Eulogy for Bryan Law 1
St Monica's Cathedral, Cairns
12 April 2013
Bryan Joseph Law was born in 1954 in the Brisbane suburb of Marooka.
Both his parents had been in the army during the war. His father served in the New Guinea and his mother in Townsville.
Bryan attended Yeronga State High School excelling in the sciences. He went briefly to the University of Queensland to study Chemistry and then dropped out. He then worked for the Education Department as a clerk; again only briefly.
Ordinary work was not his thing, though he drove taxis for 15 years in Cairns.
In his thirties, Bryan returned to Griffith University to study history and politics with a special interest in Asia and Pacific history and regional militarism. He was a campus activist in the years of free education and became President of the Student Union where he began his lifelong tussles with the Labor and Liberal party apparatchiks with their annoying dogmas. He was a true Independent.
Bryan was radicalised during the government of Joh Bjelke Petersen and was arrested first in the large right to march street demonstrations in Brisbane. Ciaron O’Reilly writes of Bryan that "Of the thousands arrested and bashed during that period, some of us remained "beat up but upbeat" turning towards, exploring and sustaining nonviolent resistance against war and war preparations.
As some turned towards the U.S. traditions of the Catholic Worker and Berrigans, Bryan turned to a deep exploration of Gandhi." However, in his later years the Catholic Worker tradition also significantly influenced Bryan’s nonviolence practice.
Between 1982 and the mid 2000s, Bryan worked on a range of campaigns and was judged by colleagues as the foremost nonviolence strategist in Australia. He applied nonviolence theory and techniques to local, regional and national projects. His worked culminated fittingly in the regional Queensland town of Rockhampton at a time when most looked toward Canberra and Washington for political change.
Campaigns he was involved with included Aboriginal Rights: He initially explored this issue in relation to the Brisbane Commonwealth Games in 1982. But Cairns people will remember his dogged pursuit of the Cairns Post which persisted in racist editorial up until the mid 2000s.
Environmental issues Bryan was involved with included the Daintree Rd, Skyrail and he lived on Fraser Island during the blockade there interrupting logging.
He was involved in place based local issues such as improved bicycle facilities, the Cairns Yacht Club and most recently the Save City Place campaign.
He had a keen interest in opposing militarism and this became his primary passion. As an antimilitarist activist he first opposed visits of US and UK warships to Australia during the Bicentennial. And it was during this time he started to explore the power of small group nonviolence.
He teamed up with fellow nonviolent activist Margaret Pestorius and they followed their shared passion of educating ordinary people about the practice of nonviolence. With the Cairns Peacebypeace group they began citizens inspections of visiting US warships in a time that Bryan considered Australia was in a state of perpetual war.
Together they brought Joseph into the world whom Bryan loved deeply.
In 2005, he entered Pine Gap Spy Base near Alice Springs with 3 other people from Christians Against All Terrorism. This action was a turning point in Bryan's pursuit of more powerful types of action and ultimately led to his decision to conduct a ploughshare type action in Rockhampton during the 2011 Talisman Sabre Exercises.
Bryan had a sharp intellect and blogged widely. He had really wanted to be a lawyer but felt he came from the wrong class at the wrong time. He revelled in the intellectual stimulation offered by court room process.
He enjoyed the chance to act on his own behalf in the court environment and was acknowledged by Judges, Barristers and adversaries as an honourable challenger. He was arrested more than 30 times.
During the court case in Alice Springs in 2007 he probably had his first heart attack and his health declined consistently from that point. He struggled with diabetes and heart disease and their consequences.
Bryan is survived by his wife of 20 years Margaret, his son Joseph and his brothers David and Stephen.
written by Maragret Pestorius and delivered Graeme Dunstan
12 April 2013
Eulogy for Bryan Law - 2
delivered at the Wake, Fearnley Street, Cairns
12 April 2013
No more the joy of your thoughts. Not part of my future - it's emptier for the lack.
You convinced me to give "The Wire" a look [despite being an American "cop show"].
You warned me about Bob Hawke.
You played games with me from Dungeons and Dragons in the 70's to Civ 4 over the net, we competed over boards, with cards and pieces.
You taught me Go with beans and lentils on a piece of cardboard.
You loved strategy games and I loved playing against your devious inventiveness and your cleverness.
You were part of my growth, we grew into one another slowly but irreparably. p>
You join a goodly company of absence.
The pace quickens as we slow. Memories replace our friends and us.
