Protesting against coal with Rising Tide

Paula Morrow

I just told a bloke I met for the first time today in ‘Suspension’, the most activist-friendly coffee-shop in Newcastle, that being involved with groups that protest, that work for positive change, is enlivening.

I am here to tell you that you feel extremely alive when you paddle a kayak out on to the harbour with many others as part of one of the ‘flotillas’ organised by Rising Tide and stop the coal ships for the day. And Vera Deacon has done that in her 80s!

It reminds me of the day 200,000 of us sat down in Sydney’s main streets for the Vietnam Moratorium. And stopped the city.

And when you trespass on to the coal loaders and stop them operating for a few hours.

Or when you run breathless with fear and excitement (and probably lack of fitness once you are over fifty) through the fence and up on to the mountains of coal in the grounds of one of NSW’s filthiest power stations, ‘Bayswater’ near Muswellbrook. You feel very alive then.

I have form as an active member of the Vietnam Moratorium. I was voted on to the NSW co-ordinating committee of the Moratorium, at the age of 24 when I was single mum with a two year old, or a ‘deserted wife’ as they called us in 1970.

I arrived in Newcastle in 1988 with three of my four kids, 15 months after my second husband died of cancer. We were following the eldest who was starting university here. I straight away looked for groups similar to those I had been involved with on the far north coast of NSW: environment groups and co-counselling.  And Quakers.

I went to some environmental group meetings which spawned Newcastle Greens and Trees in Newcastle. I was one of the earliest in Newcastle Greens. And later on I was the (un-official) Newcastle representative to the Greens’ meeting in Sydney that made the decision to form The Australian Greens. I just said that I didn’t think that Newcastle Greens would stand in the way of such a move. (That being the low level of enthusiasm I had judged from our group, for centralisation of any kind.)

My three younger kids were exposed to people talking about politics. I especially remember one magical Greens’ night at John and Carrie’s that included as well as big pots of food, someone playing the didgeridoo. I was glad that they experienced that particular night. This was about the time that Ian who was one of the organisers of The Wilderness Society Newcastle, came on board with the Newcastle Greens and that felt like a strengthening. (I had joined The Wilderness Society from the far north coast, soon after it was formed over the Franklin crisis.)

Other environmental groups started springing up about ten years later, notably Rising Tide. I have been arrested three or four times over the past four or five years with them. On the coal-loaders twice, in the grounds of Bayswater power-station, and in the entrance of parliament house, Canberra. I must come across as a middle-aged feral!

I am happy to answer to the term environmental activist. Or to hippy, from my positive experiences in the hippy commune movement from 1970 in south eastern Queensland and in far northern NSW.

The Sydney Morning Herald was recently kind enough to call me an ‘eco-writer’.

April 08 trespassing on the site of the 3rd coal loader.

The only time I got arrested with my full-time forest activist son Ben was on the first coal-loader jaunt. He had already been diagnosed with cancer by then, had had the exploratory surgery that could do nothing, and a few rounds of chemotherapy, but bounced back into his old spiritual self with the leadership qualities he had exhibited when he came into his own in the forests of NSW and Tasmania.

I felt constricted with fear for him. He was taking photos. It was raining and cold and muddy. Later we were all, about 23 of us, held and harassed in the police station cells in Newcastle for hours. They had taken our water bottles. There was a tap attached to the top of the filthy toilet in the cell I was in with four of the young women. None of us drank from it. I was concerned about Ben, in with the other activist blokes, but weakened by illness and treatment.
In the cells with the idealistic young women, including one who meditated for a bit, I started to tell the story of being in the police station in Kuwait, when I was twenty and a traveller, and how much more desperate and dangerous it was then. I think it was Naomi who particularly wanted to hear, but we were interrupted by the police wanting to catalogue us: photos and fingerprints.

I was concerned that one of the young women in another cell, Chrissie, might get hypothermia and told a cop who seemed to be interested in OH & S and he went and talked to her and got her a blanket. You can always rely on those people, and the reps in a place, to take some responsibility.
The police took everything: our jewellery, wallets, and the aforesaid water bottles as well as our fingerprints and photos.

At one stage an assertive and cranky female cop asked us if we wanted her to get some Maccas in. It must have been about 2 pm by then. I was more concerned about us not drinking anything for hours. All we protesters and ferals had strong ideas on nutrition too. Young rangy men started saying ‘can they leave the meat off mine?’, and ‘can I just have chips?’

