builder and property developer, a man who had be named by the NSW Independent Commission Against Crime (ICAC) as corrupt just two days before.
Ours was a local resident action making a small but resonate statement about the endemic corruption of Wollongong Council and the NSW ALP machine that had controlled it for so long.
And Peacebus.com was there to support it with flags and PA.
The principle organiser of the event was Rod Plant, an associate of mine from early Nimbin resettlement days (1973-6) and connected to me Dharmically via a Thai monk, Tan Achan Bouniyarit.
Rod Plant had been part of the student ferment at Monash University and resistor to conscription for the US war in Vietnam in the late 60s and early 70s. He had come to Nimbin for the 1973 Aquarius festival and stayed on as part of an early "tenant' commune on Stoney Shute Road called Old Toby.
This broken down old farm house served as a temporary home and portal to many dreamers who subsequently gave illustrious service: Jyllie Jackson of the Lismore lantern parade, Marcus Jackson as founder of Greening Australia and Ric Farley, a founder of LandCare.
Tan Achan (= Mr Teacher) was a forest monk who had been brought to Australia as part of a Buddhist mission sponsored by the Queen of Thailand. Rather than stay at the Stanmore Wat and service the needs of the growing SE Asian community of Sydney, Tan Achan who was of the forest monk tradition, felt it more useful and auspicious to be where Buddhism was taking root in alternative community practice in Australia; to wit Nimbin and environs.
During the 70s Tan Achan was supported by a number of Nimbin new settler families including mine when we (Vi Tourle and our toddler girls, Softly Sigh and Holly High) were residents of a tenant commune we called High Street (now a multiple occupancy called Moondani).
He lived with us for about six months sleeping in a rough banana shed high up on the ridge overlooking the Nimbin valley from the south. I would join him there waking him for meditations sessions at dawn and strive to understand the mangled English of his Dharma teaching.
During that time he was very much part of the family and he accompanied us to the first Down to Earth Festival on the Cotter River near Canberra, monk in residence at the Chai Tent we set up under a yellow parachute by the river bank.
But Rod's connection had gone deeper. He told me he had been complaining about the lack of political activism in those early Nimbin re-settlement days when he applied himself to some Buddhist meditation practice under Tan Achan and also the English born Theravadin monk who was a regular Nimbin visitor, Phra Khantipalo.
On the occasion of a visit of a Thai prince, Tan Achan, wanting to make the visit auspicious, had asked if there was anyone amongst the meditators ready to take robes. There were no takers amongst the more advanced devotees but for Rod, a neophyte the invitation it had gone deep.
"That's sounds like the right thing to do with my life", he thought and offered himself.
No one thought it possible that he would learn the chants and ritual necessary for ordination in time but Rod proved a fast learner and remarkably adept. So it was that he became the first westerner to be ordained as a Buddhist monk in Australia.
I learned of it when I saw a newspaper photo of him and his head shorn of his wild his Afro locks.
Off he went to Thailand with the special blessings of the Queen of Thailand. Though Rod was in robes for less than two years, in that time he delved deep into the Dharma, became fluent in Thai and Lao and developed an abiding love for the people and the ways of SE Asia.
A anti-war protester and draft resister at Monash university, Rod was made acutely aware of the ravages of the US war there, particularly the bombing of Laos and Cambodia and the consequent rise and adminstrative savagery of the Khmer Rouge.
Rod was to become active in aid work. Working for the Save the Children Fund, Rod and his partner were the first Western aid workers to enter Laos after the 1975 revolution there. Today he is called "father" by some 70 young adult Cambodians, orphans Rod organised to settle in Australia.
After 30 years, we had connected again at Wat Buddhalavarn in Wedderburn NSW introduced my our mutual friends, the Venerable Santithito a German born monk who had met Rod in North Thailand and Khamsone (Kevin) Prakoonheang, chair of the Wat Management Committee and a former colleague of Rod's at the Fairfield Migrant Centre.
Rod had followed up our meeting by checking out the Peacebus.com website and he emailed me to say:
"Graeme, you seem to personify Buddhism in social action, not to mention a contemporary way of going forth from home to homelessness.
You have trained yourself well, and no doubt found many wonderful teachers along your path.
