Silver Wattle, a former sheep station on the shores of Lake George,
now serving as a retreat centre for the Australia Quaker Centre
as seen from the overlooking escarpment , 26 April 2010.

 

Putting an End to War

A report on the Anzac Weekend Retreat at Silver Wattle, the Australian Quaker Centre near Bungendore NSW

There were nineteen of us and we were an odd mix of faith based peace activists which included Baptists, Anabaptists, Menonites, Quakers, Catholics (as in Catholic Worker tradition) and two Buddhists (me and my travelling companion, Marie Jack) gathering in retreat at Silver Wattle on the Anzac weekend, Australia's annual remembance of its war dead.

At the time Anzac commemorations had never been more popular. Some 30 km away in Canberra for example, the Anzac dawn service at the National War Memorial drew a crowd of about 20,000 people including Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Governor-General Quentin Bryce attended.

But if the war dead were being remembered, war itself was being forgotten. The Afghan War had entered its eighth year and had become the longest ever Australian engagement in war. Yet it had become, if not quite hidden, then certainly forgotten, out of the news, out of sight and out of mind.

The terrible truth was that for Australians war had become normalised; unchallenged in the Parliament, in the media and in the streets. Perpetual war was the state of the nation.

As i had witnessed at the 2009 Peace Convergence at Rockhampton/Yeppoon and in the mobilisation of protest in response to the promised but aborted visit of Obama to Canberra in March 2010, the tide was out on the peace movement in this land.

I was there with my Stand Fast cap on, wanting to be visible as an organiser of veterans for peace. But gthe company gathered that weekend at Silver Wattle were true veterans of peace, with many a grey head, many a campaign and many years of collective organising for peace between us.

There were omens along the way that this gathering would be special. Happy Wheels had gear change problems but strangers readily help keep Peacebus.com rolling when i spoke of its journey to Silver Wattle and Putting an End to War.

And furthmore i was heart happy and singing! Singing while driving, singing while camping out in a National Park along the way, singing in the morning sun, my voice big and reaching out across the vast space of the Shoalhaven River gorge - the same song over and over, an old hymn of which i only had fragments in my memory, I come to the garden alone.

My earliest inspiration for this was a recording of the song by Aquarian songbird, Maireid Sullivan. Here it is sung beautifully by Elvis Presley!

For the entire of the weekend and after, the hymn was singing me. Fellow singer and participant, Helen Gould, helped me sort out the original words but even so for me the first line remained "I walk in the garden alone" and this became the theme of the little closing ceremony which Helen and i conducted.

A large part of my happy approach was in anticipation of meeting up again with the friends met at Martin Luther House during the resistance to the Talisman Sabre wargames at Shoalwater Bay in the previous year: Simon Moyle, Margaret Pestorius and Bryan Law, but in particular Bryan, that mountain of a man, that an idominable spirit, who opened my eyes to the power of Christian witness.

"Plotting for peace" is how i explained my presence to my fellow peacemakers.

And with the "Hand of God" upon us. It was Bryan who used this phrase to describe the sense of auspiciousness, fortuitousness and joy that comes when he acts for peace. He had expereinced it at TS09 when, trespassing on the exercise area, he had waved a piece blue tarp to signal his surrender and stopped a whole armoured column for 2 hours.

And he has has known it since and I could emphathise for it was happening to me too. Things fall in place, obstacles are removed, friends draw near, the heart if happy and life is fully lived when on acts for peace. It's as if all the ancestors are behind us urging us on with their blessing; and future generations too, ahead of us and calling us forth.

And the two of us together, a spiritual synergy bigger yet.

So it was when I heard Bryan say that the task for peacemakers was to reclaim Anzac Day as a peacemakers day, i had a vision of how to do it. All the lanterneering i had done in the nineties suddenly had new meaning and purpose. Anzac Lanterns for Peace!

Here below is the text of a piece of mine published in the June 2010 edition of the Nimbin Good Times. It describes the inspiration and the Peacebus.com mission that arose at Silver Wattle.

And below that is the Open Letter from the Gathering so that the reader may get the wider context.

Gratitude and praise to Helen Bayes of the Australian Quaker Centre for her organising. All blessings on the Australian Quaker project at Silver Water.

May this Silver Wattle gathering be remembered as a turning point when just a few blessed friends sat down together, plotted for peace, committed to action and made a big difference.

