Making Peace at Coolum C.H.O.G.M.

 

When a coach load of Africans arrived in the beachside park where Peacebus had camped the night before the Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting (CHOGM), we knew the party had begun. They were there to represent the cause of the Sudanese Liberation Movement.

Peacebus and crew were there to bear witness for peace and human rights and to participate in the globalisation counter conference that would be taking outside the gates and security fences of CHOGM.

In the course of negotiating Peacebus’ CHOGM presence with the police, I had been introduced to two of their organisers, and now they greeted me warmly. The Peacebus crew at breakfast watched the Africans stream past on their way to the toilets. Men, women, girls. Such colour and spirit. Some in grass skirts. Long legs and big smiles. Brothers and sisters joined in the quest for peace and justice.

The Peacebus crew of the CHOGM mission comprised Robin Harrison, Vietnam vet, professional actor, drummer, street performer, and sniffer dog resistance hero from Byron, Sandra Neilson, a green haired, tattooed lady, mother and healer from the Mullumbimby area, driver Johan Hendrick van den Hoorn, a royalist on a mission to meet the Queen and dubbed Sir Johan by me for his valiant defence of the Peacebus banners during the Aston campaign of July last year, me, passionate and foolish old man and my travelling companions Molly (ewe), Jolly (lamb) and Jennifer (Maremma dog).

A fourth companion joined us, when we arrived at Coolum in the early morning hours. He was a pamphleteer I met in Nimbin who called himself Max No Difference. It appears that he had heard about our mission on ABC north coast radio and decided to come with his own message to the Queen: among other things that she abdicate forthwith. That we had met in the park had been serendipity.

Local residents coming by our camp to walk dogs or take an early morning swim welcomed us, some with mild curiosity, others with gladness. One in particular was besotted by Molly, Jolly and, Jennifer and happily joined us for coffee. He told us that his house was directly opposite the gates of the Hyatt, that he was a local ABC Radio newsreader, the voice of the Sunshine Coast, and that he was to be MC at the opening of CHOGM later in the morning.

Announcer Al questioned us about our mission and when we mentioned kindness for refugees, he wanted to join up with Peacebus at once. We urged him to become an undercover Peacebus operative a subversive for peace during the CHOGM proceedings. And so it was we began the day with laugher.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

The night journey to Coolum CHOGM had not been an easy one.

We had taken our time departing Byron, sitting about Peacebus in Apex Park, Byron Bay eating oysters, fish and chips, drinking beer, smoking joints with well wishers. The idea was to travel slowly, take it easy, have time for the crew to get to know each other and arrive in Coolum early in the morning with of time to get in position.

Slow it was indeed. Peacebus had laboured the last 40 km along the motorway beset by a new variety of mechanical problem. New? Sir Johan at the wheel had not wanted to stop for fear Peacebus would not start again. “We will sort it out when we get to Coolum”, he had shouted to us when Happy Wheels drew alongside to enquire why he was driving at 20-30 kph.

Ten km from the Coolum Hyatt, a police patrol car pulled us over. They were pleasant but thorough in checking our ID, the first of many ID checks that night. It was at this first check that I first noticed Johan’s agitation. He couldn’t sit still, jumping in and out and about on the drivers seat.

For the previous three days Johan had been with me helping, driving and waiting patiently while I got the side panels painted, the PA fitted, the banners and poles loaded and generally prepared Peacebus for the mission. He had grumbled a bit then but now he was a boiling pot.

While the police officers were doing their check, I asked him to start the engine to see if it was an ignition problem. Johan started the engine and drove off.

“Does he realise it is an offence to drive off from a police inspection without permission?” the lovely but surprised Constable Kerryn MacCallum asked me. I shrugged. “I think he wants to get to CHOGM”, I said. Then we both ran to our vehicles to chase Peacebus down the road.

Johan was determined to petition Queen Elizabeth II, who would be opening the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting later that morning. He had prepared a lengthy analysis of the ills of the worlds and assembled it in a thick ring folder each page in a plastic sleeve. Maybe 150 pages, it was the product of much research, TV watching, social isolation, paranoia and obsessive thinking. At essence it was a plea for unity and reason, a cry of a man who had a big heart, a sense of injustice and good intentions. But who was just not being heard.

He had sent me emails with part of his rave and battered my ears with other aspects of it. Rave without end, amen. Brow creased, eyes pleading, manner earnest, talk relentless in its mind numbing intensity.

It wasn’t new to me for I had worked with Sir Johan in Nimbin on a number of events including three Nimbin Mardi Grasses over the past four years. I had taken to being curt with him, cutting off his raving with “I don’t need to know this!” and “Give me a break, go somewhere else.” Side panel painter Helen Rodriguez had refused Johan entry to her house. “I got enough madness to deal with already”, she had said.

Sir Johan was hurt by these exclusions, but never angry. Never had school friends, he told me. After two years jail for cannabis growing in his early 20s, he had lived twenty years as a hermit. “No social skills”, he would apologise.

Now Johan had fixed his mind that his rave had to be presented to the Queen, somehow. What the aging and increasingly irrelevant monarch might do with it, I had no idea. But Johan was convinced there might be a chance. “Her sister has just died, Graeme. I saw her on TV grieving beside the grave, a small mound of flowers, insignificant when compared to the floral abundance on Lady Di’s grave. She must have noticed that. She is open to change and new ideas.”

