We bumped along the wet muddy bush road in a convoy of maybe 20 vehicles. We had come from Green Gate 60 km north of Yeppoon and we were heading to Brown Gate about 50 km by road south east.
These were the names of gates to public land, a tropical coastal wilderness, a rainforest and coral paradise as big as Belgium, its coastal waters home to the sea grass grazing dugong, as big of body as they are peaceful of spirit. And presently being bombed, a Test Facility for US-Australian military alliance.
What blindness and delusion was this?
How had it happened that, what was formerly know as the Australian Defence Forces, had become an offense force of tax guzzling mercenaries in the service of the US Empire? Had we been blind and deceived or merely asleep?
It was about 10.30 am the Saturday 23 June 2007, the fourth day of the 2007 Peace Convergence and we were a bunch of peace activists awake and in search of some action.
The mission had been to go to Green Gate but about 10 km from the Green Gate entrance to the Shoalwater defence facility, we found a party of Queensland police in fluoro wet gear at a road block at a cattle grid. The Police it was revealed had declared the public road closed under some Act or other and were stopping vehicles from proceeding.
Paddy, a brave young Sydney activist I first witnessed at the police lines at 30A, socialist by alliance, Fenian by nature, got on a megaphone and rallied a crew some 50 in number to bypass the police and walk to Green Gate.
We are talking 10 km in drizzling rain and mud and a probable ten km soggy return.
Helping each other climb through the fences either side of the cattle grid, the active activists bypassed the police who made no move to apprehend them or obstruct their passage.
Off they strode up the muddy bush road in the drizzle, young and old, bearing flags and banners, brave and resolute, pilgrims for peace.
Good on 'em, I thought. The Great March to Green Gate. Songs will be sung and stories will be told,
But no Great March for this comfort seeking old fart.
We had had departed Yeppoon town hall at 7.30 am. At 7.25 am it had not been my intention to go, too far for Happy Wheels, but then I was offered a lift. No breakfast, no shave, I grabbed my boots and brolly and tumbled into the comforts of a new 4WD.
As we drove away I began experiencing separation anxieties arising from being apart from Happy Wheels, my mobile home, my peace chariot and beast of burden, my shelter from the storm and my refuge for the spirit, my ever present, at hand provider of a comfortable chair, a hot cup of tea and a good lie down.
It was the first time of five years that I had been so distantly separated but, as jittery as I was, subsequent serendipitous events proved it to be one of those impulses from which the best of times arise.
The names of my 4WD hosts were Sue and John. Well, i think that was their names. But does it matter? Reading this, "Sue and John" I know will recognise themselves and smile. Maybe laugh out loud.
That's because they will also recognise the condition of my heart-mind: they shared it too. It was a time when remembering names and proceeding by formality was out the window. Common cause mixes with destiny, a splashes about instant friendships, ready smiles, brief introductions, abounding goodwill and helpfulness, first names and camaraderie.
The 2007 Yeppoon-Rockhampton Peace Convergence was one of those precious public place occasions when people stand together with open hearts and speak their truth and assert themselves with dignity and respect. The essence of people power and a grace beyond market value.
The joy we knew joy was palpable, affirming and deeply bonding. The Australian Peace movement was alive and thriving of the Capricornia Coast and we of The Dreaming, could feel the culture shifting under our feet, see its bright future in the light of many bright eyes,
A peoples' movement takes heart. Peace and justice workers across the ages have shared such moments: the Buddha, Jesus, Gandhi, Mandela and we walking in their footsteps.
May our words and deeds be likewise auspicious. For peace. For justice. For the Earth!
Sue and John were superannuated retirees, grey haired folk from Brisbane, who had raised a family and managed a family business, this their first peace action.
"We read about Talisman Sabre and decided we wanted to do something about it," Sue explained.
On the northward ride i gnawed on slices of bread from a loaf Sue had provided. Also on the back seat with me a sharp young bearded man named Tim, an clear eyed activist from Sydney. We talked about the upcoming Sydney APEC protests, he was well informed.
A true delight was the cross generational mix of the Peace Convergence.