I first met Bryan at a friends place when he was a young public servant. Not long after, he explained his job - a lowly filing clerk who stored paper records and retrieved them on request - a manual database. As he learned more about the structure of the department he worked out that all his information was also being stored by another functionary. From then until he was discovered he binned all the files he was supposed to file, and got the information from his fellow functionary when it was required. I, of course, was deeply impressed.
His life was lived with generous gusto, genuine and clear. He was his own creation in a way - I watched him, as a young man, painfully build a social conscience from an opportunistic, disinterested avarice, and then, having found it, take it's obligations as seriously and as literally as you could. It compelled him into a life-time of activism, of service to his vision of social justice. A commitment few could match.
He was in the front line against Jo's Police State [and Special Branch had some truly frightening, violent thugs in those days]. His courage was tested and strengthened on many occasions, as were his convictions, his strategies, and, not least, his courtroom skills, as he sought for the weak spots of the powerful, and deflected their attacks. Bryan demonstrated, again and again to me, that power could be challenged openly and publicly, in a non-threatening manner and it could even be entertaining.
His public life was so intense and full that many only knew him through political interactions, rough and smooth and many others have a closer grasp of the fullness of his political life and it's history. Our friendship was forged by time and based on enjoyment. He'd often flee the heat of the Brisbane political scene, and come up to the peace and tranquillity of NQ for R+R.
I had little to do with Bryan's political campaigns and knew and appreciated him for his wit and company. I was always glad to see him turn up, he brought ideas, books and conversation to our backwater, as well as robust argument coupled with a transcendent playfulness and undiluted joy in the use of language and logic.
Have I said I'll miss him?
He cultivated a calmness and a gravitas that could make him appear imperturbable when the backhoes were digging him out of the ground at the Daintree, or he disappeared amid a ton and a half of angry, blue uniforms, or even when he was being limply carried away by six of the best, while dressed as Santa Claus. The calmness was a mirror to his commitment to Peace with a capital P as a political tool and process.
Before the unlikely spectre of St. Bryan manifests, let me not avoid his directness and bluntness. We had a common friend called Len, in the early days, who was famous for "not suffering fools". Bryan noticed that Len's selective curtness [e.g. "I remember you, I just didn't think you were worth knowing"] didn't stop him being respected and appreciated by his friends - he treated his friends flawlessly, but spoke a merciless truth to the world at large. I remember Bryan describing his perception of this as "liberating". I have no doubt that this perception led to many a rumpled feather over his political career and when I say that Bryan could be demanding, everyone who knows him will understand what I mean.
I knew Bryan when a three day walk down the Russell River carrying a pack was strenuous, but a pleasure, and he was physically capable of accessing and enjoying wilderness. He stayed at my place in a tent before running water, and built a rock camp made of granite slabs up the Walsh River that was minimalist but practical and aesthetic. When he was staying on the Tableland, in the aforementioned early days, he'd hitch, by first observing the regular trips taken by locals, and then appearing on the side of the road enough times for the local's suspicion of the foreign to be mitigated. Soon he had a network of lifts available to plan his trips around.
Many of his commitments were to environmental issues - Fraser Island, Daintree, Skyrail - these reflected an almost deep-ecology philosophy he held as a younger man, where Nature has not only a coherence and palpability as an essence, but also a spiritual undertone. This need for a spiritual dimension, for something beyond the mundane drove Bryan in his life choices. Much more than most, his actions and decisions were channelled by his aspirations and his conscience.
Margaret gave Bryan joy and the stability of a family and they shared a devotion and a bonding beyond the surges and thrusts of their shared political actions, or their domestic negotiations. Whenever I observed Bryan in contact with the small children of friends his empathy and spirit of play made him the centre of a roiling mass of squeals and shrieks until the hysterical children were gleefully handed back to their parents. It was obvious that he enjoyed children, indeed, could project back into their world, and when Joseph was born he was deliberately and unapologetically, alternately worshipful and immersive, being a pirate or protector as required, but bathing the lad in love. Joseph and Margaret remained at his centre of being even when he changed cities.
Let others measure his mark, I mourn a friend. I thought about what tree to plant for Bryan and decided on Ficus destruens [Rusty Fig or Boonjie fig]. It is a forest giant reaching 30+ metres, an emergent - a tree that stands out above the canopy. The figs are cornerstone species - they fruit irregularly and so supply sustenance during the lean times of little fruit to a large variety of critters.