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

I had wanted to get Peacebus to Coolum early so that the crew might see the site negotiated for our presence. But when we arrived outside the Coolum Hyatt, Johan drove Peacebus up on the grass verge at the corner of the entrance street, declaring this to be the best position. True, it was. But it was not the position that I had negotiated with the police.

The pot had boiled over. Suddenly out the window went all the police negotiated agreements, a process in praise of which I had been so fulsome and public.

Johan sat cross-legged on the driver’s seat, crossing and re crossing and uncrossing his legs and blathering paranoia about police deceptions. “The delegates will be brought in via another entrance. Its all trickery.” and so on.

The police fussed about as I ordered Johan out of the driver’s seat with a drill sergeant’s voice.

Johan promptly grabbed his petition and the tent he had painted up with slogans (a lantern, he had told me), quit Peacebus and strode down the street to sit himself cross legged on his tent directly opposite the Coolum Hyatt entrance gate. This was the very heart of the Restricted Area that 4,000 Queensland police officers of the CHOGM security task force, backed up with special legislative powers, were committed to enforcing.

The gods must have been laughing. I had celebrated success when CHOGM police commander, Chief Inspector Bob Watson had announced that his goal for CHOGM was zero arrests. Now Peacebus had delivered a nutter intent on being arrested. At 2 am, five hours before the Queen was due.

I apologised to Inspector Bob the duty officer at the Hyatt gate and told him I would take Peacebus to Birranl Park 200 metres away, settle the crew and the animals and then come back and talk some more to Johan. “Yes please,” he said. “As soon as possible please. This is an Incident.”

When I got back to Sir Johan, he wasn’t listening to me. “Everyone knows you are working for ASIO, an undercover operative set on rendering the CHOGM protests ineffective,” he said. “If you were a real friend you would find an Aboriginal elder to sign and authorise my petition to the Queen.” An elder who could read and understand Johanism. In Coolum at 2.30 am in the morning. Get real.

Paranoia in full flight, Johan raved on, abusive now, chiding me for the insults he had suffered over the past three days. Bone weary, I told the Inspector I could do no more, washed my hands of Sir Johan, until very recently the driver of Peacebus. Left him to his fate, and drove back to Birranl Park to sleep.

The deep sleep into which I feel was cut off, however by a trail bike riding police constable calling my name. 3 am. Tall, handsome, pommy accent, he could have stepped off the set of the The Bill. When Peacebus had driven into the park earlier, he and his fellow bikie had introduced themselves and made another ID check.

“Excuse me, Mr Dunstan, but this park is a restricted area too and you must move”, he said ever so politely. Give me a break, fellas. Let me talk to your commander.

The officer dialled a number on his mobile and handed it over. I pleaded reason and compassion. Respect for blessed sleep. “You know who we are. Four ID checks can’t be wrong. You know we are here for peaceful protest. You know we are intent of sleeping, just like the hundreds of residents around about. What trouble are we causing here?”

“You Are In A Restricted Area And You Must Move”. Could have been a robot speaking. I invited him to wake the CHOGM security commander, just like he had woken me, and see how he feels about moving Peacebus. Then hung up and went back to bed.

Poor Inspector Bob came to the door of Happy Wheels to plead with me in person. “There is another park just up the road 700 meters,” he said. Not in the restricted area. But I wasn’t into it. (The next day I checked for this park. As an option it was a bummer, no off road parking, no shade, or no toilets.) I wished him good night, closed and locked the doors of Happy Wheels and began deep breath meditation.

In the quietness of the night I could hear the police officers working on Robin Harrison who was sleeping on the ground in a swag beside Peacebus. I tried to imagine how they were going to move him, Sandra who was sleeping on a mattress on the roof of Peacebus and Max, locked in his car.

Here was how Robin’s logic was working at 3 am in the morning. “If there were 200 of us sleeping here, would you be doing this?” I heard him ask.

More muttering in the night. Then a voice: “Mr Dunstan it has been decided that it’s okay for you to stay. Please open up so that I am not talking to a van door.”

I flung the door open and standing by in the moonlight was the mild mannered Inspector Bob again. I thanked him, apologised for creating so much stress for him, and lay back down. Out like a light.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Peace is a path walked, not a destination. Best it can, Peacebus makes peace as it goes. As we journey towards an action, many opportunities for peace making. Particularly welcomed is police liaison.

Coolum CHOGM 2-5 March 2002, (CHOGM II as Chief Inspector Bob Watson described it) was the postponed version of CHOGM I which was to have taken placed at South Bank in West End, Brisbane 6-9 October 2001. This had been called off at the eleventh hour when Prime Ministers Blair and Howard decided that the US War on Terrorism had a higher priority. Blair had bombs to drop on the poor of Afghanistan, and Howard had boatloads Afghan refugees to persecute and an election to win.

West End is an old docks area, traditional home of the left of the Brisbane. Local anarchist groups had declared that it would be a CHOGM Free Zone. And so it became, thanks to events in New York on 11 September 2001. What an awesome anti globalisation statement that had been!

With CHOGM I postponed the protester organizations decided to follow through with their organising momentum and proceed with the proposed anti CHOGM March anyway but in the name of peace. It was a beautiful day, more than 3,000 people came out, lots of colour, lots of inspiring speeches.