There were others like me choosing not to take the Great March to Green Gate and thankfully they included Sue and John.
In the rain we stood at the police blockade in the middle of nowhere watching the fast disappearing throng of marchers and contemplating the strangeness of our circumstance.
More vehicles kept arriving, the protest crowd growing. Here we were, a bunch of strangers with a cause and a management structure as flat as a toad on a road. Whatever leadership the crowd had had was either in Yeppoon or on the march up the road.
As we milled we witnessed the Military Police confer with Queensland police. The road had been effectively closed and military traffic to the war zone was to be redirected. Flexibility in supply, all good military training. And hey, our blockade was a skirmish won.
Antennae began rubbing and a leader arose: Michael of the Rainbow Chai Tent. He began talking about going to another gate, Brown Gate. He had maps. He talked without megaphone to small groups and worked the crowd, patiently repeating himself, seeking to establish a consensus to move collectively.
Meanwhile the theatre of our situation, though damp, was soon seized.
Plenty of cameras and photo opportunities galore for performers at the Peace Convergence. Not only a WIN TV crew from Rockhampton at hand at the police blockade but also the best of activism documentary makers in the country. David Bradbury, Dean Jefferies, Omega ...
Spontaneously we gathered to create tableaux made up of different and spontaneous combinations of smiles, mudra, placards, flags, banners and barrels. And song too. Together we found voice, drawing forth lyrics of peace songs that had warmed our heart caves in times past.
Anarchy at work.
My stomach rumbling and my mind drawn to breakfast, I needed no urging to get out of the rain and move on. Indeed I did my best to assist Michael Chai engineer it.
On Michael's map I had noted that the Bruce Highway turn off to Brown Gate was where I had spied on the northward journey a store and a pub. The sooner we left the sooner we supped.
So it was that John and Sue's 4WD was up near the front of the 20 vehicle convoy when eventually we started our journey to Brown Gate.
This time I shared the back seat with two grey haired hitch hikers. One was Bill(?), a WW2 veteran who had waded ashore as a British infantryman at D Day and whose life's testament was the sure conviction that only the rich and the powerful benefit from war.
The other was Ted Riefmuller from the Brisbane Labour History Association who knew the past of people's struggles in Queensland, and was present with a digital camera to be a witness to the making of history in at Shoal Water Bay.
Both had stories to tell and stories we had in the comfort capsule of the 4WD drive rolling down the road, a bunch of grannies, bearers of stories, honourable elders. What grace.
Our progress away from Green Gate slowed and I noticed the cause was a small army convoy coming towards us and a Land Rover leading a mini bus.
It was a Eureka moment for me, as in Eureka spirit of 1854. A flash and a need to act, a vivid seeing of how truly things are and followed by decisive deed. Blockade is what we had come for and here was a gift from the Gods of Peace!
I called for John to stop but my feet were out the door and on the road and my legs coming after. The Land Rover was about 25 meter away and I was striding towards it before the 4WD had stopped.
Traveling cautiously at walking speed, the Land Rover veered left as if to bypass me. I veered right to let them know that was not on. When I held up my hand the driver stopped as if commanded.
He had been commanded. Not for nothing do those who know me well call me The Captain.
Leaning over the bull bar, I informed the driver that the road was blocked. It was. And my presence a community service, yes?
David Bradbury, camera on shoulder, was first to join me there. Others followed soon after, tumbling out of vehicles, unrolling banners, brandishing cameras.
I knocked on the driver's window. He was a white faced boy in army fatigues, about 17 years old and he looked totally confused. He wouldn't roll down the window so I had to shout through it: "Where are you off too?"
The older soldier in the passenger's seat called back: "Driver training."
What a lesson! Never to be forgot!
On the other side of his window screen, about 40 activists were milling around asking, "What's going on?" "What's going on?"
Michael Chai the organiser was temporarily troubled by goal driven behaviour: "What are stopping here for? We are going to Brown Gate."
As a single police officer appeared and began to negotiate the retreat of the military, I slipped back into the comfort of Sue and John's 4WD and sat quietening my heart, my visibility flatter than the flattest of road flattened toads.
