Bryan Law detained and catching his breath after his Ploughshare strike at Rockhampton Airport 21 July 2011. Photo courtesy Chris Ison, Rockhampton Morning Bulletin
Striking a Blow for Peace
Report on the Peace Convergence resistance to the Talisman Sabre war games at Shoalwater Bay July 2011
At a gate to the tarmac of Rockhampton Airport, Bryan struggled with the chain. Holding one handle of the bolt cutters against his chest, the other against the cyclone wire of the fence, he leaned his weight against it.
People in blue overalls were piling out of the building adjacent (the Royal Flying Doctor Service, i later learned) some gathering on the far side of the gate. A woman this side of the gate was on her mobile phone calling security, urgency in her voice.
"It's Bryan Law and he's at the gate breaking in," I heard her saying.
No mistaking Bryan with his tricycle, suit, tie and Bob Katter hat; his long forecast threat to enter the airbase and ploughshare an army helicopter had made him a media celebrity in Rockhampton and Central Queensland.
As i got closer, i could see Bryan's problem. The bolt cutters had both sides of the chain link in its jaws. Which meant twice the force was needed.
Ever the helpful friend, i moved closer to suggest adjusting the bite. But at that moment of impulse, the cut was made, the chain fell away and the gate fell open a little way.
I seized it and swung it back fully open. The way was clear. Rows of khaki helicopters were lined up, the nearest just 80 m away, and not a guard or a guard dog in sight.
Bryan cast the bolt cutters aside, straddled his trike and applied himself to the pedals, a well used garden mattock jiggled in the carry basket at rear.
As he gained momentum, a man in blue overalls (a FDS Safety Officer, i later learned) moved towards him with words of caution about trespass. Bryan dismissed him with a "Good on ya, mate. Have a good day" and pedaled on.
"Let him be!" i ordered with my military trained voice of authority. The blue boys regarded me with caution and no one moved. Our collective eyes turned to Bryan's high speed tricycle dash.
"God bless! God speed!" was what i was thinking. For i was more aware than most of the pain and debilitation Bryan suffered from the infected diabetic ulcers on his big toes.
An FDS employee standing near grumbled about our protest targetting service people rather than the politicians in Canberra. I will have none of it. Politicans maybe giving the orders but it is service people who are killing the innocents in Afghanistan and revelling in it, building careers and securing serrvice benefits.
A snarl was forming on my lips but i checked it and returned to the wonder of the moment. As Bryan approached the nearest helicopter and all i could say was: "How magnificent!"
For months Bryan had been promising to ploughshare a military helicopter, building the narrative, speaking in public, getting noticed in the local media and promoting the image of the tricycle riding "Peace Preacher" in the Bob Katter hat.
Many were the outraged, many the scoffers and vast the resources aligned to deny Bryan and in his mission.
In response to Bryan's threat the then Commander of Australian Armed Forces, Air Marshal Angus Houston, had been moved to assure the Parliament and the nation that the Rocky airport and its helicopters were secure.
In cahoots with the Rockhampton Regional Council and the Chamber of Commerce, the Rockhampton Police had moved to silence him, arresting him for speaking in the Mall despite his permit; the Criminal Investigation Bureau had prohibited him from going near the air base and the local daily newspaper, Morning Bulletin, had run a front page story about attack dog training aimed at intimidating him.
But there we were, standing in the light, witnessing a miracle.
From the open gate, my toes at the invisible line of trespass pointed out by the Safety Officer, i watched till Bryan got to the helicopter. Too distant for my camnera, I turned aside to make media calls.
So I didn't see Bryan actually smite the helicopter and did not know for sure he had until we were put together in a holding cell in the Rockhampton Watch House later that evening.
Bryan told me that there had been a resounding thud when he had swung the mattock and struck the door of the helicopter. The whole machine had rocked with the impact and he saw that the blow had dented and pierced the panel.
A very satisfying moment, he said.
"Up close it was big and ugly, rigged for rockets and cannon, a veritable death machine," he told me.
His initial intention for the Ploughshare action had been to smite a US military helicopter as an act of symbolic dissent to the US Alliance.
The counter propaganda in Tv news that evening had a police inspector shaking his head in sadness that someone would damage a military helicopter after all the help and flood relief the military had brought Rockhampton folk in their recent "summer of sorrows".
More government lies. In truth the Tiger ARH is capable of neither carrying cargo nor passengers and tasked for flood relief, it would be useless. With seats only for a pilot and a weapons officer, it is similar to the US Apache and as such, it is a hi tech flying weapons platform which in practice delivers collateral death to civilians.
The Tiger Bryan had been guided to smite was one of 18 being purchased from Eurocopter, a French-German consortium, and assembled under license in Brisbane by its wholly owned subsidary Aerospace Australia. This one was in Rockhampton to be exercised during the Talisman Sabre war games prior to deployment in Afghanistan and future US wars.
