Dawn Joyce, Queensland Regional Meeting
Prior to my arrest at Shoalwater Bay as a Quaker Granny for Peace, my work for peace and social justice had been more in support roles. But now my three children are grown up and my aged parents have passed on. I no longer have daily responsibilities to others and felt drawn to stepping up to what is called civil disobedience or holy obedience. I believe the concept of deterrence has little relevance to this type of peace work. We are led to these actions, and we lose peace within should we ignore or deny this call.
I would like to thank everyone for the kindnesses extended to Helen Bayes, Jo Vallentine and me; including the watch-house staff and the arresting officers, one of whom later presented each of us with a St Mary medal! The morning tea tablecloth has been souvenired and I shall attach my little medal to its ruffle. Perhaps it will see service again at the anniversary of Pine Gap next year.
My first dissident action was in 1983 when I visited Greenham Common in the English countryside along with 30,000 other peaceful protesters. The sign RAF Greenham Common had been roughly altered to read USAF Greenham Common, because sovereignty had been ceded to the US military industrial complex. When I returned to Australia, I put the photo of the Greenham Common signage in my living room, where it remains to this day.
Perhaps my social justice genes come from my great grandfather, William Thompson, who wrote to the government in 1898, petitioning for flour, tea, sugar and blankets to be sent “lest the township fringe-dwellers perish in the coming winter”. William built the first rations shed (which has been reconstructed as a museum) on the banks of Barambah Creek. His role as the first superintendent at Cherbourg was short lived. I find this unsurprising, given the government policy of transfer of peoples from distant Aboriginal nations to the site. Where asylum and recovery might have occurred, the policy brought tensions and discord instead.
At the Byfield gate to Shoalwater Bay, the Quaker Grannies were able to block the gates for some time. Vehicles – destined to service the toilets for up to 30,000 US, Australian, New Zealand and Japanese troops – were held up on the road: the Grannies had blocked the S-bend! When the military police arrived we were able to engage them in dialogue and share scones and lamingtons. I told one young man that though he might say I was trespassing on Commonwealth land, I would say I was present with the blessing of the Darumbal people. Another said that if there was peaceful dialogue to solve differences between nations, he would be out of a job! “There is plenty of useful work to be done,” I countered: “Work that does not involve the destruction of the environment, the built environment, or the lives of men, women and children.”
In court on 14 July I was able to state: “I have been charged with trespass on Commonwealth land at Shoalwater Bay. I look forward to the day when this land is returned to the Darumbal people, whose sovereignty has never been ceded.” The more extensive notes I had made in preparation for court were not used there, as the magistrate was only interested in our plea and our financial circumstances. Fortunately, Jo and Helen had managed to mention some of the history of civil disobedience/holy obedience of people of conscience and of the Quaker tradition of over 360 years. One very “clappable” statement resulted in some members of the gallery being summarily evicted for their applause.
The Quaker Grannies for Peace tea party was a flagship action that attracted much media attention. One local reporter described it as a “storm in a tea cup”; but I sense that a much greater movement for peace is “brewing up”. My heart is glad.