‘If you are going to be pedantic, I won’t bother!’ said she, and she didn’t.

Pete Gray had told us early in the day, at our six am start, that he was not happy missing out on actually being in the protest. I assumed he was on bail or something. Pete had a whole feast lovingly arranged for when we got out, late in the day. He had a table set up on the path right outside the police station with a huge selection of breads and dips!

There is often this intense appreciation of each other as individuals who have bothered to step off the well-trodden path and put ourselves on the line in order to try and wake the population up. Wake up to the dangers of evaporating our coal-mines into our atmosphere. Our grandchildren’s only atmosphere.
Bob Brown said at Ben’s funeral in Newcastle in 2009, ‘He was one of the VERY FEW WHO ACTUALLY GET IT!’

Before that I tried to get arrested in the same vicinity as Ben was trying to not get arrested. I walked into the exclusion zone of the Weld Forest in Tassie earlier in 2007. Ben and other direct action activists were climbing through the bush secretly, so that the police could not grab them and put them out of action, while lots of us were walking on the easier logging road. It was still seven kilometres each way, deliberately in the exclusion zone. Including young women with prams. On that rough logging road. There was a public and media blackout zone so the logging company could take out more old-growth forest. I had meant to get arrested but they did not arrest any of us that day.

I have written about meeting some of the Tasmanian forests through Ben’s inviting my daughter and me down there in my novel based on truth: Darwin’s Dilemma: the damage done and the battle for the forests.

In November 2008 we trespassed on Bayswater power station near Muswellbrook.

It was a big drive. I took my car. Jude sat next to me. Jonathan in the back said something about the despair of having all this environmental catastrophe on us. And I said, No! It was ever thus! Before we knew all this. It is the existential angst! The anguish of being conscious beings in animal bodies. I certainly felt it as a young person very keenly, extremely keenly, reading Albert Camus. Fromm was the antidote, The Art of Loving shared amongst those of us who most needed it. And then later Island by Aldous Huxley. The impetus for my own utopian novel, Life in Time. Jude later said that she enjoyed that conversation between Jonathan and me.

Graeme Dunstan was there in his very obvious van. It had a loudspeaker on it! I knew him vaguely as one of the organisers of the Nimbin Aquarius Festival in 1973: the ‘Survival Festival’. I went over ten days early from my banana shed in Mullumbimby to help with the setting up of the festival. Graeme made us a cup of tea out the back of his van after the Bayswater escapade.

I felt again the rush of fear and excitement as we breached the wire fence. And then we run, together. Get in before they stop us! As usual I giggle with the excitement and the unusual effort and wonder if I will keep up. Later, further in, the black mountains of coal are huge and the coal slips away from under my feet which makes me giggle more.

Later we covered for the couple of photographers who needed to get out and get the film out.

One of the workers said he thought we were doing the right thing.

When the police were there and we were reduced to lots of standing around on top of a hill, one of the young protesters said that he thought it was like the anti-Vietnam protesters, everyone thought they were wrong at first and then they were proved right. He seemed a bit thrilled when I told him that I had been part of that too when I was about his age. I was even voted on to the organising committee of the NSW Vietnam Moratorium when I was 24.

And the only time I have been arrested with my daughter was in 2009, in the entrance to Parliament House Canberra, with Rising Tide and people from other states. About 200 of us were arrested when we gathered to try to encourage Kevin Rudd to go for reasonable targets at Copenhagen. My daughter had been radicalised when we spent the night in the Styx Forest as guests of Ben and his small band.

Mind you, I also feel very alive when I swim in the sea, or walk in the bush, and surprisingly when I walk, or catch public transport, in the rain. It takes me back to being a kid, when we all walked or caught buses or trains a whole lot more. A bit of discomfort (not too much thanks!) activates the senses. As does the witnessing of human interactions when we are out in the public space, as opposed to sealed, de-humidified and homogenised, in our cars.
How much more do we then feel enlivened if we meet with others of similar values and try to push for environmental sustainability, or for social justice? And get out there in it?

As Pete Gray signed off on one of his emails to a group of us fellow protesters,

‘Pleasure makin’ trouble with you!’


Vera Deacon was Guest Speaker at the 2012 International Women’s Day Dinner held on the 9th March 2012.

The Event was sponsored by the Newcastle Branch of the Union of Australian Women and held at The Adamstown Club Brunker Road Adamstown.