The Queensland Police and Queensland Premiers Department had worked closely with protest organizations preparing for CHOGM I and its cancellation had taken away all threat of confrontation at the peace rally. Goodwill prevailed everywhere. Protesters and police played cricket together in Musgrave Park.

So it was upon this foundation that negotiations for the CHOGM II protests began.

The head of the Queensland Police Major Events and Disaster Unit, Snr Sgt Gary Keillor called me about CHOGM II in December while I was in Victoria on rest and recreation and my mind a million miles from Brisbane. I had enjoyed working with Gary on CHOGM I. He is a big and kindly man, a veritable lighthouse of goodwill.

He told me the purpose of his call was to check on my CHOGM II intentions, but I got the distinct impression he was actively inviting Peacebus to participate. When I told him I hadn’t been thinking about it, Gary supplied me with compelling reasons. “Blair will be there”, he said. “G.A.T.S. (General Agreement on Trade and Services, a treaty that the World Trade Organisation is pushing to lock national governments into opening up all public services to private tender) will be on the agenda”, he told me. By gosh, I better be there then, I replied.

So on Thursday 21 February on behalf of Peacebus I attended a meeting with police in their Brisbane HQ to negotiate its participation in the CHOGM protests.

My stated interest was to negotiate a safe and effective engagement in the opportunity offered by the CHOGM media focus to bear witness for peace and human rights, and to the suffering of the poor and the dispossessed in this time of resource and tax super piracy by the global super rich.

My heart’s desire is that every opportunity be seized to build and strengthen the anti globalisation movement.

The meeting was hosted by Gary Keillor and attended by Inspector Jim Casey, head of the Crowd Management Cell of the CHOGM Planning Unit, and Col Strofield, the Qld Police solicitor. Gary sketched a map on a whiteboard and showed me the options. Our only issue was poles. I need them to rig banners and flags, CHOGM security special powers banned anything than might be used as a weapon including sticks on placards.

I haggled and won the concession. The winning plea was that the police had video evidence of my safe use of poles at the M1 protest. Even when held by total strangers in the argy bargy of that contested space, they had remained upright, proudly banner bearing and pacific.

Gary invited me to sit in while representatives from two other protest groups, Elske Harrison, representing Jubilee Australia and John Andress, representing Falun Dafa, negotiated their participation. Lovely people. I got to be able to offer them poles for their banners too.

The next day I met Gary Keillor in Coolum 120 km north of Brisbane to walk the site with him. He had also ferried from Brisbane in his unmarked police car Andrew from Falun Dafa and two representatives of the Sudanese Liberation Movement, Jacob and Simon. I offered tea and we sat in the shade of Birranl Park, talking about the human rights causes we represented. A networking and movement-building meeting courtesy of Qld Police.

The goodwill of the police was impressive. Gary had said to me in all sincerity "many Queensland police officers share your concerns."

Inspector Jim Casey had told me that he wanted this event to demonstrate that anti globalisation protests can be conducted peacefully. He said he wanted the Qld police approach of consulting with and being helpful to the participating protest groups to be a model for other police services in Australia. I heard another police officer drop that the Americans were being kept at arms length from CHOGM security. Thank God for the Commonwealth!

Gary told me of the Police commissioner’s invitation to protest organisers to join him and other senior police for morning tea on Tuesday 25 March. I declined saying I had to go south and organise Peacebus. But Gary was insistent so I re-jigged my schedule.

Glad I did. Because I got to be witness to a revolution.

The meeting took place in the Commissioner’s Boardroom at Queensland Police Headquarters. It was hosted by the Qld Commissioner Bob Atkinson and his deputy commissioner and attended by about 25 senior police from the CHOGM Planning Unit and 10 people representing the protest organizations which had negotiated peaceful protest permits. These were the CHOGM Action Alliance (which umbrella-ed Friends of the Earth, Socialist Alliance, Resistance and so on), Jubilee Australia, Falun Dafa, a Brisbane based Greek community group wanting the return of the Elgin marbles, the Sudanese Liberation Movement and Peacebus.com.

The object of the meeting was gratitude. The Queensland Police Commissioner wanted to thank us for our cooperation and ask if there were any final points he and his officers could help us with.

He sat everyone down in a circle of chairs. I sat on the left of the Commissioner (grey heads of the world unite!), the petit Elske Harrison from Jubilee Australia sat between the Commissioner and his Deputy, others dispersed around the circle. So egalitarian. The Commissioner invited each of the protest organisers to speak. Each of used the opportunity to explain our cause and our mission to an attentive and respectful audience of senior police.

I affirmed the good work of Sgt Gary Keillor. “You have got a good man there, Commissioner. A man with a big heart who listens, cares and strives to be helpful.”

The Africans had arrived late. Four of them had entered the commissioner’s boardroom bearing themselves with head turning dignity and nobility. When it came time their spokesperson to speak, his accent was heavy and his heart was heaving. So much suffering, horror and grief in his story. Everyone strained to listen. He said the Arab tyrants and slavers from the north were oppressing the indigenous non Muslim Africans of south Sudan. Simon said that all his family, friends and peers, were either dead or dispersed as refugees around the world. I understand that some 6000 African Sudanese have taken refuge in Australia over the past 2 years or so.

