The problem with non-violence

“The only problem with non-violence,” he tells me, “is this: what happens when you’re being attacked and you need to use violence to resist?”

It really, honestly, is a valid question. It’s not his fault we’re constantly force-fed myths of violence in self-defence, from our movie and television screens to our governments and militaries, telling us that violence is only used to protect ourselves.

He’s not the first person to point out this problem with non-violence though. Any time the idea of non-violence is talked about, someone will inevitably bring this up. Possibly elaborated into some hypothetical situation that involves Australia being invaded; or somebody advancing on you with a knife, so out of their mind they can’t possibly be reasoned with.

It’s a flaw of human nature that we almost always, in any conflict situation, can only ever envision ourselves as the innocent party. It’s what makes resolving interpersonal disputes so difficult, and global conflicts even harder.

But the problem with talking about non-violence in terms of hypothetical situations is that it pretends that violence also only exists in a hypothetical realm. Even while Australia was involved in fighting two long, expensive and brutal wars overseas, I would still have people ask how I could defend a philosophy of non-violence if we were to be one day invaded.

This view of violence though is blind to the violence that is happening all around us – that our nation was built on the dispossession and murder of aboriginal people; that our wealth is perpetuated by the exploitation of the labour and natural resources of the developing world; that our lifestyle and the climate change that comes from it is devastating the poorest people in the world, who are most affected by climate change yet did the least to cause it. That our nation has been involved in wars of aggression supporting the inhumane empire that is the United States, that our military also collaborates in training other notorious human rights abusers, like the Indonesian and (most recently) Chinese armies.

Even our most heroic stories of violence are based on pretty shaky foundations – as the fervour builds for the centenary of ANZAC Day next April, far too few people are asking the question of why exactly our troops were invading the shoreline of Turkey to help the British Empire fight a war against Germany.

And we’ve just seen Peter Cosgrove appointed Governor-General (and a knight!), his reputation built on Australia’s involvement in helping East Timor gain its independence in the late 90′s. It doesn’t take a great detective to discover that before then, Australia had been knowingly training the Indonesian army to kill East Timorese for a quarter of a century, or that straight after it gained its independence, East Timor was swamped with Australian companies coming to take its natural resources while the Timorese  people remained in desperate poverty (their GDP per capita still one thirtieth of Australia’s).

East Timor is currently taking Australia to the International Court Of Justice claiming that it was coerced into signing the Timor Sea Treaty in 2002, gifting Australia 80% of the Greater Sunrise oil and gas fields. The claims include that while negotiating the treaty, Australia was spying on meetings of the newly formed Timorese government. Australia’s response was to in December send ASIO agents to the office of Bernard Collaery, the lawyer representing Timor, and confiscate the evidence on which they were building their case.

In our context of widespread violence, the call to non-violence is not a hypothetical inactivity while someone beats you up. It is the process of identifying where violence is currently happening in our society, and attempting to resist the tide of violence and build peaceful, non-exploitative alternatives. Not merely the absence of violence, but what Gandhi called “satyagraha”, or “truth force”.

So in answer to my friend’s question that started this article, my answer would be: Sure. If someone attacks you, hit them back to resist if you need to. Kick them in the balls and run away. If we have a movement for justice which (as history would say is probable) is resisted with force by those who stand to lose, then it might be necessary to fight in self-defence. But non-violence is not about hypotheticals. It is about transforming ourselves, our communities and our society away from the cycles of violence and to a more just, selfless and peaceful way.

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The ghosts of Wollar are alive at Leards Forest

I left my hometown of Mudgee at the start of 2006. Within a couple of years, the number of open-cut coal mines in the region went from one to three. While I probably would have considered myself an environmentalist at the time, I didn’t do anything to try to stop the development of these mines. To be honest, I don’t think at that point the thought had ever crossed my mind that you could.

Nor did many around town seem to think there were any problems with the new mines. A lot of people in town already worked at the one coal mine at Ulan, and nobody seemed to see the new mines as something to worry about. Most of Mudgee was apathetic, but unknown to me, the rural communities of Wollar and Ulan (where the mines were to be built) had been locked in a seismic battle – neighbour against neighbour, farmers against mining company, conservationists against government.

Having left town, it was only at a distance that I was drip fed information about the progress of the Wilpinjong and Moolarben mines and their impact on the local community. With pain and disbelief I heard the news that Wollar – the rural refuge for hippies and the place where my friends had grown up – no longer existed. The whole township had been excavated, tossed into the furnace and pumped into the atmosphere.

Then I heard that The Drip, the phenomenally beautiful gorge and aboriginal birthing site in the Bylong Valley, that I had climbed and played in and marveled at as a kid, had been leased to the Moolarben coal mine.

The full story of those mines and their impact on those rural communities is a long and tragic one that I don’t know enough of to do justice to. Sharyn Munro’s book “Rich Land Waste Land” is the best resource for hearing the voices of these and many other communities around the country who have faced the destruction of coal mines.