Vera was introduced by Janet Mundie and spoke on “Life by the Hunter River – Then and Now”

Vera is described as “an island girl who has tried to make the world a better place”

Her speech covered the followed topics including Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the current toxic state of politics and political debate in Australian media, University published book ‘100 Women’, Dr Jean Talbot, Donna Meehan, Hunter Valley and its ongoing care, 101st Anniversary of International Women’s Day, Winning of the Women’s Vote in Australia, Rose Scott, Scott Sisters, Ash Island, Women’s Suffrage Movement, History of Women’s Vote in Australia, ‘My Brilliant Career’, Vera’s early years, Woodstock Street Oakley’s Paddock, Hanbury Street Mayfield, Midwifery, Nurse Whiteman’s Lying In Home, Father works at BHP Coke Ovens, Family moves to Dempsey Island, then Mosquito Island, Labour Movement, Depression Camps, Platt’s Channel, Shortland Camp, Mayfield West Camp, Dole, Vera’s pedigree convicts Irish Catholics bullock driver, Aunty Nola Hawken, Awabakal People, convict women on Nobbys, Lysaghts Girls, Josephine Conway, Marilla North, Janet Copley, Charlie Skene, Vera’s father’s life, Big Ben, Soviet Union, Min Wilson, Communist Party of Newcastle, Socialists, Feminists, Reading, Migrants, Jessie Street and The Women’s Charter, Stockholm Appeal, Ban the Bomb, Dorothy Hewett, Nuclear tests and diseases of Children, Peace, Germaine Greer and the struggle for women’s rights across the world.


Radical Newcastle Symposium Flyer

The Radical Newcastle Symposium was held on the Friday 16 November 2012 from 8.45am to 1.30pm in the cute theatrette in University House.

Speakers included Dr Judith Sandner, Marilla North, Dr Faye Neilson delivering a paper by Dr Angela Philp and Dr Liam Phelan as well as musical and theatrical performances by Paul Spencer and University of Newcastle students.

Radical Newcastle Symposium Programme

A Lyrical Afternoon in celebration of the life and work of Norman Talbot, Dorothy Hewett and Merv Lilley was held at Varuna, The Writers’ House in Katoomba,  on the 15th September 2012.

The first part of the afternoon was dedicated to honouring the life and work of Norman Talbot. Presenters included Dr Jean Talbot, Don Cohen,  President of Catchfire Press, Dr Christopher Pollnitz, Jo Tregellis and Zeny Giles.

Original running order for the segment was as follows :

The Work of Norman Talbot

Introduction by Don Cohen
Jean Talbot gives biographical details then reads the following poems:
First Hen Sonnet (photo)
Mum in a Photograph (photo)
Nine Tailors (photo)
Parachutes in the Second World War (photo)
Bell Pullers
At Aunt Ivy’s Christmas 1944

Followed by Christopher Pollnitz reading the following poems:
The Cactus
The Wrath of Tibrogargan
Birdsong at the Double Locks
The bat, Gunnedah
Listening to Little Wobby: Poetry Class
Followed by Zeny Giles reading from the unpublished novel Sulphurcrest

Followed by Don Cohen reading the following poems:
The Mystic Boiler Maker
The Birds of Lake Macquarie

Followed by Jean Talbot and Don Cohen reading The Pinkerton Haiku.

In addition to the Tribute, the Newcastle Poets also presented readings from recent works as part of the Event. Running order for this segment was Jo Tregellis, Dr Christopher Pollnitz, Zeny Giles, Don Cohen and Dr Jean Talbot.

The second part was dedicated to honouring the life and work of Merv Lilley. Presenters included Rozanna (Rose) Lilley, Marilla North, Tom Flood, Joe Flood and Adele Flood.

The original running order of the Merv Lilley segment (plus one Dorothy poem):

A: Poems (Rose and Marilla): approx. 15 mins
1. [from Git Away Back (1983)] Legend: 1 min

Rose : From What About the People?
2. Lucky Gem (p.14, 1.30)
3. When Freedom Cannot Marry (p.28, 2 mins)
4. The Canecutters Comeback (p.51, 45 secs)

Then Marilla does :
Go Down Red Roses (5 mins)

5. Where Sailor’s Belong (p.54, 1 min)
6. Nostalgia (p.61, 1.35)

Then Marilla does :
Husband of the Poet (2 mins)

B: Merv songs : Tom, Joe, Adele: approx. 15 mins
Anti-Fouling Roll
Cane Killed Abel
Pick-up Shed (2.5 mins)
Birchgrove Park
Possibly a 5th Merv song (shorter than D’s)

