Rockhampton Tiger Ploughshare Statement
by Graeme Dunstan
15 August 2013
This statement was drafted in the days before the Rockhampton Tiger Ploughshare trial as i was gathering my thoughts on what i wanted to say.
It was never delivered as a single statement but was the inspiration from which i drew words for my opening address to the jury, my statements from the witness box when cross examined by my MacKenzie friend in court, Sean O'Reilly, and in my closing address.
Let me introduce myself.
Let me sketch my life so that you might understand how i came to be before this court accused of causing wilful damage to an Australian Army "Tiger" Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter.
For fifteen years now i have been a passionate and foolish old man who travels about in a battered old van bearing witness for peace in this time of perpetual war, a 71 year old grey nomad become peace pilgrim.
"Gone forth into homelessness" is how the Buddha described it and my Buddhist practice is fundamental.
To be both camping by rivers seeking solitude to meditate and also to be putting out media releases and organising events aimed at getting me and what i have to say noticed, seems contradictory.
But it is understandable if one sees my peace witness as engaged Buddhism.
Engaged in community that is.
Acting and reflecting, reflecting and acting, peace making as a holy path.
Peacebus is my vehicle and it is both a former tradesman's van with a hand painted slogan mural on the side, horn speakers and flag poles on the roof racks, and an amplifier and crates of banners and flags under my bunk.
Peacebus.com is also a website in which i record my experiences in witness.
Creating cultural movement through celebration has been my vocation. After a career as a pioneer in community arts, festival organising and community cultural development work, these days i organise, and help others organise, events aimed at promoting peace, justice and a sustaining Earth.
To set a good example as an elder is my aim, honourable eldership my aspiration.
Here is how i pray:
Daily at dawn and on my knees, touching forehead to the ground, humble and reverent.
"Ancestors, hear my cry!
All you whose dust is in my blood and in my bones. All the mothers and fathers who brought me here.
And all you whose dust is in this place. In the Earth here, in the rocks, in the trees, in the birds, in the water i drink, the air i breathe in the food i eat.
And all the wisdom masters who have gone before and in whose wake of evolving wisdom i swim: Buddha, Padmasambhava, Lao Tsu, Confucius, Jesus, George Fox, Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King Jnr, all the saints, all the peace makers.
Ancestors hear my cry: bless me with usefulness!
Bless me that i might serve for the benefit of all beings, large and small, near and far, seen and unseen, born and yet to be born.
Bless me that i may be a peacemaker in this time of perpetual war.
Bless me with good health, energy and creativity so that i may serve.
Bless me with opportunities to make art that builds peace and community.n
Bless my deeds with auspiciousness.
Bless my words with the power to persuade.
Bless me with many friends and companions on this path.
For the Earth.
To the dust."
I wasn't always a peace pilgrim. To the contrary, i was an army mad cadet all through high school. After matriculating i became a staff cadet at Royal Military College, Duntroon. Like so many other young men whose family members had given military service (my mothers father was killed in France, and i had three uncles who signed up for WW2), i wanted to be a good boy, serve my country in uniform and be the best.
But doubt about the military mind set in during my second year at Duntroon and went from the cadet with the most marks to the cadet with the most summary punishments. In the third year i dropped out and went on to university to study engineering.
When the Menzies government announced conscription and its "All the way with LBJ" foreign policy, the anger i carried from my persecution as a doubting Duntroon cadet, became fuel for an anti Vietnam war passion.
The work was to reveal in me an aptitude for organising and creating cultural movement. Soon I was to become a major campus organiser of the war resistance at the University of NSW. As an anti war warrior i was fearless and absolutely committed in thought, word and deed.
In 1966 for example i organised a blockade that stopped the motorcade of US President Lyndon Baines Johnson in Liverpool Street Sydney. In 1967 i was both President of the Students Union and the editor of Tharunka, the Student Union journal.