While I was living away I also heard that the community had begun to be less accommodating to the coal companies. Mudgee was outraged at the news that The Drip had been secretly sold off. A local campaign to save it began. A proposed fly-in, fly-out village for the mine was met with local opposition, forcing it out to the smaller farming community of Turill, who also didn’t want it but didn’t have the people power to stop it. I don’t know how much the people of Mudgee celebrated that victory, but next to a giant hole in the ground, polluted waterways and an entire village wiped off the map, it surely is the smallest of consolation prizes.

Of course, another thing that has happened since then in that region is the Eddie Obeid corruption scandal – where former NSW Labor resource ministers Obeid and Ian McDonald were revealed to have, among many other things, used their insider knowledge in mining tenders in the Bylong region to amass huge wealth through complex company structures that were fronts for the Obeid family. While the Sydney press trumpeted it as “corruption on a scale not seen since the rum corps”, the locals at Wollar and Ulan could only shake their heads. Whatever dodgy deals occurred when these mines were approved by the same Labor government, it was too late to undo them.

Let’s fast forward to a year and a half ago, when I heard that a couple of dedicated environmentalists were camping out in the Leards Steat Forest near Boggabri, NSW. They were trying to support the local farmers in their struggle against a proposed new mine at Maules Creek. For a long time now, climate justice has been to me one of the most pressing issues anyone interested in the future of our planet needs to be standing up for. But it was also the memory of Wollar that drew me out to the Leards Forest.

The first time I went to Leards, there were barely half a dozen of us at the camp while I was there. It was summer and brutally hot. We talked about doing actions but in the week I was there they just didn’t come together. Still, I loved being out in the bush, letting it heal me of all the craziness and industrial sickness of the city. We went on koala spotting missions, to try to prove what would be lost if the forest was bulldozed. I met and talked with local farmers, and with Sharyn Munro, who has traveled the country collecting the stories of those who have been the losers in the mining boom.

It was a year before I got a chance to go back to Leards Forest. I had stayed updated and tried to support the cause where I could, but it felt so good getting back to that camp and that forest, say hello to old friends and new comrades. In the time I’d been away, the issue had grown in prominence and at this point there were at least 20 people who had been brought out to the forest from all over the country to help out.

The bush was still there too, for now at least (there was quite a bit less of it to be honest) – beautiful and rugged, with its rocky soil, box gums and cypress pines, those huge sunsets across the plains, the star-filled skies at night. In the distance I could hear the rumble of a coal mine operating 24-7, but still that bush was working its magic on me again.

A blockade camp is a place of extremes. Even hitch-hiking down there, talking about the issue was measured, taking in all viewpoints and prefacing statements with “yeah, but…” On a blockade there’s no need for that kind of beating around the bush – it’s only greenies and miners out there, on opposing sides. For years I’ve heard police say “I’m only doing my job” as they drag you off or hold you in line at demonstrations. I’ve never taken it as a valid rule of ethics,  but it’s a bit like that in the bush as you try your best to hold up work on the mine. You can look the worker in the eye – you both know where you stand. Both just doing your jobs.

But blockading is much more than what most of us call our jobs. Sneaking around at night dodging security to set up actions, sitting in a group trying to formulate plans. Reclaiming the sense of adventure that in our city lives of routine and busyness we only get to live out vicariously through the movie screen. Strangers become co-conspirators, ordinary people become heroes as we put our bodies on the line, resisting the destruction we normally feel so powerless to stop.

I interviewed a few people who were planning to get arrested for the first time – two women from Melbourne who were locking on to excavators, one guy from NSW who would be sitting up in a tree. In their voices you could sense the excitement. I not only heard it, I felt it too. In our lives where so much of our experience is mediated – the music we listen to, screens we watch, things we own – this time we were at the centre of the action, trying to create the world we dream of.

I went out to Leards again since then too. The camp had been evicted from the state forest, the Narrabri Shire Council’s ludicrous excuse being that it was due to bushfire concerns. But they had set up a new camp on the property of a local farmer, and kept doing actions, often with a wonderful creativity and sense of humour. People had kept on coming out, wanting to be involved.

That time it was only a short stay, and we didn’t have a lot of luck doing actions that held up work, but I still loved it anyway. We did work on the campsite, setting it up to hopefully be there as long as it will take. Before I left I went to a meeting at Narrabri, where 600 farmers met and talked about how they could stop coal seam gas exploration in the region. As I went back up north I was planning when I would next return.

The story of Wollar isn’t unique, there are a number of communities that have been decimated by mining and written off as just another expense. But neither is the story of Maules Creek. Across the country there are people getting together and saying that no matter what our government and mining companies might believe; our communities, our forest, our climate, and our lives are not something that can just be dug up and sold off.


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My top 10 songs of 2013

Another year ends, and all those music lists remind me how out of touch I still am. Still, making this list has come to be something I really look forward to each year. And as always, there was a lot of rad music made in 2013.