For peace!

Graeme Dunstan
8 June 2010

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Chaplain Clair Hochstetler, Manager of Pastoral Care Dept at The Canberra Hospital and Peacebus.com Captain Graeme Dunstan in his Stand Fast hoodie at Silverwattle Cross, 24 April 2010

Turning the Tide of Militarism

Australian troops have been in Afghanistan 8 years now; which makes it our longest foreign war ever and probably, in actual tax dollars, the most expensive. Yet it's a hidden war; part due to Government intent (secrecy, embedded journalism and the like) but mainly due to widespread apathy and uninterest.

War without end - and most people are simply too distracted or too deceived to care. As in George Orwell's Nineteen Eightyfour, war has become normalised and the peace movement has all but evaporated from public place and public imagination.

Last Anzac Day it was my pleasure to join a small group of faith based peace activists at the Australian Quaker Centre at Silver Wattle, near Bungendore, in a retreat called Putting an End to War. For three days my heart sang just to be there and plotting for peace amongst such uplifting company. I came away inspired.

Our meditations suggested a number of directions for future action and i will talk of just two.

First is the importance of ongoing resistance to Talisman Sabre, the biennial US-Oz war games at Shoalwater Bay, near Rockhampton.

At present the tide is out on the peace movement but in the way of changes it will certainly return again. Now is the time to be working to rebuild it and resisting Talisman Sabre is the means.

These war games make the cost and meaning of the US Alliance highly visible and targetable. Protesting them brings attention to peace and gives us peace activists an opportunity to come together, meet and act in common cause. In this resistance, new generations of peace activists will be inspired and initiated into direct action.

To this end faith-based activists such as Bryan Law and Margaret Pestorius of Cairns Peace by Peace, expanding on the success of the trespass walks last year, are promoting 'Wilderness Pilgrimages' into the Shoalwater test facility during Talisman Sabre 2011. These will combine guided wilderness walks with deep Christian witness.

The second theme for Putting an End to War action came from reflections on the recently published What's wrong with Anzac? The Militarisation of Australian History by Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds.

The book documents how history has been bent and the militarist agenda of the RSL, whose membership never attracted more than 9% of WW1 veterans, has become government funded cultural policy.

Christians are challenging the tightly controlled secular liturgy that the RSL has created. The core critique is that the liturgy honors unquestioning blood sacrifice to the gods of war. It twists Jesus' teaching about 'greater love' from meaning a sacrifice made out of love for love, to a sacrifice made out of hatred for war.

Citizens generally ought be concerned about the fabrication of Australian national identity as something forged in war and dependent on war.  In this is the means by which perpetual war is validated and normalised.

The project for peacemakers is to reclaim the Anzac Day for peacemaking. Big challenge and while at Silver Wattle i had a vision of how that might happen: lantern lit peacemaker vigils on Anzac Day eve in which the veteran voices of peace are heard.

Starting in Canberra next Anzac Day and spreading nationally like a lantern virus, 10,000 lanterns by the 2015, the centenary of the Anzac landing. Be my witness!

As Taoists know, every tide has gotta turn. Let's speed the day when peace is normalised again.

Graeme Dunstan
29 May 2009

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From left Margaret Pestorius, Gill Burrows, Marie Jack, Clair Hochstetler, Simon Moyle at Silver Wattle Cross, 24 April 2010.

Open Letter from the Gathering

Dear friends and peace-workers,

On ANZAC Day weekend 23-26 April 2010, at the Australian Quaker Centre at Silver Wattle, Bungendore near Canberra, 17 Christians and 2 Buddhists gathered from the east coast of Australia to respond to the growing militarisation of both Anzac Day and Australian society and to consider ways of putting an end to war.

In the grace of Silver Wattle and the grandeur of its outlook over Weereewa (Lake George) and in the joy, good humour, dedication and inspiration of companionship, participants felt 'the hand of God' moving them.

Participants were, in the main, people with deep experience of peace and social justice organising over the past 40 years. Even though we were few and the challenges ahead enormous, our meditation seemed to be some kind of turning point in the tides of war and peace in this land - and beyond.

Sessions were led by participants and the group, with much sharing, focussed on:

- The teaching of Jesus about the Kingdom of God, and the prophetic and priestly requirements of our times;
- Contemporary Christian Nonviolent Action in Australia;
- Personal war witness and truth-telling (Baghdad, Bougainville, Gaza, Palestine);
- Christian Peacemaker Teams internationally, and scope for CPT in our region;
- The ideological roots of Anzac Day, its spiritual dimensions and contemporary practice; - War Tax Refusal.