In the beginning we opposing the Vietnam War war and conscription for it were few. But i worked and watched the resistance movement grow from just 50 in Martin Place in 1965, to 100,000s nation wide at the Moratoriums of 1971; from a landslide victory to the "All the Way with LBJ" Liberal-Country Party Coalition in 1966, to its retreat from that crowing and its defeat in 1972 by the anti war Whitlam Labor Party.
With a sociological imagination (after engineering i became a student of sociology) i also watched the growth and evolution of the counter culture. Rejecting the culture that had been preparing us for war (a cadetship from the Weapons Design Establishment of the Department of Defence was paying for my engineering tuition), we anti war activists turned towards imagining and creating through our lifestyles, a societal culture committed to peace making.
This path was to lead me to becoming the director of the Australian Union of Students' Aquarius Festival which took place in Nimbin in 1973. The timing and pertinence of this survival lifestyles arts festival made it a cultural phenomena that transformed not only the village of Nimbin, but also the entire culture of northern NSW and much else beside.
The Nimbin Aquarius Festival experience transformed me too and i later returned to Nimbin to play the role of an unpaid cultural development officer, working to give form and substance to the counter cultural dreams of peace which we had shared at the Festival.
It was in Nimbin at that time that i was introduced to Buddhist meditation and philosophy and to the arts and skills of cultivating community cultural development via celebration, peace as creative community cultural practice.
For many years this work was to give me livelihood and i served as a community arts officer in local government on the south western suburban frontier of Sydney, as a festival consultant to the Victorian Tourism Commission and as a sustainable tourism adviser to the Commission for the Future. Plus i created, and assisted to create, paid and unpaid, many beautiful community building celebrations, pioneering mass lantern events at the Woodford Festival for example.
For me beautiful community celebrations and beautiful community protest actions in defence of social and environmental justice were two sides of the same coin. My festival organising and protest organising merged and i became itinerant.
I had reckoned that the crushing defeat of the war parties who had advocated conscription and Australian engagement in the US war on Vietnam spelled the end of foreign wars for the Australian military. And for 20 years there were no wars of aggression, just peace keeping missions which made us proud of our military.
But i reckoned without the professionalisation of the Australian military and the determined historical revisionism of right wing militarists which sought to reclaim the defeat in the Vietnam War as some kind of victory denied by us peace activists.
Then came 9/11 and the War on Terror.
I eschew Tv watching. "Turn off the Tv and turn towards kindness." is one of my pet community organising slogans. What i know about Tv watching is that it creates fear and passivity and has done so on such a scale that it seems to me that some kind of evolutionary quantum leap from us as a species will be required to go beyond the mass hypnosis of screens so that we may address survival challenges - and survive.
So i was late viewing the videos of the collapsing towers of the New York World Trade Centre. Nor did i watch them repeatedly as did millions of Tv watching citizens around the world did. What i noticed first was how much fear these video images had evoked.
And when i did watch i couldn't match what i was being told on the commentary with what i was seeing on the screen. It made no engineering sense.
As an engineering student i had spent weeks testing steel to destruction and i knew for sure that when steel begins to fail under stress, whether hot of cold, it first becomes plastic, bends and distorts.
No way could the steel frameds of three buildings fail under from the heat of burning jet fuel and office furniture and free fall into their own footprints. No way! And that was not the only physical impossibility in the official story.
Here i knew with certainty was a BIG LIE, a lie so audacious and so total in its media manipulation that it made other war precipitating lies such as the Tonkin Incident and the sinking of the USS Maine, look like the work of amateurs.
Here was a lie so big and the logical consequences of disbelieving so dire, that for most it was insanity to disbelieve and simply beyond imaging. Or it meant becoming be an outcast from public discourse, even amongst the anti war left.
But my Buddhist practice gave me a firm foundation in seeing things as they truly are, of holding firmly to the truth, "satyagraha" as Gandhi named it. I looked at this lie unflinchingly. I also looked into the faces of the liars, such as Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Blair and Howard, held them in contempt and doubted their every subsequent word.
