A Terror War Criminal Burns
Report on the burning of Duncan Lewis
at the Eureka Stockade Memorial, Ballarat, 3 December 2013
Lit from behind in the tinder box under the Duncan Lewis effigy, the fire started slowly, the green gum tips inside sending up a fine cloud of smoke which became orange in the floodlight on the far side of Eureka Stockade Memorial and billowed beautifully in the dawn lightening sky.
Too slow it seems for Dr Joe Toscano who with microphone in hand was broadcasting live on Radio 3CR. It was torture, Dr Joe declared, of the kind that has become routine for agents of the national security state.
Flames appeared soon enough from behind and to the right of the effigy then quickly blazing up until a flame curtain formed behind the head.
Squatting in front i fumbled to capture images of the burn on my Nikon Coolpix 6500, at the same time watching out for portends. Without front lighting, without flash and the camera asking after each click if i wanted special effects, the only portent seemed to be my age accelerating technical incompetence.
Five days cardboard sculpting consumed in less than two minute. And no re-runs possible.
Once established on the outside the fire soared high and lustily on the mix of air and corrugated cardboard in the open lattice making up the internal structure. Quickly the fire wrapped around the face of the effigy which became a grim but stoic shadow within the flames, holding its form erect till the very end.
So there was a divination if you understand hell to be a place of eternal and fiery damnation. For his Terror War crimes Major General Duncan Lewis AO DSM CSC, it seems, is promised a very hot time which no amount of soldierly stoicism will endure and no honours prevent.
"End the Terror / Sack ASIO boss Lewis / Terror War Criminal" was the illuminated epitaph. Fire and ash the foreboding.
Prior to the burning i spoke about why the new Director General of ASIO was chosen as subject, speaking extemporaneously, pacing in the dark, microphone in hand. The speech was video-ed and you can hear it here.
The burning was part of the annual Eureka Dawn Service which is convened by Dr Joe Toscano from the Anarchist Media Institute. At 4 am a circle of about 40 Eurekaphiles formed around a brazier of fire alongside the Eureka Stockade Memorial and, in the enchantment of lantern light and in the solemn awareness that this was hallowed ground where the blood of martyrs had been spilled, introduced themselves, speaking of why they had come and what the Eureka story meant to their lives.
Respectfully and patiently all who wanted to speak were heard.
The first light of dawn was in the sky and the first birds were chirping. Dr Joe described how it had been at that time 160 years before: the Redcoats mopping up, the wounded groaning and gasping, chest wounds gurgling, blood on the ground, women screaming and throwing their bodies over the wounded to prevent further bayonetting, the tents in the Stockade set alight and blazing.
Then with a brief introduction he handed the mike to me.
Effigy burning is a ritual of cursing not for everyone.
When i called them to follow me the few metre to the east side of the Memorial where the effigy was set up, some would not move from where they stood or sat in the circle. A dissenting voice asked "What's that got to do with Eureka?" Dr Joe stood apart and the audience which did assemble in front of the effigy was dispersed, uncertain and ambivalent.
I found myself speaking without making eye contact, speaking into darkness, speaking as if to the dead whose blood was in the ground under my feet, speaking prophetically from my deep despair about the endless, vicious, phoney, liberty-destroying Terror War, calling up a curse on its perpetrators and maybe damnation on myself too.
The burning was received in silence. No cheers, no triumph.
Dr Joe called for the Dawn Service circle to re-assemble but my mate Frame and i went to the fire to stamp out the fallen embers so to prevent scorching of the grass. While moving a piece of burning cardboard, a piece with what remained of the words "War Criminal", molten glue burned my fingers. Oh ho!
On the day before The Courier, Ballarat's Fairfax-owned daily newspaper, published a page 3 photo of me, "self proclaimed cardboard sculptor and effigy creator" posing with Duncan at the Memorial and claiming that Eureka spirit would burn bright at Eureka Dawn. It did though sleepy-headed Courier journalist and photographer arrived too late to record the moment. So it goes.
