People have asked whether there is an “archive” of the various human rights actions which I’ve been involved in over the years. I have recorded some of these on this blog but I think one page which takes you to these stories may be useful.
I am aware that there are many people who have done some incredible work supporting social justice and human rights but no one knows about these. Many people across the world do think globally and act locally but we don’t hear about it. One reason is that mainstream media quite often does not tell or record these actions and we find these local actions don’t even make a footnote in a local history book, let alone in a “big” history book.
So, I’ve written about some of our local actions just so people do know about them.
2020 – what a time to be an activist! I can’t help but reimagine some of the stuff we did before Social Media, before Go Fund Me, drone photography. Maybe, the Flotillas of Hope could have raised so much money we could have chartered some boats? We wouldn’t have needed a giant Kite with a camera to film the refugees in Woomera. A drone would have done the job magnificently.
Anyway, there’s lots of opportunities and means to fight for social justice today with the technology available to all of us.
What’s our local area? Newcastle, in the Hunter Valley, NSW, Australia.
I am listing these local actions in chronological order with a short description.
The Cultural Stomp had its birth in 1997 when Pauline Hanson launched her One Nation Party in Newcastle. We decided that she wasn’t going to launch it without hearing what we in the Hunter felt about it. We formed a group we called Cultures in Action and every year since 1997 for ten years Newcastle celebrated its cultural diversity in Civic Park.
Refugees and Asylum Seekers held a hunger strike in this detention centre stuck in the South Australian desert. Some people in Melbourne decided to organise a Festival of Freedoms at the Woomera Detention Centre. Hunter Organisation for Peace & Equity joined them and we became a Caravan, a HOPE Caravan.
With all the racist crap pushed by the Liberal National Party we thought that Newcastle should become a Welcome Town for Refugees. For those not in Australia, the conservative right wing party which aligns itself more with the USA Republican Party & UK Tories is called the “Liberal” Party. Yes, one couldn’t get a more Orwellian name for a political party than that.
Hope Caravan logo we used on our now absent website. The drawing was based on an original pencil drawing made by a prisoner at Woomera Detention Centre. He gave us permission to use it.
As part of NARR, I, along with others presented a proposal to Newcastle City Council to make Newcastle, Australia, an official Welcome Town for Refugees. Here’s the link to the whole proposal we presented at Newcastle City Council >> Welcome Town Presentation – thanks Jack for taking the time to make it available on your website.
Now that the dark years of the John Howard’s Decade is over in Australia, it is important that we are reminded that there were people in Australia (many, many of us) that were ashamed at the opportunistic tickling of the xenophobic underbelly of the Australian people that Howard’s genius did. People say that he was not a racist. Maybe he wasn’t in a way that Hitler was, but his myopic vision and policies that demonised innocent people who were seeking a new life were.
Anyway, I don’t want to go on about him here, suffice to say that there were Australians around during the Dark Howard Decade who stood against his crap.
My social conscience is clear and I’m proud to say that I was one of them.
NARR conducted a sympathy fast with the hunger strikers at Woomera Detention Centre in 2002. This is the tent we lived in at Civic Park, Newcastle. The head on the corner is a paper mache of Philip Ruddock, the Immigration Minister at the time.
Below are a series of articles, photos and graphics of the Cultural Stomp. Rather than me writing about it here, just read the articles – one from the NSW Government Hansard, one I wrote for “Education Australia” and there is the editorial I wrote for the 2007 Tenth Anniversary of the Cultural Stomp. I was one of the original founders of this amazing Festival, being part of the organising group we called Cultures in Action ( CIA ).
Around Easter, 1997, there was a feeling in the City of Newcastle’s air that was brittle, if not fragile. BHP had just announced the closure of its steelworks and 2500 workers were to be on the scrap heap by 2000. Many of these workers had literacy and numeracy learning needs. The “downsizing” of BHP also would have a painful effect on ethnic communities of the Hunter, with about 600 non English speaking background workers needing extra English language skills.
The Hunter region was in a state of shock, because those 2500 workers retrenched would by the multiplier effect mean another 12 to 20,000 jobs would also disappear in the region. Newcastle was hurting, and hurting bad. So when, only a couple of weeks later, the announcement that the One Nation Party was to be launched for the first time in NSW on 30 May, 1997 at the Civic Theatre in Newcastle it was important that an alternate forum for people with opposing views should be organised.
Drawn by a common need and a common objective, a diverse group of citizens met at Wollatuka, Newcastle University to see what would be done. A young Aboriginal student stood up and said to the circle of people who had gathered, “Hi, my name is Belinda and I’m glad that so many people have shown up today. I want to do something about Pauline coming to visit us, but I don’t want to yell at her… I want to do something positive… I want to celebrate what we already have in our city. Who also wants to?” Instantly people called out “Yes” in their diverse ways. We divided up into work groups and we all knew that whatever we come up with we only had three weeks to organise it. We decided that on the same night that Pauline Hanson was speaking we would hold a celebration of our cultural diversity in Civic Park which is only about 200 metres from Civic Theatre. Some us met later at the Pod, and we called the event, The Cultural Stomp and our group, Cultures In Action (CIA).
On the night, over five thousand people turned up at Civic Park to let One Nation know that we have something to celebrate in our local community ; we were celebrating our diversity and the unity of that diversity as Australians. With dancing, singing, music, poetry, fire twirling and a Ceremony scheduled at the same time Pauline Hanson was due to speak, The Cultural Stomp made its debut. Outside the Theatre, where 1000 people paid $10 to listen to Hanson, there was a large crowd of people letting her know that her views weren’t necessarily felt by a large percentage of people living in Newcastle. In many ways, the Cultural Stomp was a reconciling force to the active and the resistant forces of One Nation and confronting each other outside the theatre. The Lord Mayor was quoted in the Newcastle Herald as saying, “If it wasn’t for The Cultural Stomp last night, there may well have been violence.”