Already i could hear the baying of the dogs of war. 9/11 was to become the foundation excuse for the rush to invade - first Afghanistan; then Iraq. And knowing for certain that illusion's shaky building would fall down, I committed myself to bearing witness to the unravelling of every one of those lies. I committed myself to a long campaign for peace.
Like wave upon wave on a beach, lie upon lie has been retailed to the Australian people about the War on Terror and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan by Prime Ministers Howard, Rudd and Gillard. Wave upon wave of fear was generated and inculcated by our governments and by the corporate media.
There was no evidence ever established to connect 9/11 and the Taliban government in Afghanistan yet, led by the US government , the Australian Defence Force was committed to the invasion of Afghanistan which was to become the longest foreign war in our national history.
There was no evidence ever established to connect 9/11 and Saddam Hussein. There were no weapons of mass destruction to be found in Iraq, yet led by the US government, the Australian Defence Force was committed to the invasion of Iraq which resulted in the death of an estimated one million Iraq civilians, the destruction of their national infrastructure, enduring civil war, poverty and appalling birth defects caused by the US military use of uranium munitions.
In 2003 in the lead-up to the Iraq invasion, the biggest protests ever against war took place in Australia and all around the world. But our government ignored them.
All-up, the US war on Afghanistan has cost Australians 40 dead, over almost 300 wounded in action including dozens of amputees, an estimated 8000 troops predicted to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and $7.5 billion on war fighting, $1 billion in (military directed) aid with another $200 million per year promised indefinitely to the Karzai kleptocracy.
And for what? Who can point to anything good that has come of these US led wars?
Over the years, opinion polls have consistently shown that these wars have never been popular. 84% of Australians wanted no war on Iraq and regularly the polls have shown that two in every three Australians have wanted our troops out of Afghanistan.
And yet to this day, our government leaders lie to us about the US War on Terror and its War on Afghanistan. The Lib-Lab war parties conspire to keep debate out of the parliament and off the election agendas. They blandly assure us there is an end and a purpose to the wars, even as they plan to withdraw most of the troops from a mission manifestly unaccomplished.
But the bitter truth is that our government lies about this too. The war goes on. Eighty Australian SAS are to remain in Afghanistan under the command of US Special Operations Command to continue to murder, abduct and torture Afghans in our name.
And the War on Terror has not just been a war abroad. It has been a war waged against the rule of international law abroad and an attack on hard-won civil liberties at home. The Geneva Convention has been subverted, arrest without charge, abduction, indefinite detention and torture has been reintroduced as standard operating procedures. Habeas corpus stripped away. Whistle blowers exposing war crimes are persecuted.
How does a just man do justice when his government lies about war and ignores the will of the people?
How does a peace maker make peace in a time when war is conducted under a blanket of state secrecy, mass media manipulation and unconscionable government lies?
Searching for answers to these questions has been the essence of my peace pilgrimage since my dedication to it after 9/11.
Unlike the military, we peace advocates do not have billions of tax payers money to prosecute our advocacy. We must resource our resistance from generosity of friends. But then the path to peace can only be the way of kindness: Best we can, my modus operandi.
I have written, posted and protested, occupied public places, organised rallies large and small, and borne witness for the victims of Terror War oppression such as David Hicks, Bradley Manning and now Ed Snowden. I have led colourful parades of drummers and dancers in Byron Bay celebrating Independence from America Day on the 4 July. I have organised Anzac eve Peace Vigils at the Australian War Memorial. And i have been arrested trespassing and disrupting the Talisman Saber war rehearsals in the Shoalwater Bay Military Exercise Area.
Always asking how best to end perpetual war and the preparation for war. Always seeking out the peacemakers, listening to them and supporting them best i can.