“This is the first time in Australia that any police have ever listened to us”, he said.

The Commissioner invited the commander of CHOGM security, Chief Inspector Bob Watson, to speak. Bob said that when he had taken up the job he had researched the policing of anti globalisation protests in Brisbane (m1 May 1st 2001), Melbourne s11 11 September 2000), Genoa, Stockholm, Washington and Seattle and decided Queensland Police would do it differently.

At all those protests injury reports clearly show police the most dangerous element in the mix.

I heard Bob Watson say that it was his belief that the police have a responsibility for the security and safety of everyone present. He said that the indicator he had set for the success of the CHOGM II crowd management was zero arrests.

I heard the Commissioner Bob Atkinson back him up and say that Coolum CHOGM was only the beginning. All future protest events in Queensland will be managed with the same respect for protest groups and care in planning and preparation.

Now subscriber emailing is at the heart of the communications for anti-globalisation protests. I am totally open channel on this and include on my mailings all the people I am dealing with in regard to the action, police and public servants too. No secrets, no surprises. Every word, an invitation to dialogue.

I put out an email on the CHOGM Action Alliance subscriber list saying how impressed I had been with the police liaison process. I know it would get a bite from someone on the Left and it came from Hamish, an organiser of the CHOGM Action Network protests for CHOGM I.

Hamish wrote on 24 February:

“It is not for the police to tell us where to protest.  I suspect you are a little to trusting, and that the "goodwill of the police" is in fact the intensively workshopped expertise of handpicked PR police. I'm not one to claim that "all cops are bastards" or anything, but I think we should realistically acknowledge that there is a conscious strategy to contain us going on. It is imperative that whatever our strategies, and whatever values we bring to our strategic thinking, that we refuse to be contained. Hamish.


To which I replied on 25 February:

hey Hamish,

You suggest maybe that I am a little too trusting and that we should be conscious of our "containment" by police. That is how it is for me. When dealing with honest and kind people I am as trusting as a boy receiving the world in his arms.

I could be wrong and everything that my senses are telling me may be deluded, all imaginings easily dismissed as containment and accommodation.

But what I seem to be noticing is a revolution in the crowd management attitudes and methods of the Qld Police.

There was a time when Qld Police had only two tactics for responding to protest. The Bronco (two or more burly cops charge in to the crowd, rugby tackle selected "troublemakers", wind them, put ‘em in a paddy wagon and drop them down town with bruises and severe warnings) and The Cattle Drive (herd the crowd into cul de sac of paddy wagons and arrest them all).

Just think how far we have come in Brisbane since M1, only 9 months ago.

If we negotiators can be criticised as contained, the police on their part could be criticised as complicit.

From what I can work out, Snr Sgt Gary Keillor, head of the Qld Police Major Events Unit, is producing the protests on our behalf. He has done more organising and co-ordinating for the Coolum CHOGM counter conference than anyone else visible to me.

Gary has certainly called me more than any other organiser and he has personally ferried organisers of different groups to Coolum so they might check out the site. In the process of meetings he has facilitated networking and introduced me to some very beautiful people, my fellow human rights defenders.

What if the police were sincere in saying they are as much concerned about human rights abuses as we protesters are?

What if they too are appalled by the deep down meanness and cynicism of PM Howard?

What if they were demonstrating to us that they didn't want GATS either (it would privatise policing too) or the piracy of our natural resources and the fouling of our environment by the corporate greed of the super rich?

Imagine if this might be the way peaceful revolution unfolds?

Whatever!

What we have got at Coolum gives us lots of opportunities for getting noticed. With such abundant goodwill, the opportunities for playfulness and movement building will be endless.

I will come a talk more at the CHOGM Action Alliance meeting tonight.

For Peace! For turning towards kindness! For the Earth! Graeme


I also put out a Peacebus media release headed “Peace breaks out at Coolum CHOGM”. Australian Associated Press picked it up and put it out on the wire. So the vibe was set for CHOGM. No confrontation was to be expected and the police media actively down played security fears.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

The peaceful protest permits for Peacebus were signed but on Thursday I got a call from Peacebus’ appointed police liaison officer, Inspector Bob Peas, to say that CHOGM security wanted one more thing from us: a bomb search before taking up our position at the protest site.

“All CHOGM vehicles, media buses, police cars, delegate transport, are being checked”, Bob explained. Since Peacebus was the only vehicle approved for the protest it was to be included in the security screen. Just a few sweeps with electronic gear. In and out 15 minutes, he assured.

Bombs on Peacebus? Bongs more likely. This I had to see. I agreed to be there 8.30 am Saturday, Sugar Road, Maroochydore.

So it was we loaded up Peacebus with our protest gear and crew and set off, Robin Harrison at the wheel. But I forgotten to ask for a map and we were soon lost. I called the police for directions and an escort. The escort took 30 minutes to find us and then began to lead us way down south.

Travelling behind the beat up paddy wagon our faith in the police began to waiver. “Do I see a sniffer dog in the back of that paddy wagon?” Robin asked. We were of course loaded with cannabis, a traditional cargo of Peacebus missions and we were now 25 km south of Coolum.

“Why are they taking us so far away to do this?” I pondered.

