n ik on Thu, 4 Apr 2002 11:15:28 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> woomera accounts digest [ n ik (x 2) ]

n ik <fragments@va.com.au>
     personal account from the Woomera 2002 protests in Australia
     another account of woomera2002 from melbourne.indymedia

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Date: Thu, 4 Apr 2002 13:41:49 +1000
From: n ik <fragments@va.com.au>
Subject: personal account from the Woomera 2002 protests in Australia

[for more details of the actions, photos, audio reports and 
interviews with escaped detainees, see 
http://melbourne.indymedia.org. Also check out the protest website, 

I'm not sure where to start - if this had just been a matter of 
filing reports each night, it might have been easier. But for some 
reason my box was inaccessible from Woomera (amongst other things I 
was part of the desert.indymedia crew), and so I'm writing this two 
days after the end of a protest that will mark Australia for a long 
time to come. I'll compile some of the best indymedia story links to 
send out, and write up something on  desert.indymedia later. For now 
I just want to tell the story of the first two days of the protest.

Well before we set up the blockade of  the Asia-pacific meeting of 
the World Economic Forum (see http://www.s11.org) back in 2000, there 
had been talk of doing a massive protest action at the Woomera 
Detention Centre in 2002 (the detention centre is a centre for 
holding people who are waiting for determination on their refugee 
status, or are deemed 'illegal immigrants'. Its also in the middle of 
a desert 8 hours drive from the closest city). In march last year we 
began to organise for the protests=8A.we didn't really know what to 
expect. I thought that there would be perhaps 300 people who would 
make the journey out to Woomera - in the end it was more like 1500 
people who travel from all around Australia to make the connections=8A

I'm not sure how much people know of what has happened - I got email 
from a friend in Germany who had been watching it on CNN, and saw us 
help some 50 detainees break-out of the detention centre=8A.but I will 
try to recount the Thursday and Friday of the protest (it went from 
Thursday till Monday afternoon).

About 30 of us met up at 9am on Thursday 28 March at the Pimba 
roadhouse, about 6km down the road from Woomera. We were going to go 
and set up the basics of the camp for everyone else, many of whom 
where due to arrive on Friday. We had been negotiating with the 
Woomera Area Manager for a day or two=8AWoomera is in a 'prohibited 
area' - you used to have to have a permit to go there, and it is in 
the area of Australia's atomic testing grounds, uranium mines, rocket 
ranges, etc=8Aand the area manager had a proposal for us. He wanted us 
to camp in a disused (and decrepit) old sports ground , about 2km 
from where we wanted to camp.

We decided to play for time, because there were so few of us. We were 
determined to camp where we had decided too though. By lunch time, we 
had started to set up the camp site just across the road from the new 
fence that surrounded the detention centre (about 1-1.5km from the 
centre itself). We had also had two meetings with the area manager by 
now, and had managed to negotiate some portable toilets out of him 
for our site (under the pretense that it would be nothing more than 
facilities for protests during the day   ;-)   ). We heard from the 
APS at 2pm though, who had been staying out of our way all morning. 
The APS are the Australian Protective Services - the federal police 
who have jurisdiction in that area. The APS told us that we had to 
move the camp, and the deadline was 2pm. We told them that we had a 
meeting with the area manager at 2.30, and that they would have to 
wait until this had happened=8Aand they agreed. The meeting didn't 
amount to much more than him saying that we had to move, and us 
saying no, but it did buy us another hour.

At about 3.30pm, 15 APS officers came into the camp and told us that 
we had to leave, as we were breaking the law and camping illegally. 
We lined up in front of our (meager) campsite, waiting to see what 
would happen. In the end it was completely farcical - they moved in 
and pulled down several tents. They even stacked them neatly for us. 
Then they went back to the centre. Oh yeh, a real display of power=8A

We had been expecting at the very least the confiscation of our gear, 
and arrest at the worst. We had been making plans for resisting 
pre-emptive arrests and massive disruption, but we didn't plan on the 
incompetence of the APS and the division between the APS and State 
police - two things that would help determine the course of the 
weekend in no small way.

After the tents had come down, we quickly meet up and decided that we 
would stay at the campsite we had chosen, and if the situation got 
too bad, move back to the road house meeting spot and wait for 
reinforcements. We decided that if we started to cede to their 
demands early on in the protest, it would put us in a weaker position 
through out the protest. We also decided that we couldn't make such a 
huge decision on behalf of everyone else who hadn't turned up yet.

Nothing more happened during the day and well into the night. At 
around 12am, when most people had gone to bed for the night, people 
on watch started yelling that the APS were coming. We all got up 
quickly and got ready for the feared attack on the camp (our numbers 
had grown to about 50 by then). 15 APS officers came into the camp 
and started moving from group to group and tent to tent to deliver 
the 'warning of arrest' to people before they arrested them. Here our 
organising structure helped us - we had no set representatives or 
leaders, only temporary ones (like the people we delegated to go and 
talk to the area manager). And after a long day trying to find such 
people, the APS had realised this. So if they wanted to move us, they 
would have to warn each and everyone of us, rather than just a leader 
of representative. A crowd quickly gathered around the APS officers, 
and soon enough they decided to try and arrest some people. They 
grabbed some one to arrest, and people jumped in to free him - the 
APS were overwhelmed and the person set free=8A.this happened two more 
times, with our confidence growing each time. The APS officers became 
scattered throughout the camp, and started to argue with us. In the 
end, the APS retreated to chants of 'you've lost control, you've lost 

We quickly met up again and decided to stay put - again we decided 
that we needed to hold our ground. We drew the cars around in  a 
'wagon-circle', set up sentries, and settled down for the night.