Paddy McHugh and the Goldminers – The snowmen

My favourite Paddy McHugh moment of the year actually didn’t involve this song. It was at a show when he introduced his old Sydney City Trash classic “Just The Country Coming Out In Me” by saying “I’m from the country, and I’m fucking proud of it.” I’ve lived in the city a long time now, but my whole body felt a rush of country pride during that song that I knew the people in the room who weren’t from the country would never understand.

Paddy’s album of this year, Trials And Cape Tribulations, is just a magnificent album that shows just how good folk music can be – it tells our history and our stories with heart, compassion and wit. And he is also a lovely bloke.


Year Of Scummery – Wadonga

Advance warning: there is a lot of folk punk in this list. Every year is a good year for people who like folk punk, but maybe my tastes or range are getting narrower these days. Anyway, Year Of Scummery were a folk punk institution this year – hitching and riding freight trains around the country, playing shows and busking with an ever-evolving cast of musicians joining in.

They did an album as well, but it doesn’t really capture the experience that is Year Of Scummery live, which I think this video does pretty well. Every show was great, but my best memory of the year would have to be a show we did in a Brisbane laundromat. Cam was looking like the crustiest man alive, and as he thrashed at his ukelele and screamed out the words, a few people very nervously edged into the room holding their baskets of washing.


Vélociraptor – Up the library bums

One of the highlights of the year for me was in April organising a tour of shows for the first time. My travelling companions, and in fact the inspiration for the tour, were Melbourne/France folk punk duo Vélociraptor. I saw them play 5 sets in a week, so their songs are pretty well imprinted on my mind. I still enjoy their album now though.

It was inspiring for me to hang out with other people doing DIY music and to try to organise a DIY tour myself. It wasn’t quite the epic trek across the country that you read about American bands doing, but it was pretty awesome still. Two of the venues we played had libraries in the room, so it was fitting for the band to play this tribute to hanging out in the library.


Sweet Teens – Hot breath on cold breast

In this list last year I included the song “All Indoors” by Tom Denton. A chance encounter with Tom in Sydney led to me doing a couple of shows with him, where he stunned the crowd with moments of genius. And that’s not just normal music journalism hyperbole. I guess you have to see it to understand, but something amazing happens when Tom picks up a guitar.

A bit later came his album with his band Sweet Teens, which matched Tom’s crazy poetry with catchy, mostly upbeat guitar rock. The result is an album that is fun, moving, smart, funny and deserving to be heard by more people than it has been.


Carrie and the Cut Snakes – We will be forgotten

In January, the long awaited Carrie and the Cut Snakes debut album was launched. In the middle of the year, Carrie left us for the home of country music, Texas. Brisbane lost a great musician and a great person, but she left us at least with this album, and the women’s art collective she worked so hard to start.

Carrie’s music is beautifully honest and deeply personal, and I find this song so moving. She has told me that it means a lot to her as a song, that it expresses a lot of her personal spirituality. Hopefully those Americans are enjoying it as much as I do.


Yes I’m Leaving – Creepyman

Ever since I first saw them play in a Stockton loungeroom years ago, Yes I’m Leaving have been one of my favourite bands. Any new music or chance to see them play is cause for celebration, and this year I got plenty of both, with a new album and their first trip to Brisbane (plus shows in Sydney and Newcastle, naturally).

The shows were predictably great, so is the album, and this song is up there with the best the band has done – that riff is ridiculously huge and heavy.


The Wild – Dreams are maps

Out of a very competitive field, The Wild have always been one of the most posi and enthusiastic of all folk punk bands – like motivational speakers with acoustic instruments. On this year’s “Dreams Are Maps” though, the band’s music has a new found grandiosity (and so many drum rolls!) It’s still folk punk, but folk punk played by people who’ve been listening to a lot of Arcade Fire. The result is an absolutely joyous album to listen to.

It’s a great album where I don’ really have a favourite track. I chose this one though because it’s a good example of the spirit of the album, and I love the lyric about waking in the park.

“When I woke up in a park surrounded by friends,
I knew these felon politicians wouldn’t stop us again.”

It could be written about the Occupy movement, but then anybody who’s ever slept in a park with their friends around them can probably relate a little bit to what they’re saying.


Virginia Sook – Frederic

I had heard that Virginia Sook were good but never heard the music when I contacted lead singer Lindsay about playing as part of the tour with Vélociraptor I mentioned earlier. Two thirds of a year later, I have seen them play loads of times and have definitely become a fan. Their delicate songs and lyrical imagery make every Virginia Sook show great, and the album that came out towards the end of the year was just as good.

I like all of Lindsay’s songs, but I had to pick one so I’ve gone for this one, inspired by the death of a pet, an existential crisis, and author Frederic Beigbeder.