This year, Cultures in Action (CIA) met once again to see if we would organise another Cultural Stomp. In a fundamental way the purpose was the same as last year; to hold a peaceful celebration of Newcastle’s cultural diversity and unity in Civic Park. The only difference this year was that we didn’t have the visual presence of the One Nation Party to contend with, which meant that we probably wouldn’t get the media exposure and build up of hype. The process of organising the event, the networking and the seeking of support and sponsorship revealed that Newcastle loved the concept of The Cultural Stomp. Its sponsors and supporters included Newcastle City Council; The Pod; Newcastle City Centre; Newcastle Trades Hall Council; Ethnic Affairs Commission; Awabakal Co-Op; New South Wales Ministry of the Arts; Hunter Area Health; Newcastle University Student Association; Purrimaibahn Unit; Migrant Resource Centre; Multicultural Neighbourhood Centre; Ethnic Communities Council; Hunter Institute of Technology Association; Newcastle University Union; Newcastle Workers Club;Wollatuka; Fast Events; Ron Hartree Art School; Alan Morris M.P; Bryce Gaudry M.P., Brian Birkefeld and many more.
Three nights before the event, at the end of the Sorry Service for the Stolen Generation at the Anglican Cathedral, the bishop said, “Don’t forget to come to The Cultural Stomp at Civic Park on Saturday.” The night before the event I had returned home late after working with fellow CIA members making lanterns and the bamboo and paper Globe of Reconciliation for the Cultural Stomp Ceremony. As I walked through the door my kids called out, “Dad, come quickly, The Cultural Stomp is on TV!” I rushed over and saw our logo of the nine petalled flower and heard our event announced in the middle of a football game between the Newcastle Knights and Western Suburbs Roosters. From an utterance in the Cathedral to the middle of a televised footy game, The Cultural Stomp was announced.
On the day we had crowds coming and going in the thousands. This year’s Stomp included Hunter Institute of Technology’s Purrimaibahn Unit displaying art and writings from TAFE students and kids at infant, primary and high schools of our region. It was a wonderful gesture of reconciliation where Aboriginal people shared their work, their hopes and dreams of living in harmony with other members of our culturally diverse community. Throughout the day, performances and speeches from the local multicultural community kept people entertained and informed. We had started the day at 2 o’clock in the afternoon with an Aboriginal Smoking Ceremony; at dusk we were united in the Globe of Reconciliation Fire Ceremony; and the night ‘finished’ at 10 o’clock with dancing irt the park.
Two weeks later, after the news of the One Nation win in Queensland, I was talking to a few students and teachers in the sun outside the classrooms. Someone raised the spectre of Hansonism and an Aboriginal student said, “Newcastle is OK, we had the Stomp and people here are OK.” Someone else said, “You know, I walked through Civic Park the other day, and it was different. I could still remember all the people and the kids painting the didgeridoos, the South Pacific Islanders dancing and just the whole thing. The Cultural Stomp has changed the way I see Civic Park.”
Cultures in Action is planning another Cultural Stomp for next year and it promises to be bigger and better; regardless of the political landscape.
Mr GAUDRY (Newcastle—Parliamentary Secretary) [5.52 p.m.]: Last Saturday, together with several thousands of Newcastle and Hunter people, I participated in the fourth Cultural Stomp in Newcastle, an event the aim of which is to bring people together. The Cultures In Action Committee organised the event to nurture the spirit of the culturally diverse Australian society, to give people the opportunity to work together and celebrate reconciliation while simultaneously respecting differences and commonality in our cultures. That cultural event occurred approximately a week after one of the greatest, if not the greatest, demonstrations of solidarity that one could ever wish to see, when hundreds of thousands of people came together in Sydney to celebrate Corroboree 2000 and reconciliation with Australia’s indigenous people.
The Cultural Stomp was first staged in Newcastle in May 1997 as a strong but peaceful statement opposing the strong and divisive politics that were being espoused at that time by One Nation. The whole approach was to bring people together into social action and in peace to demonstrate all the values that can be combined in a community rather than focusing on the divisiveness that was occurring at that time. Since that time, the Cultures in Action Committee in Newcastle has built a really successful cultural event which takes place in Civic Park, opposite Newcastle City Hall. The events bring together a whole range of young people and community groups such as the ethnic communities in Newcastle, the arts communities and visitors from areas outside Newcastle.
The Cultural Stomp day of celebration includes demonstrations of a whole range of dancing and singing. Very importantly, this year’s celebration involved people who have disabilities. The Life Without Barriers group. Life Without Barriers, a special group in Newcastle that works towards providing access and opportunities to people who have disabilities, participated in performances in Civic Park. One of the really significant events was the participation of Mrs Benita Mabo. Tuesday 6 June was the anniversary of the handing down of the Mabo decision, a decision that has brought about tremendous change. It ended the theory of terra nullius and began the continuing struggle by many indigenous people for reconciliation and recognition of their rights as the original occupants of this land. Mrs Mabo spoke of the personal struggle of Eddie Mabo and the struggles of her own people, the South Pacific Islanders, who came to Australia during the labour trade, which featured blackbirding. She referred to the struggle that continues for her people to obtain recognition in this country.
One of the outstanding features of the day was a performance by the Mulloobinba Newcastle high school dance group, which previewed the dances that they will be performing at the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympic Games. I congratulate Mrs Barbara Greentree and the dance group on the selection they will perform at the opening Olympic ceremony and also on the performance that was given on the Cultural Stomp day. One of the organisers of the Cultural Stomp, Mrs Lorraine Norton, has adopted a comment from David Suzuki’s book The Sacred Balance, which states that local communities are actually the mainstay during change. It states further:
“The social unit that will have the greatest stability and resilience into the future is the local community which provides individuals and families with a sense of place and belonging, fellowship and support, purpose and meaning.”
That is the whole idea underlying the celebration that takes place annually in Newcastle. Its aim is to bring people together, to celebrate their diversity and the linking of all cultures in Australian society.