Come morning we couldn't believe that we hadn't been raided during 
the night. Buses started to arrive at the camp and we all started to 
set up the site (again). More and more people arrived during the day, 
and by around 5pm our numbers had swelled to around 1000. Most of the 
day was spend having meetings and setting up=8Aone of the only things I 
can clearly remember from the day from receiving news of a letter 
that had been smuggled out of the centre from 183 of the detainees 
saying how much they appreciated the protests, and thanking us. The 
only other thing was the cries of 'freedom' that came from the 
windows of the bus carrying children from Woomera back to the centre=8A

We received another message from the detainees early on in the day 
asking us to come to the fence surrounding the centre at 6pm to 
protest with them - they had already done one action during the day, 
waving flags, etc.  The word was spread around the camp, and we 
marched off into the desert to towards the fence=8A

There are three fences surrounding the centre - a temporary fence 
(the one we camped next too), a cyclone fence 3m high topped with 
razor wire, and a fence of steel bars topped with razor wire. We 
marched around the first fence, which didn't completely surround the 
centre, and into the desert. We then came up to the second fence=8A

There was no plan to take down the second fence - the idea was to 
come to the fence (as close as was possible to the centre) and try to 
communicate with the detainees=8Awe climbed on the fence to make 
ourselves visible, and so we could seem them. But soon people on the 
fence started to shake it, to rock back and forth. Then everyone was 
on the fence, trying to bend the bars, to tear it down. It only took 
a few minutes, and then it was down. We quickly grabbed sandbags that 
were lying around on the other side and threw them on the razor 
wire=8Aand two-thirds of us ran through what must be old basketball 
courts to the last fence. There were only about 10 APS guards there 
in riot gear=8Athe South Australian cops were coming in the distance, 
but they weren't many on the ground in front of us. We easily pushed 
through to the final fence were we came face to face with those 
trapped on the other side of the wire.

(all weekend, the APS and SA police didn't really work together very 
well - they don't like each other, and the SA Premier had decided to 
us the protest to further political aims, i.e., squeezing more money 
out of the Federal government. All this suited us fine..)

We pushed our arms through, they reached back. They cried and called 
to us, we cried and called back. I have never seen such desperation 
or such pain. I can't imagine what it must be like, to travel so far 
across oceans, mountains and deserts just so sanctuary can be 
snatched away at the last moment and to find yourself in the middle 
of a desert behind fences and razor wire. Later, they told us of the 
centre guards putting sleeping pills in their food, and of the 
threats and beatings for people who protested. But at the fence, 
there wasn't much conversation, just an exchange of grief, anger and 

Three images from the fence that I will never be able to forget is an 
old man cutting his arms on the razor wire trying to reach through 
the fence, a child of 6 crying and pointing at a APS officer in riot 
gear, and a man writing 'freedom' in his own blood on a security 

We had been there for 20min's and I had moved back to check out the 
situation when I saw a man inside the centre brig out a metal fence 
post. He jammed it into the bars of the fence and started to push. 
Quickly protesters grabbed hold and started  to try to break the 
cage=8AThe first attempt didn't succeed, but the second did. People 
started to leap out of the centre and run for freedom. I saw a mother 
and her child running, a man who yelled 'free after 2 years', and an 
eight year old boy, all climb through the fence. By this time, about 
40-50 South Australian police officers had gathered to the west of us 
along the fence. They marched down to our position and the officer in 
charge told us that we had to move out behind the second fence. We 
packed in tighter and locked arms, ready to hold them off for as long 
as we could so more people could escape. The police came in from one 
side, and the APS from the other. We pushed back at them, 
de-arresting our friends, making as much room as possible for 
detainees to make their escape. The police eventually got between the 
fence and us, but the struggle didn't stop. We grabbed some of the 
detainees the police had arrested, and continued to push at them. 
Eventually the police brought their horses in and galloped them at us 
in a sweeping motion. Out in the open there was little we could do to 
stop the horses=8Awe didn't come prepared for taking down fences that 
day, let alone repel a horse charge.

After we had lost at the fence, we started to run back to camp. As I 
left, I turned to look back at the centre. The last thing I saw was 
two APS officers in riot gear beating a man down to the ground inside 
the centre.

Down the road from the camp, the police had managed to recapture 
several detainees and put them inside a police van. People where 
trying to get close to them, but the police where holding them 
back=8Asoon the horses where there too..

I didn't realise this until someone told me back at camp, but people 
had been running back with the detainees, swapping clothing with them 
on the run, and bringing them back to camp. When I got there, there 
was around 40 or so detainees who had not been recaptured yet. The 
detainees weren't in one spot - people had hidden them throughout the 
camp in their tents and shelters. There was an attempt to hold a 
spokes council to figure out our next step, but most of the action 
was in smaller networks of affinity groups=8A

The police set up roadblocks almost immediately. They also set up a 
ring of officers and lights around the camp. We were pretty much 
surrounded by them. They sent a few initial sweeps through the camp, 
but only found one detainee. We stuck to a strategy of keeping calm, 
and acting as normal as possible under the circumstances. Quietly we 
started to gather supplies, find drivers, and formulate plans for 

Most of the night was spend in some kind of strange waiting room - 
waiting for breaks in the police lines, for resources, for plans to 
come together. My friends and I did all we could, but we didn't have 
cars to use, and so in the end it almost felt like we could do only 
small errands - getting money, getting food and clothing, finding 
numbers for people=8AWe heard the next day that detainees inside the 
camp had protested all night so the guards couldn't do a head count, 
giving the people who had broken out a better chance.