So it was that i met Bryan Law. During the Talisman Saber war rehearsals of 2009, Bryan law and his wife, Margaret Pestorius, rented a holiday house at Bangalee and set it up as a base for peace activism. I camped beside in Peacebus and got to know them.
Bryan could be difficult, but i got to admire his intellect and his creative and strategic way of thinking. We did a lot of jibing and laughing together. He used to say encouraging things to me like: "Your trouble Graeme, is that you are too nice."
We met again at the Putting an End to War retreat at the Silver Wattle Quaker Centre near Canberra over the Anzac long weekend in 2010. Peace is a universal concern but there were just 16 of us, faith based peace advocates from different religious traditions - Quaker, Mennonite, Catholic Worker, Anabaptist, Baptist, and Buddhist - few, but our communion took us deep and it was mighty fruitful in terms of strategy outcomes for our ongoing peace work.
We agreed for example to keep up resistance to the biennial Talisman Sabre war rehearsals as a means of focusing on the toxic and costly nature of the US-Australian military alliance.
Bryan had recently returned from Auckland where he had witnessed the Waihopai Ploughshare trial. in April 2008, three members of a Christian Ploughshares team entered a US spy base and used sickles to deflate one of the two 30 metre domes covering satellite interception dishes. In March 2010 they were acquitted by a jury.
Much inspired by what he had seen and heard, he confided his desire to organise a Ploughshare action during Talisman Sabre 2011: specifically, to strike an army helicopter at Rockhampton airport.
Bryan had earlier told me how his activism and his refusal to pay certain fines had led to the suspension of his driver's license and loss of his livelihood as a taxi driver. To get about, he told me, he had acquired a tricycle.
In the blessed, vision-charged space of Silver Wattle, as he was telling me of his dream to enter the airport and strike a helicopter, i had a vision of him tricycling across the tarmac and laughed in delight. From that moment Bryan's tricycle, soon to have signage attached and to be dubbed "PeaceTrike", became part of the plan. And in some ways me too.
Not everyone in the peace movement thought Bryan's Ploughshare plan was a good idea. Indeed as a proposal it was divisive, causing some to grow fearful and others to withdraw their participation in the 2011 Talisman Sabre resistance.
In 2011 i arrived in Rockhampton four weeks before Talisman Saber so that i might help prepare some resistance and counter propaganda and i took a residence with Bryan camping in the yard of the house he had rented in Park Avenue and named "Franz Jaegerstaetter House" after the Austrian war resistor martyred by the Nazis.
There i painted banners, wrote media releases, sent emails, organised, organised, organised. I also became the Peace Preacher's part time assistant (dubbed 'Sidekick Bob' in the Rockhampton Daily Bulletin) and as such i was a close witness of Bryan as he created the persona and spun the narrative of the Peace Preacher.
I was there in Stewarts Department Store, Rockhampton's grand old (est. 1865) gentleman's outfitter, when he brought his first suit, shirt and tie in 30 years É and also a Bob Katter hat which he reckoned the prime credibility look for Central and North Queensland. A tall and stout man, the besuited Bryan looked grand.
I was there helping out with flags and banners when he began his public speaking in the Rockhampton Mall. I was there when he interrupted the Rockhampton Regional Council meeting to protest their covert negotiations for a US base and also when he confronted Mayor Brad Carter before the news cameras about this in the Yeppoon Shopping Mall.
Bryan had publicly announced his intention to strike the helicopter before i had arrived and had won himself front page notoriety. I was there when he said it again to the media cameras at the gates of Western Street Barracks, dressed in the Citizen Inspection Team white coveralls of his Pine Gap action and holding up a pair of wire cutters.
Personally i had no intention of getting myself arrested damaging a helicopter. So I admired his courage and the skill he demonstrated building the Peace Preacher narrative in the media. He was of course reviled and derided by many, but his creativity and determination was such that he could not be ignored.
