Jo Vallentine, Western Australia Regional Meeting
Quaker Grannies made quite an impact in Alice Springs/Pine Gap last month.
Commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of Pine Gap, a military war-making spy base in the living heart of our country, people gathered from all over Australia, and international guests from Japan, Guam, the Philippines too, countries which also experience the presence of U.S. military bases in their countries.
The Independent Peaceful Australia Network organised a well attended public meeting and a day-long conference, plus a cavalcade to the gates of Pine Gap.
There was an activist element – people concerned to their make their nonviolent civil disobedience actions obvious, prepared to be uncomfortable while they discomforted the military.
Then there were the Quaker Grannies – a small group of witnesses for peace who organised a listening post in the Todd Street Mall, who offered croissants to the base personnel at dawn as they arrived for work, and who were appreciated as a solid and peaceful presence wherever their bonnets and banners were spotted. There were so many positive comments and photos in the local paper.
It was good to be part of such a group. In all, seven Quakers were present around Alice, although not together at any one time. Most of the Grannies were billeted together, and we began each day with a reading and reflection, which stood us in good stead for the day’s activities. It was a busy and fulfilling time: a well attended public meeting during which we heard about the added roles of Pine Gap, especially in conducting drone warfare; the AGM of IPAN where Quaker involvement in the management committee of IPAN was discussed; the stimulating conference itself where we heard from indigenous Arrente people, as well as others involved in challenging various aspects of the war machine; workshops where participants were invited to suggest ways forward; a lamentation from ANZAC Hill with a lantern procession through the town; a final cavalcade to the gates of Pine Gap where a Quaker tabard was requested by the chief police officer as a memento; attendance at the Alice springs weekly Quaker meeting, which was a joy!
For me, helping organise the IPAN aspects, mostly by phone over the last year, resulted in my appointment as facilitator for the Saturday conference – quite a big job as there were many sessions and speakers to co-ordinate. But it was all worthwhile, and we demonstrated that a national committee can work together effectively and co-operatively over long distances and over time. But we didn’t manage to close Pine Gap … not that that was an expected outcome, but we live in hope, and in witness to peace, and in opposition to war.
First make your bonnet
Peri Coleman, South Australia and Northern Territory Regional Meeting
It always surprises me how many people “remember” the Quaker Grannies as dressing in full period clothing. We don’t, you know. We dress in our everyday clothing. The only things that mark us as Quaker Grannies are a bonnet and, optionally, a kerchief. Such a simple yet profound little change.
While Helen and Dawn had been given, or found, beautiful antique bonnets and Jo has a cotton kapp, I needed to make my bonnet and that process was a journey through the testimonies in itself. I wanted the bonnet to have its own integrity, to be true to the past but to also be a real, usable bonnet for today. The Quaker bonnets of the 1860-90s with their formed brims, silk material and wide ties looked beyond my capacity as a seamstress, so I looked further back in time to the 1760-1800 poke bonnets you may have seen in the pen drawing used to illustrate Lancaster University’s “Radical Spirituality” online course. I purchased a carefully researched pattern. It arrived, and I opened the packet. The directions were frightening, so I took the pattern down to my local fabric store and told the store owner what I was trying to do. She found me some soft, crush resistant wash’n’wear fabric, as well as modern stiff interfacing that can stand the occasional gentle dip in water, the right threads and ribbons and the correct needles so that my sewing machine would not “skip” when sewing the various weights of materials. I went home full of gratitude. I obviously could not do this without community – the pattern researcher and the fabric shop owner had smoothed my path and I was full of confidence again.
I ended up making two bonnets, with deep and shallower brims, and used my machine for all sewing bar the lining, in order to make the bonnets sturdy. The finished bonnets are quick to put on, and can take a bit of robust handling. They don’t need a bonnet box, as they roll up when not in use – you can actually store them in a postage roll!
While I was preparing for the journey north, my daughter and a grandson visited, both donning a bonnet to send an electronic message of solidarity with the Quaker Grannies for Peace. Once the bonnet is on, it seems to remind us we are equally ministers. And this was so in Alice Springs as well. I came new to “Quaker Grannying” not having been with Helen, Dawn and Jo at Shoalwater Bay. Once bonneted however, it was easy to slot into the work of listening to the bypassers in the Todd Street Mall, providing support to the other activist groups, dialoguing with the local and federal police, participating in our own “tea table” action and meeting other activists, tourists and local people “where they were”. The days were long, and often I was more than ready for bed when I finally reached it. We worshipped, reflected and lamented. We did not see the immediate closure of Pine Gap – really! But I felt we were engaged throughout the time in Alice Springs in some serious works of peacemaking.