Enough. When the lights changed at the next intersection we did a U-turn and lost our escort. I phoned Inspector Jim Casey to say we were bailing out of the bomb inspection, not part of our permit and returning to CHOGM.

“Bear with me on this, Graeme”, Jim pleaded. “Trust us. I promise you will be in and out within 15 minutes and you will have a police escort back to Coolum.” “Motorcycles with flashing blue lights?” I asked. Okay. Okay.

And so we proceeded on again. Lost again till the police found us again way south of Sugar Road intersection. The escort was then reluctant to move, on the radio reporting in and assuming that we were being uncooperative. Delays upon delays. Robin impatient on the PA: “Move it, please.”

The bomb checks were being conducted in a former bus depot. A bus-sized pit was needed for the routine. Hard to find. This was the reason the check was so far from CHOGM.

We rolled into the old bus depot with the PA pumping “Dark Side of the Moon”. Inside were half a dozen police officers and 20 soldiers in camouflage fatigues. They were from the 6th Royal Australian Regiment who told us they had recently undergone training in bomb detection and sweeping. Fine young men clear eyed, alert, courteous and efficient.

As the bus rolled to a stop I leapt out and approached the dog handler who was standing by the door. “What’s the dog trained to detect?” I asked as the Alsatian he was holding began to sniff about my crutch.

“Explosives and other stuff”, he replied. “Cannabis?” I asked. “Yeah but he has detected that already,” he said. With a shrug he indicated no worries.

Turned out the dog handler had been hired for the day. He recognised Robin from another protest for which he had been hired as security and they were soon chatting amicably.

Relaxed I watched as the soldiers go over and under Peacebus. Every crevasse and hidey-hole searched. All baggage out, all baggage back in again. “Step this way through the metal detector please sir.” Thank you. All clear.

People who see Peacebus cruising by will be pleased to know it has certified bomb free by 6 RAR.

If all the bog in Peacebus were Semetex, what a blast it would be!

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Peacebus was dudded on the promise of a police motorcycle escort with flashing blue lights. Our escort was the same beat up paddy wagon, but it sped us north through the traffic.

North of the Maroochydore airport, scattered groups of people were lining the road to welcome the Queen. An audience! On with the PA.

“This is Peacebus.com. We are going to CHOGM to bear witness for human rights. When you are waving at the Queen, remember the suffering of the refugees in the detention centres. Let Howard know decent Australians are appalled by his meanness and cynicism.”

Short grabs. Many cheers and waves in response. More than anything I think it was the colour and spirit of Peacebus that had won the hearts of the gathered Queen greeters.

But not all of them, of course. Passing through Marcoola, a massive new Gold Coast style high rise on the beach development, a police sergeant waved us and our escort over. “Do you have a permit for that PA?” he asked through the window. But I had already called up Inspector Jim Casey on my mobile. “Speak to this man”, I said offering him the phone. We were soon underway again, PA trumpeting.

Outside the Hyatt, our fellow protesters, the Greeks, the Sudanese and Jubilee Australia were in position and they gave us a big cheer. When we pulled into position Gary Keillor was there to greet us with a smile. “The Queen’s motorcade is due in 15 minutes”, he told me.

We flew in rigging the Peacebus banners. “Let compassion rule. Close the gulags.” “No racism no war!” “Viva Timbarra! Forever ban cyanide gold mining” and the Freedom Ride hand sign banners peace, power, prayer and perfection. The Peacebus butterfly opened its wings once more.

An African woman from the Sudanese Liberation Movement asked if she could use the PA to rev up the crowd. Sure thing and away she went. While we rigged lashing the poles onto the side of Peacebus and the security fence behind, she led call and response chants.

I crossed the road to take a photograph of the set up. Chief Superintendent Bob Watson was standing on the other side of the security fence and greeted me warmly. “Beautiful, yes?” I said gesturing towards the chanting Africans and the colours of our rig. Big smile. A happy crowd at CHOGM. Success.

A young constable reminded me of my business. He pointed to the approach of the Queen’s motorcade 50 meters down the road. I ran back to Peacebus, gesturing to the African cheerleaders to join me on the roof.

We were arm in arm chanting “Free, Free, Free Sudan!” as the Queen went by in her chunky old black Rolls Royce, her face as set and stiff as her mechanical arm wave.

Here was the richest woman on earth, the epitome of privilege, and she looked pathetic. Compared to the life and colours of the world outside the windows of her Roller, she was a dressed up but dried out husk. The black sister standing beside me had more of life’s juice in her than the entire British royal family.

The motorcade passed in a flash. The show was over and the Africans jubilant. Walking back to the park to check Jennifer, Molly and Jolly, a big, broad shouldered African man walking beside me, took me under his arm. He had been the drummer for the chanting and he was in wild dress, a headband holding two upright feathers on either side his head.

‘Thank you”, he said. “Your freedom is our freedom, our freedom, your freedom.”

My heart took flight.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

The rain came in and the umbrellas and raincoats came out. Events for the rest of Saturday were conducted in dampness. Wash out! Placards, pamphlets and protesters soggy. Police too. Some got wrapped in clear plastic. But others were told that the cling-wrap look was not kosher, and they stood in the rain in correct but wet uniforms.

An estimated 250 people showed up for the demonstrations. Police had said they had been expecting 1,500. With 4000 police on duty, that’s 16 police officers for every protester.