Mr MARKHAM (Wollongong—Parliamentary Secretary) [5.57 p.m.]: The honourable member for Newcastle is to be congratulated for bringing to the attention of this House the Cultural Stomp, which takes place annually in Newcastle. The event is a real demonstration of reconciliation in action—and as I have often said, actions speak louder than words. I congratulate all those involved with the Cultural Stomp. Similar events, as often as possible, should be held in all parts of Australia.
Cultural Stomp 1998
Scanned Editorial from the 10th Anniversary Cultural Stomp Programme, 2007.
Horoscope: Cultural Stomp 4 PM 30 May, 1997, Civic Park, Newcastle, Australia.
2007 Cultural Stomp Poster – note the 9 petalled flower from the first Cultural Stomp in 1997.
First Press Release for Cultural Stomp, 1997
Letter to people, May 1997.
Cultural Stomp, Newcastle
Flyer for Community Meeting to Organise Cultural Stomp in 1998.
After Easter at Woomera in 2002 the Government decided to move people to Baxter. The detention centre in Baxter had an extra deterrent for those seeking to break out – electric shock razor wire. So now we had an electric barrier as well as razor wire to keep innocent women and children and men incarcerated. At Woomera, in 2002, human rights activists could get close to the wire, at Baxter the protests were just symbolic as the Darth Varder clothed police with their shields and batons, their horses and their helicopters overhead kept us far away from the detention centre.
Darth Vader from the Star Wars movie saga. Look at the pictures at the end of the post. Can you see similarities?
The Baxter protest also witnessed for the first time, police in riot gear pointing machine guns at Australian citizens’ heads. This wasn’t reported in the corporate media. However, we have photos and videos to prove it. The freaky thing was that some of us had helium filled balloons. One accidental bursting of a balloon and we would have seen Sharpeville on Australian soil. Where was the outrage by the media? No where. Quiet as a mouse.
The Baxter @ Easter 2003 also witnessed for the first time a close connection with the local indigenous people who supported our Action. Closer connections were made by the various affinity groups which made it more possible for the Flotillas of Hope Action to Nauru happen the following year.
Anyway, read the following account as it appeared on the Baxter Watch website and in the ImaginePeace Update.
A Story from Baxter Detention Centre, Easter, 2003
The corporate media told people that we had broken through the first barrier, about 3 kilometres from the Concentration Camp after some confrontation with police. Then, according to the corporate media we raced down to the second barrier about 2 kms away from the Concentration Camp where the police had formed a line with mounted police ready to lend a hand in stopping us getting through. Even though we could see the massive presence of the riot squad we, in our enthusiasm for a battle with the police decided to breach the police line. This time our brave riot squad with all their gear stopped us. They stopped us by riding their horses into us and dismantling our tents. So, the heroes of the State warded off a few hundred of us refugee activists determined to fight the Empire. That’s their version and if you don’t believe me check out The Australian’s story. 500 refugee activists vs the 357 police and riot squad and a helicopter surveillance. One cop per protestor along with their weapons of mass intimidation.
Sacred Fire lit by the local indigenous Bungalla People.
Where to begin? In many ways for me the real beginning of the story is on Good Friday night, when we gathered around the Sacred Fire lit by the Elders of the Bungalla people – Harry and Noelene. This is a beginning the corporate media won’t tell you about and I believe that what happened around the Sacred Fire at the Baxter Protest Camp marks a new synergy with refugee and Aboriginal rights movements. The Baxter Convergence when seen in this light shows the deeper convergence that occurred at Easter. Hopecaravan yahoo group’s website logo says: “The denial of rights to anyone is the denial of humanity to all.” We were welcomed to the land that Baxter Concentration Camp is built on by the Aboriginal Elders – Noelene and Harry. As far as I was concerned my presence was legal within Aboriginal Law no matter what Howard and Ruddock say. But before I begin the story with this bigger beginning I will tell you what happened when we arrived at the Western road block.
Protectors of the Electric Fence
What really happened? The police allowed us to pass through the first barrier with all of our camping gear and to walk about a kilometre down the hill. As we walked down towards the Concentration Camp we saw police in riot gear making a line. We put down our gear and proceeded to set up camp. No one tried to stop us, so we thought that this was going to be our camp site. The commander of police, with headphone radio contact then made an announcement. He told us all to pack up our gear and return to the top of the hill in 10 minutes or we will be arrested. Many went and pleaded with him to be reasonable, including myself. He wouldn’t budge. The troops were ready to arrest us. Meanwhile from behind us in the hills, like a B grade western movie, there was the calvary of mounted police charging towards our camp site. When the ten minutes were up the riot squad charged into our site and along with the mounted police they took away tents and trampled on peoples’ property. Lucky no one was trampled. There some chafed shins and someone got arrested for carrying a kite. The cops then made us go back up to the hill. Meanwhile, above us, a helicopter choppered away. By the way, I have video footage of all this.
We walked back up to the hill and here we set up camp. That night (Good Friday) we had a spokes council meeting around the Sacred Fire which the Aboriginal Elders had lit especially for our protest. It was the only fire allowed on our camp and whenever we gathered for meetings we gathered around the Sacred Fire. Harry, Elder of the Bungalla people, the people of the local land we camped on, welcomed us as did Noelene. In silence we stood and sat around the Sacred Fire while Noelene and Harry told us their stories and why they supported refugees incarcerated in the Concentration Camps. “Simply because,” Harry said, “Our people experience the same incarceration as the refugees.” They not only felt for the refugees but also totally empathised with their plight because their own people have also suffered the same injustices.
Harry and Noelene told us, as we felt the warmth of the Sacred Fire, that the only way to affect change and help those inside the Concentration Camp was through peaceful and compassionate ways. They told us that to keep in the spirit of the land we had to manifest peacefully. They gave us the blessings of the Bungalla people and its land. I asked permission to record an image of the Sacred Fire, which they gave. HOPE Caravan told the spokes council of the FREEDOM banner, signed by Newcastle people and invited all of the Baxter Convergence people to sign it as well. Noelene and Harry offered to take the FREEDOM banner with all the signatures and well wishes of our protest camp and Newcastle to the refugees in Baxter. This banner was made from a queen sized sheet with the word FREEDOM sewn on in black material in the Farsi language – AZADI. The next day people in the camp signed it at the Sacred Fire and around the Caravan’s camp. On Sunday morning HOPE Caravan gave the banner to Noelene and Harry. I have footage of their words to all of us. They will take our gift of FREEDOM and HOPE to those behind the electric razor wire.
