Just this old man, an array of Eureka flags, a PA, a burning passion for justice and six staggered stories of glass office space that houses the Australian Federal Police headquarters in Canberra.
I was there to call for the sacking of the AFP Chief Commissioner, Mick Keelty.
Keelty had been the point man for Howard's Terror War and, in that highly politicised role, he had committed many outrages ranging from lying (in the case of the children overboard), to subverting the abolition of the death penalty (as in the case of the Bali Nine), to murder (in the case of SIEVX drownings), to costly incompetence (in the case of the arrest, detention and vilification of Mohamed Haneef and the more contemporaneously, the Melbourne Terror trials of the so-called Barwon 12).
Yet 10 months after the electoral defeat of Howard, Keelty was still AFP commander and looking pretty.
Using Google Alert i had been following Keelty's career, as represented in news reports, with grim interest. For me his continuing hold on the top cop job had become a measure of the flakiness of the Rudd government and the federal ALP generally.
On gaining office ALP backbenchers had agitated for Keelty's sacking with the result that the Clarke Inquiry was instituted to investigate the AFP's role in the Haneef affair.
In September when I arrived in Canberra, the Clarke inquiry was in progress but the news was not good. Keelty had been interviewed for three and a half hours but behind closed doors and after I learned the transcripts of the interview would not be made public for reasons of national security.
Keelty was being set up to be slapped on the wrist with a feather.
The following week the AFP had a Terror War victory with the convictions in Melbourne of six Muslim men under Howard's terror laws. The evidence before the court revealed neither that they had committed nor conspired to commit any acts of violence; they had merely discussed maybe doing such.
Nor were they some highly trained hit squad, a worst they were wannabes. The evidence revealed that it had been an undercover AFP agent who had shown them how to make explosions from fertiliser; wannabes made dangerous courtesy of the AFP.
In effect these poor guys had been set up by the AFP and convicted of thought crimes to validate the existence of the Terror War and justify the massive infrastructure of surveillance and counter terror armies that had been put in place by the Howard government at the behest of his US allies.
After the convictions, media reports had Keelty crowing about the success of AFP's "counter radicalisation" measures. But they had come at a hefty price; both in terms of justice and in terms of dollars. All up the 16 months of surveillance by AFP and Police Victoria and the prosecution had cost Australian taxpayers $25 million.
All this grated with me and, as I happened to be in Canberra, I wanted some direct action on it.
But I could find no support.
Gone now the popular resistance that was fermenting in the lead up to the Howard defeat. Lulled back to sleep we were; asleep in front of Tv sets watching the news of the taxpayer bail out Wall Street and the relentless approach of climate disaster as if it was coming from another world.
The November elections had changed the nominal leadership but for the neo con agenda, the corporate climate criminals and the US Terror War, it was business as usual under Rudd-bot.
Neither the Greens, the socialists, the civil libertarians nor the ALP back benchers were up for being visible in protest against Mick Keelty.
Dr Deb Foskey, Green Member for Molongo, returned my call but explained that an election was looming and, although she was retiring from political office, attacking Keelty and the AFP was not on the Green team's vote winning agenda.
"Although the AFP provide policing for the ACT, the ACT Parliament have little or no control over them," she observed. "But most people seem to be charmed by Keelty's alpha male behaviour."
No show or call back came from the Canberra socialists who were presumably waiting for the appearance of a mass movement somewhat more massive than Peacebus.com.
Most interesting was the response from ACT Civil Liberties spokesperson who said that they would not support a call to sack Keelty until they were sure his replacement would not be worse.
On one hand this sounded like a reason never to call for the sacking of any public office bearer no matter how malignant; on the other it suggested a Canberra wisdom insight that knew that, when it comes to defending civil liberties, Rudd may well be worse than Howard.
So it was that three days out from the proposed action it became obvious that, apart from my friend Jude Deland from the February Sack Keelty SpeakOut who had agreed to come but only to photograph, i would be alone in my stand and could expect no media interest what so ever.
To protest or not to protest?
Cancellation would only be a matter of one telephone call and it would save a lot of bother and angst for me. The Great Sleep which my efforts would not be disturbing anyway would go on and no one would know of my back down or care. No one but me that is.
