Drumming Up Dissent in Byron Bay to the US global tyranny
Coming up Jonstone Street, the main drag of Byron Bay, the annual Independence from America Day parade made great spectacle. It had colour, depth, graduated height and great presence.
Out front was the signage "Independence from America Day / Give Peace a Chance" painted in bright colours on panels 4 meters long by one metre high, proudly borne by a couple grey maned lions and a bearded parkie, bare-chested with a long neck of beer in his pants.
Then came Paul Barrett Drum master of the Samba Blisstas in Coldstream Guards bearskin red overalls and crazy specs. Whistle in mouth and small kettle drum in groin, he was leading the band of 40 volunteers he had trained up over the past few months. They too were a dazzling array of bizarre costumes in primary colours.
Independence from America Day Parade crossing the rail line at Byron Bay.
They had rehearsed drum routines, lifting and pointing their sticks; and they also had dance routines. Their energy were a joy to behold. And of course it was a delight to hear - up beat samba rhythms of the kind that get your hips moving.
Behind the drummers danced the beautiful Elke on stilts. In her flowing costume, she was a creature of wind, her extended sleeves extending the grace of her movements.
And behind her was a glory flags, 40 of them bunched together and with a wind coming from behind, their bright colours flapped and fluttered and shimmered.
Including drummers the Parade comprised of about 100 people, small even for a small town like Byron Bay. But what an impact!
It was noon on a Sunday monthly market day in Byron. Beautiful clear sunny day after an week of flooding rains and lots of people were out and about, many visiting from out of town. The police on bikes held back the traffic, grinning and delighting in the spectacle as much as we the protesters were. The in bound traffic backed up 5 km, I was later told
Paul Barrett took his time. Occupying public place it was Samba Blissta's day in the Byron Bay sun. With the streets empty of traffic, pedestrians came out onto the road to get photos. Many a digital picture was taken. Many a thumbs up of approval was given.
An iconic event in an iconic town. Saying more with less. Artful and mythmaking!
The Independence from America Day rally was advertised as assembling in Apex Park, Main Beach Byron Bay from 11 am.
But it was a slow assembling crowd and few. The flood rains had frustrated the pre-publicity by cutting roads and creating a major media distraction. Cut off from Byron town, radio interviews we cancelled and leaflets could not be collected from the printers, let alone distributed.
But the set up for the rally in Apex Park was a visual delight. And central to it was a Eureka flag flying from a high pole and the new banner Anarchist Media Institute banner bearing the Eureka Oath.
Over Happy Wheels was rigged a banner bearing the Southern Cross and the slogan, "Reinvent Democracy". It had been painted for the Eureka150 celebrations in Ballarat last December. See www.peacebus.com/Eureka/Eureka150.html
Independence from America Day set up in Apex park, Main Beach, Byron Bay, 3 July 2005. The Hon. Peter Breen MLC speaking .
When Peacebus.com captain, Graeme Dunstan cranked up the PA, he introduced the theme of the day by invoking the blessings of the ancestors, the spirit of the Bundjulung people and the spirit of Eureka.
He reminded those assembled of the story of the Eureka Stockade, of how in December 1854 on the goldfields at Ballarat, the courageous resistance of the diggers to the tyrannous Government of the Colony of Victoria had cost blood but had brought on big changes.
"The Fair Go begins there," he said. "The penal era ends and an era of world leading liberal democratic reform begins."
Graeme invited the assembled crowd of about 30 to take the Eureka oath together and, raising their right hands, they repeated after him: "We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties."
What a zing it is in an Australian crowd when the Eureka oath is taken in these times!
The Honourable Peter Breen,MLC, was the first speaker at the rally.
Peter Breen is a human rights activist, author and member of the New South Wales Parliament since 1999. He's a council member on Southern Cross University and has lived in Byron Bay and Lismore since 1989.
In 2001 he instigated an inquiry into a Bill of Rights for New South Wales which resulted in the establishment of the Parliament's Legislation Review Committee. Currently he serves on parliamentary committees overseeing police and prisons. He has introduced private member's bills for religious tolerance, legal equality and reinstatement of the Casino to Murwillumbah railway.
Recently he addressed the New South Wales Parliament for three and a half hours on indefinite detention of prisoners. Peter Breen says that the illegal US "terrorist" detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is not much different than Australia's detention centres for asylum seekers.
"Both operate contrary to the principles of international human rights instruments to which Australia is a party", Peter Breen said.
For Independence from America Day in Byron Bay the Hon. Peter Breen lambasted the US government for the abduction, illegal detention and torture of David Hicks now held by the US military for 3 years in Guantanamo Bay the last six months in solitary confinement.
The Hon. Peter Breen also lambasted the Australian government of Prime Minister, Howard, for its failure to act or intervene in anyway. He read from a letter he had written to Howard on the subject.