C: Poems from Cautious Birds (1973): Rose: approx. 7 mins
To A Sleeping Bird (1 min)
On Holiday (1 min)
God’s Fool (1 min)
The Lesson (1 min)
Through Every Grey Dawn (1 min)
River Road (2 mins)

D: Prose/ Pom reads from Gatton Man (approx. 5 mins)

E: Merv on death: Rose (approx. 3 mins)
From Sandgropers (1973)
Lucy (p.17, 1 min) [about the death of his mother]

Poems Merv wrote late in life
Swift (ms, 1.30) [about the death of his mother/Dorothy]
Request (ms 40 sec)
[this last poem is about Dorothy’s grave, so that segues nicely into the
DH section]

The third and final part of the afternoon was dedicated to honouring the life and work of Dorothy Hewett. Presenters included Rozanna (Rose) Lilley, Rosie Scott, Tom Flood, Joe Flood and Adele Flood.

The original running order of the Dorothy segment is as follows:

A: Dorothy songs: Tom, Joe , Adele [15 mins]
Norman Brown (Tom)
Sailor Home From the Sea (Adele)
Sweet Song for Katie (Adele)
Black Strike (Clancy & Dooley)

B: Rose reads
Once I Rode with Clancy (3 mins)
Living Dangerously

C: Rosie Scott: 10 mins
Halfway Up the Mountain
In Wind and Rain

D: Rose reads from Wild Card (Last Summer) 5 mins

This segment finishes with ‘You’ve said enough’, snaps the ghost of my
grandmother, ‘so hold your tongue.’

Reminiscences (Joe Flood)
End of the Town
Dorothy on Death
Last Rites

Final Song: Weevils in the Flour

At the end of the day was heard the most beautiful Australian song ever written. A poem by Dorothy Hewett in 1963, set to music by Mike Leyden in 1965. Based upon the reminiscences of the Great Depression by our own local treasure Vera Deacon. The “island in the river” is Moscheto Island that once stood in the Hunter River, the BHP was own BHP, the Humpies were those on Platt’s Estate.

A classic Australian song based from memories of Newcastle.

Weevills in the Flour (Click for a larger image)

UPDATED Weevils in the Flour: A short history of a song by Mark Gregory (1.1MB PDF File)

Please read Weevils in the Flour: A short history of a song by musicologist Mark Gregory. Also included is a note about the new setting of Black Strike (Clancy & Dooley & Don McLeod) relating to the first strike . Mark Gregory, in conversation with Marilla North, has referred us to the eminent  Julian Croft’s (of University of New England) paper he did back in 1999 – “A Sense of Industrial Place” published in ANTIPODES Vol 13 No 1, June 1999. Croft  nominates Newcastle as “the world’s first industrial city” and asserts that it was “atypical of the usual construction of Australian place”. He further asserts that proper parallels for the shaping of Newcastle should be made with Stuttgart, Birmingham and Pittsburgh.  One of Mark’s discovered heroes is “Frank the Poet” who has his own link:  who actually was a convict sited in Newcastle over 1837/1840 and who wrote four poems in or near Newcastle c 1838.

Marilla North, who conceived and organised this event contact Vera Deacon, who unfortunately could not make it. She did send her apologies which included the following reply:

I’d love to be there with Malcolm to remember Dorothy and Norman. One of the great joys of my life in the Sydney Realist Writers meetings was to her Doffy, as our little children called her, say her poems in that wonderful, melodious voice…”Have you heard the children singing…” and “Hiroshima, Hiroshima.” Our fifties generation of young mothers was haunted by fear of the atom bomb tests and our children developing leukemia; a fear powerfully real for Dorothy who had lost her little boy to leukemia. The RWG National Council published Merv Lilley and Dorothy’s collection What About the People. Denis Kevans and I sold that precious collection in the Sydney Domain, when we were invited to recite the poems from various stumps. I treasure a photo of myself, taken in 1964 by an old man, as I spoke from the stump. You can clearly see a copy of What About the People in my hand.

It’s seven years since Denis Kevans, Australia’s ‘Poet Lorikeet’, died in August 2005. Ten years since Doffy left us to sleep in that lovely Springwood bushland place. Eight years since I sat with many others, in silent homage to the moving quaker celebration of Norman Talbot’s life. A few years since I heard Merv Lilley and Jean Talbot perform the “Swan River Love Poem” at a hamilton poets’ night. Our memories, our lives are richer for having known them. Now I have kate Lilley’s selection of Dorothy’s poems and so the music of her life and work lives on.