I felt since we met again at Wedderburn that I should invite you for a sojourn where the escarpment rainforest meets the ocean - when you are free, come experience it from my home."
What a sweet talker! Here was an invitation not to be refused; a karmic connection renewed and the promise of evolution.
Wollongong is a strip city that runs north-south between ocean beaches and a towering forested escarpment. Where ever one stands in Wollongong, mountajns are visible and if one stands high enough, the ocean views are to be had too. The better the view, the higher the property value, the greater the developer greed.
"Thirroul" the name of a suburb at the northern end, means "leech" and I am told that the first trade between the indigenous peoples and the white settlers was in leeches. But it was the readily accessible coal seams under the escarpment that made Wollongong an industrial city, a centre for iron and steel production and the home for waves of migrant workers.
Five years ago, Rod became a householder in Glenea Street, Corrimal, a cul de sac that runs up to the escarpment forest and which ends at the locked gate to Vellar Mansions.
He loves his garden and it is meticulously kept with the aid of his downstairs tenants. He also loves the creek that flows from Mt Corrimal behind his property and which he has worked to rehabilitate by clearing weeds, revealing ponds, encouraging frogs and planting natives.
Giant trees of the remnant rainforest of the escarpment overlook his house. From his backyard he pointed out a huge Sydney Grey Gum with a huge old vine twisting about it.
He told me that he gotten motivated for local bush regeneration thinking he needed to save the gum from the vine. But since putting his feet on the bush regeneration path he had been given a deeper insight: that the vine was the threatened species, a vestige of ancient rainforest now exposed at the suburban frontier.
He had also learned the story behind the locked gate at the end of Glenea Street.
Behind the gates and up a steep concrete driveway lay the ruins of two McMansions of the Gold Coast style, one boarded up and locked, the other never completed to lock up stage. They had been built 10 years ago but were never occupied and now stand abandoned, vandalised and graffitied.
The Vellar mansions, incomplete and abandoned in the escarpment rainforest above Corrimal,
9 October 2008
The late Vic Vellar, a migrant worker made good as a builder and father of the ICAC declared corrupt, Frank Vellar, had built the mansions, one to house himself and wife and the other for his son. But Vic had died two weeks before he was to move in and his widow declared the property jinxed and would have no more to do with it.
To build the mansions Vic had done deals.
He had accumulated titles to some 200 acres of steep bushland under the escarpment. Originally the site of a 19th century coal mine, there had been worker shacks now long gone.
The rumour going around is that back in the 80s when forest conservationists pressed Council to protect the remaining escarpment forests from housing development, the Planning Department had undertaken extensive title searches and found that many of the titles had lapsed, no known owner.
The corrupt Council management had let their corrupt developer friends know and suddenly there was a rush of claims by people saying that they remember "having a holiday shack" etc. etc. By such deals, payments and purchases here and there, Vic got title to 200 acres of regenerated rainforest with splendid ocean views and many very old and very big trees.
For a full report of the Vellar mansions see the Claire Leabeater report of 14 July 2008. Here is a shorter version.
The land was steep and development of it threatened flooding and subsidence to the houses below. There were many objectors but Vic intended to develop by hook or by crook.
A trade was made: in exchange for the transfer to public ownership of 100 acres of the higher portion of forest, Frank could be permitted two building sites on the lower portion. The 100 acres was to be gazetted as a nature reserve administered by NSW Parks and Wildlife Service and have public access from Glenea Street.
But Vic played fast and loose with this agreement. He built some 80 metres away from the building sites approved and never opened up the public access. At no time during the building of the mansions or in the ten years since had the Council done anything about it. Too, too, too corrupt.
And the consequence was, as the objectors of the development had warned, flooding and subsidence for the people living below. Particularly in the flood of 1998 when the concrete driveway that Vic had installed without adequate drainage became torrent which ripped through the backyards of Rod's property and his neighbour's and gouged out the creek bed.
By talking to his neighbors Rod discovered many were disgruntled at being the down stream of corrupt and inappropriate development. But few wanted to complain.
For one thing it was widely known that the Wollongong Council was corrupt and complaining about a corrupt development to a corrupt local government is ever an exercise in futility.
And then there was the Italian connection; the suggestion, if not the fact, of the Vellar family, so well connected in the building industry, being the Wollongong version of the Sopranos. Simply put, many were too afraid to speak up.