I didn’t get to see much of the protest at the CHOGM Action Alliance site further up the road. The PA was on for a while but went quiet when the rain became heavy. I saw and was embraced by my student friends from the Global Justice Alliance in Lismore. They were feeling soggy and somewhat dismal at having traveled 300 km (a 600 km round journey) for a washout. Edda shrugged. You win some, you lose some.

The inside of Peacebus transformed into a cannabis café and salon, with Robin and Sandra making mugs of coffee and tea and joints passing about. Always at such events there are meetings of friends, exchange of news, and catching up to be done. Peacebus has many friends and supporters, many comrades from the roads it has journeyed for justice.

Robin chose to do his rap performance from the inside of Peacebus, amongst a tightly squeezed and intimate circle of friends, the 30 watt speakers throwing the sound across the golf greens to the reception centre, soggy police officers his audience.

I brought Jennifer, Molly and Jolly up to the protest site. The very sight of them walking together delights, faces spontaneously light up with smiles. The wolf lays down with the lamb, the very image of peace in public place.

Our police liaison officer, Inspector Bob Peas, revealed himself to be a dog lover and somewhat of a nomad too. He had a camper van and it was his joy, he told me, to take his dog and go camp in the bush. Jennifer seemed to sense Bob’s kindness and empathy and she settled herself down beside him, Molly and Jolly likewise. For a time there Bob got to be the highest paid shepherd in Queensland.

But the rain got too much for Jennifer and after a while she came to me pleading that she and Molly to be taken back to the park, to Happy Wheels and shelter.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

The highlight of the afternoon was a ceremony conducted by Jubilee Australia to bear witness to the suffering created for the poor by the World Bank debt burden carried by nations such as Bangladesh, the Philippines, Vietnam and others. Father Brian Gore, an Australian priest, a Colombian, conducted the ceremony.

Fr Gore had been active in the people power movement that had overthrown the Marcos regime in the 80s. And he was still doing it, vastly respected and loved both in Australia and the Philippines. A social action, social conscience of the Church in these times of global piracy by the global super rich.

Peacebus was the set for the ceremony. I had offered Elska and Thea, the organisers, the use of Peacebus’ PA. After Peacebus was moved into position for them I asked Fr Gore if he was okay with the signage. “Water more precious than gold” and “Let compassion rule. Close the gulags”. Yes, absolutely yes, he affirmed.

I brought my hands together in the prayer gesture; a heart felt salute to his great spirit.

A table had been set up against the side of Peacebus. It supported placard with an image of third world hungry child, and a basket of paper chains and paper bundles representing babies. Father Gore stood beside dressed in full priestly regalia. About 60 people had gathered to participate.

The ceremony began with music from a CD being distributed by Jubilee Australia. The opening track was Mozart’s Lachrymose. The tears of Mother Mary. In the rain, the drip, drip, dripping and the many coloured umbrellas making the remembrance even more poignant.

The ceremony was scripted for multiple voices and included a call and response chant “Drop the debt” .The audience were invited to reach out and symbolically break the chains of poverty and oppression and relieve the hunger of the poor and their babies. The chant finished abruptly: “For God’s sake:” “DROP THE DEBT!”  Smiles broke out and fellowship was all around.

The day was over and Peacebus crew brought in the banners and quit the soggy site.

Peacebus had got lots of exposure that day and made many friends. Lots of cars travelling along David Low Way responded to the ‘Honk for peace” signage on the back of Peacebus. Many people cheered and waved at our colourful presence. News cameras had used us as background colour.

Snr Sgt Gary Keillor was happy. Our CHOGM liaison officer from Qld Premiers department, Amanda Scarpato, was happy. Inspector Jim Casey rang and apologised for the bomb search confusion and the renege on the motorcycle escort promise. “The Queen’s need had taken precedence”, he said. “Wrong priorities, Jim”, I chided. Peace before privilege.

From the radio interviews I heard of the CHOGM delegates, peace and mutuality seemed to be everywhere. Queensland Premier Beattie was so pleased with the outcome that he offered to have CHOGM back again in two years time. CHOGM certainly makes much better news, and generates better feeling, than the news of the US War on Terrorism.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Peacebus camped Saturday night in another beachside park, north of Coolum. The Sunday morning ocean sky was overcast but we were able to hang our banners about on trees and dry them in the breeze. Peacebus is ever a colourful presence.

It wasn’t long before we had police sitting with us again. No ID checks now, we were so well known. If the police at the Hyatt were under employed, how much more idle were these officers patrolling the ‘northern sector’. They were grateful for our company.

These conversations inevitably turn to policing issues, and inevitably to drug policy. My early morning guest was a detective from Caboolture. His issue was the suffering and crime associated with the distribution and manufacture of amphetamines. The drug itself, he noted, is a cause aggression, psychosis and domestic violence. But the worst aspect for him was the way prohibition policies organise speed makers, sellers and users into a culture of intimation, violence and crime. Here was the domestic version of the US War of Terrorism in our back yard.

Max No Difference had followed us to the camp and had tried the surf. He had been such excellent help putting out the Peacebus rig the day before my heart was open to him, full of gratitude. “How was the water”, I asked him as he washed off the salt at the shower by the camp. The response was a surprise, a tirade of venomous abuse.