AZADI - Freedom in Farsi with signatures by well wishers from Newcastle and from the Baxter Action people. This was given to the detainees at Baxter by Noelene, a Bungalla Elder from the country on which the Baxter Detention Centre was built.
We decided at that night’s spokes council meeting around the Sacred Fire that some of us would go down later that night. We didn’t know how far the cops would let us get to the Concentration Camp but we were determined to get as close as possible so that we could make contact. To make sure that they could hear us some of us brought bongos and maracas, saxophones, drums along with kites and whistles and pots and pans. At around 9PM we met up on top of the hill and began our walk down to the centre. The moon was full and the desert night cool, silhouettes of hills contrasted with the glare of the Concentration Camp lights a couple of kilometres down the gas pipeline.
Throughout the day we noticed the helicopter that flew overhead in circles watching over us. At night the same thing became a one eyed alien creature scouring the night earth with a column of light descending on our tents, our shadows and the Sacred Fire. Like Apocalypse Now, this time in the desert, the chopper chopped the air as we walked down to the centre its cone of light going over and around us. To my right I noticed a young brother flying a kite while walking on the gas pipeline. The landscape and the images of the Darth Vader STAR cops we had already faced brought to mind Star Wars and here was Luke Skywalker flying his kite under the moonlight. He balanced his sprightly steps on the huge pipe line. The orange kite fluttered above him and occasionally I saw the kite’s bird profile against the round moon. This was one of 26 kites we brought with us from Newcastle. The kites were made from DIMIA plastic sheeting that promotes Harmony Day. Newcastle made the kites to fly at Baxter. We transformed DIMIA advertising into Kites of Peace. As Luke flew his kite, one hand holding the string and the other held out to his side for balance the helicopter made another swoop, its searchlight swept over us and the kite glistened in the air. When our moon shadows returned I looked at the hills around me – I could have been on another planet. The detainees at Baxter will never see these hills because they cannot look out. They are only allowed to look up at the sky. They see the same Southern Cross we do but their horizon ends with electric razor wired walls.
One of the Kites we made in Newcastle from Dept of Immigration's orange plastic Harmony Day promotional banner.
As we got closer to the Concentration Camp we started to chant and play our musical instruments. Our rhythmic chants together with the beats of the drums and the sounds of whistles and sax resonated through the night air – AZADI – FREEDOM – AZADI – FREEDOM – AZADI – FREEDOM and on it went. When we got to the main gates to the Concentration Camp many sat down on the ground and others shoulder to shoulder swayed to the songs we sang. The police stood still in their Darth Vader STAR wars get ups. A couple of us were arrested, one a young woman. Does it take a million dollar Star Wars riot squad to protect an electric razor fence? It seems it does in Australia today when people carrying musical instruments, kites and balloons, banners and flags, their passionate compassion in action voice a dissenting message.- FREE THE REFUGEES! END MANDATORY DETENTION! AZADI !
We went silent for a while to hear a response from those behind the electric wire. The first couple of silent moments between our songs and chants did not reveal anything. Then in one break between AZADI and FREEDOM we heard the faint reply AZADI from behind their walls. It was muffled by the barriers of ACM BUT we had made contact – they heard us and we heard them!
Heart Kite flying high.
On the way back we were pushed by a line of visar STAR war cops – on the road they drove a car with full beam lights in our direction slowly. This meant that your peripheral vision was stuffed and this way couldn’t see if a cop in dark is going to nab you. One of us got arrested with his back to the police. All he was doing was sitting on the gas pipe – away from others. On either side of the car the STAR cops were lined up moving in short robotic movements. About a third of the way back to our camp another group ran towards us through the desert from our left. They went to the other side of the Concentration Camp because they had information from inside the camp that the detainees had been moved there. Two fronts, two determined efforts to make contact with the refugees. The robocops chased them and they finally merged with our group uncaught. About half way up the hill we could just hear the Rock On Against Racism (ROAR) Concert. As we got closer the beats and the music got louder.
The next day we met back at the Sacred Fire where HOPE Caravan brought the FREEDOM / AZADI Gift for people to write their messages on. A decision was made to march back down to the Concentration Camp in the morning. Some members of the Caravan remained behind at the camp site. We came to Baxter to fly our kites and to fly our FREEDOM banner.
But that story’s for another time as are the many other stories that are going to be told by all of us who were at Baxter this Easter.
On Sunday we left about 10AM. There were many buses also leaving about 12PM so there would have been very few of the 500 left when the STAR cops raided the camp with their machine guns. I wasn’t there when that happened AND what I know is that we could have all been there. When they pointed their machine guns at the people left at our camp, they pointed it at my head as well. In fact the machine guns were pointed at every Australian’s head.
Kites against Uzi machine guns!
The act of dissent in Australia can now bring machine guns bearing at peoples’ heads for carrying camera tripods, arrest for placing yellow stars on rotting wooden fences and for flying a kite. Australia – where are we going? There were helium balloons at the camp when the STAR War cops raided it carrying machine guns. One tiny little mishap, like a balloon bursting at the most inopportune time, who knows how many of our children would have been massacred by machine gun fire. Would the government then argue “collateral damage done by friendly fire” on its own people! The lack of outrage at such an intemperate use of force speaks volumes about the Culture we are swimming in. It is crystallizing into a Police State and our right to dissent will be associated with terrorist activities. What else can explain the overkill at Baxter?
I want to say how proud I am to be associated with everyone of you who were at Baxter and those who supported us. Our passionate compassion carried musical instruments, kites, balloons, songs and chants of freedom as our messages of hope to the detainees. There were 500 of us with 357 of the STAR cops and when you include their helicopter and other weapons of mass intimidation you can see that the equation is not equal. Our protest was a complete success in that we made contact with the refugees imprisoned in the Concentration Camp and we have highlighted the draconian methods that are in place to stop frredom of speech and dissent in Australia. Think about it – a machinegun against a kite.
