Peacebus across the road from Robertson Barrack gates 12 June 2012


Gammin on Arrival

Being an account of the arrival in Darwin of the Peacebus Mission
to deport the US Marines from Robertson Barracks and from Australian soil
posted 22 June 2012.

The federal Minister for Health and uranium mining turncoat, Peter Garrett, was summing up the virtues of the ALP at a low key fund raiser for a local candidate, a fellow musician it seems, on the terrace of the Roma Bar in downtown Darwin. It was a sparsely attended affair.

I was standing in the street listening to his words and biding my time. Peacebus was parked unnoticed in a vacant lot beside the Roma Bar with its front speaker pointing at Garrett from the other end of the terrace.

Garrett wound up his spiel with a peon to the ALP as the traditional party of progressive social reform and i went to the Peacebus mike and gave voice.

"Mr Garrett, the reason the ALP is going to go down in the next elections is because it has betrayed traditional Labor values. The ALP did not begin as a war party but now it leads us into endless wars and invites the US to set up military bases here. We don't want US Marines in Darwin. We don't want war with China."

Shock and uproar! I saw Garrett's arms flail but then my view was blocked by ALP faithful swarming towards me like angry wasps, demanding my departure and threatening to call the cops. "You have ruined a lovely event," one said plaintively.

Point made, i said no more on the PA and promptly decamped. So it was the Peacebus began its public campaigning in Darwin.

The action won no friends amongst the ALP but then there are no friends to won there. As WikiLeaks revealed, the ALP leadership is groomed in the US Embassy and the Party has been on the war path both in opposition and in government since the Hawke government in the 80s.

Indeed the ALP leadership act as if making "tough decisions" - by which is meant ignoring the will of the people and party branch members - is what qualifies it as competent to govern. And they wonder when they look around, why their popularity is at such a nadir.

But there was one mightily impressed by the demonstration of Peacebus PA power. This was my local guide and companion that night, Justin Tutty, a local Greens activist, coordinator of Base Watch, long time anti nuke campaigner and the one who set me up for it.


This from the overgrown back yard of an all but abandoned cyclone proofing project in the suburb of Milliner, Darwin. Held with reinforced concrete and steel posts the roof will never fly away. But doors and windows are absent.

Peacebus is shares the backyard with a long unused boat and trailer, a couple of raised shipping containers, a pile of rafters and bearers covered in yellow plastic, a stack of bricks, the shade of unfamiliar trees, doves that coo by day, an owl that hoots by night and the roar arterial road traffic nearby.

This my refuge for maybe weeks to come. I position Happy Wheels so that i can sit in her cross legged in the morning sun and move it into the shade when the sun becomes too fierce. The house my yoga studio.

The strew of weathered building materials and the patina of neglect speak to me of broken dreams and broken hearts. I take refuge in brokenness ("There is a crack, a crack in everything" sings Leonard Cohen) and feel deeply content there.

The property belongs to Coryn 'Cos' Trambling who is a contract organiser for the Larrakia Nation Corporation which is the incorporated body that administers service projects and enterprises for Darwin's Larrakia people.

Cos is lean and sharp and much respected for his can-do attitude and ability. His current project is a big music day called Countryman's Concert which the Larrakia Nation will be hosting in Darwin on 6 June (Naidoc Week) and inviting the best indigenous bands from all over.

My Larrakia artist mate, Peter Browne, suggested the refuge to me and rang Cos on my behalf. Cos promptly rang back and it was all agreed with very few words.

"Please don't make it a feral camp and upset the neighbours," was his only condition.


Peter Browne and I had met at the Canberra Tent Embassy last January. I had conceived the Peacebus Mission to Darwin there and at once put out for Larrakia contacts. Peter was promptly introduced to me and later his partner, June Mills, who had been singing on stage there.

From Adelaide River I had phoned Peter to announce my expected arrival on Tuesday 12 and he suggested i go directly to his bush camp at Corroboree Park, 80 km east of Darwin on the road to Jabiru, and he would meet there next day.

Fair enough i thought but i missed the Arnhem Highway turn off and decided to keep on going north and pay my respects to Robertson Barracks, home of 1st Brigade and, since 4 April, also a 'facility but not a base" to 250 US Marines.

Just wanting to let the military know that Peacebus was in town, Peacebus and i rolled up the entrance road to the guard house at about 4 pm, U turned and parked across the road so that the mural was visible and obvious to exiting traffic.

After i parked the first car out the gate held two Australian young soldiers who gleefully grinned and gave me the thumbs up as they went by. A very positive omen, i concluded.

