This comes from an email newsletter I published between 2001 and 2004 called Imaginepeace Update. The newsletter was born due to the frustration and anger I felt towards the conservative Howard Government of Australia which was demonising asylum seekers and refugees. The climax came for me when John Howard, the Prime Minister, told the Australian people that the asylum seekers were throwing children overboard and the whole shameful Tampa boat incident. Just click on the links to get the historical picture.
Just after I started sending out the Imaginepeace Updates I heard from a friend that some people were organising to go to Woomera to support those behind the razor wire. I then organised a group of people in the Hunter region of NSW to go at Easter, 2002.
This was a social experiment as well because it was one of the first Actions in the world which was organised by using the Internet.
The Woomera Action to support the innocent refugees caged behind the razor wire in the desert was one of the world’s first social action protest to use the incredible organising facility of the Internet. Way back in 2002 when we were preparing the desert action the authorities did not think it was possible to organise a national protest action in the inhospitable Australian desert. The concept of a flat, non hierarchical matrix with networks which had no “leader”, no Central Control Commission (CCC) was a foreign concept to them. Ideas like “clusters” and “affinity groups” born in action by anarchists in the Spanish Civil War, yes the one that George Orwell went to fight in, were also foreign and did not compute in their strategic mindset. These early 20th Century ideas translated into the 21st Century Internet have proved incredibly powerful in the struggle by grass roots groups against authoritarianism.
The government thought the whole idea was crazy and doomed to failure. It is because they didn’t know the possibilities of organising using this new technology that the Woomera Action was so successful. Successful? Apart from the breakout of the refugees, the Woomera Detention Camp was closed down soon after the Action.
I believe that because the Festival of Freedoms was organised by the net, we took the authorities by surprise and this is why they weren’t prepared for us. The government did not think it was possible to organise a protest action out in the inhospitable desert. It had not factored in the logistical and organising matrix of the world wide web. Indeed, the concept of affinity groups and decentralised organic action with no centralised leaders also derailed their expectations. Another term for the organising principle we used is Segmented Polycentric Integrated Networks (SPINs). It was this experience which made the Flotillas of Hope Action to Nauru possible.
I remember talking with journalists, who just didn’t get it. They kept saying, “Take us to your Leader”. They didn’t comprehend a leaderless organising principle using a non – hierarchical web to facilitate Action. I kept humming to myself the song by Bob Dylan, “Ballad of a Thin Man” with its chorus “Something is going on and you don’t know what it is, do you Mr Jones?” whenever a journalist would try to work out who was the leader. We obviously had the “Megaphones” who were trying to take away the anarchic spirit manifesting in the moment and to channel it into a “Socialist” box, but the Action and the Freedom energy was too big for the “Megaphones” to control.
The following story of this journey and the geocities web link below shows my “beginner” skills in making a website. The scripts of the various languages used in the Woomera Detention Centre were translated for me by members of the various community groups. I scanned the translations of the key words and put them up on the site. People were encouraged to download the various words in the languages used by the detainees and to put them on their T-shirts, flags, sheets of material to give to the detainees. I remember a detainee about to jump through into freedom at the razor wire fence looked at my T- shirt and exclaimed “This my language!”. It was FREEDOM in Farsi. We also had badges people could download from our website.
The reasons why each of us went to Woomera still make very interesting reading. The events at Woomera Concentration Camp, Easter, 2002 where refugees escaped and we looked after the escapees in our tents meant that those present had to look deep into their conscience and act from their hearts. The Howard government threatened to put us all in gaol for 25 years and labelled us “terrorists”. Woomera was closed down soon after the Woomera Festival of Freedoms Action. I am proud of being there.
Anyway, go back in time and read an email I wrote in 2002.
Good Friday at Woomera, 2002
Only now do I feel that I can write my account of what happened on Good Friday at Woomera. The last couple of weeks I’ve been in another mental and emotional state. It is only now that I can see it was due to the life transforming events at the razor wire of the Woomera Concentration Camp.