Albion Gold – Bored and braindead

Another new musical discovery for me this year, Albion Gold are now one of my favourite Brisbane punk bands (even though they’re from the Gold Coast and lead singer Laura Mardon is originally from London). There’s nothing too technical about Albion Gold’s music, just speedy, catchy punk with an occasional metal guitar lick thrown in. But it’s fun, and Laura is not just a great singer, but visually transfixing as she jumps, crouches, stomps, paces around and spits out the lyrics.

I actually maybe like Laura’s solo acoustic stuff even more, but there are enough acoustic guitars in this list already, and Albion Gold were definitely a musical highlight of the year for me. Plus how could I leave out a song with lyrics like:

I’m sick of the social order
I’m sick of slut shaming
sick of the patriarchal system
and patriotic tribalism
I heard you telling rape jokes on your lads night out
you ever tell me to get my tits out for the boys
Well, I’ll kick your fucking teeth out


Ghost Mice – House of the undying

Definitely one of my lowlights of the year was getting kicked out of Brother Juniper House, the community/hospitality house myself and a group of others had started in South Brisbane. And then seeing us go our separate ways, taking with us the dreams we had talked so much about.

The same week we packed up the last of our stuff and had one last cup of tea, there appeared on the internet a split release from Ramshackle Glory and Ghost Mice, two of my favourite American bands. And in there, closing the Ghost Mice side , was this ode to punk houses. Brother Juniper House was definitely not a punk house, but there’s still a lot of our house there in the lyrics, like “I heard that someone’s coming to stay, no one knows them but that’s ok”, “the dumpstered bagels are getting hard”, and sadly  “it’s bound to end the same, a failure to communicate.”

Even now listening to the song is a bit bittersweet (not helped by the band’s proposed Australian tour falling through), but I can’t help but have a bit of Ghost Mice’s trademark optimism rub off on me as they sing “this house will never die.”

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Feast of the Holy Innocents

I love the Christmas story. Despite Santa Claus and his mountains of tinsel and useless junk, I still love the Christmas story.

I love it partly because I think it’s important to remember the stories that define us as a culture. White Western society doesn’t really have ancient mythology going back tens of thousands of years to give us a sense of belonging to the world and to our own culture, but our obsession with progress and the process of secularisation are helping us to forget what culture we do have.

Or maybe we always forgot it. Because while a historical trait of European society has been the colonisation and exploitation of the rest of the word and the building of empires, the Christmas story is one of a very different kind of king.

You probably know the story well enough that I don’t have to go over it in detail. It’s the story of God appearing on Earth, but there’s a few twists in the tail. In the outskirts of the Roman empire, a baby is conceived out of wedlock to a Jewish couple.  Due to an order from the Roman rulers, the parents are forced to have the baby away from home. Forced to give birth in a stable rather than in a room, the unglamorous birth is attended by lowly shepherds while the social and religious elite are completely unaware. No Woman’s Day exclusive photoshoot, and no grand divine act to announce to the world that God had become incarnate. No, the Christmas story is about a couple being shunted this way and that by people with more power than them, ignored and outcast. It’s the ultimate statement of what the glory of God really looks like.

And then there’s the “Magi from the East” (aka “wise men”), which brings me to why I’m writing this. It’s mostly forgotten now that Santa Claus and Westfield have bought Christmas, but for a long time in christian tradition, the story of Herod and the Magi (you know, between where Mary and Joseph brave the Christmas shopping rush and where they get a bargain at the boxing day sales) was remembered on the 28th of December as the Feast of the Holy Innocents.

This is one of my favourite parts of the Christmas story. Even Yoda wrote a Christmas carol about it (if you didn’t get that, don’t worry). While all the rich and powerful of Jerusalem and Rome are ignoring the birth of Jesus, three men in the East see a star that tells them something significant has happened. If you’re paying attention you find out these things. They travel West to see who has been born, bringing gifts. But when the get to Judea and ask the king Herod if he knows about it, he says no. He’d sure like to though.

The magi keep going, eventually finding the baby Jesus. In a dream they are told not to go back to Herod, so they return a different way. Herod responds with tyrannical rage, ordering the death of every child in Bethlehem under two years of age. Jesus survives because in another dream, his father is told to flee to Egypt. Like I heard a friend of mine say the other day, lucky they didn’t try to come to Australia.

This is an interesting part of the story because this is where a line gets drawn. While the manger birth shows Jesus being ignored and forgotten, the story of Herod is the first of many instances of Jesus being considered a direct threat by those in power. One that needs to be wiped out by any means necessary.

Jesus is rarely a neutral figure. He might have been called the Prince of Peace, but he also said “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law — a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’” (Matthew 10:34-36, quoting Micah 7.) The kingdom of God – of love, service and justice, is in direct opposition to the kingdoms of humanity – of money, power and violence.

This is what the magi learn in this story. While the Feast of the Holy Innocents traditionally remembers the slaughtered children as the first martyrs of christianity, it should also remember the three magi as the first christians to commit civil disobedience in standing up for what’s right. And also King Herod as neither the first nor the last person who succumbed to the temptations of power, and the slippery slope it leads to.

