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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.