I and ten others from Newcastle and Sydney travelled together on the HOPE Caravan. The HOPE Caravaners – Jane, Ruth, Norman, Sabrina, Dave, Ross, Melanie, Margaret, Paul, Elizabeth and myself set off from Newcastle to go to Woomera at Easter. Woomera is a desert town in South Australia about 500 kms north west from Adelaide. It is a town in a huge, what the Times Atlas calls, Military Prohibited Area which covers about 200,000 square kilometers. Woomera is also near Maralinga, the only place in Australia which has had a nuclear bomb drop on it, wounding our country and releasing radiation which has killed many Aboriginal people and others.
Woomera is the place where Australia houses one of six concentration camps for innocent asylum seekers. Woomera,Curtin and Port Hedland because of their isolation can also be seen as gulags. So, the smiling hospitable face of Australia, with its beautiful fireworks and eternity on the Sydney Harbour Bridge during the Olympic Games, 2000 now in 2002, has razor wire braces with tear gas and capsicum spray replacing the fireworks. Eternity is now a leaking boat carrying desperate people seeking asylum…which we, as a country deter and deny. The open harbour is now a gulag in some inhospitable desert. Is this Australia? Which face is ours? Was the smiling, welcoming face shown to over 2 billion people across the globe during the Olympics just a public relations act? Whatever it was, our Prime Minister ensured that his smiling face would like wall paper blend into the Big Olympic Welcome Smile. In two years the self image of Australia and the image seen across the globe have undergone a transformation, like watching a movie – Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – Dorian Gray and Time, where the prince is now a toad – transformation in reverse.
Funny thing happened along the way with our name. Hunter Organisation for Peace and Equity took on new skin and became Hunter Organism for Peace and Equity. The transformation from an organisation to an organism became complete when we arrived at Woomera on Good Friday. There we saw and felt what it was like to be part of a living Organism. An organisation is too structured, it smells of committees and hierarchy, in fact, in the context of HOPE it can be nuanced as corporate.
The cry of FREEDOM from the detainees at Woomera Concentration Camp, resonated with our empathic and sympathetic cry of FREEDOM on the other side of the razor wire. We cried with them as they cried with us – real tears, wet ones. The detainees freed themselves – we have footage to show this and will be available on the new hopecaravan website. We freed ourselves by our presence, actions and awareness. Whether it was a balls up by ACM and the State to allow the detainees to escape or whether it was a miracle, the fact is detainees now know that there are people, Australians, that care and don’t want innocent asylum seekers caged like animals.
The living reality of travelling together for days to participate in a festival of freedoms precluded an “organisation” but allowed the living practice of inclusion and a trust that whatever a member did or said as part of HOPE Caravan was speaking and acting on all of our behalfs. One for all and all for one! HOPE has many tongues, arms, legs, hearts and minds. I saw that we, ordinary people, together with a common intent can achieve wonders without hierarchy, without leaders. Working from a matrix of networks whose diversity reflects the diversity within each affinity group achieved more than we dreamed was possible.
The combined presence by all woomera2002 activists gave hope to those without papers behind the razor wire.
Two members of HOPE Caravan, are maintaining a presence at Woomera having established the Woomera Refugee Embassy. By their presence the detainees have some hope and a clearing house for their voices. Other members of HOPE will be visiting the Refugee Embassy at Woomera. If you are interested in visiting and supporting HOPE’s efforts in Woomera become a member of the hopecaravan email group firstname.lastname@example.org and visit http://groups.yahoo.com/group/hopecaravan/
Perhaps Woomera2002 at Easter will only be a short footnote in some Australian history text book in the years to come. Perhaps it won’t be recorded at all in any official version of history. As we all know, footnotes don’t tell the whole story. And, “History” as catalogued in the State’s book shelf has great need of revision to include herstory and ourstory to reflect the diversity of time bodies and experiences of all Australians….better still as Earthlings. One Earth under One Sky.