So tomorrow, on the Feast of the Holy Innocents, I hope we can remember all those innocent people around the world whose lives have been lost. In war, from Afghanistan and Iraq to Syria and Southern Sudan. In poverty, that so often the greediness and exploitation of the (Christian) Western world has helped to create. In oppressive regimes, from West Papua to Palestine to North Korea and all over the world, where the role of Herod is played out again and again.

I hope we also remember the magi and their courageous actions. It’s the duty of all of us to stand up against injustice wherever we see it, from our neighbourhoods to the corridors of power. Every act of love and resistance is a step towards creating a better world, but can also act as an inspiration to others – an invitation to join the glorious struggle that is pursuing true justice in our own lives and in our world.

And I hope we remember Herod, the despot king, who at another time (recorded in history but not in the bible), killed his own wife and two sons. We all are constantly faced with with temptations or compromises that will give us that little bit of extra power, wealth or recognition. Most of us like to think we would never order the mass killing of children, but I think history shows us that by the time you do get that kind of power, there’s no turning back. Part of the Christmas story that shouldn’t be forgotten is the warning for us to be less like Herod, and more like Jesus, who said:

“The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” (Luke 22:24-27)

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A review of the Insane Clown Posse at the Hi-fi

Everybody has things in their past that you would never really guess and will never know unless they are randomly prompted in conversation. You know, the things that are such a dim memory you nearly forget them yourself. Here’s one of mine: for the year between my 14th and 15th birthdays, my favourite band was the Insane Clown Posse. That’s right friends, I was a juggalo.

It’s rare that this comes up. Unlike a lot of the bands I listened to at that age, I can’t really remember any lyrics or even song titles. They were something that came into my life (introduced to me by this kid named Jeremy who moved out to Mudgee from Sydney bringing all kinds of cool stuff) suddenly and disappeared (I discovered punk and indie music, and got a little bit uncomfortable with the lyrics of the gangsta rap I was listening to) just as quickly.

But I loved it at the time. There were a group of us at school who were into ICP and their “dark carnival”. We used to quote lyrics at each other, and managed to get their whole catalogue on our meagre pocket money by buying an album each and getting our one friend with a cd burner to distribute copies to everyone. I used to draw the little “hatchet man” logo, and even would try to come up with plans as to how I could taste the Detroit cheapo soda “Faygo” that the band would sing about.

If you’re not familiar with the band, it really is too strange for me to try to explain here. You’ll have to look it up yourself. I’ll just share my one favourite story about them. In the late 90′s the band was signed to Disney-owned Hollywood Records. After a complaint from conservative Americans the label tried to cut the band without any severance pay and without giving back the master tapes of their forthcoming album. The band’s manager told Hollywood Records CEO Michael Eisner that the juggalos (the band’s devoted fans) would “burn down Disneyland.” Miraculously, the label and band quickly came to an agreement.

These memories were well and truly crammed into the darkest corners of the back of my mind until it was announced earlier this year that ICP would be touring Australia. Once I had heard this information there was only one conceivable course of action. I had to go. And so it was that on Thursday night, I found myself successfully scamming my way into the Hifi in West End for a surreal experience I will try my best to relate to you.


The highlight of the show was really before it started. Despite the early starting time of 7pm, like clockwork at that minute there appeared at the Hi-fi hundreds of juggalos waiting to get in. There were loads of faces painted, ICP shirts and a definite gender imbalance. The doors didn’t quite open on time, but people happily killed time by singing lyrics together and chanting either “family!” or “whup whup!”. The queue stretched out for literally hundreds of metres around the block. Some guy came out onto his verandah to angrily complain to the venue management about the noise. Meanwhile, the patrons and staff of nearby establishments stared in open-mouthed astonishment. The feral face-painted masses had invaded yuppified Boundary Street.

To try to sneak in I had to wait for a while, so I didn’t stick around, but I did have a couple of brief conversations with very friendly fans. When I came back I witnesses a couple of 4zzz guys interviewing juggalos. One guy said, “Australia is an extremely racist country. People of all colours are racist towards others. The only place where there is no racism is here tonight.”

I got inside to a crowd chanting “ICP! ICP!” in anticipation. The curtain opened to a huge cheer, and then there they were, bouncing around the stage. Two men in their 40′s, wearing black and white facepaint, truly living the Peter Pan dream of never having to grow up.

There were a handful of others dressed as clowns (through the set they would change into zombies, grim reapers, demons and a few other things I can’t remember), who threw confetti into the crowd. Within the opening couple of songs, the first cases of soft drink appeared and were shaken up and sprayed into the crowd. Face paint, confetti, spraying soft drink? I know all the songs are about killing people and the juggalos are on the FBI’s list of dangerous gangs, but honestly this has more of the vibe of a 12 year old’s birthday party.