Seems Max’s pot had boiled over too. I had seen it happen before, but not with me as target before. He was furious. He too accused me of working for ASIO and subverting the protests. “You are so totally deluded!” he said walking away and then coming back with more: “If I wasn’t a man of peace I would beat you to a pulp.”

My response was stay in the calm of the morning. “Max, I don’t understand your behavior. What do you want from me?” It was a question that hung between us unanswered. But I got a general impression from his ranting that he was frustrated not to have presented his petition to the Queen and that he was upset that I had not recognised his authority as master of the universe.

Robin’s response was to override Max’s paranoid outpourings with his loud and theatrical voice, a street performer dealing with a street nuisance. Every time Max spoke, Robin would repeat: “Why don’t you go some where else and abuse someone who offers you less kindness and respect.”

The two jabbered over each other. The contradictions and the din hurt my head. I pleaded with Robin for quiet and less provocation. Max soon enough departed.

Another day and another paranoid. A line from the Last Testamentary Teachings of Padampa Sangay (16 century Tibetan saint) rolled around in my head: “Ever more bear in your heart, the pain and sorrow of the world. Faith thereby regains vigour. Trim your lamps.”

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Peacebus had committed to putting out lanterns at Tickle Park that evening, Sunday 3 March, to support a peace initiative by a local Coolum woman, Karen Fletcher and her association, Move for Peace. Peacebus was bearing a load of lanterns and poles for just this purpose.

But the previous day we had met the crew from Ohms not Bombs who had come all the way from Sydney with a mock up of a nuclear missile on a roof rack. They had asked Peacebus to come to the action they had planned Sunday 3 March at the food irradiation plant at Nagandra, north of Caboolture.

Comrades on the road, they had helped Peacebus out when we hosted the 2000 Sydney HEMP Olympix in Victoria Park Glebe, the weekend before the Sydney Olympics. We wanted to return the favour and thought we could do both gigs.

But Nagandra is 80 km south of Coolum and when we got there, there was nothing to do but shelter from the rain, which bucketed down.

The protest site was a bare block in a new but undeveloped industrial estate which this day was a rallying point for two different groups of trail bike riders, and the odd V8 doing wheel slides on the wet roads. No building had commenced. There was no witness to our action, and no point in it apart from a site inspection.

I felt I was wasting time and petrol and became disheartened about the idea of driving north again for another possible wash out. So I rang, and with great misgivings, withdrew my commitment to the Tickle Park lantern event.

Thinking it a good opportunity to give the young organiser of the action experience in spruiking, I handed over the microphone to her and we went in convoy, Peacebus and nuclear missile, Molly, Jolly and Jennifer, and other vehicles back to Caboolture.  She spruiked outside the offices of the Caboolture Shire Council, which in approving the development of the food irradiation plant, had cynically redefined the meaning of their commitment to nuclear free.

Sunday, an empty building in an empty street. We decided to continue on south and spruik anti nuke as we rolled through the Brisbane CBD. We had no intentions and no expectations of seeing the Queen. In fact we assumed she would have finished her public stuff by the time we got there.

As serendipity would have it, our arrival in Brisbane was queenly in timing. Mrs Elizabeth Windsor was in church in Ann Street and the Brisbane police were on full alert for Peacebus. I had rung and told Snr Sgt Gary Keillor of our change of plans.

The comedic equivalent of "Sink the Bismarck!” was in progress when Peacebus rolled into Ann Street, and its crew oblivious.

The first to spot Peacebus in Brisbane was Johan, the driver of Peacebus, who had been arrested the night before for trying to present his personal petition to Her Majesty. Johan had been bailed, returned to Brisbane and had been again picked up trying to get his petition to the Queen via her Roller driver outside the church.

Johan was sitting in the back of an unmarked police car, at the time listening to the police radio reports of Peacebus' progress. But the reports were confused and inaccurate. Furthermore the apprehending police didn't believe Johan when he said he was Peacebus' driver. They had him down as a nutter. He is. A passionate man of magnificent obsession. A Dutch Don Quixote.

Suddenly there was Peacebus driving beside him. Johan waved out the window. The police did a double take, zoomed ahead, cut Peacebus off, and escorted it to the car park out front of Old Government House, by the Botanical Gardens, where I was waiting with Jennifer and Molly.

So Peacebus didn't get to spruik anti nuke in Brisbane. But we did get to see the Queen's motorcade again as it floated past 20 metres away.

And we were reunited with our beloved Sir Johan, defender of the colours and HEMP hero.

Many hugs and much laughter. Cops grinning too.

Then Max No Difference turned up too. Seems he had also gone to see the Queen. When approached by a police officer while loitering about the church he had explained that he had petition to present to the Queen. The police officer went away and came back with another officer, one from HM personal security, who graciously accepted Max’s pamphlet urging Elizabeth Windsor to abdicate. Promised to pass it onto Her Majesty.

Max was happy. The storm had passed. He respectfully acknowledged ‘my strong personality’.

It all felt like final act of a Shakespearian comedy. Everyone united again, happy in his/her role. Free men and women in free society outside Government House and the Queensland Parliament. The curtain came down and we all went home.

Farewell to the Ohms not Bombs crew on their way back to Sydney. More coffee and joints. More hugs. Farewell to Peacebus heading to Byron. Me driving Johan home.