I let the question roll in my mind for 24 hours.
Was it an essentially an ego trip, an anti authoritarian ego trip, that drove me to want to face off with the top cop?
Was it an ego trip of another kind to be afraid of looking foolish, a crazy old man sounding off in public place?
What decided the issue for me was the insight that it was not so much rage that i felt but grief for something precious being lost in the Australian way of life. Lines of a poem came to mind and lo, the next day the long time lost book in which I had read it, re appeared.
It was a tenth century poem was by Andalusian Adi al-Riga and quoted by Rumi in his introduction to the fourth book of his Masnavi. (translation by Coleman Barks).
"I was sleeping and being comforted
by a cool breeze, when suddenly a gray dove
from a thicket sang and sobbed with longing,
reminding me of my own passion.
I had been away from my soul so long,
so late sleeping, but that dove's crying
woke me and made me cry. Praise
to the early waking grievers!"
So I resolved to proceed with Speak Out with mine the only voice.
My meditations turned to pray and I prayed most earnestly that it would be the voice of the ancestors, whose courage in the face of tyranny, won the liberties now being so carelessly and relentlessly eroded.
The headquarter of the Australian Federal Police is in Braddon adjacent to Civic, the central CBD of Canberra. It is six stepped back stories of glass, U shaped and set back and overlooking a pocket park like the glassed boxes of a cricket ground.
The patch of green is named Veterans Park and plaques there honor the Vietnam vets. But on this fine Spring day, a veteran of a different ilk, a peace protester veteran of the Vietnam war, seized the amphitheatrical potential of the space to speak out against the Terror War.
Arriving early, working steadily and alone, I rigged and arrayed flags. Under the gaze of the AFP agents behind the glass what was a familiar lunch time park transformed into a Eureka flag focussed forum for defiance and soothsaying in the sunshine.
The Peacebus.com occupation of Veteran's Park was neither unexpected nor prohibited by the AFP; indeed it had been negotiated with the AFP agents from the Protective Security branch three days earlier.
What was remarkable about it was that it was not unwelcome.
To the contrary the Speak Out seemed to serve as an affirmation for those AFP agents who see themselves serving to protect rights and liberties in this land, even at a time when anti terrorism legislation foisted upon us by the US led Howard government and now kept in place by dud Rudd government have eroded such hard won rights.
Stephen Uhe, team leader for Protective Security, had responded promptly to my phone message and email and insisted on coming to see me rather than me to he. "An opportunity to get out of the office," he explained.
We met at Kambah Village Centre. I parked Peacebus.com overlooking the intersection of Tuggeranong Parkway, its "End the Terror/Sack Keelty/Cuff the AFP" signage prominent and plainly visible to the approaching traffic. I was sitting cross legged inside, with the side door open, reading when they arrived.
"We thought it must have been you," said Steve laconically when he appeared before me.
Steve introduced me to his companion, Shauna, a 30 something new agent in his department and we moved to a nondescript bakery in the shopping centre and Steve shouted us coffees.
Steve is a big man, 190 cm maybe, big in statue, big and generous of spirit, a true gentleman. Having met in association with previous Canberra protests our meeting this day was more like a catch up of old mates; he as curious about the derry-doings of Peacebus.com and i was about the AFP.
The job of Protective Security is to negotiate policing for all public events in Canberra; only a few of these are political protests and of these very few involve any security risk.
Seems that in recent times, things have been quiet for Protective Security, few protests to manage since the defeat of the Howard government and apart from the Beijing Olympic torch relay through Canberra, no major crowd events either.
Steve loves his work. "We meet such a wonderful variety of interesting people," he says
We chatted amicably recalling our first meeting in association with the protests of the 2003 Bush visit (which more like an armed invasion of Canberra and its Parliament by US security forces), our picnic together outside old Parliament House and the graceful presence of the late and lamented Jennifer the Maremma.
Negotiating the protest took maybe 15 seconds ("Small. Same as last time," I said. "No worries," he said.) We talked for maybe an hour and amongst other things, I told him what a wonderful uplifting event the Newcastle Climate Camp had been.