Then along came Rod walking the path of engaged Buddhism, seeking and speaking the truth with gentleness and compassion.
He did document searches, door knocked, organised a petition and a public meeting (DATE?) which 30 local people attended.
Along the way he had met allies. One was Will Reynolds who now carried the mantle of convenor of C.A.R.E, Corrimal Action for the Rehabiliation of our Escapment, a name of the organising front that had come out of the public meeting.
Along with his brother Will is the proprietor of SportsPower, a sportsware shop in Sydney Road Corrimal. Will is not only well connected local business man and life time resident of Corrimal, in his youth he had also been a resident of Glenea street and that escarpment bushland had been his place of spiritual solace.
"That forest," he told me, "created me as a life long bush lover and bush walker." And for this reason the 1980s he had been one of the leading objectors to the Vellar development proposal.
The other major ally was Vicki Curran and her front was called WAC, Wollongong Against Corruption. http://wollongongagainstcorruption.org.au/about.us/
Rod told me that he had contacted WAC and that same day two feisty women had come to his home bearing a load of photocopied documents that gave chapter and verse evidence of Vellar-Council corruption.
On XX October, Rod arranged that I should accompany Vicki on a drive to Sydney where she would represent Wollongong at the 2008 Worst Developer Awards which are organised annually by the NSW Greens.
That day ICAC had released the findings of its investigation into corruption at Wollogong Council. Vicki who had put such effort into brining on this inquiry, was there to receive the Golden Toaster Awards on behalf Wollongong Council (Worst Council) and Frank Vellar (Worst Developer). See Wollongong Cleans Up
Vicki is a feisty, born and bred in Wollongong girl, who must have been a very attractive blonde in her youth. But now at 40 yrs and a single mum of two teenagers, her face speaks of strength and bitter struggle and when she arrived to pick me up she was so motor mouthed with stress that i feared for our safety on the drive to Sydney.
Not only had she been fielding media calls on behalf of WAC about the now publicly confirmed corruption of Wollongong Council, she had spent the day defending her teenage son from what she claimed was police harassment, two events which did not believe to be coincidences.
On the way north I heard the story of her wild boy son who could no longer walk down his home street without attracting a pull over from a police patrol car. She reckoned the boy was marked by the police, for although they have no recorded convictions police pester and harass him whenever he appeared in public.
There was no doubt in her mind, a mind which had witnessed some awful rumours revealed as truths, that the corruption on Wollongong Council and the ALP machine also encompassed the Wollongong Police who had, at very minimum, consciously ignored the years of local government corruption and its associated sex trade or, at worst, protected it.
We arrived only a little late and safely in Surry Hills for the Greens Awards and it was my delight to witness how highly the NSW Greens regard Vicki for her activism. That night she was feted and deservedly so.
On the drive home she was much more relaxed and she told me of her fun days as a street performer and singer in a punk band and how it was that the fire of her campaign to clean up Wollongong City Council had been lit. It came as the result of sexual harrassment by Joe Scimone, the former City Planner and NSW ALP bagman also named that day as corrupt by ICAC.
From Vicki I learned that not only was Wollongong Council systemically corrupt, it was also systemically sleazy.
Seems she was a relatively new employee in the Council Planning Department and charged with promoting greening schemes such as recycling when she and a female colleague met with Scimone to seek permission to attend a conference.
Scimone's response, she said, had been enthusiastic and he said words to the effect that: "Sounds a very interesting conference and not only will you go but I will too. Deal is that one of you sleeps with me. I don't care which."
When she complained to her supervisor she was told "to learn to be nimble. That's the way things get done around here."
This was the institutional culture and this was the choice: play the game or suffer. Some like planner Beth Morgan who was also named as corrupt by ICAC, played the game of "DAs for lays" and she named Frank Vellar as a gift and sex bringer.
But Vicki was having none of this sleaze culture and she decided to make a formal complaint. Her supervisor scoffed this would be cost her a lot of trouble and be an exercise in futility. But Vicki set her jaw and persevered.
She explained to me that there were too avenues for proceeding with sexual harassment complaints: one that was time consuming and legally expensive but could win her a big pay out; the other was faster at getting a finding but would lead to no compensation.