Then think about the message of peace given to us around the Sacred Fire by the Elders of the Land.
Stavros with Hope (in Farsi language) flag at the Baxter Camp.
Lance Gowland, Skipper of Eureka on the way to Nauru with the Flotillas of Hope.
On Saturday, November 22, a celebration of Lance Gowland’s life was held in Sydney. He was a proud 78’er for Gay Liberation risking life and limb for the rights of LGBTQI people. I couldn’t go because of my broken leg but I did send some photos and and some words to be recited as the photos appeared in the appropriate space of Lance’s life in the slide show.
I first met Lance when he answered the Call to Action, for the Flotillas of Hope, to bring hope to the refugees imprisoned on Nauru. He wrote me an email saying he had a boat and he was willing to sail it to Nauru. For him very simple words to utter, but for me, they were miraculous sounds that further crystallized the dream of going to Nauru. Now we had at least 2 boats – Eureka and One Off in Brisbane. When the Call to Action was sent on its email trajectory, there were no boats, no money, no technology, no crew. All there was, was a dream quickening into life any time someone offered some support for the dream to manifest.
Lance also asked me later on the phone if there was another experienced sailor that was going on the trip to Nauru. He wanted to know because he had a terminal illness and he didn’t want the people like me who had never sailed, to be stranded out in the deep blue ocean with no way of returning to Australia. He also asked me to not say anything to anyone about his condition until we returned safely.
Luckily I could answer with a resounding YES!
Ruth Boydell on Eureka.
Ruth Boydell, a Maritime Teacher at Newcastle TAFE, was not only an experienced sailor who had sailed solo from India to Australia but was also a TAFE teacher of sailing and other maritime esoterica. Ruth and I both work in TAFE at Newcastle. I work in Multicultural Education.
The words below were recited on 22 November, 2008 at the Celebration of Lance’s Life.
It was a windy night, the Southern Cross flag flapped behind us, we the crew of Eureka, sat listening to Lance telling us the story of the Eureka Stockade. We were about 400 miles away from Nauru out in the deep blue without any certainty that we would arrive safely and even if we did whether the Nauruan people would greet us peacefully or with the Australian Federal Police armed with their guns.
The Southern Cross flag on Eureka. Photo taken on the night that Lance told us the story.
After a short spell of silence, with the wind blowing, Lance with great feeling quoted these words from the Eureka Stockade:
“We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and defend our rights and liberties”.
For most of us, it was the first time we heard these words and on Eureka out in the deep blue, sailing to Nauru to bring hope to imprisoned refugees, hearing our Skipper, Lance say them, made it an unforgettable moment.
Lance, our Skipper, thank you for standing by me and the crew. Thank you for your courage and generosity of spirit standing by the impoverished refugees who sought hope on Nauru.
You, Lance, are a man who will live on in any action done by any person for the cause of social justice.
Since writing the above Australia has legalised Same Sex Marriage in 2017 and in 2018 the 40th Anniversary of the Mardi Gras was celebrated. Just before this ABC TV broadcast a documentary about the struggle for equal rights for gay people.
Mardi Gras named Lance Gowland the Father of the Revolution.
The Flotillas of Hope was a voyage by two yachts carried out in 2004 by protesters critical of the Australian government’s asylum policy. The boats sailed to Nauru, a Pacific island nation which was host to Australia’s offshore immigrant detention center until the new Labor government came to power in 2007. They intended to deliver goods to those interned (most detainees are families who fled conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq), but not surprisingly were not allowed to land by the Nauruan government. Under an agreement put into effect earlier that year, Australia had taken responsibility for the island’s finances and civilian police force. John Howard, the Australian Prime Minister at the time, forced the Nauru government to take armed Australian Police Force to “protect” the island nation from the Flotillas of Hope flying Teddy Bear flags. The Flotillas of Hope project had two intentions 1) to give the refugees caged on the Island of Shame – Nauru, hope – that they have not been forgotten by people, that the Pacific Solution – out of sight, out of mind, did not work and 2) to bring the world media spotlight on Nauru on World Refugee Day, 20 June 2004. This the project achieved and it saw the granting of asylum to over half the refugees on Nauru and the release of Aladdin Sisalem who was in solitary confinement on Manus Island, New Guinea while we were sailing to Nauru.
Hand made flags with messages of hope and love made by the people of Australia flew on Eureka and One Off.
The way the Flotillas grew from an idea, a dream that manifested at first as an email Call to Action using the internet as a nervous system which then as an organsim, gathered into the Flotillas intention – satellite mobile phones, life rafts, high frequency radios, laptops, generators, sun power inverters, flags painted by community hands, dolls and teddy bears in handmade clothes, knitted sweaters, a large canvas sail painted by local Sydney artists along with other paintings expressly made and auctioned to raise money for the safe passage of the Flotillas of Hope, all of this and more occurred during the event.. From the finer embedded world of qualities, the realm of hope, love, justice, freedom – the realm of the spirits, the realm of creation, the Flotillas sparked into the internet. It was Art – in – Action using the world wide web to manifest. Hope was generated in not only the refugees caged on Nauru, but also in all people of good will who felt despondent that nothing will change the government’s heartless policy.
Trade Union Choir singing at the launch of the Flotillas of Hope in Sydney, 15 May, 2004.
University students made videos. At the send – offs from Sydney, Newcastle, Coffs Harbour, Byron Bay and Brisbane, the Flotillas of Hope gathered the communities wishes and intentions to bring Hope to the refugees in the concentration camp of Nauru. The Flotillas did this by accepting hand made toys, hand made clothes for the dolls and teddy bears, the drawings and paintings of love and hope by Australian children, hand made flags with hand written words of love and hope from the people of Australia and overseas who sent gifts by post. Communities made beautiful flags – one with a Mandala made under the direction of a Buddhist priest, another of a Teddy Bear made by people who cared.
