Few but visible @ the gates of Lavarack Barracks
The launch of the Peacebus Mission to Darwin
at Lavarack Barracks, Townsville, 5 June 2012
This from backyard of Jenny Stirling's house in Wulguru, Townsville. Winding back after the launch of the Peacebus Mission to Darwin at Lavarack Barracks today. Showered and at ease, washing churning, mind settling, and it's 4:20 pm.
For over a week i have been occupying Jenny's backyard by day marking out, masking out and painting the Mission mural. Many hours and lots of detail. A concentration meditation. Beauty invested by patience.
While my hands and eyes were busy, my ears listened to dharma teaching by Professor Robert Thurman, Chair of Buddhist Studies at Columbia University. Called the The Jewel Tree of Tibet, i downloaded the audio book and played it over and over, eight hours of discourse.
The core of the teachings is that the path to enlightenment is the path of helpfulness, witnessed and cheered on by a continuum of teachers past. The path is messianic in vow and object - to become a Buddha and release from suffering all beings forever.
Like so it is for me. All my actions, all my words, all my thoughts, all my efforts with pencil, knife and brush dedicated to peace, peace in our times, peace in the Pacific for this and future generations.
By night I have been camping at a nomad's niche at Rowes Bay, north of Townsville. A beach car park with all night toilet, water and shade. Wicked vans and French accents. Race horses being exercised. Kite surfers. And excursions of young soldiers in training.
There i meditated on the sun coming up over the Coral Sea by the north end of Magnetic Island and yoga-ed in the morning sun. Something enchanting about a glittering tropical sea with island views. Good medicine.
Peace activism for me is spiritual activism. Each morning i knelt sensei like a samurai by Peacebus in the morning sun. I most earnestly take the Three Refuges and pray that i may be blessed with usefulness, that my deeds may be blessed with auspiciousness and that my voice may may be blessed with the power to persuade.
The Mission launch itself was a colourful but low key business event supported by just three fellow peace activists: Jenny Stirling, local Greens spokesperson, David Lowe, local Socialist Alliance activist and occasional Green Left Weekly correspondent, and a relief teacher recently arrived to Townsville and in search of expression.
These three represented the soul fruit of my efforts to engage locals met at the Assange solidarity rally 31 May, through Green networks and whatever. Fewer that those who rallied with me at the gates of Lavarack barracks in 2010. But then i had my well connected local TI mate, John Paiwan, standing beside me and alas John was out of town.
After that SpeakOut, John had marveled that i could be so bold as to set up at the Lavarack barracks and call for troops out of Afghanistan. He likely speaks of a pervasive fear which many Townsville civilians harbour about the army base, the biggest on the east coast. That it is a holy cow, out of bounds and a place hostile to protest.
No problem in truth; not with good police liaison. Both police and military were happy to cooperate. The dutiful Inspector Gavin Oates delivered the Notice of Permission to Hold a Public Assembly (Peaceful Assembly Act 1992), personally signed by the Qld Police Commissioner Robert Aitken, as Gavin was happy to point out.
And the Military Police were especially helpful. Old Peacebus threw a willy on arrival and as I jumped the kerb, she stalled and would not start again. Tail blocking one lane of exiting base traffic. It was a complete electrical failure which also knocked out the PA. That is serious!
My first call was to police liaison. No answer. Fumbling with phone and phone numbers i turned about and found a big Military Police man bearing down on me.
"Please sir ..." he began.
I cried out my helplessness. "I am terribly embarrassed. She's not starting."
The MP smiled a smile which lit up his face. We shook hands. A firm grip. "Gavin", he said.
"Roadside assistance an hour away. Any chance of a push?" i ventured.
"I will try," he said and, while I started unloading bamboo poles, he got on the phone.
A few minutes later we were joined by three other MPs of different shapes and sizes. One was a bashful troll, big and broad; another middle sized; and the third, a diminutive young woman who looked like she was made for pushing nothing heavier than a biro, a happy sparrow.
Calling "Hands-on, all together now ..." we five had Peacebus glide effortlessly up and over the kerb, and onto the grass of the approved assembly area in less time that it takes to read this sentence.
A triumph of MP power and courtesy! I begged for a group photo but the soldiers declined. The troll, Gavin explained, had a face that broke cameras.
The MPs departed and, as the media folk were assembling, the RACQ service vehicle arrived. Quentin identified a corroded battery terminal and had Peacebus purring again in minutes.
