Lest we forget the Frontier Wars 2014

Report of the fourth annual "Lest We Forget the Frontier Wars" March
@ the Australian War Memorial, 25 April 2014

Coming up Anzac Parade to the Australian War Memorial, the Anzac Day "Lest We Forget the Frontier Wars March" was all dressed up with koori flags and banners including the koori-green ones with the profile of the Nimbin Rocks. It looked glorious.

We were maybe 120 strong mostly white, young and old, Quakers and choristers, locals and visitors from the 2014 Canberra Peace Convergence which had been in session with an activist camp at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in the previous days.

Our spirits were high and so too our aspirations. Our agenda was not just to remember the Frontier Wars of white settlement, but to end them. Plus we wanted a whole new narrative told about war and peace in this land. Out front were two Aboriginal men, Kumbah and Vince Duraux from Kempsey, all painted up.

With grit and grief in our hearts, we held high the placards naming terrible massacres past. From the far end of Burley Griffin's splendid processional avenue, a kilometre away and over the heads of the uniformed ranks advancing ahead of us, we could see the official party of royals, ministers and generals on their dais outside the Australian War Memorial. And we knew that they could see us too. Coming to meet!

Spontaneously the crowd watching the parade applauded our progress, cheering as we passed. The crowd was denser as we neared the AMW and they spilled out onto the processional way to get photos of our banners with Parliament House in the far background. A welcoming admiring throng of maybe 500.

They clapped, cheered and smiled. No conquering heroes we though. We were message carriers for an idea whose time had come.

But at the AMW a line of twenty ACT Police in dress uniforms (no vests, guns or tasers) barred us. This was the fourth annual Frontier Wars March and that we would be turned away had all been negotiated and rehearsed.

But from this moment on it was all about theatre, cops as props. Here was a Gandhi-making-salt moment. Moral force, great symbolism, great emotion and history in the making.

The Marchers' closed ranks up against the police line, face to face, heart to heart. All along the way women from Canberra's A Chorus of Women, acting like a Greek Chorus, had been singing over and over "Lest we forget". Now other singers gathered close and harmonised, the sound resonating in our chests.

The watching crowd gathered close too. They called for the police to justify their exclusion with the likes of: "You let the Turks through. Why not the Aboriginals?"

Vince Duraux, whose participation in the Peace Activist Camp had been more or less serendipitous, had not intended to speak. But now he found voice - prophetic voice, voice of the ancestors, straight from the heart:, straight to the heart: "How long must we wait? When may we commemorate the ancestors who died defending this land from invasion ..." So began his torrent.

All about him people weeping! Never before had an Anzac Day March been such a passion play. But we kept our agreement with the cops and after about 15 minutes we withdrew back down Anzac Parade.

Next year we knew we would be back in greater numbers and with even greater moral force.

Next year on the centenary of Anzac we knew that we would sweep by and through that police line, break through the racist exclusion, enter the Australian War Memorial with smoke, song and ceremony and change the narrative of Australia's Day of the Dead forever.

Organising has already begun. This invitation is going out to people black and white all across the land: tell and learn the story of your local white settlement massacres.

Form a delegation and bring the story to Canberra. Come tell it at the Sacred Fire and Peace and Justice at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy and come bear witness to it in the centennial Anzac Day Parade 25 April 2015 by making and bearing a placard which names it.

Lest we forget the Frontier Wars.

Graeme Dunstan
Peacebus.com 1 June 2014


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