One thing we could do was get their stories out - to help them speak 
when the government had taken their voices away=8Athere are many 
interviews with escaped detainees out there now, some on film, and 
quite a few on Melbourne indymedia.org

Interview one - 
Interview two - 
Interview three - 
Interview five - 

A few attempts were made early on in the evening to break the 
roadblock - some people tried to drive through, some detainees 
decided they would rather take their chances in the desert that go 
back. Many weren't successful (16 protesters have been arrested for 
harboring detainees and helping them to escape, and 34 detainees were 
recaptured), but there are still 8-10 detainees that haven't been 
caught yet=8Aand most of them will not be recaptured I think.

I don't want to say too much more about the escapes during the night 
- both because it could endanger people who are still free, and 
endanger protesters. I do want to say though that I have never seen 
such selfless acts of courage before - the people who tried to break 
through the roadblock will have my love and admiration for ever.

The night was difficult - some detainees had expected us to have more 
elaborate escape plans=8Ahow could we tell them that we didn't expect 
the fence to come down, let alone for them to escape? The action was 
truly spontaneous - one of the most amazing spontaneous direct 
actions I have ever seen - but this meant that we were in some ways 
unprepared for the result. Most detainees where grateful though, 
thanking us for our help, for our resistance. I heard so many stories 
of suffering within the camp - of beatings, of being drugged. I heard 
people say that they would kill themselves if they had to go back. 
Everyone I met from within the centre told me they ha been there for 
more than 2 years - 24 months, 26 months=8Asome said that because the 
Australian government had no treaty for deportation (like Iraq) they 
were stuck in the camp indefinitely - they couldn't leave, they 
couldn't go back. I met a child of eight who had been there for over 
2 years with only a guardian - I don't think he knew where his 
parents were=8A

By dawn, most of the detainees had made an attempt to break through 
the police lines - some seem to have succeeded, most didn't.

The protests went on for another three days, but I will leave the 
stories of those days to indymedia - read the day by day features at 
melbourne.indymedia.org for more details=8A

I do want to say a few things about the action on Friday though=8A.

I have been asked so many time, and we asked ourselves so many time, 
if what we were doing was the right thing, if we had failed the 
detainees by not being prepared enough, if the detainees suffering 
because of the escapes was our fault.

So often activists from countries like Australia (from the North) 
think and act with the assumption that it is only us that can think 
and act - that detainees, indigenous peoples, etc, are people we must 
help, that we must do something for. Part of the journey out to 
Woomera involved losing that assumption. The detainees had initiated 
several actions while we were there, and had done many more before. 
An they will continue to do so. These are people who had already 
suffered incredibly, and yet still managed to cross the world to a 
country where they though they would be safe. Of course they will 
resist their detention, their isolation, and the beatings and 
violence of the guards. And when they can see a chance to end their 
suffering, they will take it. The action at during which they escaped 
was initiated by them. The bars where first bent by them. The courage 
to escape was theirs. But I'm not trying to avoid responsibility here 
- we made the journey out there, we brought down the second fence, we 
held off the police, and ran roadblocks=8AI am not trying to deny what 
we did - on the contrary I am incredibly proud of what we have done, 
and would do it again. But it is important to remember that we are 
not the only people who can resist=8Aresistance to the camps lives on 
both sides of the fence.

Did we fail the detainees? That a hard question=8Awhen I think back, I 
don't feel any guilt for what we did. But I do feel guilty for 
underestimating both us and them - if I am guilt of anything it is of 
not having enough hope. If I had believed that we could have taken 
down the fences, I would have been more prepared for it. We all would 
have. But under the circumstances, we did all we could, and so I 
don't think we failed them. If nothing else, we brought hope to 
people where they had none.

I won't be making the mistake of not having enough  hope again 
though. Nor will anyone else. We can with dignity, joy and hope, and 
achieved far more than any of us could have imagined=8Ait was the most 
militant defense of dignity I have every witnessed. And it won't be 
the last. All of us will carry the image of the fence coming down in 
our imaginations, and it won't be too long before the fence comes 
down again=8A


we do not lack communication, on the contrary we have too much of it. 
we lack creation. we lack resistance to the present.
we do not lack communication, on the contrary we have too much of it. 
we lack creation. we lack resistance to the present.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Date: Thu, 4 Apr 2002 13:45:53 +1000
From: n ik <fragments@va.com.au>
Subject: another account of woomera2002 from melbourne.indymedia

from melbourne.indymedia:

Woomera 2002 - a first hand account
by obadiah 9:12am Thu Apr 4 '02 (Modified on 10:34am Thu Apr 4 '02)

A first hand account of the protest/solidarity actions at Woomera -- 
a counter spectacle to some of the prevailing media and police 
hallucinations about what allegedly went down.

The long road - the advance party

We made the journey overnight from Melboune on Thursday, planning to 
join up with a group of people who had travelled up on Wednesday 
night to set up the initial camp. As the night went on we got 
occasional reports from the group who were already there. It seems 
that the administrator of the Woomera Prohibited Area (WPA) had set 
aside a football oval about 2km away from the detention centre (DC) 
as the officially approved location for the protest camp. Portaloos 
and showers had been provided. But this location would make any 
attempts to communicate with the detainees (face-to-face, by flying 
kites, chanting or drumming) impossible, and so the advance party set 
up camp next to a stretch of road between Woomera town and the DC, 
next to a mobile communications mast and a service station. Another 
issue with the football oval location, it seems, was that the single 
entrance was extremely narrow - this was significant both as a health 
and safety issue, given the 1000-1500 protesters who were expected to 
turn up, and as forming a chokepoint which would have allowed police 
to confine the protest within the oval extremely easily. (I must say 
at this point that I never went down to the football oval myself).