Vicki was more interested in justice than money and chose the latter course. The Council management in response began offering money for her to back off and shut up.
She says that the sum offered by the General Manager, Rod Oxley, who was also named by ICAC as corrupt, got as high as $400K - that's $400K of ratepayers' money to protect a sleazebag and conceal an empire of sleaze.
Vicki stuck to her guns: "No deal. This is not about money. I want Scimone gone," she said.
And the next week he was; out of Wollongong Council but into a plum $200K pa job in Water Resources which is a NSW State government department that was under the Ministry of his mate, Joe Tripodi. But the stories of sleaze and corruption were following close behind like the smell of a dog that has rolled in carrion and Scimone was soon forced out of the job and Tripodi out of the Ministry.
Tripodi, Della Bosca, Iemma, Costa et al, the whole corrupt, branch stacking, pre-selection controlling, Right wing ALP cabal, must rue the day that sleaze-bucket Scimone put the hard word on Vicki Curran.
Like all citizens who take up activism, Rod Plant was finding that the Vellar campaign was taking over his life and together with the demands of his Sydney job and the daily commuting, the compounded stress was impacting on his health.
When I arrived at Corrimal four days out from the action, I found my friend in debilitating pain from an anal fissure which he, as a gentleman of care and discretion, was reluctant to speak of.
What's more the preparation for the action had been slight; no publicity had gone out.and the pressure was on.
In short he needed help, a friend in deed. And kalyanamitta (uplifting friendship) as we both knew from our Dharma teachings, had been described by the Buddha as "the whole of the holy path".
Rod is a gentle giant and a deep running stream of compassion and justice. His smile is ready, his listener ear keen, his manner warm and generous and his head, once shaved in renunciation, is now a tousle of curls piled up Afro style, a salute to his hippie past. The stress he was carrying at the time showed as dark circles under his eyes and a stoop of his shoulders.
His house was meticulously clean and tidy and although it had adequate furniture, to me it felt bare as a well swept monk's kuti and as if he had never fully moved in. Maybe it was the absence of a house wife, maybe it was time spent away at work and commuting, whatever, his "difficult cats" seemed to me to be the true tenants.
In his study, framed but not yet hung in any pride of place, was a large photograph of a group of about 30 Cambodian teenage boys and girls. The posture and faces of some of the boys suggested they had been playfully rebelling against the round up for the camera. By contrast the girls stood still and stared into the lens; their eyes inviting the viewer to know the depth of their sorrows.
I guessed this a photo of some of the Cambodian orphans Rod had settled in Australia and a younger, smiling Rod was in the photo walking behind the back row, happy like a sheepdog after a muster.
What was memorable for me about this time with Rod were the stories we shared, the catch up of 30 years, the heart talk of two seniors whose paths had crossed after similar experiences in student activism, the search for alternatives to the Cold War culture and meetings with the Dharma.
Rod told me tales of his meditation teachers in Thailand, of Cambodian refugee camps, of mutual friends and of ex wives, ex lovers and separated children; "the full catastrophe" as Zorba the Greek had said.
My nomadism is a journey through landscape, living rooms and literature, and I am ever scanning and reading from my host's bookshelves. Rod's library was small but quirky. I passed over well thumbed books detailing the abominable crimes of Nixon, Kissinger and Pol Pot (too sickening for the soul) and also the reports Rod had authored on refugee settlement.
The book that found me was a mint condition copy of Ram Dass' Miracle of Love published in 1979 and inscribed to Rod: "Every moment I was with you, I loved you. Sandra." From its pages a camera booth photo of a pretty and serious faced young blonde fell loose.
Rod had forgotten the book and was hard put to recall Sandra (met by chance while camping on Fraser Island), but the collection of wonderful stories about Ram Dass' guru, the unfathomable, unpredictable and mind reading, Neem Karoli Baba, became my daily meditation as I sat cross legged on the grass and in the early rising sun on the Vellar property.
Ram Dass seemed to be calling me; in the house of Canberra host the week before, I had been touched by his book about conscious aging, Still Here, which not only offers good, and for me timely, advice about aging and disability (Ram Dass survived a stroke while writing the book), it also alluded to the life of service he had led since his life changing meeting with the Baba.