What about the music? The beats are pretty simple, and usually either circus style keyboards or rap-rock crossover guitar. There’s not much great variety there, and neither is there in the lyrics, which are low on political correctness but high in stupidity. And usually involve murder or non-romantic sex. Or both. There is the running theme of religious themes and imagery thrown in there as well, which is truly a bizarre mixture, but there you go.

It’s not really about the music though, despite the fact that a few people around me know all the words and are dancing enthusiastically. It’s more of a communal ritual – being with the “family” and getting drenched in the endless supply of soft drinks that are being sprayed into the crowd.

Violent J announced that they would be playing their last song “but there’s still lots of faygo left”, which must have been a cue because as soon as the song began, people started rushing the stage and opening the bottles until soon there were about 50 people on stage spraying the stuff around. I couldn’t possibly count how many bottles got emptied, box after box kept being brought out. People on stage are dancing, hugging, soaked. It’s an amazing sight.

Everyone on stage reminded me of another gig I snuck into at the Hi-fi a couple of years ago – New York street punks The Casualties. That time I think there were more people on stage at one point than in the audience. they have the same rhetoric of “family” and “us against the world”, and have a uniform as well – mohawks and patches. The same simplistic music that seems more like a means to an end than an end in itself.

One difference though is that the Casualties show was one of the most violent I’ve ever been to. I saw two people punched straight in the face in the pit. Tonight there is no hint of violence, and despite the audience being probably 80% male, no creepiness or harrassment of women that I could see. It really was just a big kid’s party.

At some point the band snuck off stage and left the delirious juggalos marinating in their soft drink. The lights came up, but nobody left yet, instead staying and chanting “fa-mi-ly! fa-mi-ly!” Soon enough the security started to corral people out, except get this: the security guards, who had been standing at the stage as per usual for Hi-fi shows, were completely doused in soft drink and covered in glitter. In those circumstances it’s pretty hard to be intimidating.

The crowd started moving out anyway, leaving the most bizarre sight – the front section of the Hi-fi was a massive pool of soft drink, ankle deep. One guy did a belly slide in it to big cheers and emerged fist-pumping. Did I mention kid’s parties? I had managed to avoid the soft drink geysers the whole night, but on the way out a lady came up to me saying “we’re family!” and hugged me, leaving a residue of sticky soda on the front of my shirt.

Outside the venue, the joyful family vibe remained – more chanting, more “whup whup” (I don’t know what it means either), overweight guys walking around with their shirts off. Like any good show at the Hi-fi, the milling crowd blocked off that little street and needed to be shepherded around by the security. I hung around for a while, not really doing anything except soaking in the atmosphere, until it was only the dregs left still there.

The juggalo phenomenon is pretty interesting I must say. I mean, it would be easy to pick holes in it or make fun of them, but I think they bring up so many interesting questions. How did this whole cult thing develop? What binds these people together? Is it really just a crappy hip hop group from the other side of the world? What do juggalos stand for?

There is a general anti-mainstream society sentiment, and occasionally something vaguely resembling a political idea in the lyrics, but that’s pretty hard to find amongst the cartoon violence and teenage boy humour. There’s the religious theme, and maybe that’s it – like many religions it’s about personal transformation. There’s definitely that sense of self-empowering, motivational speaker, community talk that outsider sub-cultures sometimes produce. Maybe it really is like family – those intangible but unquestionable bonds that tie you to other people for life. In a society lacking in community and connection, the wicked clowns fill a gap that people need.

However you see it, there is an enthralling and intoxicating energy to the whole thing. I see a lot of amazing bands regularly, who I would confidently claim are musically better than ICP. But it’s very rare that I leave a show feeling as happy as I did on Thursday night.


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Australia is listening in, but not to the people of West Papua

While I’ll admit that I’ve found the furore and subsequent media hysteria around the Australian government tapping the phone of Indonesia’s president Susilo Bambang Yudyhono and his wife  fairly amusing, one thing has remained a little bit frustrating for me. No one likes to think that we spy on other countries, but the very idea of a nation is based on exclusion and some antagonism with our neighbours. Otherwise we wouldn’t have borders at all.

But the question we really should be asking is “what are our government listening  for?” Tony Abbott says it is “for good and not evil.” So what kind of things do we think cause our intelligence analysts to prick their ears up as they listen in? Mass murder? Human rights abuses? Genocide?

It would appear not. Because while our government was bugging the first lady’s private calls, in broad daylight, 200km from Australia’s coast, the people of West Papua are crying out for the outside world to pay attention to what the Indonesian government and military are doing to their people and their land.

How’s this for an intelligence scoop? You don’t even need all that fancy spy technology. On October 5th, three West Papuan men risked their safety to climb the fence of the Australian consulate in Bali. They wished to present to the Australian people an open letter asking that Australia put pressure on Indonesia to release political prisoners and allow foreign journalists and human rights observers into the country.