Poster promoting the departure of the flotillas from Brisbane.
On route to Nauru, the Flotillas docked at Santa Cruz Island, a far flung island of the Solomon Islands. The local indigenous people were so touched by our intention and by how far we had sailed and were sailing that they carved a beautiful wooden oar and gave it us to symbolize that they were rowing all the way with us to Nauru. They gave us the gift on the day we departed Santa Cruz with a send off that included singing, dancing, eating and words of power and encouragement.
The Flotillas carried the cargo of hope through the 12 mile No Go Zone and got to within 500 metres of Nauru coast until they were chased out by 6 Nauruan boats. The boats, Eureka and One Off became living talismans of peaceful and compassionate energies from Australians.
On the way to Nauru, refugees were freed and the websites designed to be the communications hub of the project informed the world about what was happening. There were live interviews with ABC, SBS, BBC, NZBC, Houston Radio, USA along with commercial radio and TV in Australia. A filmmaker, Angela van Boxtel made a Lucid Launch Flotillas of Hope website where artists contributed their art on the website. The Flotillas of Hope was an idea that touched people from across the world and it was an effective art action in all its levels of manifestation.
Santa Cruz, Solomon Islands locals dancing at the departure ceremony.
Santa Cruz, Solomon Island dancers at the departure ceremony wishing us luck and grace.
Various artists painted sections of this canvas sail which was auctioned off along with other original works of art in Gallery 179, Darlinghurst to raise funds for the Flotillas of Hope..
It was also an expression of the newly coined word “Noopolitics” which encompasses Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s concept of the noosphere of knowledge / information (Teilhard is often called the patron saint of the Internet) because we not only made the news, we also reported the news which was transmitted across the world wide web and TV, radio and text media through our logs and the live satellite phone hookups with global media. The narrative of the journey was transmitted live by the logs of the crew.
The crew received messages of hope – poems and passionate prose from people all over the world who sent text messages from the web directly to our sat – phone in the middle of the deep blue sea. People following the journey on the web were informed as to the exact location of the boats by maps updated by satellite phone to the communications cluster. The project has been archived at the Australian Maritime Museum.
Artists that contributed the sections on the Sail are in order from the top to the bottom, left to right: Dale Dean, Euan Macleod, Mareia Brozky, Angelica Greening, Ingrid Skirkia, John Bell, Lorna Grear, Neil Mallard, Euan Macleod (one more section), Leo Robbia and Martin Sharp.
Teddy Bear flag made by Newcastle community and flown as we entered the barred 12 mile zone.
Some of the Cargo of Hope – toys and gifts from the Australian people for the children and their parents imprisoned on Nauru.
Prayers in Newcastle launch with members of the crew.
Flotillas – the precedents.
Speaking in 1984, on the occasion to launch of an initiative to send a ship to escort people fleeing in boats in South East Asia, Michel Foucault said:
“We are just private individuals here, with no other grounds for speaking, or for speaking together, than a certain shared difficulty in enduring what is taking place. … there’s not much we can do about the reasons why some men and women would rather leave their country than live in it. The fact is beyond our reach.
Who appointed us, then? No one. And that is precisely what constitutes our right. […]
After all, we are all members of the community of the governed, and thereby obliged to show mutual solidarity.
We must reject the division of labour so often proposed to us: individuals can get indignant and talk; governments will reflect and act. […] Experience shows that one can and must refuse the theatrical role of pure and simple indignation that is proposed to us.”
Letter written to supporters about 6 weeks before departure. At the time of the launch, the Project had 2 satellite phones, raised over $20,000 to cover all costs and other technology – all donated by the people of Australia.
Lyrics to the song “Who Is That Refugee?’
A Fluxus Manifesto. Some have said that the Flotillas of Hope was a Fluxus Action.
The first poster to promote the Flotillas of Hope by Matt Hamon, who was also the computer wizkid for Hope Caravan and Ground Crew for the project.
TheFlotillas of Hope was a Journey of Hope, to bring hope to the innocent people imprisoned on Nauru by John Howard’s Australian government. Please note that most of the time the plural “Flotillas” is used instead of Flotilla even though on the surface there was only one flotilla of two boats that sailed to Nauru. The reason that Flotillas is used is because all the actions, the ceremonies, the prayers, the chants, the letters, the songs, the rituals, every action, are ALL flotillas of inner and outer vessels used to bring hope to the refugees imprisoned on Nauru.
The Woomera @ Easter 2002, Baxter @ Easter 2003 and the Flotillas of Hope Actions were not part of an organisation and in fact the websites which supported the Actions have virtually disappeared. The Actions were organic institutes – of – the – moment and like a Tibetan Buddhist sand painting, once the Actions were completed, the organisations like sand grains were blown by the wind to the four corners of the earth. They remain in peoples’ lives that have been transformed by the granting of freedom from the Australian gulags of shame.
When I sent the Call to Action for the human rights social action groups to unite to shame John Howard and highlight the plight of innocent refugees caged on the so called “Pacific Solution” – Nauru, it was deemed an incredibly audacious and unrealistic call. Why? Because Nauru is 4000 kms from Australia and when the call went out, we had no boats, no technology, no crew, no money, indeed, for me – no sailing experience. Well, within 2 weeks of the Call to Action over 250 people from around the planet had joined the new Internet group “Flotillas of Hope”. Within the first two weeks, the creators of the Woomera 2002 website contacted me and created the Flotilla2004 website. Another website was created for digital artists by a film maker and our own Hope Caravan website was the “hub”. A theme song for the project was recorded by Joanna Leigh, “HOPE”. You can download the mp3 version of the song here .. “HOPE…We Bring You Hope” .
Within a short time 2 boats appeared and in the weeks and months before we took off on our journey to Nauru we had received satellite telephones, solar energy inverters, radios, life rafts, money and the incredible creative output of artists and communities across Australia which gave our Cargo of Hope, toys and Teddy Bears for the kids in the gulag.