Please give Merv and Jean a BIG HUG and greet the members of the Performance Celebration for me.

Cheers! Love and Big Hugs for you!!


This rally in Civic park Newcastle brought together people from across the political and social divides.

This was a classic example of how radical Newcastle ticks at its best.


A Eulogy for Laman St

Paul F. Walsh OAM

[Beauty, A Eulogy for Laman St, was written by Paul F Walsh OAM and delivered by him at the Baptist Tabernacle, Laman St, Newcastle, Australia, on Sunday February 26 2012.]

The trees were budding, the birds were singing – the grass was wet – the whole earth was shining. And suddenly I was the trees and the flowers and the birds and the grass – and there was no I at all.

– Kahlil Gibran from Mary Haskell’s journal, May 23 1924.

I am Ignoramus.

We are Beauty.

La Man, a sexual paradox in Laman St, a place where the masculine and feminine aspects of each of us stand either side of a contraceptive barrier erected by fear:

fear of the truth; fear of a hidden Anzac agenda; fear of a genuinely independent assessment; fear of non-independent, dependent, ‘independent’ consultants; fear of the great lie within our chamber of secrets; fear of insurance-driven lack of assurance; fear of mediation; fear of collaborative oneness; fear of the mal in maladministration; fear of the loss of an ethical and moral compass; fear of manipulative blindness masquerading as vision; fear of non-representative representation; fear of institutionalized deceit; fear of unregulated regulators turning a blind eye; fear of a lack of genuine parliamentary oversight; fear of oxymoronic government neutrality; fear of the fig leaf covering our cultural ugliness; fear of Beauty.

I am Ignoramus.

We are Beauty.

Beauty:  December 27 1930: ‘In one of the first utterances after his election as Mayor of Newcastle Ald. Parker made a welcome statement of his intention to use his energies for the beautification of the city. He spoke of the beaches, but the most interesting feature of his statement was his reference to trees.’

Ignoramus: ‘Chop them down! Crucify them! Chop, chop chop!’

Beauty: December 27 1930: ‘If he does nothing else but inaugurate a new era of tree planting, he will leave a name that will be honoured and sung in the years to come. A memorial erected in stone in recognition of civic services cannot be compared with the memorial living in the hearts of each succeeding generation. And it is the latter kind of memorial that will be the Mayor’s reward…’

Ignoramus: ‘Chop them down! Crucify them! Chop, chop, chop!

Beauty: December 27 1930: ‘A young tree in a park is an invitation to the rude destructive hands of boys and girls, and sometimes the parents witness the work of destruction unmoved. If spoken to, they remark with surprise that it is only a tree.’

Ignoramus: ‘Chop them down! Crucify them! Chop, chop, chop!’

Beauty: December 27 1930: ‘In the case of ill-treatment of a dog or cat or some other animal they would be instantly stirred to action, but a tree does not cry out: it submits silently to destruction. Where there is no poetry in the soul, this view can be understood, but the city should have poetry in its soul, and it should deal with those who would either crush beauty or despoil it.’

Ignoramus: ‘Chop them down! Crucify them! Chop, chop, chop!’

Beauty: December 27 1930: ‘With the younger generation there should be special efforts in the schools to promote a tree sense, and this should lead to the protection of trees already planted…’

Ignoramus: ‘Chop them down! Crucify them! Chop, chop, chop!’

Beauty: January 6 1931: A sentiment attributed to Alderman O’Neill: ‘He agreed with what had been said, that a “tree spirit” should be inaugurated.’

Ignoramus: ‘Chop them down! Crucify them! Chop, chop, chop!’

Beauty: January 6 1931: A sentiment attributed to Alderman Gibson: ‘What has been done in a few months on the barren block of land facing the Town Hall showed what attention could do. The trees were already nearly 2 ft in height. They were beautiful.’

The trees of Laman St were equally beautiful, and Ignoramus killed them.

Ignoramus killed Beauty.

Ignoramus declared Beauty to be dangerous.

Beauty might attack his tenuous grip on the tail of Simpson’s donkey. But a strong wind event from the back of the beast might cause Beauty to swoon and fall.

‘Chop them down! Crucify them! Chop, chop, chop!’

Ignoramus cannot imagine do-gooders at Anzac Cove. Nor can he see tree-huggers at Lone Pine. His grand revitalization vision can see only himself, the past universal I reflected back to him from every superficial non-reflective surface.