Less welcoming was an officer driving the car that came out while i was getting some photos of the entrance. "You are not allowed to photograph military property," he called imperiously.

I saluted respectfully and went on my way thinking of the ADF harassment of dear friend Margaret Pestorius. She had been on trial that day in Rockhampton on charges of photographing on the Shoalwater Test Facility during the Talisman Sabre war games last July (see story) and had been found guilty, fined $100 and awarded costs of $1200. ADF harassment.


Confused by Peter's directions I was unable to find the his camp before the light failed so i spent the night at Corroboree Park Tavern and Caravan Park. Peak tourism season on the road to Kakadu but no big crowds there. Lots of hot water, the waft of sewage and best of all, a strong broadband wireless signal.

Peter came next morning in his hand painted van and found me parked in the shade and engrossed in emails. "Where's the rest of you?" was his first question.

Seems that, like Cos, he was expecting me to be leading a road convoy of ferals in a replay of the Jabiluka uranium mine blockades of 1998.

"I am the advanced guard of a mighty legion," i assured him, prophetically speaking.

Peter told me his van had starting problems and bade me follow him at once up the highway and then off into the bush bumpety bumpety to his camp.

Flat scrub country, sparsely wooded and dry silt underfoot. Wetlands nearby. Big hungry mosquitos, cute wallabies, wild pigs and big crocodiles too, Peter warned me. And overall a big quiet. More than 400 square km of it and Peter the traditional owner.

The camp itself was another magnificent ruin, but less substantial than Cos' for it consisted of a couple of caravans and sheds connected in an array of suspended shade cloth and tarps, all ripped and weathered, which sheltered an array equally weathered tables and chairs.

Over all a patina of neglect. Peter loves his camp and has dreams of it being a family gathering place for his multitude of relations. But it hadn't worked out that way and Peter himself had not been spending much time there.

He was pleased to see the camp unburned for a bush fire which had penetrated 300 ms in from the highway. Though the fire had not come near, Peter crowed about the success of the fire break which he had made to satisfy the local fire chief. He had done this by dragging a clatter of steel cattle grids around the camp chained behind his van. A poor man's grader.

Out came the cans of Jim Beam, the bong and the wee baggies of hydro buds and into an easy chair went the gout suffering Peter Browne. Settled and at ease with me beside him, he began a monologue which went on for 6 hours without pause.

Peter talked of his father, a WW2 Borneo vet who came home crazy enough to need shock therapy, who regularly beat up on his Larrakia wife and kept her pregnant; he is one of 9 boys and 6 girls. He also beat up on his children. Peter still grieves for his mother.

After three hours of talk with a Murri accent, Peter switched to an Irish accent. Out of respect for his Irish father, i supposed. We did a lot of laughing. "Gammin" is the local word for the put-ons and jokery. We dubbed the place Camp Gammin.

Peter is both proud and embittered by family business. He recently buried his oldest brother and grieves for him too. "He was the one who most understood culture," Peter explained. "Now he is gone I am the one to whom the family turns for culture."

Under his words, like an underground river, ran the theme of brokenness.

And also of immanence.

Peter was ever listening and watching the natural world and reading omens. I mentioned that the black cockatoo is a totem to me and that on my way to Corroboree Park i had seen a family of red tails tussling on the ground at the road side (unusual) and that one had flashed his red tail in the sun and eye balled me as i went past. Auspicious, i had thought at the time.

Later he drew my attention to the call and the flight of a solitary red tail black cockatoo approaching at a lazy flap. We watched as it circled the camp and roosted briefly near by. "Talk to him Graeme," he urged. "He has come to check you out." I was elated.

When i met Peter at the Canberra Tent Embassy he told me he was a Ranger; but no longer. Now he lives poor as resident caretaker for the studios of Larrakia Nation and is a painter and print maker there. He is also known to perform a few songs with his lover, June Mills of the Mills family.

Next day he took me to the Larrakia arts studio in Coconut Grove. He showed me the space and his work there and introduced me to his friends. Peter paints in a neo traditional style and is in demand for his animal motifs and in particular his totem the crocodile.

We agreed to do a flag making project together using a crocodile motif and have a bunch of flags ready for the Countryman's Concert on 6 June; flags also to be deployed for Darwin events of the anti Marine Base campaign.

This in the way of being helpful and making art that builds community, builds resistance.


Emailing en route i had suggested to Justin Tutty, organiser of Base Watch, that 4 July be celebrated as Independence from the USA Day with a Speak Out against the US/Oz Alliance at the gates of Robertson barracks.