Another local NSW parliamentarian took the microphone, the Hon. Ian Cohen MLC one of two Greens in the upper house. Ian first apologised for the absence of the Green Mayor of Byron Shire, Jan Barham, (sick and needing a day off from public appearances). .Ian began by thanking Graeme for organising the event. He said he fist became aware of Graeme when he saw him speaking o from the rostrum at an anti Vietnam War rally in 1971.
"How's that for consistency? he asked. Big applause from the small but appreciative audience.
Ian's call was for people to get engaged and active locally. Elections are acoming.
"Byron Bay was an iconic community in Australia and abroad", he said. "Things done and achieved here in regard to sustainability and resistance to tyranny serve as an example and inspiration to people and communities elsewhere in Australia and abroad."
After the pollies a joker took the microphone. Dressed in a maroon suit, he was introduced as federal minister come to bring fairness and balance to out protest, "the Minister for Appeasement and Supplication, the Honourable Frank Fawning MP."
Mr Fawning decried the devaluing of the relationship Australia was blessed to have with our great and powerful ally, the United States of America. He pointed out that his government valued it very much indeed "to the tune of several billion dollars of Australian taxpayers money annually."
It was a clever script which went on in the same vein ("It's UnAustralian to be unAmerican!") attracting laughs from some and jeers from others, many not knowing whether the Hon Frank Fawning was for real or not. He sure sounded like a federal minister.
The joker's name was Nigel. He had read about the rally in the Byron Echo on the previous Tuesday and, moved by concern about the Iraq War and having a bit experience in amateur theatre and comedy script writing decided to give it a go. Good on him.
Another speaker at the rally was Rusty Harris, primary producer of barkers Vale. Rusty's resistance to the introduction of police drug detection dogs to Byron Bay and given birth to annual celebration of Independence from America Day.
In March 2002 Rusty was arrested and charged with possession of cannabis (2 ounces) and a weapon (to wit a pen knife) in the first sniffer dog operation. But unlike the other 50 people apprehended that night, Rusty maintained that a cold nose under his testicles was an illegal search and he pleaded not guilty.
The case trawled through the courts for over three years and over 16 appearances. The sniffer dog operation was the subject of a huge passion play protest on Good Friday 2002 when Rusty carried a cross through Byron and was crucified at the police station. See www.peacebus.com/Rusty/easter2001.html
Each court appearance by Rusty was accompanied by a protest cum free hemp festival of his supporters. He was convicted but won on appeal. Yes it had been an illegal search.
But by then the laws were stitched up by the Carr government and dog searches are now legal and common place in the poorer suburbs of Sydney. But they haven't come back to Byron Bay since 2002. Local hero!
And because sniffer dogs were seen as a local manifestation of the US global Drug War and because the first appearance for the Byron magistrates court were scheduled for the 4 July, Independence from America Day became a theme that took root as a popular celebration and grew as US global aggression became more overt with the invasion of Iraq.
Rusty looked magnificent in his home spun home knit garb, bearded and dreadlocked. Cockney he looked like a Serbian wild mountain man. Rusty not only called for independence from the USA, he also wanted independence from the Sydney central government of NSW. Cessation is what he wanted. Free Bundjulung!
After the speakers Samba Blisstas took over Apex Park for a warm and their drumming trebled the crowd size and inspired many willing hands to carry flags in the parade.
Samba Blisstas warm up in Apex Park..
The flags were a mix from the various events peacebus.com has produced in the last 10 years or so: rainbow and peace doves with rainbows, koori/Green and Eureka standards, Dharma flags and the new Eureka Star/Anarchist A painted up last March.. A couple of the prototypes seen up for the Byron Peace Carnival were also present to remind folks where they had come from.
It was too windy to take the big banners so these were dismantled and carried to the Market ground on the roof rack of Happy Wheels.
The Samba Blisstas and the flag bearers entered the Markets in a triumph of colour and rhythm. And while they were drumming their way through the crowd, the goffers were setting up the PA and big banners for another open mike SpeakOut within the Markets.
One of the objects of the annual Independence from America Day celebration in Byron Bay is to cultivate public place oratory and encourage people to speak up and speak out against the rising tyranny of the US corporate rich and their courtier governments in Australia.
Event organiser Graeme Dunstan had said in opening the celebration that: "Social change begins when people occupy public place and speak up and speak out." The Byron market Coordinator, Barbara Keen agreed and encouraged Graeme to try soap box oratory as a new cultural expression at the Markets.
Barbara told Graeme she was thrilled to be associated with the annual Independence from America Day celebration and in the Market Newsletter of the day she notified the stall holders of coming of 'the fabulous Samba Blisstas' and of the open mike SpeakOut in the Food Court Area.