Steve treated me with respectfully and made me feel welcome visitor to Canberra. So such much so that after we parted i emailed him to confirm our agreements and I thanked him for his courtesy saying:
"Truly, the respect you show and the welcome╩to Canberra╩you give this old man, makes him want to be an often returning protester if only for the pleasure of your company."
I had asked Steve about Bruce Hayward, the Protective Security agent with whom I had negotiated the previous Speak Out. "Bruce is well and he will be pleased to see you," Steve had replied.
And sure enough while I was setting up in Veteran's Park, Shauna came out with Bruce to greet me and he did look sharp and bright of eye. At our previous meeting I had the impression that Bruce was going through some kind of life crisis, as we all do at some time. His vulnerability then had given him a gentleness and compassion that was easy to be around.
I complimented him on his transformation and said "I like a man who can show his broken-nesss."
Shauna beamed at this and I got the impression that she was somehow part of his therapy and that maybe on this fine Spring day love was in the air.
Steve later made a personal appearance and introduced me to another senior AFP agent. Truly they gave me feeling of being a guest celebrity outside the AFP HQ that day.
In the give and take of our conversation Steve revealed he had, on impulse hired the DVD of Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" and its message had been a major wake up for him. Climate change is common ground for anyone awake and concerned for future generations.
Flags all set up I sat in my folding chair cap over my eyes, bathing in the sunshine, quieting my mind and waiting for the minutes to tick by for the 1 pm start.
There was just one small problem. The optimum parking place which I had planned to occupy so that I could use the PA from the sidewalk was occupied by a car with Road Traffic Authority parking exemption sticker. parked in a 2 hour zone, it had been there all morning and it was looking like it would not be moving.
So I resolved to bend the rules, jump the curb, bring Peacebus.com into Veterans pPark and speak from there. And this is what I did when Jude arrived a couple of minutes before 1 pm.
Once in position, I fixed flags to Peacebus.com and was just about to take the mike when a parking cop appeared.
"Do you have permission to be here?" he demanded.
"Yes, from the AFP" I said gesturing to the HQ building.
"Show me it in writing," he said.
He was seeking the ACT equivalent of a local government permit which if I had sought would certainly have been refused, most likely on public liability insurance grounds.
To me public liability insurance is a corporate tax on the public use of public space, and probably the most revolutionary aspect of Peacebus.com actions is that I occupy public place without it. For me free speech is just that: it asks no permits and pays no dues free.
Realising there was nothing to be gained by talk, i turned away from the irate parking ranger, seized the mike and began to speak. My voice boomed; PA power. I guessed the ranger would not be up to wresting the mike from my hands mid rant.
And so it was that the second Sack Keelty! SpeakOut began with an on-the spot fine, the irate ranger ostentatiously taking photos and writing a ticket while i spoke.
My voice bounced off the walls and through the glass. I could see AFP personnel standing at the windows of the upper floors, watching and listening.
With no speech planned and no notes, I began by invoking the ancestors and then just let the words come. I had prayed most earnestly for the strength to carry the voice of the ancestors; a voice from the dust of creation, ageless witness.
And a voice for future generations too; future generations unborn and untried, calling us into being and calling us into voice now and on their behalf.
The voice that came spoke as if it was Mick's older brother addressing him as if he was someone near and dear but making big mistakes that he would live to regret.╩
"I come not to damn you, Mick. You have already damned yourself." And went on to describe the terrible consequences of his people smuggling disruption covert operations; the SIEVX drownings: 353 refugees, 146 of them children floating on the sea like gulls. They included a new born, new drowned baby still umbilically attached to her drowned mother.
I spoke of the false arrest, detention without charge and vilification of Dr Mohammed Haneef and how it taken 16 months and the expenditure of $8.5 million before Mick had conceded what had been obvious to ASIO and anyone watching the case, that Haneef was not "a person of interest".
I spoke of the Melbourne Terror trials as a show trial, a $25 million sham, the only point of which was to give substance to the existence of a Terror War outside the fear mongering of neo con politicians and the Murdoch media beat ups.