"The vanishing vanguard" observed Ted the wry Labor historian. "An experienced campaigner, I see."
Sue grinned. A co-conspirator, we were the Famous Five and having a fabulous adventure..
Michael rallied the convoy and we continued to the Bruce Highway, the military vehicles proceeding us as if captured booty. Onto the hardtop and fast lanes of the Bruce Highway we went and sailing past two Army semi trailers parked in a rest bay and loaded with marquees, shelter for the much rained upon soldiers.
Missed opportunity maybe. May be an act of compassion for the wet boys playing war games. Maybe we had done enough. It seemed to me our point had been made and besides I had other priorities.
The point I emphasize was significant. Peaceful obstruction of the Talisman Sabre exercise is a major creative challenge. The area is huge and the access difficult. The long road distances involved mean high fuel costs, an important factor for cash poor activists like me.
Many direct action tactics were tried during the Peace Convergence including wild wallaby entering the test area surreptitiously, hiding and avoiding capture. This for the brave, the fit and the stealthy. The weather conditions were wet and cold, yet a party of peace activists including those from the Christian Activist Network had done it, giving themselves up after three days. Heros! See personal blog. See Indymedia report.
Blockading the Army supply base in Rockhampton was another tactic. Western Street Barracks is a big base with multiple gates adjacent to the Rockhampton air port. We had been a presence but not an obstruction there on the day before.
Harassing supply routes by blockading individual army vehicles was a third direct action tactic which we had demonstrated that morning and which a bunch of braver activists applied to great effect on Sunday afternoon, with a lock on to an army truck in Rockhampton,which stopped it and the traffic for 2 hours. More heros!
Lots of heros! The Peace Convergence was effervescent with spontaneous and creative direct action. No central committee in control. Rather lots of people being helpful, respectful, responsible and creative. Anarchism at work.
At the The Caves turn off we stopped, outside the pub.
Standing under an umbrella in the rain I endured, short and to the point as they were, two different talk circles: one gathered by David Bradbury of grey haired elders in which he expressed his ambivalence about direct action tactics and the other by Michael Chai who expressed his confusion about what to do next.
Brown Gate was about 40 km away on a very windy road. Being where we were was as meaningful a blockade as anywhere further up the road would likely be. He suggested that we be tourists and enjoy the opportunity to explore the local limestone caves.
Into the pub like a shot went I.
My Aquarian friend, cinematographer John Kirk, not seen for 30 yrs and now reunited by the Peace Convergence, was beside me at the bar half a second later.
A wet day windfall for the maitre de, she was delighted to receive us and we in turn enthusiastically ordered hambughers and beer.
Bill the WW2 veteran was next in. I proffered rum and asked for stories. He was happy to oblige. They were old soldier's stories of tragedy, fear, humour and wonder. His excitement rose as the stories came out and he apologised repeatedly lest he offend as too loquacious.
What an honour and privilege to hear! Lots of vets at the Peace Convergence. They attract war veterans with long time wounds, it seems, as a healing waters do.
Next day I was to witness to a miracle when a US army Vietnam vet went to the mike at the Sunday afternoon sharing and spoke of his pain and grief; and of his commitment to service for peace. After his whole whole demeanour had changed: he was standing more upright and beaming like a lighthouse.
Back at the bar, it was soon crowded as other activists came in seeking toilets, food and beverage. Conviviality prevailed.
The hamburger arrived and just as I had put my mouth around it but not yet my stomach, Snr Sgt John Lewis came through the crowd and confronted me.
"I thought I would find you here," he said.
Sprung by police liaison in the act of being a comfort seeking activist his bun mouthed and festooned with shred lettuce and beetroot juice. What can one say?
John was full of cheer and goodwill. He had been chasing the day's action to perform his peace making duty and had seen our stalled and motley convoy as he was passing on the highway.
He was just as pleased as I to find we had taken refuge from the rain, refuge in conviviality. Peace and Peace Convergences are like that: convivial.
All praise and gratitude to the Queensland Police for their management of the 2007 Peace Convergence.