His chances of getting past airport security with PeaceTrike and the Bob Katter hat were, i thought, remote. But then, as he pointed out, in these Ploughshare actions where faith and prayer are integral, miracles may be expected.
My engagement as an actual accomplice happened late and was more driven by compassion than Ploughshare conviction.
Bryan was suffering from advanced and acute diabetes. He had two ulcerated toes, chronic pain and sleeplessness. Some mornings i would arise before dawn to meditate and glimpse him standing in the shadow of the doorway at the top of the stairs, as grey and as haggard as a wraith.
Bryan was expecting his Catholic Worker mates from Brisbane to help him pull off the Ploughshare strike and, although they came to Franz Jaegerstaetter House a week before the proposed action, there was a fall out and they abandoned him.
Then just a couple of days before the proposed strike, Bryan's body failed him. While waiting with PeaceTrike for the Yeppoon Peace Parade to assemble, Bryan was found by police unconscious in a diabetic coma. He was admitted to hospital and found to have dangerously excessive blood sugar levels.
In hospital i visited him and found him in deep despair, a spiritual crisis. So much promised, so much achieved, and now É no plan, only prayer.
My heart went out to him.
Bryan waited all day in Outpatients of Rockhampton Base Hospital and left the hospital without getting any treatment, angry that public health services were starved to give the military billions to waste on bloody, costly and futile wars.
In doing this Bryan was choosing to act for peace before acting for his health. But he was spiritually clear about this. We had spoken about it often in our conversations in the shade of the frangipani trees in the backyard of Franz Jaegerstaetter House.
To ease the suffering of the world, Bryan knew, one must be prepared to take on the suffering of the world and make it sacred. Activism as sacrifice.
Bryan imagined Jesus striding towards his fate in Jerusalem. Jesus on the Cross. And Jesus bringing an end to Empire.
Next day we had a meeting and agreed on a plan. We would hire a truck, put Bryan and PeaceTrike in the back and, with me as driver looking as obvious and as invisible as possible in a fluoro vest, drive to a gate in the civil aviation area of the airport, unload the trike, cut the chain, open the gate and make a dash across the tarmac.
And so it happened.
After his arrest, Bryan was taken to the Rockhampton Watch House and thence directly to hospital where a magistrate set bail conditions at his bedside. When he left hospital he had one toe less. He had given a toe for peace! Soon after he was admitted to hospital again to have the other big toe amputated. Two toes for peace!
And me, i ended up being charged as a co-offender with the same offence of wilful damage, entangled in the law and facing a jail sentence; the very opposite of the free drifting life of meditation, prayer and service to which this nomad aspires.
In his life of activism, Bryan had been arrested over 30 times and loved the challenge of the court room. Not i.
I had been happy to let Bryan lead on this and be the bit player 'Sidekick Bob' in the court room. But Bryan's great heart failed and he died last Easter. Death of a peacemaker and huge was the public outpouring of grief. But now i face the court from the dock alone.
It may be that the great faith that guided Bryan, and guides me yet, will produce another Ploughshare miracle and you the jury, the conscience of this courtroom, may understand this apparent crime, this smiting of an attack helicopter, this embodiment of the Ploughshare prophesy, as a necessarily dramatic yet truly noble act of conscience.
And as such find me not guilty.
But if not, my faith will be undiminished and i will accept any sentence that the court decides as my sacrifice for peace. God's will and fated.
I have absolutely no regrets about my role in the Rockhampton Tiger Ploughshare acton. As far as acts of witness and resistance to Talisman Saber have so far gone, this one is by far the most noticed and the most enduringly noticed.
At a very deep level i know that acting for peace in this time of perpetual war, being a mate, and helping a mate make a noble sacrifice, is the best and highest thing that i could ever do.
"God speed, Bryan!" was what i was praying as Bryan sped across the tarmac on that bright day in the 2011 Talisman Sabre war rehearsals.
God speed the peace.
In that grace i will abide.
14 August 2013