The breakout of detainees was "planned"

Since some media reports have claimed that the breakout of detainees 
was planned beforehand, I'd better explain at this point that the 
protest _was_ an impressively planned logistical operation: I was 
involved in some of the preparatory work (at a very late stage) and 
was impressed by the amount of thought that had gone into making this 
a success: among the things discussed when I was there were the 
layout of the camp (to avoid having the soundstage disturb meetings 
and sleeping people), water supplies, provision of first aid, 
communications, legal assistance, independent media, and the making 
of kites in case it wasn't possible to approach close enough to the 
detainees to speak to them. But I never heard any mention of breaking 
detainees out of the DC at these meetings: what was being planned was 
a peaceful protest action aimed at letting the detainees know of our 
support, delivering gifts to them and publicising the reality of 
their condition. It may be that some small groups of people did hope 
a breakout would occur, or possibly even planned for this amongst 
themselves - I can't speak for all the estimated 1000 people who were 

Who organised this protest?

This touches on another misconception that may be produced (or is 
being deliberately being propagated) by media reports: that what 
happened this weekend (whatever did happen) was the work of a 
monolithic, unified organisation. The truth is completely the 
opposite: part of what was so impressive about the planning of this 
action was that it involved co-ordinating many different 
organisations and groups of people - political parties, student 
organisations, groups of individuals who know each other socially, 
and the large, adhoc but well-established single-issue groups: No One 
Is Illiegal and the Refugee Action Collective. The only thing all 
these groups have in common is opposition to what the government is 
doing at Woomera and towards asylum-seekers in general. This was what 
made the weekend the most inspiring three days I've ever experienced: 
the way that this issue brought everyone together: leftist political 
groups, Greens, 70-year-olds, students, manual workers, professional 
workers, environmental collectives, musicians and artists. But it 
also made some of the overall meetings heated, chaotic or 
interminable; which is a small price to pay.

Obviously it's to the government's advantage to present the protest 
as the action of an organisation based on the model of a political 
party: how threatening it is to see those images of fences being 
broken down and imagine the sinister underground Front who made this 
happen, with cells everywhere: check under the bed before you go to 
sleep tonight! The reality is that some people went along to protest 
peacefully; it's possible that some people went along looking for a 
more violent confrontation; some people were there to promote some of 
the other agendas (Aboriginal land rights, radioactive pollution at 
Roxby Downs) - everyone went along to help the refugees (in whatever 
way), and most people went along hoping to get together with 
like-minded people and have a good time if possible. Does that sound 
shocking, given the plight of the detainees in the DC? Maybe this 
kind of fluid, adhoc association of people, with a good sprinkling of 
music and partying, is the best weapon against the po-faced 
"responsible adults" who commit inhumanities for our supposed benefit.

Anyway, enough of that: we're still stuck at Thursday night...

The advance party hold their ground - the journey

We heard of some confrontations between the advance party and police. 
Apparently the party was asked to leave but refused, and managed to 
stay put in spite of a small police presence. From what I heard, 
there were some heated verbal confrontations, and maybe a bit of 
pushing and shoving. When it got dark the party arranged their 
vehicles in a circle around the camp, to allow the approaches to be 
illuminated by headlights. At 11:30pm the police made another attempt 
to remove the party from the site, but failed - again, from what I 
heard this involved verbal confrontations, possibly with some minor 
pushing and shoving.

News of this made us even more eager to arrive at the camp as soon as 
possible. We did almost all of our travelling in darkness, swapping 
drivers over as needed, while other people sat next to the driver and 
made sure they were alert and had whatever food and drink they 
needed. This rushed, cramped, interminable journey, a night of 
minimal sleep, aching limbs, conversations to your scarcely-visible 
neighbour that petered out into monologues before you realised that 
they'd dropped off into a doze, snatched coffee-breaks at 
service-stations (where many people bought Easter eggs, intending to 
throw them over the fence to the detainees) was as essential to 
Woomera 2002 as the action itself: Make the Journey, sez the website, 
and we did: through western Victoria under a clear sky and the full 
moon: overtaking coaches, minibuses and camper vans that made the 
highway unexpectedly crowded for this ridiculous time of night (is 
this just Easter weekend traffic? or has the meeting begun already, 
at 110kmh?) - to a service station in SA, where the attendant was 
driven half crazy by the sheer number of people who came pouring out 
of a motley collection of vehicles, setting off the door alarm almost 
continuously - into a doze, and out of it again after some unclear 
amount of time had elapsed, to be faced with a grey dawn and the 
fringes of the Flinders Range.


Finally to the roadhouse at Pimba, at the turnoff to Woomera from the 
Stuart Highway, for a quick stop, up a short rise, past Woomera town, 
and onto a straight stretch of road borderd with what was already 
looking like a tent city, to cheering and clapping. No time for more 
than a quick drink - because of the police attention overnight, the 
preliminary work in laying out the camp was well behind schedule. We 
set to putting up our tents, in the baking sun, with a harsh wind 
blowing the red dust into everything as we tried to make tent-pegs 
stick in the rocky soil.

Why bother to come all this way? We only came from Melbourne - a mere 
15 hours' drive! Conversation on the journey constantly came round to 
the rumours (which proved true) - there are such and sucn many people 
coming from Sydney - there's a mob from Newcastle - Brisbane's sent a 
coachload - some people have come from Perth...
Why come all this way just to seek attention, in our feral 
protest-clothes, to get covered in red dust, to wear silly hats and 
bang drums? to be bothered. No image of confrontations on the TV can 
capture the 1300km vista that rolled past the windows before we got 
there - maybe no representation of what happened there can be 
accurate, unless each protester on screen carries an overlaid 
caption, detailing how far they came, how much effort they put into 
planning, how much of their own money they spent, how many other 
people - donors, fundraisers, people who wished they could come but 
couldn't - stand behind each of them.


