Wednesday 22 July 2009

Trespasses at Shoalwater Bay

Sunday morning is usually when Margaret Pestorius is leaving Mass with the closing words 'Go in peace to love and serve the Lord' resonating in her ears, she found herself on a dusty road at the Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area.

"In front of me, stopped on the road, was an armoured column of US Marines, looking fierce with all their machine guns and cannons and carbines," Margaret recounts.

She had stopped the armoured column by the sophisticated, high technology method of waving a blue plastic tarpaulin at them from beside the road, as she emerged from the bush in surprise. Margaret Pestorius was a peace-crazed trespasser on the giant war-games called Exercise Talisman Sabre, outside Rockhampton in central Queensland. The Marine who spotted Pestorius from the turret of his APC, hopped on the radio and screamed something along the lines of "Holy Jiminy Batman, there’s an intruder on our war!", and the procession ground to a halt.

"Goodoh!," Margaret said. "This is what we came to do."

Her partner Bryan Law, joined Culley Palmer, Jim Dowling to become the Jaggerstatter 3, as they trespassed at Shoalwater Bay. In June he wrote to Senator John Faulkner Defence Minister asking to call the exercise off.

Here's his latest story.

Last Thursday I walked into the Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area with two friends, 21 year old Culley Palmer and Jim Dowling, who is is not far off my 55 years.

We’d formed our little band over 10 days of organising and taking symbolic actions around the Peace Convergence, and we’d been part of the Martin Luther King House of Christian Nonviolence at Yeppoon. Our mission is to save Australia and the world from the spiritual death of militarism.

We called ourselves the Franz Jägerstätter 3, in honor of the the plain Austrian peasant who defied the Nazis during WW2, refusing as a Catholic to be conscripted, to fight for the Nazis, or to allow the Nazis to spread their war propaganda unchallenged. For doing that over five years, Franz was executed in 1943 at the age of 36. Franz Jägerstätter has now been declared a martyr, and beatified in the Roman Catholic Church as an example of commitment and faith during times of deception and war.
Exercise Talisman Sabre is part of the same preparation for, and prosecution of, war. Australian troops are planning and preparing to fight with US troops, invading someone else’s country and occupying their cities. 22,000 troops are involved in Talisman Sabre, along with all the machinery and weaponry of war. From a nuclear-powered, nuclear armed Aircraft Carrier (USS George Washington), through missile Frigates, Armoured Personnel Carriers, tanks, helicopters, jets, bushmasters, howitzers and sundry weapons down to the M4 assault carbines used by many of the troops on the ground.

I relate to the Jaggerstatter story because we face now the same kind of deception and propaganda that Franz Jaggerstatter faced in Austria in 1938. Just consider the lies that the Australian military and the Australian government have told about Exercise Talisman Sabre.

There were two big lies told to us before the games even started. First, we have been told that the exercise is all about "defending Australia". The actual exercise is an amphibious invasion by 5,000 US Marines of the central Queensland coast at Freshwater Beach, followed by a 20 kilometre push to invade and occupy an "urban warfare centre" – which is a fabricated town built around a walled market square, containing mosques. This is not a defence exercise.

Second, we have been told that the "scenario" is one where the invading forces have UN authorisation. Unlike the invasion of Iraq. Unlike the undeclared war presently being waged against the Pushtun people of western Pakistan. Unlike the present quagmire of Afghanistan where the NATO presence has been invited by the Mayor of Kabul, himself an old oil-man for SoCal. Unlike the intended wars against Iran and North Korea. We are not sanctioned in our war-making by the UN.

So my friends and I - firm in our belief that war is immoral and unjust - walked into the military training area with a plan to disrupt the exercise by putting our bodies in the way. In the way of live firing at Mt Hummock and Pyrie Pyrie sectors, and in the way of troop and armoured movements within the exercise area. (There’s some risk in doing this, but it’s a calculated, managed risk – minimised by advance notice to the authorities, and by positive liaison with Police and Military authorities).

So we packed our gear, including map, compass, GPS, and 3G mobile phones with external aerials – so that we could navigate and communicate while we were in the area. Then we took some small and sensible precautions about being followed and surveilled, which happened intermittently through the two weeks or so we’ve been staying at Yeppoon.

Then on Thursday we went to an access point shown to us by local peace-loving folk, and we followed a track to the boundary of the area (Shoalwater Bay is 500,000 ha of wilderness area). Then we struck out into the bush to make our way to the live-firing zones.

Now I have one or two (or three) health issues which make bush-walking a bit hard for me, so I took things real easy, relying on Jim and Culley to do the hard yards and carry the heavy burdens. For three days I made about 3 kilometres a day through wilderness, much of the time just marvelling at God’s creation.