Australia’s response? The Australian consulate threatened to call the police. Tony Abbott responded by publicly saying “Australia will not give people a platform to grandstand against Indonesia.” The spies didn’t look up, most Australians paid no attention, and the people of West Papua kept dreaming and struggling for a time when they would be free.

In the aftermath of World War II (when Japan successfully invaded its South Eastern colonies), the Dutch empire was in decline. They lost control of Indonesia, and prepared to leave their other colonies in the region – Maluku and West Papua. On December 1st, 1961, West Papua declared its independence from the Dutch. It didn’t last long.

Indonesia had its eyes on West Papua and its resources. While they are geographically close, Papuans are different ethnically (they are Melanesian, similar to aboriginal Australians), religiously (Christian compared to mostly Muslim Indonesia) and culturally (Papua is made up of hundreds of tribes, each with their own distinct languages). But Papua is cursed with an abundance of land and natural resources.

The United States, in the middle of the cold war, feared that Indonesia would turn to Russia for help, gifting the USSR a significant ally in the region. So the US launched a pre-emptive strike. In August 1963 in New York, the US negotiated an agreement between Indonesia and the Netherlands where Indonesia would take control of West Papua. No Papuans were present. Within a few years, American mining company Freeport-McMoran had begun mining the world’s biggest gold mine near Timika in West Papua.

Part of the agreement was that at some point West Papua would hold a referendum for their independence. In July 1969, the so-called “Act of Free Choice” took place, where 1025 Papuans were chosen to represent the population. They had guns pointed at their heads and were told to vote to stay with Indonesia. For reasons that remain a mystery (pressure from Indonesian military? From the US?), the United Nations observers declared it a valid result.

Since then, over 500 000 Papuans have been killed by the Indonesian military. Papuans have never stopped struggling for merdeka (freedom), but they have been met the whole time with brutal repression. Theys Eluay, the president of the self-appointed Papuan Presidium Council, was murdered in 2001. As I write this, the current President and Prime Minister, Forkorus Yaboisembut and Edison Waromi,  are in jail. They were arrested as part of the brutal shutdown of the Third Papuan People’s Congress in October 2011. Any moves towards independence can be charged as treason. Filep Karma is currently serving 15 years for raising the West Papuan flag.

Meanwhile, the natural resources of Papua have been plundered. The gas, gold, copper and forests of Papua have provided a windfall for the Indonesian government while Papuans live in poverty, often mourning the destruction of their sacred land. Indonesia’s transmigration program has slowly made Papuans a minority in their own country. Combine this with the deaths and the suppression of Papuan languages and customs, and you have what is referred to as West Papua’s “slow genocide”.

But back to Australia and its phone tapping. The role of Australia in the oppression of East Timor is well documented. Similar to West Papua, a declaration of independence was followed almost immediately  by an Indonesian invasion. Australia turned a blind eye then and continued to train Indonesian soldiers and  stage joint military exercises even after the Indonesian military was internationally condemned for slaughtering 180 civilians in 1991′s Dili massacre.

John Howard’s government and Peter Cosgrove’s military positioned themselves as defenders of freedom when Australia sent its army to assist East Timor’s transition to independence in 1999, but the hypocrisy of it was plain to see. Australian’s diplomatic and trade relations with Indonesia, and its access to the oil reserves of the Timor Sea, will always be a higher priority than human rights in our neighbouring countries.

West Papua is a depressingly similar story. Australian helicopters were used in the 1970′s to kill thousands of Papuan civilians, Australian trained military commit atrocities there, and the Australian government (Liberal or Labor) steadfastly refuses to speak up about it or show any support for the Papuan cause.

In 2006, when 43 West Papuan asylum seekers arrived on Cape York in a dugout canoe, it became a significant diplomatic incident. It lead to Australia signing the Lombok treaty, which affirms a mutual commitment to “the sovereignty, unity, independence and territorial integrity of both Parties, and the importance of the principles of good neighbourliness and non-interference in the internal affairs of one another.” I guess the question of what a good neighbour means is open to interpretation.

Earlier this year the West Papuan cause came into focus in our national media when a group of Australian activists called the Freedom Flotilla declared their intention to sail to West Papua as a gesture of support for the freedom movement there. Then foreign minister Bob Carr accused the activists of “a cruel deceit, offering false hope to the people of West Papua that there is international support.” Shadow minister Julie Bishop encouraged Indonesia to use “whatever means it wishes” against the boats.

The flotilla, and the indigenous cultural ceremony that was a key part of it, were a great success that I don’t really have space to cover here. But the fallout in Papua was significant. There were a number of arrests of Papuans accused of having links to the flotilla, and seven Papuans who had been part of the cultural ceremony sought asylum in Australia, fearing for their lives. Australia, as is our current refugee policy, sent them back to Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea, where there are already tens of thousands of displaced West Papuans, and a pro-Indonesia government means their safety there is not guaranteed. Two weeks later the three men occupied the Australian consulate during the APEC meeting, prompting Tony Abbott’s response that I quoted earlier.