Ignoramus wears his Pyrrhic victory like a borrowed raincoat to protect him from a torrent of contrary Newcastle Voices. In his limited limitless mind Ignoramus is the community. Anybody else is a passing storm of something other, and that other must be a noisy thunder-clapping, lightning minority, no matter how majority that minority may be.

Ignoramus does not recognize the Anzac spirit in the Laman St pickets. He does not recognize unity in community. He does not recognize victory in apparent defeat.

Ignoramus does not recognize what he seeks to commemorate.

Ignoramus destroys what he seeks to commemorate.

‘Chop them down! Crucify them! Chop, chop, chop!’

I hear the choir of birds singing in the canopy at dawn as we nervously await the approach of the centurions. I take one last lingering look: these beautiful figs have fashioned an arboreal cathedral, a sacred grove, a living memorial; they are a parable of unity in community: fourteen living as one. I want to tell them to run away, to uproot themselves and save Beauty for another day.

But Beauty does not run. Beauty is too deeply rooted in the poetry in our souls to run. The wisdom of 1930 still rings true. Beauty does not cry out: she submits silently to destruction.

Ignoramus crucified Beauty on the cross of her own wood.

And yet Ignoramus and Beauty live within each of us.

We are all responsible. We are all one.

Where is Beauty’s burial place from which hope might spring?

There is no resurrection of this crucified Beauty in Laman St but there is surely a resurrection of Beauty in our hearts.

We are the figs!

We are the figs!

We are the figs!

Let us shade and comfort each other.

And when next we enter the polling booths in the Novocastrian Spring, that time of new life, a new dawn, a newer world, let Beauty cast our ballot, let us uphold an electoral mirror so that Ignoramus may see Beauty reflected.

I am Ignoramus.

We are Beauty.

‘The trees were budding, the birds were singing – the grass was wet – the whole earth was shining. And suddenly I was the trees and the flowers and the birds and the grass – and there was no I at all.’

Kahlil Gibran from Mary Haskell’s journal, May 23 1924.

Beauty, A Eulogy for Laman St, was written by Paul F Walsh OAM and delivered by him at the Baptist Tabernacle, Laman St, Newcastle, Australia, on Sunday February 26 2012.

Mr Walsh thanks:

Susan Harvey of Tusk Productions for creative editorial support and research assistance; Gionni Di Gravio, University Archivist, University of Newcastle, for research advice, research contributions and creative assistance.

Mr Walsh acknowledges quotations from:

‘I Care About Your Happiness, Quotations from the Love Letters of Kahlil Gibran and Mary Haskell, selected by Susan Polis Schutz; designed and illustrated by Stephen Schutz; Continental Publications, 1975 and Coolabah Gallery.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, Saturday December 27 1930, ‘Trees and the City’.

Newcastle International Women's Day Celebrations 1944-2011

Photographs and images compiled by Jude Conway for the Radical Newcastle Colloquium held at the University Gallery, 2 December 2011.

Click here to access the complete set:

And click here for the slideshow:

On Friday 2 December 2011 The University Gallery hosted the Radical Newcastle Colloquium.

This all day event, featured historians, activists, public intellectuals and the wider community in examining and discussing a broad array of topics from sex and abortion to radical clergy, environmental activism and politics.

Here is a selection of the videos recorded on the day

Radical Newcastle Colloquium Program


Put Obama into Detention

Speech outside Parliament House, Canberra, Thursday, 17 November 2011.

Ten years ago, we were told that we were going to chose who came here. Today, we are exercising that choice by protesting at the arrival of the war and economic criminal Obama. In saying that he and his gang are not welcome we are not turning our backs on the people of the United States. On the contrary, we stand in solidarity with them against the forces that oppress and exploit them and peoples across the globe.

Let’s apply the policy of choosing who can come here to the Obama entourage. Some 600 security agents are here to protect him, presumably from assassination. That number is an insult to Australians. Whatever is wrong with our public life we are not yet subject to the ravings that infect US politics, even though its shock-jock lunacies are being imported. But let’s think more about Obama’s guardians. What is their background? What checks have been made to ensure that none have been CIA kidnappers, torturers and assassins? Who better to protect you against assassination than your own trained assassins?

Refugees are held in detention until ASIO has given them a security clearance. Some suffer behind razor wire for years. Obama’s security team flies in without so much as a by your leave. Their names are state secrets. They get a blanket clearance. Perhaps that is just as well. Imagine the fate of anyone who tried to serve an arrest warrant on Obama or any one of his minders. Such people are not welcome. If anyone should be detained until we have checked their criminal status, it is these state terrorists.