What Miracle of Love revealed to me was that Neem Karoli Baba, and by association Ram Dass, had been Hanuman inspired.
Hanuman is the monkey general in the Ramayana epic, who meets Rama, "the perfect man - possessing strength, aware of obligations, truthful in an absolute way, firm in the execution of vows, compassionate, learned, attractive, self possessed, powerful, free from anger and envy but terror striking when aroused."
At once Hanuman realises that this is the man he was born to serve and so becomes Rama's greatest devotee, applying his immeasurable strength, wisdom and energy to crush the demon empire and reunite Rama with his wife and queen, Sita.
Of himself Hanuman says: "When I don't know who I am, I serve You (meaning Rama, the Higher Self). When I know who I am, I am You."
As the son of the wind god, Hanuman can fly, change at will his shape and size, and lift and carry mountains. But he is afflicted by a minor curse put upon him by the sadhus whose ceremonies he had disrupted during his monkey boy days: he forgets his enormous strength and capability until reminded by a friend.
Hanuman is understood to symbolise the monkey mind that finds focus and power in serving others.
I had seen Hanuman shrines while traveling in India in 1980 and now their significance was revealed to me.
So how to serve my uplifting friend, Rod?
When I first heard the Vellar Mansions story, my outrage suggested arson; symbolic arson that is. I wanted to build a cardboard replica of the mansions and burn it in front of the Vellar gates and the Tv news cameras. Fire as transformation.
But this was not quite Rod's gentle talky-talky way. Rod had in mind track clearing as the aim, the core statement and the visual expression of the action. But the vision of a bunch of people with garden tools attacking lantana did not inspire my inner eye.
The resolution was this: Rod would focus his attention on drafting a media release for which I would be the ruthless editor; I would help with a ring-around of the list contacts accumulated from the recent public meeting and a subsequent petition; and design some slogans for placards which would be later color copied on A3 paper and stuck to cardboard.
I also sought to cover up the "Stop the Cyanide/Indict the Cyanide Criminals" signage on Peacebus.com with some message more appropriate. One of the concerned residents had access to a color photocopier and the proposal was to design a sign to cover it and for him to tile print it.
Many a slip between intention and outcome, emailed design and printed return and the undersized sign that was stuck together looked ill at home over the cyanide signage. We do best we can with what we got; better to have some visual presence than none.
Come Saturday afternoon I parked Peacebus.com up against the Vellar chain wire fence, stuck on the ill fitting sign with BluTak, rigged some flags, arrayed the placards on the locked gate, put out the mike and redirected the horn speakers up Glenlea Street. The cul de sac was thus transformed by color, symbol and slogan; now it had presence, sign and the message of something special happening in this otherwise vacant suburban street.
The artful occupation of public place, I call it, and it is core to Peacebus.com practice and of the essence when it comes to building sustainable resistance.
Frank Vellar had not only been neglecting maintenance of the mansions and their drainage, he had also been neglecting bush fire management on his property. As part of the pressure on Frank Vellar Rod had arranged an almost coincidental neighbourhood fire conference.
An hour prior to the advertised track making walk on, two Fire Brigade vehicles and their crews showed up. Instant crowd! And colourful too with the firepersons fluoro jackets.
Amongst the flags arrayed that day were the Eureka (defending rights and liberties in the face corrupt government) , AnarchistA (direct action people power) and Korri Green (because Uncle Dootch, local Koori leader on the Sandon Point campaign had agreed to attend and give a welcome to country.
Sure enough Dootch turned up but he declined to take the mike and do the welcome to country saying "it was not an official occasion." Dootch was good value at introducing the country and he reckons the Mountain Corrimal escarpment to be powerful country. We were promptly to witness it.
With the arrival of the fireman came rain from a thunderstorm that came from the south west and broke over Mount Corrimal with a resounding clap of thunder. For thirty minutes before the storm moved on, the rain came down and the neighborhood fire hazard conference was conducted under umbrellas.
Vicki Curran arrived with her son XXXXX and his mate YYYYYYYY whom she introduced as a former boyfriend of her daughter and "another son".