To see why we went to Woomera for the Festival of Freedoms check out http://www.geocities.com/stevegeo2002/hope_caravan It makes an interesting reading after the event.
imaginepeace update April 2, 2002
some desert dust must have gone into my laptop so the shift key don’t work. spoke to dave last night just after returning to morpeth. He told me everything he said on the email. so, yes dave and ross obviously have all
our support. we must now consider ongoing support for both re money etc. julian burnside qc will be defending the arrested ones in may along with dave…this is great news.
yesterday i had an interview with sbs world news and this morning i’m waiting on a call from darwin abc. sbs was particularly interested in the stories about the viloent protest. i made it very clear that the whole event
was peaceful and that none of us expected the detainees to escape. they wanted info on our weapons….weapons indeed…all we had were our sympathetic hearts, open arms to receive the freed ones. the only rock thrown was one by our fellow hope memebr, paul, who wrapped a 50 dollar note around it and a detainee caught it like a good cricketer.
i just finished the interview with darwin abc and the reporter said that it will more than likely be broadcast nationally on abc radio, probably lunch time today. all journos are interested in the so called violence and planned
actions to free the detainees. i have made it clear to everyone who has spoken with me that there were no weapons, that we did not plan to liberate the detainees ..that we were thrilled with the outcome, that the freed
detainees came to the woomera2002 camp where we gave support and hid them from the authorities, that as far as i knew thru telephone contact that the detainees freed had in some way been spirited away from woomera were safe and being looked after by fellow protesters, that i don’t know where they are, that yes, we realise that to support escaped detainees carries a jail sentence, that as far as i am concerned the detainees should be free because they are innocent asylum seekers who should never be incarcerated in a concentration camp, that the concentration camps are illegal from a global human rights perspective, that as far as i know, no escapees went wandering into the desert.
we have now entered the propaganda war phase. i told both sbs and abc that the whole thing could have been a set up to allow us to enter the area, to pull down the first fence with no resistance from police, that sand bags
were left on the ground which we used to keep the razor wire covered so that our brothers and sisters could walk on the fallen fence without any fear of being cut. when the detainees wriggled and squeezed through the iron bars of the cage, no police tried to stop tyhem. i believe that the authorities who knew about the woomera2002 event beforehand moved a whole bunch of detainees before we arrived and had kept only 300 there, the detainees that could not be processed, “the ones who more than likely were criminals etc”, funny about that because there many children still in detention…criminal kids! So, I think that the authorities made it easy for us and the detainees whoescaped so that they could then orchestrate stories using one off pictures to “prove” their point that we are a bunch of “soccer hooligans”. In other words, the demonisation of asylum seekers is now being perpetrated on australian citizens, peaceful protesters. But, they will not get away with this…we have our own footage, we have our own voices, we have our own support and we are articulate – we speak english and we have our own
alternative media thru the internet.
The propaganda wars have begun. Truth will prevail! thanks to all of you who have shown support in every conceivable way. We now have to write letters to newspapers, write articles, talk with the media. I will work on the HOPE Website today and see if i can upload images etc . i have hundreds and Paul has great video footage which I will pick up on saturday which I will transform into didgital images to be uploaded.
See you all soon.
peace, love and joy
“The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who remain neutral in times of moral crisis” – Dante
Woomera – Saturday Night is the loneliest night
There is a buzz around the camp after a successfull 48 hours of direct
action. People believe that we are now able to permantly close down
the concentration camp. 2000 people at Easter, 10,000 at Christmas.
Live gigs have started and the party is begining to rock.
A protester’s account of being arrested for being ‘suspected of being
not easy being brown. But it can be a lot of fun. Late last night
our campsite completely surrounded by cops and APS officers
waiting to nab
the friends that we had rescued from Woomera. I thought
it would be both
amusing and a good waste of their time and resources
if they did catch a
detainee — if that `detainee’ was me.
