Jan de Voogd, New South Wales Regional Meeting
Twenty-five years ago when the Australian Navy was celebrating its 75th birthday, there were many ships from foreign lands in Sydney Harbour and many of those were nuclear armed.
The Sydney Peace Squadron which was established to draw attention to any nuclear armed ships was holding a vigil at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair to protest the presence of the nuclear armed ships in our harbour and Australia’s complicity in the nuclear arms race.
Flags were everywhere and the Peace Squadron also had flags at Mrs. Mac’s. (a big rainbow flag with an anchor in the middle and the Peace Fleet flag). We were raided that night by a group of navy men who cut the rope to the big rainbow flag and made off with it. A group of Peace Squadron men took back the rainbow flag and pointed out that replacing the ropes would be quite expensive and that we too were celebrating 75 years of a nuclear-free Australian Navy!
Very early the next morning two young recruits “borrowed” a navy zodiac and one came to Mrs. Mac’s underwater wearing a frog suit. He rushed out of the water and cut down the two flags. He was accosted by Jenny Ryde a small fiery English woman, but the two recruits made off with the flags.
There was an immediate press release from the Peace Squadron, and the morning papers and the radio had stories of the frogman taking the flags, and the peace squadron was full of righteous indignation that our flags should be stolen. It looked like we were the goodies and the navy the villains! Then the Minister of the Navy made a statement that the navy men would be found and punished. The whole matter was looking more and more like a confrontation between the navy men and the Peace Squadron.
We had a meeting early that morning. It was clear to most of us that the navy men should really be on our side, as they would be victims in a nuclear war. We saw that their little prank could now have serious consequences for them. I proposed that we end all publicity and that we should let the Minister for the Navy know informally that we would not pursue the matter further and that we did not wish to see the navy men punished. Diana Ingram supported my suggestion and we quickly agreed to end all publicity. I rang a prominent Canberra Quaker and asked him to see that the Minister understood that we did not wish to see the navy men punished and that we would cease all publicity. The story died immediately.
We had been able to put ourselves in the shoes of the navy frogman and we understood that this was a prank that would alienate navy men from the Peace Squadron if we pursued it. We also knew we needed all naval men as our allies.
The navy gave the Peace Squadron a reel of rope and the two young recruits were convicted of going AWOL and for using the Zodiac, but the Peace Squadron declined to give evidence at their trial.