The Shoalwater Bay area where I walked is an open schlerophyl forest, with grass tree, cycad, and Banksia understorey, some rainforest, and very extensive mangrove forests along much of the coastline. Lots of Kangaroo and Wallaby, lots of bird-life, including Eagle and Cockatoo. Pretty dry this time around. Most of the tributaries were dry, and even the main creeks were confines to lagoons of still water with more or less sediment. (Thank goodness we were prepared and took the water purification tabs with us). On top of my mind during this part of the walk was the prophecy of Isaiah:40:3 "make the wilderness into a smooth highway", and it really felt to me as if that was happening. Our path was being made smooth.

On the Friday we received word (via text message) that live firing in the exercise area had ceased. The military, we were informed, had issued a press statement that live firing had always been scheduled to cease on that Friday. The trespassers had, of course, no effect and no impact on the games.

I suspect this is another one of those lies the military tells. Local people say that in previous Talisman Sabre exercises the bombardment phase (from sea and land) has gone for ten days or more during the second half of the exercise, and it’s been my understanding that one purpose of war-games has been to habituate troops to operating under the noise conditions of a real battlefield, with the sound of artillery and aerial bombing ever-present.

As we made our way west and north on Friday and Saturday, Shoalwater Bay was the very quietest of war zones. Thousands of troops were advancing, from the north east to the southern "urban warfare centre", supposedly through heavy opposition, and the only sounds were blank fire from a few machine guns, a few F18 jets high overhead, and some unarmed Apache and Chinook helicopters flying around delivering Marines and "protecting" convoys.

I believe that by our presence, and by the preparation and liaison which had preceded it, small groups of peace-makers had successfully obstructed these wargames and changed their nature.
On Saturday we ran out of water, and had to find a decent supply on the ground. The Jaggerstaetter 3 headed north, crossed the East West road, and made our way to Pineapple Gully, and Pineapple Creek, just ahead of the advancing troops. We found our water, made our camp, and offered up prayers of thanks to God for this time in His creation.
All that afternoon and night we listened to the military air and ground traffic, free of explosions, as attacking and defending units made their gestures of war in the beautiful bounty of Shoalwater Bay.

The walk to Pineapple Gully had been too strenuous for me, and I was running out of medication, so we made the decision that I would surrender myself on Sunday morning, confirm the presence of Jim and Culley in the exercise area, and inform authorities of their plan to move further in towards the live fire zones and prevent any resumption of live firing.

At 9.30am, Jim and Culley left me concealed 100 metres from the East West road, and I spent an hour watching truck traffic roll by – about one truck every 15 minutes. I’d agreed to wait an hour before emerging, giving Jim and Culley time to get away before alerting authorities to our presence, and at 10.30 exactly an armoured column of more than 20 vehicles (Bushmasters and Armoured Personnel Carriers) started rolling by.

I seized the opportunity, and walked to the roadside where I attracted the column’s attention, and where they stopped – each armoured vehicle going slightly off-road to clear the road and take advantage of some bush cover. When they were still I crossed the road and tied a banner to the trees -–a quote from Genesis "What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the Earth".

This was the same banner Jim had tied to the man-proof fence at Pine Gap in December 2005 when he and I were part of the Pine Gap 4, and had broken into that base and shut it down for five hours. It took us two years and three months of trial and appeal before that banner was returned to us, and it seemed very fitting to display it to the US and Australian troops here at Shoalwater Bay on this fine and sunny Sunday.

Shortly after I put the banner up the column re-started and rolled far enough to get the trailing vehicle, a support truck, just past me on the road, and then it stopped again. It stopped for just over half an hour, during which time I walked to the trailing vehicle and talked to two Marines who came from Los Angeles, California, and whose principal wish was to just go home. They’d been overseas since January. Apparently one vehicle had broken a track when stopping the first time, and they had to halt there for repairs. When it was fixed, they left.

Now I don’t know what briefing the military forces had about our presence, but that armoured column never reported my presence to the Australian Authorities, and I got to show my banner to several hundred troops as they went by in armoured columns, truck convoys, and contractor vehicles (delivering water and porta potties).

I never saw an Australian until a small convoy of a dozen vehicles (two towing Howitzer Cannon) went past and a young Australian lieutenant jumped out and approached me asking for identification. I showed him my driver’s license. He spluttered and said "But what are you doing on the range?". I replied "That’s easy, we’ve come to stop the war games". He asked me to leave, and said they could organise an escort if I wanted. "You bet", I said, "let’s do that".

An hour later a group of senior officers arrived. They were Umpires in the games, and were reserve officers called in to perform that role. A Lt Colonel, two majors, and a Warrant Officer. All very friendly, and keen to know how I got in, and where my friends were. They gave me a US ration pack for lunch (very cool), had me checked out by an ambulance officer for basic health (very considerate) and had a long yarn about the politics of war, peace and faith.
I could hear the radio traffic from their vehicle, and it was full of my presence, and the likely location of my friends. A couple of Apache helicopters appeared and seemed to fly a search pattern looking for Jim and Cully (now four hours gone). They told me that Jacob (from the other group of four trespassers that had gone in the western sector late Thursday night) had been found on Saturday night, and that a company of US Marines to our west would probably pick up Jim and Culley.