The whole exercise, I said, was one of self interest; Mick and his AFP cohorts justifying the extraordinary powers of surveillance, arrest and detention given by the Howard government with the backing of the ALP duds like the now PM Rudd.
Of the Terror War I said that it was like a threadbare carpet that has suffered from too many beat ups; its credibility strained and bringing no honour.
Honor was a word and a concept I stressed because I truly believe AFP agents want to believe that the work they do is honorable. No honor to be had in the War on Terror which began with a Big Lie and stumbles from lie to lie.
I ended by asking: where to from here?
For Mick, its to become the Australian version of Edgar Hoover, the founder of the FBI and its master for 50 years or so, a mean and vicious man, a destroyer of lives and reputations, a master of surveillance and media manipulation. No US President was powerful enough to dislodge him from office.
"Read the biographies," I told Mick. "This man ended his days weird, paranoid, seriously mad."
And for me I suggested that I may well go forth and start creating Keelty Burnings at which large scale cardboard effigies of Mick in his AFP commander's cap, epaulettes and Hoover like jowls would be burnt before cheering crowds.
Maybe in 50 years or so, I suggested, Mick Keelty will be a name associated with bonfire events in this land just like Guy Fawkes is in the UK."
In my mind i could see a cardboard Keelty in flames and that vision and the frivolousness of my threat which had just then popped into my head and out my mouth, had me laughing even as the words came out.
There was no one else wanting to take the mike and speak, indeed the Park was deserted, all the lunch time picnickers gone, the gig was over.
Except for Jude that is and she was sitting by grinning at my audaciousness. She apologised that she was unable to dissuade the parking ranger from writing the ticket.
"Let me pay it for you," she said and forthwith stuffed $72 in cash into the brown envelope.
The best feedback that I had after was in the look of startled, open mouthed admiration on the face of an office worker whom I noticed as I began packing up.
He was eyeballing me incredulously, half turned as if ready to run. Our eyes met but he didn't speak or come closer. Maybe he had happened upon the SpeakOut as he was passing by or maybe he had heard me through the glass of his office and had to come to lay eyes on me. There was a man with a story to tell!
I also got a call on my cell phone complaining about my loudness from someone within the AFP building.
"All very well but I have work to do," the caller said.
Since he seemed to have had nothing to do with the Protective Security guys, I supposed he had found my number by reading the url on Peacebus.com signage and going to the website.
Seemed to me that his upset had roots deeper than noisiness. Something was churning in him and he grumbled like a man awoken from sleep, somewhat groggy and confused. He neither condemned nor countered what had been said and soon rang off, more or less apologising, saying. "It's okay, Graeme."
While arraying Eureka flags in Veterans park, I had remarked to my Protective Security hosts that that court yard in front of the AFP HQ was a perfectly appropriate place for the exercise free speech and I was sure that the Vietnam vets would heartily approve of its use as such.
As probably the most surveilled half acre in Australia, one doesn't go unnoticed there.
My AFP hosts we happy to agree but afterwards a Google Alert turned up news that their boss, Mick Keelty, thought otherwise.
At a cost of $50 million, Mick was negotiating to relocate AFP HQ to the Seidler designed Edmund Barton building near the Australian War Museum in Canberra. Part of that $50 mill was to be used to build a security fence, a controversial alteration to the heritage architecture and one which would keep big mouths like me at bay.
Was the action worth the effort? Did it make any difference at all?
Not one squeak of media interest after all. But then getting noticed by the media is not the only measure of success in outcome.
Who can say the full consequences of our actions?
Just as the flutter of a butterfly's wings in the Amazon might lead to a tornado in north America, so too a half heard sentence of dissent might become the initiating inspiration of a future culture hero.
"Pitch you flag in an open field," urges Rumi. If you have a passion, make it visible, become it!
If free speech and assembly is the foundation of responsive government then it must be exercised or else it will atrophy.
Driving out of Canberra after the action I felt elated if only from the goodwill and respect of the Protective Security agents. Maybe my affirmation of their honorable behaviour was enough.
Before I had crossed the ACT/NSW state line a SMS message came in. It was from Stephen Uhe saying: "I look forward to your return."
25 September - 3 October 2008