Like all major military procurements committed by former PM Kevin Rudd in his $100 billion big spend 2010 Defence White Paper, it is expensive (the present estimated cost is $36 million a piece), plagued with hi tech bugs, delays and cost over runs.
Just imagine how many friends we would make spending 18 x $36 million (=$648 million) building hospitals and schools in Afghanistan. Or Australia for that matter.
Bryan's divine mattock strike, had hit a target apt and, blessed be, controversial.
Hats off to Bryan!
Thanks to the good relations our previous protest actions had established withy the local media. WIN Tv camerman Kent Murray was at hand to record the strike and, unlike all previous Ploughshare actions, it was broadcast as prime time news to Rockhampton and Central Queensland generally that evening. Here below the video Bryan edited from police evidence presented to Rockhampton magistrates court on 14 December.
After Bryan's strike and my media calls, i began to think what to do with myself. I was an accomplice to a crime and equally culpable in the same way as a driver for a bank robbery would be.
I had driven Bryan to the airport in a hire truck and my intention was to go on to the courthouse to support Margaret Pestorius and friends who were appearing on charges arising from their invasion of the Shoalwater Bay Test Facility the previous day. Banners and flags were furled in the hire truck ready to go.
But i tarried too long and when i got back to the truck pursued by the FDS Safety officer, I had to spend more time packing it up for, in my haste to follow and photograph Bryan, i had left it with doors open and hydraulic lift down.
Pushing the Safety Officer aside with the bullbars, i hurried off but did not get far. A police officer in a paddy wagon coming in the other direction pulled me over opposite the Caroona Street entrance to the Western Street barracks. We recognised each other from previous actions.
All smiles, the young constable emptied my pockets, confiscated my phone (i was speaking to Channel Seven journalist at the time) and camera, formally arrested me and locked me in the paddy wagon.
"Were any others involved in the action?" he inquired. No, i was happy to assure him. Just me and my mate, Bryan.
There i was caged for 2 hours. Now Paddy wagons are not designed for comfort but i soon discovered a virtue in its hard surfaces: they made an echo chamber about which i could get oms resonating with very little effort. So there i sat cross legged with my back to the cab, chanting, taking refuge in The Buddha.
Likewise after i was processed in the Watch House and locked in a cell alone. It was a dungeon of harsh and oppressive noise - the clanging of metal doors, loud conversations echoing and, worst of all, day time commercial television, brain rot soaps, at full volume.
Exploring and finding the resonate pitch of my cell i soon lost myself in chanting the Vajra Guru Mantra, my body cavities becoming echo chambers and my cell likewise, blocking the ambient noise. Effortlessly for maybe 4 hours.
Since there was so much ambient noise I assumed no one would hear me but i was wrong. THUMP! - without warning came a measured kick i could feel through the wall had been aimed precisely between my shoulder blades. I had been sitting cross legged with my back against the wall shared with the adjacent cell and it was apparent that a fellow prisoner had been distubed by the vibration coming through the wall beside his bunk.
Not wanting to cause offense, i changed my position, quietened the chant and kept at it: practising fearlessness and hopelessness, building a Buddha field in the cell where suffering and anguish were deeply layered. I could think of nothing better to do. What difference between a monastic cell and a prison cell? Only attitude.
In the late afternoon i was visited by the polite and respectful Sgt Kevin Mawdsley of the Rockhampton CIB and invited to make a statement. I refused saying not until after i had some legal advice.
He didn't press me on this. Rather he united me with Bryan later in the evening. By this time i had heard the Tv news report and knew the helicopter had been hit.
Bryan was in transit to hospital, his acute diabetes a ticket to more comfort and care.
He was elated with his accomplishment and very grateful for my help.
"Graeme, you are a friend for life. If ever there is anything i can do for you, money or whatever, just ask," he said.
He told me what had transpired on the tarmac. He told of how he almost blacked out from the effort of pedaling and was staggering when he swung the "satisfying" smite with the garden mattock. Mission accomplished.
Seems the soldiers who gathered tried to play funny buggers and steal his trade mark Bob Katter hat. When he noticed it missing and asked for it, they looked at the sky and feigned ignorance. Bryan responded by laying down on the tarmac vowing not to cooperate until the hat was returned. He's big bodied man, too big to be fussed with and the attending federal police soon returned his hat.
The meetings with Kevin Mawdsley and Bryan seemed to change things in the Watch House. The watchmen were little more respectful and the noise a little less oppressive and later in the evening the Tv was turned off altogether. I slept deeply.
Bryan and i had agreed that we cooperate with the police in collecting evidence and in no way seek to evade the wilful damage charge on technicalities. So when Kevin Mawdsley returned next morning i agreed to be interviewed, grateful i realised for the opportunity to tell the story while it was fresh and clear on my chant cleared mind.
Margaret Pestorius who had pleaded guilty to her trespass charges and was now herself out of jail, offered to be my witness. Here is the interview in full as audio posted by Margaret.
Here is the video of it edited in two parts by Bryan from police evidence presented to the Rockhampton court 14 December 2011.