The Military Police arrived, put in a paddy wagon, and drove me to Samuel Hill airbase where I was told that Jim and Culley had been spotted, and a ground detachment had been dispatched to pick them up. I would be waiting till they joined us apparently, although I expressed an opinion that catching Jim and Culley would be harder than they thought. 45 minutes later they told me they’d lost Jim and Culley, and they took me to the Blue Gate at Byfield where I was handed over to the Queensland Police and driven to Rockhampton watch-house.

There I was photographed, finger-printed and released with a "notice to appear" at Yeppoon Magistrate’s Court on 7 August, on a charge of simple trespass. Jim, Culley, Emily, Yulangi, and Mark are all still at large in the Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area, and live firing has not yet resumed.

In another one of those military lies, the army PR said on Friday that they were unconcerned about trespassers, that we were in no danger, they wouldn’t look for us, and we were having no impact on the games. That was when they had no idea at all where we were. On Sunday they went frantic and spent considerable resources searching for our friends (including dogs and helicopters) and failing to find them.

On Monday morning Police said they were very concerned about safety from wildfire, and asked us to call our friends out of the area – a request we don’t believe, and that we refused. It should be an important lesson for us all that the military is so practiced and proficient at lying.

They pretend to be omnipotent, yet three groups have attempted trespass and all succeeded. They pretend to be unconcerned, and yet they went frantic that Sunday trying to find our friends. They pretend we have no impact.

Mark Palmer came out last night in good spirits, and reports that Emily and Yulangi are safe, well, happy, and strong in their purpose. We got a text message from Jim and Culley that they are likewise. Hooray!

Our task, like that of Franz Jaggersatter, is to ignore the deception and propaganda, to maintain our faith in peace and justice, and to keep our eyes on the prize when it comes to our shared task of ending war.

My experience in Shoalwater Bay was one of awe and reverence for creation, the love of all people for each other, including the soldiers, and the power of following one’s heart and conscience. I’m already thinking about how we can improve our performance in 2011.


Rudge Imperator said...

Does that make Margaret the "Serial Pestorius" next time she is mentioned in The Cairns Post then?

Seriously though, keep up the good fight, Margaret and Brian, and others.

Bryan Outlaw said...

With Bryan Law currently on bail for another criminal charge, isn't the judge now duty bound to jail this vandal and pest until the sign-defacement trial?

He can think of it as a "fat farm"; a few months in the pokey for this fat charlatan would do him a world of good.

America is welcome in cairns said...

Good work bryan , now you disrupted the practice session , they won,t be real good at invading , you now are personally
responsible for more deaths , because when the real thing happens they won,t be experts at it and more innocents will be killed , you and your band of egotists are directly responsible !

Thaddeus said...

Well done matey! A man's gotta do what he's gotta do...(Rather you than me, trekking through all that bushland.)

Unknown said...

i hope they loose the key this time ...

Bryan Law said...

The keys have already been loosed. No amount of pleading with Rockhampton Police would get me locked up. They wouldn't offer me bail because I'd have had to sign my consent - and I wouldn't. So I got a notice to appear, and told I didn't have to - if I wanted to plead guilty or have the matter transferred to Cairns.

I wonder if Outlaw and his ilk, or Phil of Mt Sheridan woul like to show up in Court and bay for my blood (cruify him, crucify him). I'd really like to see the Magistrate give them a lesson about contemporary justice, and why we gave up lynching 50 years ago. Disappointing for some. Liberating for others.

Culley Palmer said...

It seems that the first few paragraphs of this story, the words in italics, have been re-written. They're actually about Bryan Law stopping the convoy on Sunday on the East-West near Pineapple Gully. There are stories about Margarets group at

Our actions at Shoalwater Bay disrupted the ADF and the US Military practicing for war. We may have actually indirectly saved peoples lives. The US Military has an appalling history of human rights abuses and has consistently disregarded civilian lives to further economic and imperialist objectives.


America is welcome in cairns said...

Sorry to tell you but you did NOTHING usefull at all , but wasted time and money , yours and that of our fantastic fighting men and women.
please go to iraq or afganastan and become human shields like the other traitors to australia .

Bryan Law said...

"America is welcome in Cairns" and we're supposed to take you seriously? America wouldn't fit in Cairns. It's bigger even than Australia.

But you press on with your myth-making murder justifications. More empire. More weapons. More killing. More bombing... than all the baddies everywhere else on Earth! I give you the USA, and it's faithfull lap-dog, Orstraylier.