So I headed for the police
roadblock where I was surrounded by seven
or eight cops who grabbed me
sneering “You’re one of those escaped
denied this (in a very bad, stereotypically Middle-Eastern accent),
started yelling that I wanted a lawyer, that I was a citizen,
I had rights,
etc. etc. These morons actually fell for what was
becoming the most pathetic
impersonation of a detainee ever performed
and decided to search me, removing
lethal weapons such as tic tacs,
extra shoelaces and my
I was freaking out that such a ridiculous plan was
so I dropped my silly accent and told the cops that I was
in fact an
Australian citizen with identification back at camp. Not good
this little darkie got arrested. They forced me into the back of
van, locked me in and drove me to the station.
When I was
removed from the van I was photographed and then had all my
stuff — beanie,
shoes, necklaces — confiscated. A religious necklace
that I couldn’t remove
was cut from my neck. I colourfully told the
cops how badly they had screwed
up their arrest and about my rights,
to which one of them responded that I
was suspected of being a
detainee AND HAD NO RIGHTS. Well, that’s just
fucking dandy, isn’t it?
If you happen to be brown and near a detention
centre, some pigs in a
van can rock up and do whatever they like to you
because you happen to
be the right colour. Never mind that I was a
speaking fluent English — I could just as easily have
been one of
those damn Afghani terrorists who escaped and are a threat to
So I was handcuffed and put in a cell with 12
detainees who told me
about how they had been beaten when they were captured.
Among them was
a 12 year-old boy who we had seen bashed earlier as well as a
year-old and a man who had been savaged by APS pigs.
detainees had scars and bruising either from beatings or
They told me about how they would rather fight to
stay in the jail cell — a
bare concrete floor with an open ceiling —
than be taken back to Woomera.
The men told me about the `jobs’ they
have (toilet cleaning, dishwashing and
maintenance) which pay around a
dollar an hour. The money they earn goes
towards buying things like
shoes and thongs from a `shop’ in the
Finally, an APS official called `Mr Dan’ came in. I can’t think
anything about Woomera that made it seem like a concentration camp
than watching a group of men call out serial numbers instead of
When the police realised their mistake, I was driven back to
don’t know what will happen to my friends who were in the cell
me. But being arrested for being brown reflects what is driving
entire refugee debate: ignorance. People too culturally ignorant
tell one kind of person from another, people too stupid to
diversity and people too stubborn to accept others. It scares me
we live in a country where you can be arrested for the colour of
skin. But it scares me more that you can be locked away
for it while a nation turns its back on you.
Spectacle – there’s neither violence or
non-violence out here — it’s pure
all the talk and text, and among all the hype and hyperbole
actions of the last two days, the poles of “violent”
and “non-violent” have,
as is typical, been the ends we are supposed
to have swung between. But I beg
Pure SPECTACLE has been the master of our desert
We all came here spurred by the image of spectacle, and
moment we arrived we assumed lead roles in its temporary
It was neither violence or non-violence that saw us march
dusty span between us and them. Nor did the circus music we
to, or the pink PVC clad activo-expressionists have anything to
with violence or non-violence — it was pure spectacle.
the spectacle of the absurd — absurd tactics countering absurd
policy. We were all moving pictures, media sluts once
removed. The whole
action was captured on film at every angle —
spectacular fodder for the
spectacle machine. I saw a guy asked to
start drumming again — by a channel
7 cameraman! — of course he
So if we think of the
intensity and degree of spectacle involved here
I think it’s clear that we’re
not trapped in the dichotomy of violence
or non-violence, but willing actors
in the spectacle of the desert —
and, may I say, it’s working.
at Woomera Jail
A small, peaceful
support group spent today in front of Woomera police
station, offering our
support (and bail sureties) to the people inside
as best we could. Protestors
from inside and outside the detention
centre fences were held there, and
could often be heard singing
between negotiations with the police. The police
letting us pass in cigarettes, food and legal contact numbers
treating those inside the jail with respect as negotiations
bail conditions went on.