Justin loved the idea, reasoning that it would not need a big turn out to get noticed and be a newsworthy event. He came to my camp in the morning of Monday 18 June, negotiated the flyer copy, went off and posted a FaceBook event page and had 20 acceptances by the end of the day.

At the time of writing I have not yet found anyone from the NT Police or the Robertson Barracks with whom to negotiate the event. I got the impression from my attempts to penetrate the Robertson Barracks switchboard and find the appropriate officer that the presence of the US Marines was a PR hot potato.

Seems to me that the strategy of our US puppet Gillard government is to keep the US Marines at Robertson Barracks out of the news in the lead up to the elections next year. No scandals, no brawls, no news excepted from the occasional reassuring murmurs of embedded journos. Very very, softly softly.

Everywhere i go and with everyone i meet, i raise the issue of the US Marine base. For most it is a news story past and they have given little or no thought to it. But those who have thought about it and have some historical perspective there is deep concern. As an issue it is not so much a sleeper as a slow poison.

My concern about the concerns of the concerned is that they seem to be based more on social and environmental objections rather than the threat this US base and others pose to peace in the Pacific. War has become so normalised that the war and peace discourse can only be approached as environmentalism.

War is certainly the biggest kind of human made environmental disaster and no question, the US military is the biggest polluter on the planet. But until there is peace between nations and the rogue states of Israel and the US are reined in and made accountable to international law, there will be no effective international agreements on climate change, fisheries, forests or whatever. Peace is the prerequisite of sustainability.

My Mission to Darwin task is to make peace a priority and dissent to the US Marines base and their war agenda articulate and visible. All the way up to the next federal election and the annihilation of the US vassal Gillard government.

It will of course be just one more nail in their collective coffin for the ALP has betrayed on so many fronts. My aim is to deliver the US Marine base nail with such thumping big bangs that it will not be soon forgot.


On the evening Justin Tutty took me to ambush Peter Garrett, he had also directed me to a well presented information evening in Knuckey Lagoon Recreation Hall, a community consultation process the ADF were conducting in relation to a new logistic facility that is to be built at Robertson Barracks.

Aimed at local residents, the information sheet specifically said that it was to inform about the proposed Logistics Facility and nothing more.

The great elephant in the room was the US Marine base. Would there be community consultation about the major expansion of Robertson for that? There has been none so far. Not even a Parliamentary debate.

The Robertson Barracks officers present were eager to tell me they had no problems with the US Marines because they shared a "similar military culture." I begged to differ and suggested that allowing a foreign army to occupy Australian soil was complicity in treason.

From them i learned that of the 250 only 150 Marines were actually in residence; the rest somewhere else off training. And from an embedded journalist's report in New Matilda i learned that the Marines were in temporary accommodation at Robertson under canvas on a playing field.

Earlier that day i had been pleased to find a Google alert giving notice of a Peacebus protest at Robertson Barracks carried in the Marine Corps Times. "Peacenik protests USMC presence in Australia" was the header and there the odd choice of a photo of me with Gary Foley in his ASIO shirt.

The journalist, Gidget Fuentes, had picked up on the Lavarack Barracks action of 5 June and interviewed me en route to Darwin by phone from Los Angeles. And in return i had interviewed her seeking her overview of the US military in these times.

Given that the USA is broke and getting broker, she said the overarching issue is the inevitability of huge military spending cuts. So all military planning is effectively on hold till after the US presidential elections. Then axes will fall.

She also said that the US military is committed to redeploy from Okinawa and that they are assuming that Australia is the open option for this deployment. At least 9,000 personnel plus plant and this will cost $billions at a time when there are no spare $billions lying about.

Meanwhile Defence Secretary Pattella has been tripping about the US allies in the Pacific talking up containment of China and new military bases. Joint ventures. As it has ever been with empires, the imperial power aims to get its vassal states to pick up the tab.

Who will build bedrooms for the US Marines @ Robertson Barracks. The ADF? Not if Peacebus has anything to do with it!


Amongst the welcomers of Peacebus to Darwin have been Owen Gale, a former NorForce Reservist and member of Stand Fast; James Courtney, former anti nuke organiser for Greenpeace and Chris White, former Secretary of the South Australian Labor Council. Old friends and new, i will write more about their views in a later blogs.

Sufficient to say that friendliness is the experience of peace and the path to peace leads from kindness to kindness, friend to friend, and i feel blessed to be walking that way.

Graeme Dunstan
17 June 2012

US Marines on parade in Darwin on Anzac Day 2012. Marching to beat of different drums.


Index of blogs for Mission to Darwin 2012

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