With West Papua’s independence day (traditionally an event of significant Papuan demonstrations and Indonesian repression) coming up this Sunday and the launch of an office of the Free West Papua campaign in Port Moresby this week, yesterday there were 41 arrests of Papuan demonstrators. I can’t confirm how many deaths, but there are reports that at least 20 people were killed.

You don’t need to tap anyone’s phone to find this out, but then again neither ASIS nor the Australian government has ever shown any inclination to support the people of West Papua anyway. Maybe they should ring the president’s wife.

This movement, like any other seeking genuine freedom, will have to come from the ground up: everyday people forcing freedom despite the attempts of governments and elites to resist it. Australians have a role to play too, although don’t expect the major parties to come on board any time soon. But the struggle of Papuan people for human rights is the struggle for the humanity of us all. Papua merdeka!

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Even a Little Love is Stronger than the Wars of the World

written by Rachel Walker

Reflections on the Children’s Lantern Parade

Swan Island Peace Convergence 2013

We walked and sang our way through the dark Queenscliff streets, guided by the warm glow of handmade lanterns.

As I went down to Swan Island to Pray
Studying about that good old way
and who shall end these dirty wars?
Good Lord show me the way

It was the second night of the peace convergence. We were heading down to the Swan Island gates for a time of reflection and stillness before the chaos of the next few days set in. The next morning, we had planned to blockade these gates in an attempt to disrupt the workings of the military and intelligence base.

We gathered together and the children read out some messages from kids in Afghanistan who have suffered under the war for their entire lives. They told us,

We wish to live without war.
Blood cannot wash away blood.
Even a little love is stronger than the wars of the world.
We want all troops to leave now.
War cannot bring us peace.
We wish to live without war.

Amongst the soft light of the lanterns we laid out images of children who had been killed in the Afghanistan war.

It was a strange sensation looking at the gates and knowing what lay behind them. Many women, men and children’s deaths were a result of the training of the soldiers less than one kilometre away. I was standing at one of the many interfaces between society and the war machine. But it was just a gate. A gate to a building complex, where business runs as usual. It takes a moment to connect what’s happening behind this gate to the horrific consequences overseas. And it takes just another moment to be back looking at a gate leading to a bridge in a small coastal town; and wondering how it came to stand for so much.

We repeated each phrase after the kids,

We wish to live without war.
Blood cannot wash away blood.
Even a little love is stronger than the wars of the world.
We want all troops to leave now.
War cannot bring us peace.
We wish to live without war.

These words not surprisingly wrapped themselves around my heart and made it ache. But the feeling of loss and despair was followed by an unexpected calm. There was still hope. As a people, we were listening. These Afghan children’s pleas had landed somewhere. I couldn’t have predicted the intense power unleashed in speaking their words.

When we make the space to collectively speak up, contemplate or mourn,  something changes in us. Just as embracing the truth leads to healing in our individual lives, I have discovered now that it works on a collective and societal level too. The more of us involved, the more amplified the hurt and healing can be.

We finished our peace vigil with an acapella version of Vine and Fig Tree. The lyrics create a powerful impression of a world where weapons are re-purposed into garden tools and people live without fear and have enough to eat. We sang prayerfully, asking that we would start to bring this vision about.

As we reached a natural end to the song someone spoke up, somewhat echoing my line of thought. He excitedly said, “These gates are just going to melt right in front of us if we keep up this beautiful singing.”

The crazily optimistic side of me thought it was feasible. Of course it sounds impossible, but we had actually achieved something incredible and unlikely already just by coming together. We had broken from our everyday routines and come from different corners of the country to be a beacon for peace.

For four days we created a microcosm of peace: a temporary community living together, eating together, making decisions together, drawing on our diverse wisdom (including that of the single digit folk), doing craft together and advancing our learnings in non-violence. We weren’t there just to disrupt the war machine- although we would be doing that too- we were there also to create and hold a space to nurture the outlandish idea that peace is attainable.

To me, events like the Swan Island peace convergence say, ‘we’ll just keep trying our best even though we already know the outcome is impossible to reach.’ This way of living is so countercultural and transformative that the gate melting suddenly doesn’t look as far off either.

We walked home from our vigil singing Freedom is coming, oh yes I know. When we sang the verse again with the word peace instead of freedom my whole being lit up. We weren’t singing for an arbitrary ‘world peace’ that falls out of the sky. But a grounded conviction in our and other’s humanity that flows through people and communities.

Less than two days later, seventeen of us illegally walked through the gates and onto the Swan Island military base. Amazingly, someone had left it unlocked and we were able to prize it open it while taking a decoy group photo. You could say the gates melted.


What is Swan Island?

What is the Swan Island Peace Convergence?

Video of us entering the island

Some more accounts of SIPC 2013 by Graeme Dunstan, Jasmine Pilbrow and Shane Fenwick

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