None the less I was pleased to have my views about the ASIO boss published so graphically. But the photo story elicited some doubts about the efficacy and relevance of effigy burning in the form of a letter to the editor and an editorial in the Eureka Day edition. The carp was about "minorities" claiming Eureka as their own and politicising it.
For 16 years now i have been working on the Eureka commemorations and i am a long time witness to the failure of the City of Ballarat to create any enduring, popular and nationally known commemoration of the event which it claims as its own both in its logo and in its tourism advertising to be central to the image and story of the City.
As Dr Joe pointed out, there is no public holiday in Ballarat to mark the 3 December and apart from Bakery Hill, no Eureka flags fly in the streets or buildings. No Eureka flag has ever flown from the flag pole on top of Ballarat Town Hall, that magnificent pile of Victorian architecture. The Diggers Grave at the Old Ballarat Cemetery was found to be weedy with neglect and also without a flag. No Union Jack on the Soldiers Grave either.
At core there is an official ambivalence towards Eureka which saps both will and imagination. Eureka was a rebellion after all, and government and rebellion are not natural bed fellows.
Left to bureaucrats the commemoration of Eureka inevitably becomes bland and debased. Typically it becomes re-enactors at the Soldier's Grave dressed up as Redcoats firing off volleys from their antique muzzle loaders while a Union Jack is unfurled and the mayor of the day salutes with his hand on his heart.
There were hopes that, with the advent of the Museum of Democracy at Eureka, the commemorations would gather some substance. For Eureka160 the City of Ballarat received a grant of $300K from the Victorian governmernt and outsourced the commemoration organising to MADE.
For that money MADE got maybe 200 people to turn up at 6 am to witness a Eureka flag, which had been hand stitched original size (4m by 3 m) as a community participation project, raised on a pathetic stick of a flag pole (the original was 80 feet high) and listen to official speeches from PM Abbott, the newly elected Victorian Premier (neither present) and the Mayor whose oratory skills couldn't motivate a man to get up from a burning bed.
A PM now nationally reviled for his oppression of rights and liberties of refugees, for his backing of US-led wars against the poor abroad, for his neoliberal war on the poor at home and for his protection of tax evasion by the rich, a PM at the nadir of his popularity, speaking at a Eureka commemoration? If Eureka Spirit had been present there, the crowd would have been jeering and throwing their croissants.
All praise and gratitude to Dr Joe Toscano and the good folk who turn up at 4 am on Eureka morning to reclaim the radical tradition of the Eureka rebellion. MADE showed neither the generosity nor the courage nor the wit to include the Reclaim events in the official Eureka160 program which it published.
MADE diminishes and marginalises itself with such wilful ignorance. For the truth is that the minorities which the Reclaim events attracts, far from "encumbering" the Eureka commemorations, bring them to life and make them relevant and meaningful to the times.
Amongst the modern day representatives of minority movements gathered at Dr Joe's Eureka160 were the brave lads from the West Papuan independence movement (Amos Waingarai was awarded a Eureka Australia Medal for his work for the government in exile), Muzz Drechsler, stalwart of the Maules Creek coal mine blockade near Gunnedah NSW and Peace Pilgrim, Greg Rolles, one of those abused and tortured by SAS personnel while bearing witness to their secret base at Swan Island near Queenscliiffe, Victoria, last September.
Let us remember that the Eureka stockaders were a minority too. Activists willing to put their lives on the line for peace, justice and a sustaining Earth, always have been, and always will be, minorities. It is minorities like these who understand best what it must have been like for the Eureka stockaders, who can sincerely honour their memory, their blood sacrifice and their spirit. The rest is sentimentality, historical pedantry and deceit.
In the Eureka Day Parade from the Stockade Memorial to the Diggers Grave, the Eureka Southern Cross flew beside the West Papuan Morning Star and Palestinian flags. And Peacebus followed with PA at the rear, me loving the colour and the glory of it, the magnificence and auspiciousness of activist minorities joined in Eureka Spirit.
5 December 2014