The Flotillas of Hope Mascot – Azadi Koala. The script on the koala’s shirt says “AZADI” which means Freedom in the Farsi language. The koala is steering Eureka to Nauru 🙂
Following the action, asylum was granted to over half the refugees on Nauru and Aladdin Salanin who was in solitary confinement on Manus Island, New Guinea was released.
Along the way to Nauru, the Flotillas docked at Santa Cruz, a far flung island of the Solomon Islands Where they were met by the local indigenous people. The Flotillas carried their cargo through the 12 mile No Go Zone
Below the map is an article written by a close friend who was a member of the Ground Crew. It gives you the background to the Journey. Lynda, along with some others, made sure that our messages sent by the satellite phone would get out to our website people and so to the world. Lynda was based in Far North NSW. After this article you will find the links I mentioned earlier. After the links and photos of the boats, there is an article by another friend and member of the Ground Crew, Angela. She looked after one of the websites for the project and was based in Melbourne.
Route taken by Flotilla of Hope to Nauru to reach Nauru on 20 June, 2004 – World Refugee Day.
Back in Easter 2002, a group of concerned people from the Hunter region of NSW, Australia, appalled by the Australian Government’s attitude and policy on asylum seekers, joined the actions of the Festival of Freedoms in the South Australian desert. This became Hope Caravan. Along the way, the ‘O’ in Hope transformed from an organisation to an organism.
In 2003, Hope Caravan went to the Baxter Detention Centre in South Australia. Many strong bonds and friendships were formed with some of those people initiating the Flotillas of Hope project, which in association with Hope Caravan, sails to Nauru this month to arrive on the tiny impoverished Pacific island of Nauru.
This diverse group of people include a research scientist, an award winning film maker, teachers of maritime studies and multicultural education, a shipwright as well as a soccer coach from the Brisbane based, Tigers Refugee team.
Nauru is the smallest republic in the world with a population of only 12,000. It not only faces an environmental catastrophe but also economic bankruptcy.
The exploitation of Nauru’s rich source of phosphate began in the early 1900s. After World War l, the Australian, British and New Zealand governments took over the original mining company that had been previously German owned. It was called the British Phosphate Company. As demands grew for fertiliser, so did their profits. However, only 2% of the revenue went to the Nauru people. At the time of Nauru’s independence in 1968, mining had destroyed over one-third of the tiny island. In 1991, Nauru took the Australian Government to the International Court of Justice for the exploitation of its economy and environment. In 1993, Australia settled out-of-court for $57 million with an additional $2.5 million per annum for the next 20 years. By the late 1990’s, the money had all but dried up.
During the Australian federal election in 2001, the Howard government seized the opportunity to pressure Nauru into taking asylum seekers from the shores of Australia in return for many millions of dollars. These refugees were removed by the Australian military in violation of the International Refugee Convention. This was the beginning of “The Pacific Solution”. Many of these people were initially rescued by the now infamous Tampa, a Norwegian Freighter off the Western Australian coast. In denying the Tampa refugees access to the Australian mainland, and their rights under Australian law, Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, said, “whilst this is a humanitarian decent country, we are not a soft touch and we are not a nation whose sovereign rights in relation to who comes here are going to be trampled on”.
Nauru continues to deny entry to all lawyers, journalists and representatives of human rights groups as well as independent doctors and psychiatrists from assessing the health of the refugees.
Nauru has since been called Australia’s Guantanamo Bay.
These refugees merely sought to flee life-threatening persecution and repression, economic deprivation and poverty and to bring themselves and their families to a safe and secure environment. This must be surely the most basic right of any individual, yet in seeking to exercise it, they have come face to face with the Australian army.
In the last week, three Australian lawyers were ordered off Nauru before they had a chance to appear in a court case challenging the legality of the island’s detention centre for asylum seekers. Their visas were revoked by Nauru’s Minister for Justice, Russell Kun. On April 27, he appointed his uncle, former Finance Minister and paralegal “pleader”, Reuben Kun, to present the detainees’ case.
There are approximately 21 million refugees worldwide, yet there is only one who is on a remote island in solitary confinement. The Australian government pays $23,000 per day to detain Aladdin Sisalem, a 25 year old man who has suffered persecution most of his life. The son of a Palestinian refugee (his father) and an Egyptian mother, Aladdin was born in Kuwait. Persecuted in his home country, he began a perilous journey in search of a country that would accept him, travelling via West Papua, Papua New Guinea, finally arriving in the Torres Straight Islands, where he was seized by the Australian Police before being taken to Thursday Island. When he asked Australian authorities for asylum, he was removed and taken to a detention centre set up by the Australian Government on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. Even if he wanted to return, Kuwait will not take Aladdin back after his period of absence. Egypt does not want him. Israel does not consider his “right of return” as a Palestinian.
It is noted that the 1948 Universal Declaration Human Rights, Article 14, states “everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution”. Ongoing, indefinite suffering by asylum seekers both here and on the offshore detention centres is a clear indication that these basic human rights are being violated.
On 15th May, Flotillas of Hope departs Sydney Harbour, sailing up the east coast of Australia, converging in Brisbane, before departing for Nauru on 23rd May. The boats should arrive at Nauru on 20th June (World Refugee Day) with their “Cargo of Hope” which will include toys, educational, recreational items and a generator for the country’s hospital.
The voyage of this Flotilla recalls the old law of the sea – which obliges us to give assistance to anyone in peril, without regard for flags – and seeks to open a multitude of flows toward a new world for which maps are yet to be created.
Therefore, the Flotilla will use a diversity of tactics: boats converging to Australia’s north in mid-2004 crewed by autonomous affinity groups ; media streams and online protests; radio waves and OpenFlow events.
The view from Eureka’s porthole, somewhere between Santa Cruz, Solomon Islands and Nauru.
One Off with crew.
azadi ~ eleftheria ~ freedom
“eleftheria” is one of the most beautiful words in Greek – it means freedom..
Flotillas of Hope
by Angela Mitropoulos
Melbourne, June 3, 2004.