According to John Howard, most of the Australian population are 
against us. If this majority feel that strongly about it, let them 
make the journey and see for themselves - can they be bothered? It's 
not easy, not if you're a worker, or a student with no money, or a 
parent, or a homeowner, or a pensioner, or out of work, pressed for 
time - exactly what we are! Do Howard or Ruddock really care enough 
about Australia and the supposed threat from the refugees to sew 
their lips together, throw children into the sea (sorry, I mean throw 
someone else's children into the sea - no, get someone else to throw 
their children into the sea - **** it, find a photo of some children 
in some water and let's go down the pub) or dig graves and lie in 
them? Maybe if they bothered to do that they'd get our attention.

Some people suggested to me that any demonstration attracts people 
just out for a fight. If this one did, it attracted them a hell of a 
long way, when fights can be had for nothing more than a walk to the 
pub, some beers and a big mouth.

The fiendish organisational efficiency of our revolutionary 
underground organisation

Once the tents were set up, a "spokescouncil" meeting was called. The 
idea of a spokescouncil is that each group participating in it sit 
together, in a wedge or piece-of-pie formation behind their 
designated spokesperson - only the spokespeople speak, but there is 
constant feedback between speakers and those they represent. The aim 
is to produce consensus. In my opinion, this was a great idea, but it 
didn't work well at all in the situation we were faced with this 
weekend. The chairpeople had a difficult time trying to keep control 
of the enormous number of people looking to speak, there were 
difficulties in setting the agenda, and the focus kept on getting 
lost. One reason for this was that the structure of the meeting was 
set up to deal with clearly-defined groups (Judaean Peoples' Front 
over here, Peoples' Front of Judaea over there, Popular Judaean 
Peoples' Front - that's him over there (Splitter!!!)) - the reality 
of Woomera 2002 was that many people didn't come with a group at all 
- either they got together with some mates, a van and a tent, or they 
came in one of the group-sponsored buses but then did their own thing 
once arrived.

Again, just in my opinion, the spokescouncil idea is appropriate to a 
conference, or discussion - not to a group of 1000 people out in the 
middle of the desert, surrounded by riot police, trying to work out 
what the hell to do about an unexpected and difficult situation that 
seemed to have blown up from nowhere. Hardly any of the meetings I 
attended resulted in a definitely agreed plan of action, in which 
everyone would take part - the most effective meeting happened on 
Sunday, when a woman from the Greens stood up and said we have 
thousands of dollars' worth of toys, we're going to deliver them to 
the gate, that's what we're doing, join us if you want to. If I was 
planning something as complex as breaking detainees out of a 
detention centre and dealing with the consequences, out in the middle 
of the desert, a spokescouncil would be on my necessaries list - next 
line down from the chocolate fireguard.

Friday night - action

Word went out that the detainees were planning an action of their own 
at 6pm, inside the DC, and that they wanted us to march up to the 
fence and show support. The most obvious route to the DC was straight 
along the road. But a chain-link barrier studded with warning notices 
had been set up across this road, just after the right turnoff to 
Roxby Downs. Behind this fence the APS (Australian Protective 
Service) stood around in their sunnies and blue boilersuits looking 
well 'ard.
Almost everyone in the camp participated in this action in some way. 
Instead of going towards this barrier, we crossed the road and walked 
towards the outer fence of the detention centre (which is - sorry, 
was at right-angles to the road) diagonally,. Police presence around 
the camp at this time was minimal. It took some time for everyone to 
work out what was going on, and so my memory of this first approach 
is of a long straggling line of small groups of 3-15 people, trying 
out their footwear on the scrub, carrying kites, megaphones, banners, 
drums, and all sorts of other objects that can make a noise if banged 
I was well behind the foremost people. To get to the DC we had to 
walk around an enclosure, roughly 200m square, connected with the 
service station. As I turned this corner I saw a lot of people 
setting up video, TV and film cameras on a small mound. Looking 
towards the fence I saw a thick crowd of people spread along it to a 
length of about 150m: chanting and making a lot of noise. There were 
no police, APS or ACM personnel in sight. All that was visible behind 
the first fence was a series of further fences enclosing large 
concreted areas. At the time I didn't realise that the real fence of 
the DC was much further in.

Protestor-proof fence

As I got closer to the fence, I saw that people had climbed up on it. 
A few moments later they were swinging on it. Only a few more 
moments, and the fence came crashing down over its entire length - it 
turned out that this fence was not founded at all, but kept upright 
by sandbags placed over horizontal structures at the base. As soon as 
the fence came down most of the crowd rushed inwards into the large 
concreted area (which I heard referred to later as a footie or soccer 
field). I went up to where the fence had come down, but didn't go any 
further, for my own reasons. If you don't like that, get in your car, 
reset the trip, drive until it reads 1300km, spend three days in a 
tent being hassled by police, with minimal sleep and food, and then 
call me a piker.

Looking across the dead fence

This section is based only on what I could see from my position and 
what I heard from other people (though with the latter, I've tried to 
only include what I heard from multiple sources).

The crowd marched across the footie ground, and turned left through 
an open gate into another footie-ground-type area. Then they turned 
right (I think through another gate) to what seemed to be the real 
boundary of the DC. I could see police in blue uniforms (rather than 
APS personnel) lined up over to my left in this area, and there was 
constant movement of minibuses and police vans across the area. 
Someone lent me some binoculars, but looking through two fences 
didn't make the picture much clearer. I could see a lot of movement 
from our crowd - sometimes individuals or a group would seem to 
retreat back towards us, but generally these would turn back and join 
the furthest assembly. For a long time there seemed to be no movement 
at all from the police.