The Stand Fast banner rig looked great. The "No More US bases. No more US wars." slogan seemed to hit the right note. "It is beautiful!" exclaimed Jannette on arrival, she a painter and art teacher.
I had set up beside Melton Black Drive, the entrance road, about 50 m back from the main gate, and there got noticed by the base traffic, which included convoys of Bushmasters and a non stop parade of building contractor vehicles. Much building going on at Lavarack, a big expansion is underway, US soldiers coming there too.
In the passing traffic some folk showed distain, others tooted their appreciation, odd drivers squealed the tyres of their expensive racy cars. Soldiers cashed up from overseas service, maybe. I got the impression that they squealed tyres every time they left the base. No shortage of testosterone at Lavarack.
The new mural was on display for the first time and it looked splendid. I had thought to cover it up with a sheet of some such and get Jenny to formally unveil it. But with buffeting wind, it all became too much.
The media statement put out the day previous attracted a WIN Tv crew for a rush in and rush out interview, Emily McDonald, defence writer for the Townsville Bulletin (Murdoch) and Samantha Healy, North Queensland correspondent for the Brisbane Courier Mail and Sunday Mail (both Murdoch).
Townsville Morning Bulletin 6 June 2012 page 11
The launch was ignored by ABC Radio North Queensland which was a surprise because cross media reporter, Nathalie Fernbach, had been so enthusiastic when i had spoken to her at the Assange solidarity rally of 31 May. Seems i had spoken to the wrong person.
And Bryan Law, my Rockhampton Tiger Ploughshare comrade, had confirmed the day before that treatment for his diabetic ulcers, reinfected after his journey to the Rockhampton court 24 May, would prevent his corporeal presence. Peace activism is a life and death issue for Bryan.
We four peaceniks sat at my folding table in nearby shade, took coffee and talked.
"How to build local community resistance to both the US occupation of Lavarack and also the building of a new coal loader for the Port of Townsville?" was the question on Jenny's mind.
David reckons there is a pattern in the building in Australia of new coal ports and the building of new US military bases. Deep draft coal loaders and deep draft US warships will both benefit from a mighty dredging of a channel to the Townsville harbour.
Dredging not good for the Great Barrier Reef however and there is the nexus for Jenny. But as a practicing Christian (she wears a gold cross and a conducts a Street Ministry in Townsville on Saturday nights 10 pm - 2 am caring for drunks and other distressed), she needs no environmental excuses to work for peace.
Jenny had spent most of the previous Saturday on the phone hooked up to a state conference of the Qld Greens. After which she was pleased to report that the Qld Greens were resolved to support peace and non violence, and were opposed to military intervention in Syria.
This was a message to the federal Greens who, under the new leadership of Christine Milne, had recently been cheering on the bellicosity of the ALP government, lauding sanctions, lock-stepping on the path to war, swamped and blinded like the ALP by the blizzard of US imperial propaganda.
Jenny also speaks out against racism and takes a lot of flack, particularly from the Townsville Bulletin with its local variety of Green bashing.
Townsville CBD is towered over by Castle Hill a great bluff of pink granite and in reference to it, I name Jenny Castle Rock, for her uncompromising and high visible public morality. I am honoured to be offered refuge in her backyard. And she grateful to have me as a friend to tell of her troubles and challenges of faith. How vulnerable and fragile we are.
David and Jenny know and respect each other from campaigns past. In particular they had worked together to drive from public office, the corrupt long term Townsville Councillor and Mayor Tony Moony ALP and defeat his bid to win the local state seat this year.
They spoke of local entrenched ALP sleaze in a way which to my ear sounded similar to that of Wollongong NSW; dark rumours of pedophilia circulating, sleaze and greed going hand in hand.
Moony, David tells, is a driving force behind the new coal loader project and has interests in opening the massive coal reserves west of Townsville. And apparently in league with him on this project is his former local Liberal Party opposition. United in greed and deceit.
Big and malign forces at work and we were the precious few with the faith and the courage to be visible that day speaking truth to power. Uplifted in courage by friendship.
One of those wisdom elders I visualise sitting in the Jewel Tree of my imagination is LaoTzu. Here is what he had to say what to toilers for peace and justice:
"Act without doing;
work without effort.
Think of the small as large
and the few as many.
Accomplish the great task
by a series of small acts."
written 5-6 June 2012
Mission to Darwin Peacebus mural design courtesy Softly Dunstan of Mighty Nice.