There are currently boats travelling 4,000
kilometres to Australia’s internment camp on
Nauru. This is the most recent culmination of a
series of protests against successive Australian
governments’ policies of interning undocumented
migrants. The boats are presently at the halfway
mark and, weather permitting, expected to reach
Nauru by June 20. The crews have been threatened
with imprisonment for crossing borders without the
proper papers. The importance of the internet to
the communication and character of noborder
protests is here amplified by distance, threats of
violence and the risks of sea travel.
It is well known that since 1989, successive
Australian Governments have administered a
notorious policy subsequently referred to the
‘mandatory and non-reviewable detention’ of all
those who arrive by boat and without papers. This
was a response to the (by international
comparison) extremely small rise in undocumented
boat arrivals after 1989 – many from the Middle
East, Vietnam and Cambodia – whose internment was
often successfully challenged through legal
The post-1989 regime of border policing
effectively and over time legislated that the
refugee determination process exist outside the
rule of law in the form of ministerial and
administrative dictate and be discharged through
concentration camps and military intervention.
It is also well known that in 2002, protesters on
both sides of the barbed wire scaled the fences at
the Woomera internment camp in South Australia and
a number of escapes occurred. www.woomera2002.antimedia.net Woomera, which
closed shortly after this, was emblematic of the
Australian Government’s strategy of interning
undocumented migrants in remote, rural camps as a
means of containment and control. Woomera was
located 1,000 kilometres from the nearest capital
city (Adelaide) and, for a time, held the largest
number of detainees.
2002 was the culmination of four years of protests
by detainees in Australia’s internment camps,
including hunger strikes, the destruction of
buildings, and mass escapes. Many of those
protests were met with tear gas, riot police and
the use of chemical restraints. www.antimedia.net/xborder
Following this, the Australian Government shifted
its strategy toward a combination of ‘dislocation’
and electrification in an attempt to decompose the
protests against the post-1989 regime of the
camps. The so-called ‘Pacific Solution’ was
introduced which established camps on Nauru and
Papua New Guinea (Manus Island) funded by the
Australian Government and managed by the
International Organisation for Migration.
Australian military vessels would forcibly remove
undocumented boat arrivals from territorial waters
and Australian islands, and transport them to
those camps in the Pacific.
In Australia, a new technology of internment was
constructed (such as at Baxter) which replaced the
grim (but scalable) coils of barbed wire and steel
fences with hi-tech, refined systems of electronic
barriers, surveillance and a greater reliance on
technological and chemical restraint. (The
Government has also budgeted for another of these
hi-tech camps in Broadmeadows, Melbourne to
replace the current, smaller one in Maribyrnong.)
The result of these changes to the architecture of
the camps were immediate: the protesters outside
Baxter in 2003 were unable to get close to or even
within sight of any of those imprisoned there,
many of whom had been relocated from Woomera. www.baxter2003.com
Whereas Woomera2002 had managed to break with the
symbolic character of protests by those outside
the camps; Baxter2003 signalled the restoration of
such, and subsequently ushered in a decline in the
impetus of the movements against the camps.
Having circulated as an audacious, but regarded as
impractical, strategy after Woomera2002, the idea
of shifting the protests against the camps to the
northern waters of Australia became an imperative
with the inauguration of the ‘Pacific Solution.’
After Baxter, Hopecaravan
distributed a call for boats to travel to the
internment camp on Nauru. That voyage is
currently underway, with boats presently located
at the halfway mark, and expecting to reach Nauru
by June 20.
The Nauru Government which – given its current
fiscal woes and recent economic bankruptcy –
relies on the continuing funding of the camp as a
source of revenue and employment, has threatened
to suspend maritime convention (the Law of the
Sea) and forcibly seize the boats. They have also
threatened to imprison the Flotilla crews as
undocumented boat arrivals. This has not deterred
the crews, who nevertheless require ongoing
support and communication.
Regular updates are available at flotilla2004.com,
as are crew b-logs, instructions on sending text
messages to the crews, and detailed background
The Australian Government, for its part, has
adopted the pose of detached benevolence – an echo
of its previous, farcical contention that it was
not legally liable for the treatment and
internment of those in the camps because they were
outside Australian jurisdiction. Facing with an
upcoming election, and as the Flotilla boats were
cheered off from eastern coastal cities, the
Government announced that under half of those
detained on Nauru would be granted visas, and
recently granted a visa to the remaining detainee,
Aladdin Sisalem, on Manus Island. www.freealaddin.com
These shifts follow a determined hunger strike
last year on Nauru, after which the Government
promised that it would review its rejection of the
applications for asylum by those imprisoned on
The Government has, nevertheless, insisted that
its camps in the Pacific will remain, at a cost of
around $300, 000 per month.
Previously, the Government had refused to grant
visas to those taken hostage from the MV Tampa and
forcibly transported to Nauru. At the time, the
Government insisted that ‘not one of those would
set foot on Australian soil.’ It is abundantly
clear that the definition of who is a refugee and
who is not (or: who is subject to the regime of
the camps in order to classify people along this
axis) is defined by what the Australian Government
imagines to be politically advantageous at any
Those released from Nauru and PNG have expressed
concern for the fate and safety of those who
remain interned there. The voyage continues until
the camps are closed.
Melbourne, June 3, 2004.
The Flotillas of Hope Sailing Crew
Keith Davies, Skipper of One Off, pointing to the sticker from Rainbow Power who donated a solar power inverter to the project.
Thank you for visiting Journeys and Star Gazing. Here there's stories of my various journeys, some inner but mostly outer; photos, song lyrics, poems, astrological readings and interpretations, I Ching speculations, quotes from people I admire and some cool graphics. There are reflections and archival material on various human rights campaigns I have been involved in over the years. With these, some have a "Star Gazing" interpretive filter.
Posts include my interests in alchemy, magic, kabbalah, consciousness studies, the Fourth Way and anything else that may enter my sphere of living. I hope you enjoy your visit. I'd love to hear from you in the comments.
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