This went on for about 15-20 minutes (?????). As time went on I could 
see more movement by the police. At the outer fence, there was a 
party atmosphere. Two people started playing capoeira just inside the 
upset fence. A ute drew up carrying a sound system and started 
playing music. A group of people started playing drums. None of us 
there knew exactly what was going on inside. Some people were 
reluctant to go into the DC because it had been so easy to get 
through the fence that they suspected a trap.

Inside the detention centre

What I heard later from many people was this:

The protestors had gone up to the main fence of the DC, well inside 
from where I was. This fence is the stout steel one made of vertical 
girders that you can see on some of the TV footage. The detainees 
were clearly visible inside. Some of them were up on roofs. There was 
a lot of communication between the protestors and the detainees, 
through chanting and face-to-face conversation. It seems that the 
detainees were kept away from the inside of the fence by a barrier of 
razor wire, but that some managed to approach the fence. Some of them 
threw bedding onto the razor wire. Others just threw themselves onto 
it, and appeared at the fence covered in blood. There were women, 
children and men screaming. One young woman (protestor) I talked to 
was in tears when she came back from inside. She said she'd been 
crying her eyes out continuously, that other protestors, all the 
detainees and even some police were also crying. She was horrified by 
the look on the detainees faces, the way a woman's voice kept 
screaming, breaking every few seconds. It seems that some detainees 
managed to scale the fence and threw themselves off the top of it. 
Others managed to bend the vertical girders far enough to slip 


Suddenly there seemed to be a concerted movement by police. The crowd 
of protestors came running back towards us. Thinking back, I don't 
think the police bothered to follow them into the "footie-field" area 
immediately in front of me. The crowd reached the outer fence: the 
will to flee spread from them to us who were standing outside, and we 
ran back towards the camp. At some point I saw two people arm-in-arm 
with two people who looked Middle Eastern. They started stripping off 
the Middle Easterners' clothes and handing them other clothes. I 
couldn't believe what I was seeing. A voice shouted out "stay 
together, they're arresting people they catch on their own". Ahead of 
us the view was of rolling scrub desert - miles of it. This was what 
the detainees had escaped into. I remember thinking - I hope to hell 
there IS a plan.

Arrests of detainees - confrontations with police

There were no police in the immediate area as we walked or ran back 
to our camp. As we got closer, we saw a lot of police near the road 
(which was now between us and the camp). The police were running into 
the crowd and along the road in groups of (???) 10, picking out 
people who looked Middle Eastern. I thought "that's it, it's over, 
they're just going to arrest all the detainees and that's it". As I 
reached the road there was chaos - people were running in all 
directions. Every attempted arrest of a detainee attracted a crowd of 
protestors, who surrounded the police on all sides and confronted 
them. I'd like to emphasise that, while I was running around joining 
group after group, i saw not one incident of physical violence from 
the protestors. We were chanting SHAME and THE WHOLE WORLD IS 
WATCHING YOU. Police were surrounded by large groups, who confronted 
them with pointed fingers and words. (these police were in blue 
uniforms, but were not APS as far as I remember). Many protestors, 
especially women, went right up to officers and shouted in their 
faces, asking them if they liked what they were doing, asking them 
what their families would think of what they were doing. I saw 
several women taking advantage of the immobilised position of the 
police to talk to them at length, vehemently but not shouting. 
Members of the legal team were demanding information about the 
charges, and trying to find out as many details as possible.

There may have been arrests occurring inside the camp, rather than on 
the road and in the scrub on the other side of the road (the DC 
side), but I didn't see any from where I was.

The van surrounded

One detainee was dragged by police towards a police van, parked at 
the southern end of the camp (the end towards Pimba, away from the 
APS-guarded barrier). The detainee was put in the van, the door was 
shut, and police formed a tight group on the back step and around it. 
A shout of "join arms" went up. We surrounded the van at a distance 
of about 10 feet and locked arms. Most of the police present stayed 
by the back step, but others went walking around the van, looking 
outwards towards us. Meanwhile a woman protestor had climbed up on 
the step, and was remonstrating with one of the police.

More and more people arrived to join the blockade of the van. Police 
were unable to move it. We were chanting "we know you're in there" 
and "we won't forget you". The detainee was banging on the wall of 
the van from the inside.

After about 20 minutes there was a shout of "HORSES". A group of 
about 10-15 mounted police came in from the north (the DC direction) 
at a gallop, shouting at us at the top of their lungs. The human 
chain parted near where I was standing, and we got out of the way. 
The horses surrounded the van, and then formed up at the front, and 
attempted to force a path through the crowd that was now 
concentrating on that side. I heard later that several protestors 
were pushed aside by horses, and hit by the police with riding crops 
- but I didn't see this. Eventually the crowd at the front of the van 
was broken through - the van started up and drove away. The mounted 
and foot police formed up in a line to prevent us from following the 

Another incident I heard about but didn't see was that a protestor 
became trapped between a police horse and a car. The protestor's 
partner picked up a rock and was about to throw it at the policeman, 
but several other protestors nearby restrained him and calmed him 

The camp surrounded

The next few hours are very hard to remember clearly. One sight I 
remember most clearly is of a line of police in full riot gear - 
about 50 of them, lined up along the opposite side of the road from 
the camp, while the sun set on the scrub behind them. They were 
standing there, silently. As we looked in other directions we could 
see that the camp was surrounded.

It was at some time around dusk that I first became aware that there 
were detainees still uncaptured, in our camp. Rumours were flying. 
Everybody seemed to know of someone else who knew where a detainee 
Another spokescouncil meeting was called. This was late on Friday 
night. The atmosphere in the camp was indescribable - sinister isn't 
the right word, and surreal doesn't do it either. The spokescouncil 
was proceeding, as speakers said that it appeared that there were 
detainees still in the camp. Meanwhile, a woman detainee and her 
child were sitting inside a marquee tent, surrounded by a double row 
of locked-arms protestors. All over the camp, there were police 
wandering about, singly, or in groups of two - there was no 
confrontation going on.

