An Exultation of Flags

The outcome of the Byron Peace Flag Project
- a community arts project to build
the culture of peace in Byron Shire, NSW, Australia
beginning August - September 2004


Byron Peace Carnival Rally ground

Rigged on 4.2 meter bamboo poles and tied four to a star picket, the 108 rainbow dove peace flags marked out our ocean side rally ground as sacred space, the satin colours brilliant in the sun, eye catching and uplifting.

This was the inaugural Byron Peace Carnival (see www.byronpeacecarnival.com) and , thinking globally and making art locally, it was a local celebration of the United Nations International Day of Peace as an exultation of flags!

Nardia and her son and Peace Flag Project mascot, Jali

Volunteers of the Tyagarah Sewing Circle, led by my admirable friend 'Bodha' Gwen Gould, had sewn up the flags over the preceding six Fridays. The circle comprised mostly of women, and mostly single and mature age women at that, formerly strangers and now a band of joy to each other. They stood out in the rally crowd, both because of their radiant smiles and for the little peace flags they carried. One each had been made for all the regulars, 21 all told, their wind up day sewing collaboration.

For photos and reports of the Tyagarah Peace Flag Sewing Circle at work and at their wind up garden party, See www.peacebus.com/PeaceFlags/2004SewingCircle.html

A 108 peace dove flags had been their production target: the number of beads in a Buddhist prayer mala and each flag a prayer for peace. The goal had seemed unrealistic at first (someone estimated it was a total of 2.7 km of seaming) but the goal was accomplished with ease … and great joy. Every flags was stitched with love. And that love was palpable to all who gathered in the name of peace on that bright Byron Bay day by that glistening Pacific Ocean.

My admirable friend and Dharma teacher, 'Wititj' John Allan of The Channon, had prepared the 108 bamboo poles and had brought them to the rally ground on a trailer. Volunteers (mostly male) came eagerly to help put out the star pickets, assemble the flags and tie them to the stakes. The flags were was up and arrayed in a thrice.

'Wititj' John Allan

The BAY-FM outside broadcast van pumped out dance party and rap (courtesy Gina Lakosta), speeches and attempts at community singing on a PA not up to the job. But it didn't matter for from the sky another exaltation: into our midst the Byron Sky Dive boys dropped a huge peace flag of the Benny Zable design, 16 m by 12 m.

Gina Lakosta

Gina Lakosta at play

The giant flag started off as a speck in the bright sky and slowly, slowly circled in, the fabric rippling luminous in the sun and, coming into land, it passed the crowd parallel to the surf break and landed on the sand adjacent. Spectacular! Beauty uplifting!

Peace Flag from the sun

Then the drums started up and it was time for the Peace Carnival Parade. There had been some worry in the lead up about finding enough people willing and able to carry the flags. It was worry wasted. On the day flag bearers for peace were bountiful and eager.

As the flag bearers loosened the rubber ties, the static installation around the rally ground quickly became fluid; a forest of peace flags became a river for peace. Maybe a 1000 people on parade, stretching three blocks, white peace doves on shining blue astonishing us with their beauty.

The vanguard was for children and young warriors. Wititj and I, elders and makers of sacred place, walked at the end of the parade; he carrying the Dharma flag I had sewn up for him, me carrying my sewers flag, humbled by this triumph of colour. An old friend, who knew something of the history of my art, an old friend lost and now suddenly found again, came to my side in the tail end of the Carnival crowd. "Ten out ten," he said.

Peace Flags on Parade

Photographers from both the Byron Echo and the Northern Star agreed. Both newspapers chose to print a front-page colour picture of the peace flags on parade. War and the lies of warmongers bumped off the front page for a day! It was small but significant local victory for peace.

At the Byron Market Ground, Wititj, Peacebus companion John Peace, and I had prepared a circle of 108 start pickets 100 meters in diameter. When the Carnival Parade arrived the flag bearers circled counter clockwise and tied their flags, one each to the pickets. The crowd then joined hands in a circle dance of peace.

Peace Flags in the big circle

Another sacred space was thus formed but it was too big to hold the energy for long. The stage and its PA drew the crowd towards it. A few individuals and smaller circle groups used parts of the space during the afternoon. These included the lighting of a sacred fire by special guest indigenous elder, Isabelle Coe, an Ecuadorian shaman circle and a toning circle. A woman in white with a white Shitsu dog at her feet and many other sacred objects who stood alone on the white cross at the circle centre and chanted to the sun for over three hours.

The size of the circle had been dictated by the expectation that the parachuted flag was to land in its midst. On the morning with the pickets already in the ground, the parachutists, concerned about the winds, safety, the dictates of regulations and fear of lawyers, had changed their mind. Too late to move the pickets, so it goes. As background spectacle, the great circle of flags was also grand.

And around the space the big sky dropped peace flags came parading and for the people carrying it and under it it was a luminous vault of peace. Paul Jospeh's speech was one of finest moments.

Big Peace Flag on parade

A job well done, Wititj and I put out the Peacebus.com camp chairs and table in the shade and had a cuppa tea. Friends came by to chat and offer compliments; old farts sangha, we called it. No star roles at the microphone for us that day.

A couple of hours passed and then it was time to bring it all in again. Around the circle we went untying poles, dissembling the rig, folding flags, pulling the pickets and stacking flags, poles and pickets in trailers. Many helping hands, many friends and much happy conversation.

But we were still waiting as the sunset to get and load up the last few of the borrowed star pickets holding up the stage pavilion. The music went on and on and, sitting by Happy Wheels to one side of the stage, I watched the dancers grooving on the dregs of the day, happy that they were happy: rainbow folk dancing free. With the space bare of peace flags it could have been the wind down of any Byron or Channon monthly market day.