The designated police liaison officers, John Lewis and Kerry Duffy were ever available, respectful and courteous problem solvers. And so were all the ranks I met.
The police management of the Peace Convergence was a million years away for the management of Vietnam War protests under the premiership of the infamous Premier Belkje Peterson and his corrupt Police Commissioner. Invested in this policing was living proof that peace can and will prevail.
God knows how many police were rostered on from Brisbane and elsewhere. Whatever they were many and certainly thorough with their surveillance. I was stopped, photographed and license checked by a patrol car carrying five officers within minutes of arriving in Yeppoon.
Like a personal welcoming committee and mobile tourism information service, all the cops were smiling as they answered my questions about the where and when of the Peace Convergence. Not quite a motorcade escort, but they made me feel like a celebrity none the less.
And Constable Dave Harrison was kind and patient with me when he stopped me on the Byfield road 11.45 pm Sunday night and breathalised me.
After the pack up I had celebrated the success of the Peace Convergence at a Thai restaurant with the Shoal Water Action Group and their guests.
The company was excellent, the occasion triumphant, the wine plentiful and my thirst great. Too great: .066 is how I tested at Yeppoon Police Station later.
Shameful and stupid is how I felt
I was so drunk that I gave myself up when I came up the flashing lights of Dave's patrol car. He was stopped and checking another vehicle and I, panicking at the full realisation of my drunken folly and pulled in behind him.
Yeppoon calls me back. To face court 2 August. So it goes.
Back In Yeppoon on Saturday 23 June, John and Sue reunited me with Happy Wheels and I set to rigging the Byron Peace flags that I had carried to Yeppoon towing the bamboo poles in a borrowed trailer.
The Saturday night peace concert had been moved because of the weather into the Yeppoon Town Hall. Renton Bishopric, 20+ yr old son of Steve, a principle organiser of Shoal Water Action Group, was in charge of the set up.
The Byron Peace flags had been sewn up by volunteers in a community arts project in support of Peace Carnival in Byron in September 2004. One hundred and eight in number, the number of beads in a mala, each one of them blessed, each one of them a prayer for peace.
Bright colours in shimmering satin, the bright beauty of the flags delights the eye, and uplifts the spirit. Their array gave grace and coherent form to the dressing of the concert and other Peace Convergence events, the Sunday Peace Parade in particular.
The flags were displayed outside the hall on Saturday and within. Renton's friend and fellow band member, Sadhu helped me with the rigging.
Fine young men both of them, strong, confident and upright, Pineapples for Peace!.
Towing the 100 odd poles and flags to Rockhampton-Yeppoon from Byron and getting them out and in again was a big effort. And I never managed to get more than half of them arrayed.
But hey, well worth it. The Peace Convergence was a thing of splendor because of them.
Robbie the bubbling Irish musician and MC for the concert was so delighted with the flag display, that he recited all the lyrics of his new songs to me and gave me a copy of his new CD.
Standing beside me Snr Sgt John Lewis beheld the flags arrayed in the Yeppoon Amphitheatre after the Sunday Peace Parade. I had been watching John and he me and I had noted his dark soft eyes and the steady and deep gaze of a man who truly sees.
Great Keppel Bay and its islands the backdrop and a glorious clear day, the first for a week, the skies washed clean and the afternoon light turning golden. John stood looking at the goodwill of the crowd and the brilliant colour.
"That's beautiful, " he said simply.
Kerry his companion in peace liaison effused likewise. Peace not only convivial but also beautiful.
Many were the words of praise and gratitude. May the merit so earned bring a thousand years and more of world peace!
Most gratifying for the heart of this old man was the respectful acknowledgment given by Renton after the closing ceremony on Sunday night.
Young men need the witness of older men to complete their passage to manhood. Young warriors need the witness of old warriors.
And it is complementary business, a mutual exchange and honey-pollen pay off. Old men need the respectful witness of young men to become honored as elders.
"Graeme," he said. "Your contribution to the Peace Convergence has been awesome."
This old Leo purred and preened.
7 July 2007