To make it clearer why they are not welcome, we can indicate some of the US Americans who we do welcome. In running through the reasons for opening our borders to them, we shall see more clearly why Obama is the enemy of us all.

Before explaining who is welcome and why, we must acknowledge that choosing who could come here, or to the Americas or Africa, was not a choice that the invaders gave to indigenous peoples. Colonisers resorted to force and practiced genocide. Their impacts continue. All that has changed is the scale and methods of dispossession. Hence, we acknowledge the traditional owners. Who will give Obama a welcome to country?

Looking back to the early years of the invasion of this continent who might the original occupants have welcomed? One group was from the US of A but could not be citizens there because they were runaway slaves. Many US citizens helped them to move north to Canada. We hope that the settlers here who opposed the transportation of convicts would have provided sanctuary for those fugitives.

In like manner, we recall the ‘terrorist’ John Brown who raided Harper’s Ferry in 1859 to set up a non-slave republic. His soul is more than welcome to go marching on through Australia.

Of course, the regime of terror for Afro-Americans did not end with their legal emancipation after the Civil War. The spirit of our protest welcomes the ex-slaves and their descendants escaping from Jim Crow Laws and the lynchings that ruled beyond the old South into the 1970s.

Since then there have been judicial lynchings. In September, Georgia executed Troy Davis although the case against him was unsound. Davis joins the hundreds of those executed wrongly. They were convicted because they were poor, black and had been ill-educated. We welcome a humanitarian intervention in the US of A to put an end to this systemic injustice grounded in class and race.

Reverting to the nineteenth century, it is easy to imagine the welcome that the diggers at Eureka gave to the 200-strong Independent Californian Rangers’ Revolver Brigade in 1854. The warmth of that welcome from other miners extended to the Melbourne jury who acquitted the first of the rebels brought to trial, the Afro-American John Josephs, whom the crowd carried through the streets.


Labor leaders

Since Obama’s electoral base is in Chicago, let’s ask which past and present residents of that city would we most like to have with us today. A police attack on a labor rally in the city’s Haymarket in 1886 led to May Day’s becoming the international celebration of the working class movement. The Pullman rail strike was centred there in 1894. One of its leaders, the Socialist presidential candidate, Eugene Debs, spent time in prison for organising that and other strikes. He later went to jail for his anti-war activities.

The first English translation of Marx’s Capital came from Chicago, as did Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle (1906) about the horrors of working in a meat-packing works. Also from Chicago came the Industrial Workers of the World, known as the Wobblies. They contributed to the fighting strength of Australia’s working class, and were also at the forefront of anti-war movement here to oppose conscription for the slaughter at Gallipoli and on the Western Front. After one US Wobbly, Joe Hill, was executed in Utah in 1915, his fellow workers sent packets of his ashes around the world, including to Sydney. We welcome every chance to breath life into his ashes, along with the Haymarket martyrs, Debs, Sinclair and all the Wobblies.

From Chicago today we welcome the late community activist Saul Alinsky. Obama stole his methods of organising – ‘Rules for Radicals’ – so that Wall Street could continue to occupy the White House.. As his chief economic advisor, he appointed the man who had de-regulated the financial system, Larry Scummers. As Secretary of the Treasury he appointed Timothy Giethner who presided over Wall Street during its wildest speculations and swindles. Hence, we welcome the US documentary Inside Job which exposes their crimes, as we do the work of Michael Moore.

We also welcome all those involved in the Occupy Wall Street upsurge. We welcome the Wisconsin teachers and students who initiated the fight-back against the latest attacks on the ability of working people to organise.

These twin movements challenge the resentful rhetoric of the Tea Party. Unlike that body, the occupiers are not in the pay of the plutocracy that dominates US politics and whose power and privileges Obama serves.


Mark Twain

Many of the profoundest critics of the serial criminality of US capitalism are and always have been its own citizens. Mark Twain was the quintessential voice of US American literature. Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn continue to provide models for US fiction. No one could be more ‘American’, yet he has been portrayed as ‘Un-American’. The reason is simple: he condemned the US take-over of the Philippines. Today, we hear about ‘humanitarian interventions. In 1898, the Marines landed to ‘liberate’ the locals from the tyranny of their Spanish colonisers. The US forces soon turned their guns on the independence fighters. In 1900, Twain joined the Anti-Imperialist League, declaring:

I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.