Johan had been the only arrest at CHOGM. He made national news and was very happy. He told me Peacebus, by comparison, had been ignored by the Brisbane news media.

He also told me that he decided that petitioning the Queen was a waste of time. I am sure the Qld Police will be pleased to hear this. No longer a royalist, Johan is cooking up other plans for evoking global justice and environmental sanity. Secret at this time. I wish him well.

For the first time I got to see Johan in his domestic context and meet his partner Jan. Jan greeted Johan with bemusement and told him of her mother’s call. Was it true Johan had been arrested again? What a nightmare of a son in law Johan must seem.

But what a house! Johan is an obsessive collector of stuff. For him all trash is treasure. The interior of the house is warren of narrow passageways weaving between walls and columns of stuff arranged in collections. There is an aesthetic in it, fancy arrangements of this and that. But the overwhelming impression is overwhelm. Everywhere stuff!

You name it and Johan has twenty of it at least. Stamps, cameras, wrist watches, stones, sticks, and books. Walls and walls of books. No theme in the collection that I could see at a glance. Some 7,000 he said and recently catalogued by Jan.

“I even collect broken bottles’, Johan said opening a draw. Within was a collection of glass weathered and opalescent with age. Johan picked up the neck of an old broken bottle. ‘You know”, he mused. “No two pieces are ever alike.”

Two weeks previous Sir Johan had been busted for possession of 130 cannabis plants. A nosey building inspector irate about the slow progress of the garage extension, had dobbed Johan in.

Seeds for peace, he had described the project. I had read an email from him inviting interested parties to claim one of the seeds and use the opportunity of his court appearance to spruik for peace and cannabis law reform. Johan was disappointed to find that he was not bowled over by the rush.

He took me outside and showed me the plot where the plants, some two metres high, had been flourishing. The plot, about 2 foot by 8 foot, was covered with six inch high cannabis seedlings that he had planted after the bust.

If ever there was a man with a mission! All hail his determination.

But does it achieve anything? What is effective protest?

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

What is an effective action for peace and justice?

For all the effort and expenditure, what difference had Peacebus’ witness for peace at Coolum CHOGM made?

The bottom line answer is that I just don’t know.

I do not believe media attention is much a measure of success. TV news is part of the problem. I don’t watch it anymore. Not watching TV, I was able to see how fearful and dis-empowered my TV watching friends became when swamped by the waves of media hysteria that followed the fall of the New York World Trade Centre.

It is enough for me if just one person sees or hears Peacebus in the street and is inspired to speak up for justice and peace. Many a friend has thanked me for just that and I am grateful.

I would like to take some credit for the sea change in Queensland police policy towards protest. But the truth is, I did no more than watch and listen. The police made all the changes.

I expect there will be many like my Peacebus companions Sir Johan and Max No Difference who will accuse me of defusing the anti-globalisation movement in Brisbane.

But I never did think blockading CHOGM was a good idea. Any meeting of world leaders, which takes place without the dominating influence of the US, has to be welcomed as a possibility for peace in these days of US tyranny and global belligerence.

If anti-globalisation is equated with confrontation, I plead guilty for my efforts to sunder the relationship. I saw a lot of young people hurt at the s11 blockade of the World Economic Forum in Melbourne. Not necessary.

True the Coolum CHOGM demonstrations had neither the numbers nor the defiant spirit of that action. But maybe something has shifted, gone deeper.

The Coolum CHOGM police security was overkill. Sixteen police officers for every protester. There never was going to be a bomber or a blockade. The planners had said they had to cover for every possibility of post New York s11 unknown. But there are just galaxies and galaxies, and galaxies of galaxies, of unknowns, infinite possibilities for fearful imaginations.

Maybe more elegance is to be expected in security event management next time.

On the other hand, I estimated that there are now at least 4,000 Queensland police officers familiar with the peaceful and quirky ways of Peacebus and I feel good about that. Very, very secure.

In terms of police morale building and as an management training exercise, CHOGM II security was a triumph. Police officers from all round the state getting to meet and work with other.

Around what?

Peacemaking, it seems. Demonstrating that democracy in Queensland is strong and dissent, not feared or suppressed. But rather celebrated. The cops felt good about that. Three cheers for the cops!

But in the end I just don’t know.

One can never know all the consequences of one’s actions. Words in passing heard by a child might give the birth to a culture hero, who transforms the world for peace and prosperity. Or the same words heard by another might provoke an outburst of violent paranoia.

I am sure I speak for all who have sailed on Peacebus when I say that, in the confusion of events, with the frailty of our minds and bodies, with our meagre resources, with goodwill and open hearts, and in the face of the unknowable and unsayable mysteries of life, we do best we can.

For peace! For justice! For the Earth!

“Inside me a hundred beings
are putting their fingers to their lips and saying,
“That’s enough for now. Shhh!” Silence
is an ocean. Speech a river.

When the ocean is searching for you, don’t walk
to the language river. Listen to the ocean,
and bring your talky business
to an end.”

                Rumi (12th  century Persian saint).

Graeme Dunstan
Peacebus.com
5-7 March 2002
 


 


 

Click here to find out about past peacebus campaigns

 

 

web-design by rebelart ;O)--~