"You are invited to step up to the podium and have your say about the USA and the world today." the leader of the Market Newsletter said.
The Hon Peter Breen spoke again to open the SpeakOut. The SpeakOut comprised a small battery operated PA with radio mike set up under the "Reinvent Democracy" banner with the multi coloured multi messaged banners all about. He stood on a milk crate and spoke without reading this time, pure heart felt passion.
The Hon Peter Breen speaks at the Byron Market SpeakOut
Peter attained parliamentary status in a windfall of preference votes, as unlikely as a lottery win. But he has chosen to use the opportunity to work tirelessly for human rights in the NSW parliament. Not easy being an independent, and Peter has known the rough end of the ALP Macquarie Street bully boys.
But this day Peter was a man who had a constituency. He was standing amongst his people and speaking from his heart.
About 50 people sat or stood about listening and speakers were plentiful.
Dudley Legget, fellow Aquarian, long-time activist, spoke advocating local action and the latest group that he facilitates and meets Wednesdays somewhere.
A Vietnam vet spoke about the lies and trauma he had known and also a Mullumbimby man who was angry about the Battle for Brisbane, which was a brawl between Yankee and Australian soldiers in 1944 - one Australian was shot dead and the murderer exonerated by a Yankee military court.
Gina Lacosta spoke only briefly this year but encouraged a young koori man who came forth and spoke of his commitment to work for his people. There was something barefooted, uncomplicated and pure about him, like Jesus coming out of the wilderness and into the market place.
Eshua speaks out at the Byron Market SpeakOut
The SpeakOut went for an hour or so and wound down as market trading was winding down for the afternoon. We packed up the gig as stallholders packed up their rigs. The Independence from America Day goffers were very tired bunnies by the time we had got all the flags folded, steel posts stowed and the bamboo poles tied down on roof racks.
Wan is one of the regular Market day drummers had helped us set up in Apex Park and he had carried the Dharma flag high at the rear of the parade all the way, Tail end Charlie. This day Wan formed the drumming circle adjacent to where the SpeakOut had been and while we worked the pulse of people power was with us.
There are many to thank for their help and cooperation producing the 2005 celebration of Independence from America Day in Byron Bay.
First up and from the heart gratitude to John Peace, Peacebus.com companion and Independence Day goffer number one. Nomad John dedicated himself to the project and for two weeks he was constantly by Graeme's side offering to help. He helped cut and drill the bamboo poles for the flags and banners. He came and camped at Bodha Gwen's house and shared the flood with Graeme.
John Peace harvesting bamboo for flag poles 22 June 2005.
Gratitude to Bob Cooney, goffer number two, fellow 30A collaborator who came and helped put out flags on the day. Bob loved the flags and was enthusiastic about making a whole lot more for the 30A mobilisation. See www.peacebus.com/30A/
Big thank you for to Paul Barraett and his fabulous Samba Blisstras. Great energy, great enthusiasm and commitment to peace and justice in these times with rhythm and colour. See www.carnavaldrumming.com/
To Bodha Gwen Gould too for refuge of her house on the Gondwana community Tyagarah during the flood. Bodha was a way in Sydney and was obliged to extend her stay. Graeme and John were very grateful of a dry refuge with hot baths.
Thanks too for the encouragement from the uplifting friends and neighbours in Prestons Lane and Gondwana. In particular Graeme is grateful that, Jennifer and her new companion, Miffy, both of them "cross between a polar bear and a unicorn" were considered exempt from the no dog rule.
Gratitude to Bev and Tim Carlyle of Sound Solutions Lismore who donated the PA and fed and fussed over Graeme when he is in Lismore. Graeme has known Bev and Tim since North Coast Entertainment Industry Association (NCEIA) days in Lismore in the early nineties. He used to be a storyteller for their boys Louis and Curtis and this visit around he attended Louis 21st.
Gratitude to the no fuss cooperative attitude of the local police, in particular Tweed Area Commander Inspector Owen King who greeted Graeme like an old friend (they have done protest negotiatons on many occasions over a number years now) and also Sgt Linda Harrison and Constable Matt Soresby who organised the traffic management of the day. Using bicycles the police presence was low profile and convivial.
Gratitude for the cooperation and enthusiasm on the recently appointed Byron Market coordinator, Barbara Keen. May her cultural development goals for the Byron Market be realised and Independence from America Day be celebrated as a regular feature of the July market. Sustainable resistance!
Thanks to the media support given by Ruth Stumer of Radio 4ZZZ-2LM who put Graeme on drive time with a great introduction about the nation protests against the Howard governments work place reforms. Thanks to Michael Brereton who recorded a sound cartridge that got replayed as promo on BAY-FM in the days leading up.