The boys seemed to have heard of the abandoned Vellar mansions through some sort of wild boy network (there are mountain bike tracks and jumps in the forest nearby and elaborate graffiti including a giant ganja leaf decorate the unlocked mansion) and the boys immediately by-passed the lock gates and headed up the drive to investigate the mansions for themselves.
The microphone was already to go; the firies had departed, a WIN Tv cameraman was standing by and the time had come for the action. Vicki rose to the challenge and spoke to the neighborhood inviting residents to come out. A natural performer at the mike, Vicki's voice rang out clear and strong through the neighborhood.
A few curious people responded but the vast majority stayed silent and indoors. Maybe some were discouraged by the passing rain, but more likely they hid in their privacy afraid to be visible. This is the way it is in these times: most people asleep most of the time, most people discouraged and depressed, made passive and confused by Tv addictions, and afraid.
But the future will be determined by the awake and engaged few, not the passive and apathetic majority. Maybe the day of the Big Wake Up and the mass movement will come but I doubt it. For sure I aint gonna sit about on my hands waiting for it. Rather I choose to be engaged now amongst the active few, the pathfinders, the way and culture makers for the big changes coming.
When Vicki was not appealing to residents to come out, she appealing to her sons to return. On the gate was a notice from OzSecurity warning of the property was being surveilled and when we heard an alarm go off it we knew it was odds on that her boys had entered the locked mansion and set it off.
Rod hadn't wanted to be the media spokesperson for CARE, that was Will Reynold's role. But Will was still on duty at SportsPower and Rod choosing not to wait, took up the mike.
We stood beside him as he spoke holding placards up for the Tv camera. In contrast to Vicki, Rod is a learner at street oratory and his delivery was understated and under amplified because he did not speak into the mike.
Briefly he outlined the history of the Vellar mansion development, the breaches of the development consent, the failure of the Wollongong Council to enforce the consents or act on complaints and the failure of the Vellar family to make good the promise of public access to the reserve above - the locked gate at the end of Glenea St, itself an illegal structure and an offense to the neighbourhood.
Rod said that the ICAC corruption findings represented an opportunity for local residents to get some justice on the matters and that the aim the day's people power play was by claiming and clearing the access track to stir the Council administrators to action. Direct action works!
With that we up tools, walked around the gate and, while the camera rolled, started hacking and pulling lantana.
Hacking lantana may have been a symbolic act but given the amount of it and the feebleness of our resources it was an exercise in futility. Furthermore it was possibly wrong headed too because in this instance the lantana though an exotic weed was acting as a buffer at the rain forest littoral and serving to hold the top soil too.
What's more we subject to a counter attack from the leach hordes, picking and flicking them off out shoes, socks and trousers one after another.
Will arrived and suggested our efforts would be better directed sitting down together and talking about what next with the campaign and getting a bit guided tour of the forest from Uncle Dootch and inspecting the progress of the vandalism on the abandoned mansions, we adjourned to the leech free grace of Rod's backyard for beer and BBQ.
That I thought was the action over. But it turned out to be the intermission between acts.
As we sat about with beers in our hands the conversation circled around and came back to the access and the ugliness of the locked gates. Someone said that taking down the gates would have been a more dramatic action than hacking lantana.
Vicki's boys were sitting with us when this was said and they got up as if stung and left us. Act 2 of the Reclamation of the Vellar Public Access had begun and I realised this about 20 minutes later when the boys returned somewhat agitated to say that the gates were down and that a fat man in a small security car had arrived.
Seems it had taken OzSecurity two hours to respond to the security alarm the boys had set off earlier but their man had arrived at a timely moment.
Peacebus.com was still parked by the gate and I had left the flags arrayed. I went at once to bring them in and the boys came with me.
The hinges of one of the gates had been unbolted (with a shifter lifted from my van!) and gate was lying on the driveway, a flag still attached and also placards. On the property side of the gate and now barricaded in by the downed gate was the fat man in the small car and he was looking very surly. Trouble!
The boys seeing my distress at having a Eureka flag on the ground under the gate helped me retrieve it and, out of the generosity of my heart, I helped the fatman lift the gate and lean it so that he could drive away if he wanted too.
But he didn't want to. Vicki collected the boys and drove off home and while i worked to de-rig the other flags, bundle the bamboo poles and tie down the load, the fatman sat in his wee car, watched me balefully and made radio calls to base.
