Stand Fast barracks speak-outs roll on

Stand Fast, a group of veterans and former service people opposed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, had two more successful barracks gate speak-outs against the war in Afghanistan: on September 9, outside of Brisbane’s Gallipoli Barracks, home of the Australian Army’s 7th Brigade, including the 6th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment currently deployed in Afghanistan; and on September 24, outside Sydney’s Holsworthy Barracks, home to the 3rd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment, the 2nd Commando Regiment and support units.

At both speak-outs Graeme Dunstan from Stand Fast provided great visual impact with huge striking banners and flags, and also provided the sound through the PA of his Peacebus.

In Brisbane during the five-hour protest, about 20 people attended and helped hand out flyers to the soldiers entering and leaving the barracks, many staying for the entire time. Stand Fast incorporated its speak-out with the regular Thursday peace vigil which is conducted outside the barracks by local people who oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was a good chance for the two groups to get to know each other and build links.

The speak-out received good media coverage, with as many journalists and camera crews present at the start as there were protesters. Stories were aired that night on Channel Ten and SBS news programs, and it was reported online for the Courier-Mail, Sydney Morning Herald, AAP, ABC, Brisbane Times and QUT News. The speak-out heard from Stand Fast members Graeme Dunstan and Hamish Chitts and then the mike was made open to anyone who wanted to say something, with some excellent speakers coming forward.

While a small number of passing soldiers were hostile, the most encouraging thing was that there were also some soldiers who were brave enough to show their support for the speak-out. The overwhelming majority of passing civilians also showed support.

Holsworthy Barracks speak-out. Photo by John Percy.

In Sydney, Dunstan and Chitts were joined by Marlene Obeid, Joe and Christine from Sydney’s Stop the War Coalition and by John Percy, national secretary of the Revolutionary Socialist Party, who spoke on the open mike of his involvement in the movement (from its early days) against the Vietnam War and of his support for what Stand Fast is doing. There wasn’t as much media coverage as there was in Brisbane, but there were journalists from the local Liverpool Leader newspaper and from the Sydney Morning Herald. Before and after the action, Stand Fast did radio interviews with 2UE, the National Radio News Network and 4ZZZ.

There seems to be a misunderstanding among some in the antiwar movement that these actions are somehow attacking soldiers or, conversely, that we are telling people to focus on soldiers and ignore Afghanistan’s brutalised people. Neither view could be further from the truth.

Many soldiers passing expressed their support for what the speak-out was doing, many more than the two who shouted abuse as they passed. The Sydney speak-out set up near a roundabout, and as one car was entering the roundabout, the soldier driving gave a thumbs up and said, “You’re doing a great job!” He then did a full circle of the roundabout so the soldier in the passenger seat could also face us and say, “ Yeah, you are really doing a good job!” People who have never been in the army might not realise how big a deal it is to show support where the soldiers could possibly be seen by others.

Soldiers are the worst gossips in the world, and the “digger net” is faster than any broadband network. By that afternoon, there would have been discussion and debate about the speak-out and about the war in Afghanistan throughout the base as soldiers were sitting around waiting for the beginning of their weekend. One of the unique things that Stand Fast can bring to the antiwar movement it that it is a lot harder for the military brass to write veterans and former soldiers off as they do the civilian population and protesters in particular. It is not a substitute for any other tactic but another weapon in our armoury to end the occupations.

The Stand Fast barracks speak-outs will roll on into Victoria in October with speak-outs planned for bases at Bandiana (near Wodonga) and Watsonia (Melbourne) to challenge the war in Afghanistan and raise discussion and debate within the military.

[Hamish Chitts is a member of the Revolutionary Socialist Party and one of the founders of Stand Fast. For information about Stand Fast, visit the Stand Fast website or phone 0401 586 923.]