Sitting there I got more affirmations from more old friends. In particular Christopher Dean, fellow Aquarian, director of the TP Health P/L and philanthropic sponsor of both the Peace Flag Project and the Peace Carnival was generous with his praise saying that he was convinced that the peace flags had founded the Peace Carnival as an annual event. That is our art of that day would be a peace art shared by many for many generations to come. Success! God willing!

Four Rainbow Region silverbacks,: from left John Seed, Graeme Dunstan, Wititj John Allan and Chris Dean

Noting the fatigue in our bodies, Wititj and I agreed that making sacred space is 5% inspiration and 95% perspiration of old guys. Bodha Gwen (64 years old) we knew would have no trouble with that truth. She had departed earlier and was at home resting her weary back.

Long may we ache for the sacred.

May peace prevail.

Graeme Dunstan
Peacebus.com
23 September 2004

The Report of Comrade Wititj

I am settling into some writing again today after a several long days of physical labour with Graeme: the before, during and after work of the Byron Peace Carnival flag event.

I loaded up a trailer and roof racks of my old van with 168 sticks of bamboo on Friday arvo. Saturday morning drove to Byron and met Graeme and another friend John Peace, then we measured out 108 even spaces on a 100 metre wide circle. Taking up droppers we drove 108 steel pickets into place to receive the flags and poles on the following day.

Then together with other Carnival volunteers, Binnah and one or two others, we built the stage area and a shelter for aboriginal elders. A 10 metre wide rainbow arch painted by Feather Dawn was the stage front and we erected it on an improvised bamboo frame held up by star pickets with ridgepole and canvas behind to provide shade.

At 4.30 pm Graeme and I took our leave and went to Bodha Gwen’s house for a celebration with the wonderful women in the sewing circle that Gwen and Kuatrina had mobilised. These women, working together over the course of 6 weeks and 1000 hours of combined work stitched up all the 108 beautiful flags in slippery but light catching satin.

Bodha Gwen had been a participant in the Sacred Thread Retreat at Wat Buddhalavarn last Easter, the theme of which had been Kalyanamitta (uplifting friendship). The Sewing Circle was Kalyanamitta in practice. The women all spoke of how moving it had been for them to be able to work together and grow friendships during the project and how they wanted to keep the sewing circle going for other projects in the future.

At 5.30 am on Sunday morning Graeme and I started preparing for the day loading up more poles and the flags from Gwen’s house. Before leaving we breakfasted on Gwen’s front lawn with magnificent view looking out to the ocean and Cape Byron. Then off to work, we went first doing finishing touches to the stage etc., then to set the 108 peace flags up in at the beachside rally ground.

Graeme, John Peace and I laid out and drove in 27 star pickets to hold the 108 poles to hold the 108 poles. Volunteers appeared as we started to work assembling the flags on their poles. Just as well as for Graeme ended up having to drive around picking up chairs to go to the Carnival ground. All the 108 flags were in place in bundles of 4 on the 27 steel pickets by 9.30 pm.

There was dancing and talking and music till 11.00 when the new Rainbow Region peace flag came parachuting out of the sky. The flag is huge ~ 20 metre long and about 15 metres high. Its colours glowed and rippled in the sunlight as is slowly circled the Rally and landed on the beach beside.

Soon after 108 volunteers carried the peace flags through the town amid a crowd of 1000 marchers. It was a forest of flags moving through town standing tall on their 4.2 metre poles fluttering in the breeze. Beautiful!

Graeme and I and Jennifer dog walked along at the end watching this peaceful forest of colour make its way along the street. I carried the big satin Buddhist flag that Graeme made me some months ago.

Then it was off ahead of the crowd to the other park. using our big voices to direct the crowd. People moved into the park and lashed their peace pole onto the steel pickets. Parading around and putting up flag after flag till all 108 were in place. A 100 metre circle is a big thing but with all those flags there was only about 3 steps between each flag.

About 1000 people stepped into the circle and held hands. Then every second person stepped forward and made another circle. The inner circle faced the outer circle and the two circles moved in opposite directions, people gritting each other as they passed.

The day passed in song and talking and at around 3.15 Graeme and I led a small team to dismantle the flags and pull up the star pickets: all the bamboo going back on my trailer and the borrowed steel pickets into the trailer tugged by Happy Wheels.

After the job was done, our friend Chris Dean, director of TP Health P/L, who had put up the seed money for the event came to us and enthused about the success of the event. He said that he thought the flags and poles should all be in one place and as I was storing the poles at my house, the flags should go there too. So now I am custodian of the first 108 peace flags.

Yesterday I built storage racks for the bamboo so that it may season undercover. Next year the poles will be even lighter to carry.

Graeme and I had to hang around until 7.30 pm waiting for the PA to close down so that we might retrieve the borrowed chairs from the stage. We left as Dean Jefferies was preparing to screen his movie from the stage. I heard that the last of the crowd left the park at around 9.00pm

It was a big day of peaceful action.

Blessings
Ajahn Wititj John Allan
21 Sep 2004

The Byron Peace Flag Project was first proposed as a a project for building sustainable resistance in an essay written by Graeme Dunstan and published in Here&Now, the "Magazine for Byron Buddhas", July 2004. See www.peacebus.com/Peace/SustainableResistance.html

 

Click here for the report of the 2004 Tyagrah Peace Flag Sewing Circle

Click here for the pre-publicity of the Byron Peace Flag Project

Click here for past productions of Peacebus.com

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