In the afternoon, our crew walked
closer to the fence and yelled
‘We’re still here’ to make sure they knew they
had support. We
realised we could see some of the people inside if we angled
around a few tarps, and waved and exchanged hellos with the
inside. After a few minutes an officer politely asked us to move
and we did, happy to have seen our friends and comrades smiling
The town was quiet, but a few locals walked by, some
offering words of
support. One offered to get us some fresh water from his
house if we
needed it, and joked that the locals understood it had all been
accident and that the wind had knocked down the fence. His
offered elaborate advice on how we could fold newspapers to
that wind power at future protests. It was very encouraging to
reminded that some people in town are supportive of our presence
our actions. We are proud of the fact that we’ve maintained
nonviolent presence outside the prison all day, and we hope for
speedy release of all the incarcerated.
to a post: “Summing up the
happened at Woomera is a huge morale boost for the refugees,
who now know
that there ARE many Australians who care about them. The
detention of refugees has finally been broken down in
the last few months,
and the refugees have finally been given a human
face and voice and more
truth is coming out.
Ruddock/Howard and co. will have a lot of
brainstorming to do for
their public image.
consider this. The detainees have consistently been
told that no-one in
australia cares about them, even been told they
are there for their own
protection from an australia that hates
them… their plight. Well now they
at least can sleep at night with
hope. Hope knowing that they aren’t alone.
Aren’t totally isolated.
That there ARE people on the outside who care …
and maybe just maybe
those of us on the outside can see what a group of
can achieve. Shut em all down!!! Lets finish the job at
move on to the next one.
It was strange spending a
night in a camp surrounded on all sides by a
police line. Even at midnight,
when the shifts changed and there were
very few cops on the ground, it was an
eerie feeling. It must have
been worse for the detainees that were with us,
unfamiliar faces, by a line of cops that wanted to put them
back in a
cage, and finally by the desert. But this is not some
activist grief session — they knew that any chance was better
chance. And we had worked together to make the escapes
(spontaneous as it was). They told us during the night of the
and the suffering inside the camp. They told us of the endless wait
24 months, 26 months,… – just to know whether they could stay
Australia on a temporary visa or whether they would be deported back
face persecution, imprisonment or death.
All wanted to get out of the
camp and to Adelaide or some major city.
Some struck out on their own, others
went with drivers from the camp
to see how far they could get. We knew of the
road block down at Pt
Augusta, but some figured that there would be back ways
town. The police say they have over 20 in custody, and 17 people
were helping them, but we also know that the detainees within the
have been protesting all night so they couldn’t do a head
Inside and out, we were doing what we could.
quiet. The police sweep we expected didn’t happen. The police
the camp was light. The rumored truckloads of federal
police didn’t appear.
And we had all heard the talk of a fall out
between the SA police and the
APS. But the morning turned into
afternoon, set-up continued, and (yet more)
meetings happened. The
direct action planned for the afternoon turned into a
and movement’ march through the prohibited area check point.
are taking it slowly through the rest of the weekend, trying to
clear and focused on why we are here.
I don’t know were to start
except that I am still left with this
strong feeling of responsibility out of
my depth. Having people in my
care, having no idea how to deal with
I never expected this to happen. Suddenly we have these people
way out, and what seems like a hopeless situation, theres only so
you can disguise someone, we’re trapped in the desert, everywhere
run, but no were to go.
We were so tired, the campsite
surrounded by riot police, road blocks.
All you want to do with this
big secret is divulge, tell everyone and
share the burden, but you can’t.
There were people more involved than
me, people willing to drive
One of my friends was arrested with detainees, – today he’s on
apparently there is some tension between the south australian
who want to press charges, and the Federals who want to press
It’s a serious offence, aiding and abetting, my friend faces 4
in jail. It seems so unfair.
What would you do, if a refuge
arrived on your doorstep? Suddenly we
had people in our tents, and amongst
the crowd. People with bruises
and scars, with pleading eyes, and their own
long stories. There is no
choice, like the guys who helped the Jews in
Germany said, – it was
not a question of whether to help but
This guy was from Afghanistan; he has a sister my age and 3
he is hardly older than me, and hasn’t seen or heard from his
for a year and a half. He’s been in Woomera for a year. We wanted
to decide what he wanted to do.
