By Oliver Greeves, SANTRM.
The Headquarters Joint Operations Command (HQJOC) General John Baker Complex is the Australian Defence Force’s high-security control centre for the military missions in which Australia is involved. Its proximity to Yearly Meeting 2013 in Canberra made it possible for a group of Friends, led by Jo Vallentine, to hold a peaceful demonstration and present a letter to the officer-in-command to reaffirm Quaker opposition to warfare.
Having previously contacted HQJOC to notify them of our intentions, Jo had been informed that no one would be there to receive her. Knowing that wars don’t take breaks for Christmas, Jo had informed HQJOC that the demonstration would go ahead.
As we made our way along the access road many eyes were unable – or unwilling – to see the authorised access only signs. Representatives of the Australian Federal Police (AFP) stopped us partway up the road and they made the necessary enquiries to grant or deny approval. ‘Just in case,’ the AFP also took the registration details of our vehicles.
Friends were asked to take down their banners during this process.
We gathered on the side of the road for a Meeting for Worship, with ministry holding in the light all those affected by war. Songs of peace emerged from the silence and after forty minutes, the AFP granted permission for us to approach the gate.
We marched about a kilometre to the concrete fortress lined with razor wire, accompanied by the AFP. The prison-like complex moved Friends to sympathise with the HQJOC workers not only because of the harsh decisions they make, but also because of the detached nature of warfare.
The Director of Coordination Francis Grigson and an AFP officer met Jo, Julian Robertson and Moira Darling in a diplomatic exchange of greetings during which Jo read the letter. Echoing its sentiments, Francis voiced his wish for peace.