I had rigged a Eureka flag on a tall pole tied to a steel picket up the hill a bit on the property side of the gate. The OzSecurity man watched me retrieve the poles and picket, shamelessly trespassing on the public access denied by the Vellar gate.
As I packed I listened to the radio calls. The woman at the base station was making much of the wanton property damage: "It is one thing to protest. But to break and enter and damage property is wrong."
My attempts to help lift the gate had been rudely received so I had been head down working steadily to bring in the flags, avoiding both the baleful eyes and any other form of interaction with the fatman but when i heard that "Poor, poor Mr Vellar" stuff I could not restrain myself.
"Frank Vellar is a crook who just two days ago was declared corrupt by ICAC. Why are you defending him?" I demanded on the fatman and his base station supervisor.
The fatman glared on and I answered my own question: "For money."
The load tied down I moved Peacebus.com and parked it outside Rod's house. The OzSecurity stayed put, on guard till the gate could be secured and somewhat put out that overtime would be needed to cover the other security checks of his patrol.
About an hour later, Act 2 was played out when the OzSecurity man was joined by three others, a grey haired gent and two young apprentices who set about rebolting the gate.
This was not professional property maintenance crew. Rather it was mates Frank Vellar had called, henchman from his building industry and they were not happy. Indeed they were pissed off.
The grey haired gent demanded that I help restore the gates which he accused me of taking down. I declined and sat in the doorway on Peacebus.com and fielded the verbal abuse.
He told me he had evidence of my trespass. It was the Eureka flag that i had left behind when I brought in the poles and steel picket.
I walked towards them hoping to retrieve it. The flag was on the ground and the lads, their hands full holding up the gate, secured their possession of my flag by trampling it under foot just as the Redcoats had done at the Eureka stockade in 1854.
"We are going to give it to the police as evidence," the grey haired one told me.
I laughed and turned away. "What are laughing at," he demanded.
"I am wondering what the Wollongong Police will do with a Eureka Flag," I replied.
"Wipe their arses with it," he said. More laughter from me.
The grey haired one was getting agitated and came and stood over me as I sat in the van door.
"Frank Vellar is a friend of mine and he is not a criminal," he said. Seems the fat man had passed on my comments.
"He has been named as corrupt and he is deep shit, soon to be facing criminal charges and a term or three in jail," I said. "I glad to know he has friends because he sure needs them now."
With all his legal costs, I was guessing, Frank Vellar must be bleeding money and the implosion of the property market would have dried up his cash reserves. Hence mates were doing the gate repair.
And this was only the beginning of Frank's troubles. Likely that come prosecutions time, Frank, the big bad developer, will be scapegoated by the arse covering ALP, the leeches that he had done deals with over the years. And if Frank does a deal with the State prosecutor and informs to save his skin, friends of Frank Vellar ought beware!
But the grey haired one (he refused to give me his name) had the loyalty of a dog and half the wit. He continued with his abuse. "You're just a crazy old man who travels about terrorizing people," he said.
Seems someone had called up www.peacebus.com. Visible and notorious, I was pleased to hear and I laughed again tickled by the concept of Peacebus.com terrorism and the vision of Frank Vellar cringing in fear of a Peacebus.com spruik outside one of his penthouses somewhere.
Then the gray haired one got threatening.
"I will make it my business to get you," he said before departing. "I don't often feel this way but you have upset me."
Roll on Peacebus.com!
Act 3 was played out about an hour later. From Rod's house I noticed a light in Peacebus.com and, approaching from the darkness of the driveway, surprised two police women shining torches and poking about in Peacebus.com. They had opened the unlocked driver side door to do this.
One of the officers was short and middle aged and there was something maternal about her manner that suggested to me that she had teenage children and was skilled at sorting out dramas. The other was young, tall, stout and officious; either a probationary constable or one until very recently.
I took a seat on the low front fence and declared my presence by asking them: "What's your trouble?"
Their shined their torches on me then. "Are you the owner of this van?"
I handed over my drivers license; they asked my name, I gave it and asked theirs. The senior constable was obliging but the younger one withheld by making a smart arse crack.
"We have had a complaint that you have been involved in a break and enter of the Vellar property," the older one began.