At each point, participants reflected on and shared personal experiences, along with hopes, fears, and desires about war, peace and Anzac Day. Recurring themes were the direction and next steps for faith-based peace-making in Australia, and how we might engage with Anzac Day in this pursuit. It is apparent that all of us are deeply touched by the stories and events of war and its impacts on family and society on all sides and in all places.

There were points of consensus:

∑ The centrality of the principle to love one another, and the call to be willing to die rather than kill;
∑ Gratitude to Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds for their timely book on the contemporary politics of Anzac Day in Australia, What's Wrong with Anzac? The Militarisation of Australian history, UNSW Press, April 2010, Paperback, 192 pp;

∑ Concern about both the growing militarisation of Anzac Day, along with the exclusion of other perspectives on Australia's national formation and role in the world;

∑ The hunger of Australians for authentic and meaningful values and experiences, which is the need behind the growth of participation in Anzac Day ceremonies;

∑ The political use of Anzac Day to militarise Australian culture and validate engagement in foreign wars, thereby narrowing the public discussion of history and virtue and failing to acknowledge the full multicultural range of grief and losses;

∑ The control of the RSL over Anzac ceremonies and their content;

∑ The failure of churches to provide Christian witness and perspective in Anzac Day commemorations;

∑ The racism explicit in the historical Anzac engagement and implicit in today's remembrance of sacrifice in foreign wars only, with no mention of the frontier war against Aboriginals or the loss and suffering in war by Australian citizens of non-Anglo ethnicity;

∑ The need to bring forth the stories of the Anzacs themselves and those who have fought in wars since, and to focus on the lessons they have identified for us from their experiences;

∑ The need for ceremony to grieve for all those who died or whose lives were broken by war, including all sides and civilian victims, and to recognise the impact of their loss on families and community, especially women and children who bear the brunt with devastating consequences;

∑ The need to broaden Anzac Day into remembrance of the ongoing blight of war and to reclaim it as a people's peacemaking day;

∑ The need to transform the energies of Anzac Day into effective peace-making.

We rejoiced in singing the song:

Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream

Last night I had the strangest dream
I'd ever dreamed before
I dreamed the world had all agreed
To put an end to war

I dreamed I saw a mighty room
And the room was filled with women and men
And the paper they were signing said
They'd never fight again

And when the paper was all signed
And a million copies made
They all joined hands and bowed their heads
And grateful pray'rs were prayed

And the people in the streets below
Were dancing 'round and 'round
While swords and guns and uniforms
Were scattered on the ground

Last night I had the strangest dream
I'd never dreamed before
I dreamed the world had all agreed
To put an end to war.

Added verse for active resistance:
So here am I and here are you
We're standing where we are
To do the things that we can do
To put an end to war.

The group resolved to take forward the following issues:

∑ To initiate a "White Poppy" program for ANZAC Day 2011 and to extend ANZAC Day forward with an evening vigil ceremony which commemorates all victims of war and envisions an end to war;

∑ To identify opportunities and initiatives within the peace movement to assist with the healing of war veterans;

∑ A recurring "Shoalwater Wilderness Pilgrimage", containing and reflecting Christian Civil Disobedience to be developed and publicised for Exercise Talisman Sabre 2011, and subsequently;

∑ Consideration by the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) Australasia Regional Group of a proposal to form a Christian Peacemaker Team to visit West Papua;

∑ To seek opportunities for cooperative peace-making initiatives between Australian and New Zealand activists.

Agreed by all present:

Helen Bayes, Alex Bell, Carol Bell, Gill Burrows, Graeme Dunstan, Waratah Gillespie, Helen Gould, Roslyn Harper, Dale Hess, Clair Hochstetler, Mark Hurst, Mary Hurst, Doug Hynd, Jillian Hynd Marie Jack, Bryan Law, Barbara Meyer, Simon Moyle, Margaret Pestorius

For further information, contact Helen:
Email: aqc(at)quakers.org.au
Phone 02 6238 0588 or Mobile 0422 138 991
Web: www.aqc.quakers.org.au


Closing session at the bell in the Silver Wattle garden, 26 April 2010.

 

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