And thanks to Michael McDonald of the Byron Echo for giving the story a run. Drumming Up Dissent. Just reading about local resistance to the US global tyranny is heartening.
Thanks too to Bruce the Pixie for videoing the event and being so enthusiastic about editing a DVD. It is great footage. People wanting a copy of the DVD should email Graeme at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jeff Dawson of the Byron Echo made a special effort to get to the parade and he took a heap of pics with a grin of pure delight. Graeme has known Jeff for many years and they rarely meet except in public place when Graeme is making celebratory art and Jeff is grinning in total appreciation. A selection of Jeff's pics will be posted in due course.
Here is a flood story.
On the Wednesday when rain was coming down, Graeme got a call from James Courtney, a young man Graeme knew as an anti nuclear organiser for Greenpeace, James Courtney by name, who was on his way south from protesting a US-Australian military exercise called Operation Talisman Sabre) at Shoal Bay in North Queensland.
James had got the Independence from America Day media release and knew Graeme would be in Byron.
He was reluctant to risk the Greenpeace 4WD Hillux and the expensive electronics on board crossing Tyagarah Creek to come visit Graeme. But Graeme wanting dearly to hear James' story, braved the flood and, bearing a brolly, bare arsed and Blundstoned, he waded 600 m up to my bollocks to go see him.
James showed a video on his laptop of the Greenpeace yacht Vega invading the citizen exclusion zone on the last day of the exercise. It bore down full sail, a Benny Zable peace flag flying from the mast, on collision course with a huge US warship, a helicopter carrier and amphibious assault support ship named the USS Boxer.
The video showed the huge ship taking off at full throttle in a big puff of diesel smoke.
James told how, with ingenuity and perseverance, the Greenpeace activists had got the video images out to ABC TV Qld and SBS nationally. The abrupt departure of the USS Boxer, they later learned, had caused the cancellation of the Big Bang end of the exercise, for which spectacle the national media had been flown in to witness.
What an honour to be befriended by activists such as these! What an inspiration! Certainly worth parting the waters for. Viva Greenpeace!
Lots of heroes resisting the US and their puppets in this time, it seems.
There were big protests around Australia in that week in response to the Howard government's work place reforms. Anglican Bishop Phil Huggins (he was one of my early meditation (TM) teachers in the Aquarian years) came out against Howard on National Radio: "If it isn't broken, don't fix it, for Heavens sake!"
The Fremantle wharfies came out on strike bearing a Eureka flags saying they didn't want the US model of industrial relations. The Age newspaper in Melbourne showed a huge crowd of protestors some say 100,000 a mass of Eureka flags of the design Graeme introduced to the Eureka celebrations in Ballarat and paraded in Byron Bay.
Eureka spirit moving. James promised the Vega would fly the Eureka flag next time.
After leaving his Greenpeace friends, Graeme was feeling less brave about the return wade. The light was failing and the rain intensifying. Just as he was about to begin, another vehicle arrived delivering another wader, a Norse giant of a man, 6' 6" tall. He too took off his pants.
As they waded together the companion revealed that he was a competition ocean swimmer and lifesaver ... Graeme's personal lifesaver. Aaah! the Universe delivers.
Here is another flood story.
No-one knew how long it would take the flood waters over Grays Lane to go down.
At 7.30 am on Sunday 3 July, it was a beautiful day and the fourth day of floodingt when John Peace and Graeme rolled their vehicles down the hill to test the water.
All the flags, poles and PA were aboard. No get across, no Independence Day celebration.
On the way down the hill Graeme met his old Aquarian friend and companion, Paul Joseph, Chairman of Byron Peace Carnival Inc. Paul is striding up.
Paulšs' yoga is to walk but this morning Paul is not happy walker and not pleased to see Graeme. His face is thunderous, his eyes wide with anger, fear and madness, the visage of a wrathful deity as the Chinese and Tibetans portrait them. Graeme and Paul had had a fall out over the peace flags back in September. See www.peacebus.com/PeaceFlags/ Graeme had been hard on Paul.
"How's the water'" Graeme asked neighbourly like.
"You will never get through," declared PJ. "The Universe is trying to tell you something, Graeme."
"What would that be?
Karma, karma, karma.
Graeme dismissed Paul with a wave and a snort and continued to the water's edge where depth gauge showed 35 cm. After an exploratory paddle, Graeme set off in Happy Wheels and parted the waters. John Peace came smoothly after.
Crossing the flood of Tyagarah Creek on the morning of the event
So determined was Graeme to produce Independence from America Day in Byron Bay that day that he reckons he would have carried Happy Wheels across, hernia surgery and wrathful trolls not withstanding.
For peace. For justice. For the Earth!
10 July 2005
Independence from America Day Banners flying at Tyagarah overlooking Byron Bay in June 2004