This was untrue but I certainly was not going to dob and create more trouble for Vicki and her boy. The boy's behaviour had given me insight into why they were drawing so much attention from the Wollongong cops but I also had respect; the taking down of the illegal gate had been an impressive piece of direct action and it had certainly upped the ante for Frank Vellar ... and me.
"If you are accusing me of break and enter, this conversation ends here and I start talking to lawyers," I said.
The younger one bristled but the older one backed off.
"Please understand that we have received a complaint and because it involves Vellar, we have to respond, investigate and report," she said reasonably.
"Frank Vellar has been named as corrupt ..." I began but she cut me off.
"Break and enter is the complaint and whether he is corrupt or not is beside the point," she said.
"To the contrary, the corruption of Frank Vellar is the point and the reason why we gathered at the gate," I said.
"In this neighborhood there is deep resentment at the way the Vellar family built those mansions and abandoned them. You must know how much they have been vandalised and graffitied over the years."
At this the senior constable softened. She could see that pursuing a break and enter charge at this time when Frank Vellar was being pilloried in the media could only lead to media flak and possibly embarrassment for her commanders.
They prepared to depart. The young one returned my drivers license with a flourish.
"You are a person of interest!" she declared.
"And you have been watching too many cop shows," I responded, an observation that made her partner, an older and wiser woman, laugh.
"Oh by the way, your van is unlocked," the older one said by way of apologising for the illegal search. "Thank you," I said sincerely.
"And it smells," said the younger, ever narky.
A smelly person of interest, I could do nought but laugh.
And what outcome?
I left Wollongong the next day and when I saw Rod again three weeks later, I learned that the Administrators of Wollongong Council had announced a planning review of the Vellar mansions development. Action at last.
On behalf of CARE, Will and Rod had met with the planner who had been given this task and they were well satisfied with his credentials and his honesty. See Rod's report to CARE.
The review was inviting resident input and I helped Rod prepare a leaflet for distributing in the neighborhood to let folk know.
Rod had taken a much deserved day off from work to do this. He rested and waited till the late afternoon to begin his journey into neighborliness. Life, death and neighbours: on Radio National I had heard the Archbishop of Canterbury speak on this theme and he quoted from 5th century monastic experience and said that to win the neighbor is to win God.
Before setting off Rod sat in meditation by the creek, taking in the being-ness of that water and that land, invoking the ancestors guide him.
He wanted my company on this journey but i felt this superfluous, his neighbours not mine. But Rod insisted I stand by him for at least one door knock, this the home of a man refuted to be a Vellar security guard.
The meeting I witnessed started badly. The door buzzer jammed and we had arrived in the midst of some domestic dispute. The security man, squat, head shaven, thick necked and obviously a bouncer of much experience, came to the door with his eyes flashing and his jaw set. "What do you want?" he snarled.
But soon he was talking amicably and saying things like: "Good on you. I really respect what you are doing."
Of his former employer he revealed that he had no respect. "The man is weak," he said.
He was particularly contemptuous of sex for DAs. "Sex is easy to find but to entangle it with business dealing is just plain stupid," he said.
But deeper was Frank's offense for being tardy with his security payments. Seems that during the ICAC investigation Frank had hired security to guard his home after rocks were thrown on his roof.
Poor Frank, how his world must be imploding. Vilified in the media, the victim of a laughable sting, cash poor, a shame to his family, deserted by his wife, an outcast in his community and now needled about mansions his father had built and left to hang around his neck like the proverbial albatross.
Rod continued his door knocking and when he returned three hours later after talking to about 20 neighbours, he was in a God blessed ecstatic state. Not only had he been warmly received and affirmed at every door, he had also met a WIRES worker and had got to hold a baby rock wallaby no bigger than his hand.
Here was an message from the ancestors: care for future generations.
So it was that campaign that had started at the creek by his back fence with the impulse to save a tree from a strangling vine had expanded Rod's vision and sense of custodianship. He was now talking about watersheds and community water course care for all the creeks coming off the escarpment.
For the Earth, its waters and its trees, he had stood tall in his local community, challenged land development corruption and had been mightily affirmed; his sense of community and belonging deepened and enriched.
This is what I call building sustainable resistance.
For the Earth!
24 October - 24 November 2008