He recognised that

we do not intend to free, but to subjugate … We have gone there to conquer, not to redeem


The general order to ‘kill or capture’ became a policy of indiscriminate slaughter. Twain called the US troops ‘Christian butchers’.

Twain had been welcomed when he lectured throughout Australia in 1896. Today, we welcome the lessons he learned about US Imperialism.

Similarly, we have just welcomed a contemporary US citizen, Noam Chomsky, with the Sydney Peace Prize. Part of Chomsky’s message is that Obama is more dangerous than Bush because he is still able to get away with crimes that were seen as such under Bush. With Bush, the person and the policy were recognised as one. Obama emerged behind a smokescreen of hope. Bob Brown says he wont protest this time because Obama is ‘wiser, more astute’ than Bush. Sure he is. He is astute enough to sucker Brown.

We extend a welcome to Ralph Nader to return. His Unsafe at any speed sparked the consumer fightback against the auto industry. Never has he compromised with the corporates or with the Democratic machine.

Workers on the Sydney opera house in 1960 went wild when Paul Robeson sang to them. When Pete and Peggy Seeger toured in 1960, the Courier-Mail refused to accept advertisements for their Brisbane concert which nonetheless overfilled the City Hall. We look forward to a tour by Dixie Chicks whose songs were put off the air in 2003 after they told a London audience that they were ashamed to have had George Bush as their governor in Texas. We welcome the successes that their music has had since.


Offers of asylum

Harry Bridges was the Australian-born leader of the West Coast Longshoremen’s Union. The FBI spent decades trying to deport Harry to Australia. As much as we would have welcomed Harry home we rejoice in the success that his members had in keeping him there as a fighter against exploitation.

We will also welcome back non-violent resister Scott Parkin who was deported this time last year. We will welcome home Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, despite Killard’s determination to throw him to the coyotes. We offer asylum to Corporal Bradley Manning.



On top of this liturgy of crimes, there are two new reasons for not welcoming Obama. The first is military and the second is economic, though they are inseparable.

The Darwin base is the base that you have when you are not having a foreign base. The US Marines and bombers are not welcome. Neither are the bases at Pine Gap and Norunga. We are told that those bases are now under Australian control. In truth, they are managed by Australians who work as agents of a foreign power. That arrangement was put in place in the 1980s by the most significant agent of US influence in our history, R J Hawke. His successors in the trade of selling us out range from Senator Mark Ahbib to Carr and Beasley to Killard.

The other source for alarm is the Pacific Partnership on so-called free trade. Smell the spin-doctors at work with the use of ‘partnership’. What that weasel word means is more domination and control by global corporations. Two aspects are of particular importance.

The first concerns our Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. Big Pharma wants open slather for their most expensive drugs. The consequentual cost blow-out will undermine our subsidised system. It will open the way to the abolition of Medicare as an impediment to profit-taking by the corporations that oppose even the modest system of health care proposed by Obama.

The second concern is with the Australian content provisions of the television licensing system. Hollywood executives see those regulations as a restraint on trade. They need to dump more of their programs here. The more networks that have to buy from Hollywood, the more they profit. Of course, the current laws are observed in the breech more than the observance. The media corporates fill up the hours with reality TV and other trivial pursuits. When they do make dramas they mimic Hollywood models.

Why is this latest piece of cultural imperialism important? One reason is to keep jobs here for writers, actors and technicians. But a larger question ties back to the military bases. If we grow up thinking that all music and movies come from somewhere else, we are being indoctrinated to accept that that somewhere else must know best for us on far more than entertainment. The claim is not that Australian screen culture is the best in the world. The point is that we need our own second-rate stuff. We need our own day-dreams. Without them, we are more susceptible to accepting military bases and trade deals that open the door to plunder. To occupy our imaginations is what the Pentagon calls soft power.

How best can we help those from Wisconsin to Wall Street? The way we can help US working families who are also victims of US monopolisers is to weaken their grip on the one part of the world over which we as Australians can have some influence. Only the people of the US can destroy US Imperialism. We cannot do that for them anymore than they can free our lives from domination by the US military-industrial-congressional-academic complex.

The US rebels at Eureka pledged to stand truly by each other. Our presence here today renews that pledge among our fellow Australian workers and to the millions of US citizens who are stirring against the monopolising capitalists. The unity that counts is unity in action.

The more we Australians act in unison, the more we shall realise that the fault is not in the Stars and Stripes, but in our own politics, if we remain underlinings.

Humphrey McQueen