This spokescouncil was completely ineffectual. No-one was able to 
come up with a decision as to what to do about the situation.
One woman I spoke to briefly spent two hours talking to a detainee, 
who had excellent English. She was upset and worried about his safety.

As the night went on, we made sure we never went out of sight of 
other people. No-one was moving from the camp. Every so often 
headlights would flash on in the distance, pointing towards us. At 
some point, I looked out from the camp and saw that the riot police 
had disappeared as silently as they'd appeared.

Saturday - the roadblock comes down

We formed up on the road, ready to march to the roadblock (this was 
at the northern end of the camp - where the APS people were on 
guard). We set off, to a great noise of drums, trumpets and chanting. 
We reached the roadblock. I was towards the middle of the crowd. 
Suddenly there was a commotion at the front. The APS personnel stood 
aside as the roadblock was trampled down and we went through.

We were carrying crates of toys for the children in the DC, and a 
banner of support that had been signed by people at the Melbourne 
Palm Sunday rally. As we went through the remains of the roadblock, 
the group split in two. Half stayed outside, the other half went in. 
The APS (very few of them - perhaps 10 or 15?) formed a loose line 
across the line of the roadblock, and the group left outside didn't 
challenge this line.

Our group inside marched slowly along the road to where a side-track 
leads to the side, or delivery gate of the DC. We stopped just before 
this side-track. The atmosphere was festive and relaxed - we were 
trying to make as much noise as possible so that the detainees could 
hear us. I could see the "real" fence. At its corner closest to us 
was a line of about 50 police. Through the fence I could see lines of 
prefabricated buildings - but there were no detainees in sight.
A large sign proclaimed

Welcome to Woomera (acronym)
An ISO 9000 certified detention centre

maybe the ISO needs to revise its standards on fence construction.

The No-one Is Illegal cheerleaders got going - two men and two women 
in cheerleader outfits doing their routine, as the drums, trumpet, 
chanting and instruments went on. I joined a delegation that split 
off from the main group, to go forward to the police and bring the 
toys and banner. There were about 6 drummers making great sounds - a 
woman cartwheeling all the way, and a group carrying the banner 
spread out. One of our delegation went forward to negotiate with the 
police while we drummed, cartwheeled and limbo-danced. The result of 
the negotiation was that we could leave the toys, and they would be 
taken in to the detainees - but we couldn't leave the banner - or 
rather, we could, but there was no guarantee that it would be taken 
inside - only if our group left the prohibited area and went back 
beyond the roadblock. We decided that we couldn't make the decision 
on our own, so we left the toys, picked up the banner and marched 
back to the larger group. There it was decided that we should take 
the banner back with us and try to get it to the detainees in a 
different way - perhaps through the Woomera lawyers.

Dancing on the upturned road-block

We marched back to the roadblock, still singing, dancing and 
drumming. At the roadblock, APS abandoned the line they'd formed. As 
the two groups joined up, a party broke out - all the drummers 
starting playing at once, some of them sitting on the upturned 
remains of the roadblock - two MCs started rapping into megaphones, 
everyone was banging whatever they had on them in time with the drums 
and dancing. This went on for about 40 minutes.
All the signs on the roadblock (which stated - this is a prohibited 
area, enter and be arrested and so on) had been parodied with 
graffiti. Some people started using the signs as percussion 
instruments. When we'd run out of energy, the party dissolved towards 
the camp. People were carrying the signs with them as souvenirs. 
Suddenly one or two APS vehilces drove up - APS personnel got out and 
quickly grabbed the signs, chucked them in the back and drove away. 
No-one resisted this.

Saturday night

As it got dark again, it appeared that there were still detainees 
somewhere in the camp. There was talk that police might storm the 

Sunday - toy delivery

At a spokescouncil meeting, a woman from the Greens suggested that we 
deliver more toys to the roadblock (which had been repaired in the 
meantime). I was suffering from exhaustion and sunstroke, so I didn't 
join in this action or the next one.

Sunday - walk round the DC

Most of the people in the camp set off to walk right round the 
detention centre. They were gone for several hours. The people who 
got back were severely exhausted and dehydrated, so those of us left 
behind were busy giving them food and water. What I heard about this 
action was:

The party didn't manage to walk all the way round the centre. At some 
point they entered the outside perimeter, avoiding a narrow alley 
where it was rumoured there was a water-cannon, and approached the 
"real fence". The detainees were not confined within buildings, but 
were visible through the fence. There was a much stronger police 
presence. Detainees were standing on roofs, shouting and screaming at 
the protestors.

This was very emotional, very much like Friday. Many protestors were 
arrested during this action - I heard that a large group of arrests 
was of women who didn't leave the fence with the main party but 
stayed behind leaning on the fence and crying.

Sunday night - sleeping by torchlight

We let off fireworks so that the detainees could see we were still 
here. The police were convinced that there were still detainees in 
the camp. It was hard to sleep (I was sleeping outdoors), as police 
were wandering through the camp in small groups, shining torches 

Monday - surrealism

Most of the protestors were packing up to leave on Monday morning. 
The police were making a final run through the camp (again, in small 
groups) to try to find detainees. There were some great episodes 
here. One group of police was being shadowed by a large group of 
mainstream and indy media, and by an even larger group of protestors. 
The protestors who looked vaguely Middle Eastern were having a great 
time - jumping up suddenly from tents, shouting things in pig-Arabic 
and running away. One of them put his hands on his head and shouted 
in artificially broken English "I am escaped - arrest me" - he then 
followed the police around, hands still on his head, demanding they 
arrest him, When they ignored him he went up to a police car, spread 
his hands on the bonnet, then tried to get in it.