His quiet unreadable face is
suddenly tense, `Please, I don’t want to
go back, I can’t go back inside.’ I
asked what it is like – `it is
like prison, we are not allowed to sleep at
night, all we do is walk
around [the room,] there is nothing to do, no work
to fill up the
time, all we do is eat and sleep, eat and
He was there, sitting, expecting me to help, to know what to
have no idea, I try to be honest that his chances aren’t good, to
out what all the best options are, I want to go to bed and pretend
will all go away.
It seemed that for him this was just more of
the same, the hiding,
fleeing, the persecution and the fear…. I asked if he
had to fight
in Afghanistan, he said no, asked if I knew there had been 24
fighting in Afghanistan, that the Taliban were persecuting people.
said that there were many people who did not want to fight, but
they had ways of taking people and making them fight.
morning he is gone, It is not clear that he’s been caught I don’t
happened, perhaps he might get away.
No one expected this to happen,
I don’t have very much in the way of
analysis right now, all I have is a very
strong sense of the real and
human side of what is happening. But that there
are some people
amongst my friends and the people here who were much braver
selfless than I was, that there is a lot of suffering in the
and when it landed on my doorstep, I didn’t know how to deal with
And someone posted this
comment in response:
we all share the same anguish – the story of
those who were asked to
help the refugees escape is a mirror to the question
must ask themselves shall i allow others to suffer when i can
it. all the protesters did a great job fought for something a lot
australians strongly believe in ‘free the refugees’
BY 16 ARRESTED WOOMERA REFUGEES
FROM FRIDAY 29th MARCH’S
have made the world hell with racism, colours, religionism,
ethnics and so
on. Businesses and wrong diplomacy. ACM is bad,
Australian Government is bad,
Australian people are good. Detention
centre still continues day by day. You
will see what is going on.”
This statement was given to my friend
from the refugees on a piece of
paper. They have told my friend who was
locked up in the same cell
today that “ACM are evil” and that they called
them “the Mafia”. They
all said that they are beaten every day and never get
They also said that they are not fed properly. They say that if
escape 3 times they get deported, and they said that some of them
commit suicide before they get deported.
My friend talked to
the police and saw the police books and said that
47 refugees escaped the
compound of which 37 have been arrested. 10
refugees are still unaccounted
for. 9 protesters have been charged
In jail my
friends said the refugees danced and sang for them. In
return my friend
rapped a rhyme about refugees to them which they all
us for all our support.
LEGAL SUPPORT GROUP PRESS RELEASE
by Mick Lumsden & Sarah Nicholson
8:22pm Sat Mar 30
Legal support group expresses its concern over the
statements and actions of
the Australian Protective Services and the
South Australian Police over the
last two days.
The legal support group is supporting the 16
protestors that have been
charged with Harbouring Escapees under the Criminal
The Woomera Legal support group understands
that the only violence
perpetrated has been initiated by the police. The
police have a lawful
right to use reasonable force to arrest people, but they
accept the moral responsibility for violence they initiate —
cannot shift that blame onto non-violent protestors. Again we
witnessing breaches of the fundamental right to protest.
strongly dispute the police’s assertion that the behaviour of the
has caused injury to the Asylum Seekers and to themselves.
Reports of what is
occurring inside the detention centre describe
gross injustices. The
detainees themselves have stated that there are
reprisal beatings for those
taken back to the detention centre after
escape. Not only is their detention
a breach of international refugee
and human rights law, but the conditions in
which they are being
detained are inhumane.
We are extremely
concerned about the lack of legal and other support
for the detainees,
particularly those in police custody. The Woomera
Lawyers have already been
refused access to those inside the detention
centre over the long weekend.
The detainees being held by the South
Australian Police have none of the
usual rights accorded to Australian
citizens on arrest.
Support Group believes that the actions of the nonviolent
this demonstration at Woomera contribute to
destroying the veil of secrecy
and silence that surrounds the
detention centre by publicising and making
transparent the conditions
inside the centre.
We believe the
existence of the detention centre is a disruption to
the peace and security
of the community of Woomera and the rest of
Australia and until it is closed
this situation will continue.
Mick Lumsden: 0409 626