Someone hooked up a radio to a PA and played and interview that was 
going on, involving Ruddock, a spokeman from the South Australian 
Police, and Andrea Maksimovic from No-one Is Illegal. A cheer went up 
as the SA Police spokesman demanded that Ruddock stop trying to blame 
him for the mess. Another went up as the interviewer asked Ruddock 
"So who won here?" - which was answered "...well, it's not really 
about winning or losing...".

We drove off, and encountered a police roadblock on the way to Port 
Augusta. This was weird. The police took a quick glance inside our 
vehicle and waved us through. We could have had at least two 
detainees hidden under our luggage.

I HAVE to go to bed now - I don't know where I got the energy to 
write this. I'll complete some rebuttals of some of the distortions 
you'll be getting through the media:

1) The protesters were armed
(TV news report)

This report was based on a police photo of items recovered or 
confiscated from protesters. Someone is hoping that viewers will hear 
the headline and not bother to look closely at this photo while 
considering that the protest was based at a makeshift camp set up in 
the middle of the desert, 170km from anywhere even the size of Port 
Augusta, and involved people who'd travelled from as far away as 
Sydney, Newcastle, Brisbane and Perth.

My point is that while all the items shown (Swiss Army knives, 
spanners, knives, sticks, long poles) _could_ be used as weapons, 
every single one of them has a different, primary use - especially to 
people setting up to live in the desert for three days.

We were all carrying a lot of things every time we marched: drums, 
whistles, flutes, a trumpet, banners, flowers, gifts. We made a lot 
of noise. It would be possible to look at us and consider that these 
things _could_ be used as weapons. The point is, not one of these 
things is primarily a weapon, and as far as I know, not one of these 
things was ever used as a weapon against police, ACM or APS personnel.

2) The protest was "violent" and there were injuries to police / APS 
/ ACM personnel
(radio interview with Mike Rann /

I wasn't present at every action. There may have been injuiries to 
police. (there was an apparent assault on a policeman shown on TV 
news). That there were any injuries was denied by Andrea during the 
radio interview - she made the point that the police were videoing 
everything that happened - so let's see if any evidence turns up (you 
at the back there - children in the sea won't work this time...)
As for the characterisation of the protest as "violent" - I think 
that, as applied to the protest as a whole, this is either 
contentious or meaningless. Some people I spoke to who were present 
at the protest were uncomfortable with the level of confrontation and 
tension they saw on Friday. My own reaction to what I saw and was 
involved in (i.e. not the actions inside the DC) was amazement, at 
the high level of tension and the complete absence of violence, in a 
situation that could have turned very violent if either side had 
wanted it.

There has been footage shown of what appears to be an assault on a 
policeman by protestors. Does this make the protest as a whole 
"violent"? Wouldn't a better description of this be as a violent 
incident in an otherwise peaceful protest? (Personally, I don't count 
knocking down fences that don't even have foundations "violence").
I wasn't there, but consider this: what would your potential for 
violence be if you saw men, women and children tearing themselves 
through razor wire, while the protectors of the public peace are more 
interested in fending off a protest from outside than in assisting 
these people? The first blood spilt was that of the detainees. Do ACM 
have penalty clauses in their contract for the Federal government? 
Don't they have a duty of care towards their detainees?

3) Police had missiles and containers of urine thrown at them

Everyone I spoke to denied this vehemently. I think this claim was 
made during the radio interview that was broadcast through the camp 
on Monday morning. Everybody laughed their head off when this was 

4) The breakout of detainees was executed as a planned and premeditated action.

As I said earlier, this is a ridiculous claim when applied to the 
protest as a whole. Of course it's possible that some people did have 
some plans - I don't know! Together with the other distortions in the 
media, the claim that "some people at the protest may have planned to 
break out detainees", which is possible but unconfirmed turns nicely 
into "the organisation of the protest as a whole was directed to 
breaking out detainees", which is patently false.

5) Escaped detainees were placed at "considerable risk" by being 
encouraged to flee great distances across the desert

 From what I could find out by talking to people at the protest: it 
was the detainees who were adamant that they preferred any risk to 
giving themselves up and going back into the camp. Several people I 
spoke to said that they knew of other people who'd made great efforts 
to explain the choices available to the detainees and their 
consequences, and had even tried to persuade them not to attempt to 
flee. If this seems unbelievable, or seems to be yet more proof that, 
as the Government would like us to believe, the detainees are alien, 
deranged creatures, then please read these quotes I heard along the 

"I know the Taliban - the Taliban, they'd shoot me. Once. I'd rather 
be shot than go back in there"
"Australian people. Help us. Please. Help us"

Earlier today, we stopped at a rest area on the way to Port Augusta. 
There was an information sign about the attractions of the area. 
Including the railway to Alice, which, I'd forgotten, was built by 
... Afghan migrant workers. Who knows how to deal with this kind of 
country better than an Afghan? How many times before have these 
people been on the run, how many borders have they crossed already? 
Can we look beyond Howard's systematic misrepresentation of these 
people as insolent mendicants knocking pathetically and unjustifiably 
on the Australian door, and realise what they may really be like? 
Consider that someone who even gets as far as the Woomera Detention 
Centre from Afghanistan is probably an unusual sort of person - 
unusually resourceful, unusually determined, unusually strong? What 
the hell is a few hundred kilometres of desert to these people, who 
have come so far already? Are these the sort of people we want in 


all the best


we do not lack communication, on the contrary we have too much of it. 
we lack creation. we lack resistance to the present.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: majordomo@bbs.thing.net and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: nettime@bbs.thing.net