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Before we left

Meetings started early in 2003. Or at least I started going to them a while ago, and they'd been running for a while when I turned up. Much energy sucked into the huge Peace Marches, but we made progress. As always with these things, lots of people signed up in the last week so our panic about paying for the buses was only partly justified. For us it all came together at the last minute, unlike Brisbane and Adelaide where they had problems filling buses.

I helped set up the Sydney website because, well, that's what I do. I'm part of the c@alyst collective, providing webtech to activists. Later I started trying to plan out Indymedia stuff, and where I'd get tech toys to take with me - more memory cards for my camera, CD burning facilities, a laptop, and so on.

Ken's trailer I spent much of the last week taking stuff into UTS SA, leaving a huge pile in their back room. Laptop, pit toilet stuff, sun shelter, tent, fly, PA, battery for PA, etc etc. Broke One Less Ute on the pit toilet trip, luckily towards the end of the process. Did the rest with MTB and Ken's trailer.

Thursday

I left Sydney in a bit of a rush, as planned. Had almost all my gear organised by the Wednesday night, got in and ready to leave by about 9am for a 12pm departure. Except for the CD burner, which ended up at Ken's place instead. Such is life. Spent the morning helping people get ready to go, and selling off Baxter T shirts.

Bus up was looong - everyone was excited and impatient, so the bus trip went on, and on, and on. For me, it was the "last chance" to rest up before the weekend, so I got on the first available bus and went to sleep as soon as we started moving. Woke up for meals, and then about 10pm started actually interacting with the people around me. Being unimaginative, we named the three Sydney busses "one" "two" and "three". After many stops, and much talking, we finally arrived in Port Augusta after about 22 hours. Some of that was spent waiting for bus two to get tyres fixed, then bus one to get refueled on the side of the road. Yes, the bus ran out of fuel. Pah.

Friday

meeting in Port Augusta In Port Augusta we had the first meeting, and I sold off the rest of my Baxter shirts. I met up with the iXpress crew from Melbourne and some others. After an hour or two the meeting decided on where to go, but AFAIK didn't go there - instead we went to the roadblock at the far side of the detention centre. I'm going to call them the "centre" (the concentration camp run by an American company), and the "camp", being where we camped.

From Port Augusta we all got together to travel to the camp in one group, so no-one got lost and we had strength in numbers for the negotiation with the police. From media reports it seemed that the police were determined to create a confrontation, with their portrayal of us as hard-core and ferals and their huge numbers of police supposedly ready to deal with any contingency. They'd also made sure there was nowhere legal for us to camp, despite the attempts of both the local council and others to support the protest. The police media campaign meant that many of the more conservative and peaceful protestors were dissuaded from travelling to Baxter. Despite this a Salvation Army chaplain was among those who made the effort to cross the country to bear witness.

Baxter roadblock Once we arrived at the first roadblock, our first task was to get everyone off the buses and make big piles of stuff ready to get organised. Then I realised that I wasn't going anywhere - I had a huge pile of stuff and no easy way to move it (my load carrying bicycle was left at home). So I set up camp right there on the side of the road and then ran off to take more photos.

After some talk in our groups and negotiation with the police, many other people went through or around the first road block, and up to the top of the wee rise to have a look at the centre. Allegedly the police had agreed that we could camp there, at the top of the rise. Having wandered through one police line, people didn't seem too fazed by the second one, and soon everyone was moving down the hill following the pipeline towards the centre. This bypassed the second roadblock, and is shorter than the road as well. At the bottom of the hill the police reformed their lines and got ready to try to stop us again.

This time things were a bit more organised on their side, and a lot of people weren't prepared to fight through the new lines. The police were letting people through, but not with camping gear. I went through with just my camera and day pack without real hassle, until they decided to take my CB radios. I somewhat optimistically decided to let them have them, rather than miss photos. More on that subject later.

There was a wave of people setting up tents and milling around by this stage while the police reinforced their lines. I was behind the police lines by this stage, expecting some breakthrough from the protestors. Also on this side of the line was a family who'd been visiting at the centre and had come over to see what was happening.

police breaking up the first camp at BaxterThe police were holding me back about 30m from their line, so I walked around the end of it back into the camp, just in time to catch the start of the police destruction of the camp. The police rushed forward with horses, trampling tents and people, then ground troops grabbed everything and pulled it back behind their lines. They got maybe as many as ten tents this way, as well as quite a few bags. We recovered some from under the horses, and a few police threw bags into the protest line rather than taking them.

people watching with cameras rather than participating As this was happening, there was a contrast between the few people who were actively defending our camp, and the significant number of people who either stood back and watched, or tried to shove in and take photos. Many of my photos of this show a wall of cameras and only a couple of people actually doing anything. Despite being one of the clowns with a camera, I think this really sucks. I'm not sure whether the answer is simply not to fight the police on things like this - let them take other people's gear if the owners aren't willing to defend it or to try to organise more effective resistance. Either way, I think clowns with cameras have an obligation not to get in the way, and too many clowns disagreed with me for my liking.

This is pretty typical of recent protests that I've seen, and it's making me wonder what value we as a movement get from the huge number of clowns with cameras. It's nice that both sitll and video cameras are now cheap and readily available, and great that people are recording protests. But protest organisers still have huge problems finding footage of events, and I don't see heaps of websites or publications displaying the piles of footage that is out there. I fear that much of it is simply kept as a personal record - "I was there, watching". Would we be better off acting against these cameras, rather than the current tendency to work around or ignore them? Should I drop my camera and take part, or does this website plus my stuff on Indymedia Sydney mean I'm making a useful contribution? I await your answers with interest...

The disarray around the first campsite produced a few arrests, and a lot of gear that has been "lost", in that no-one at the camp could find it, and the police deny having it. Much like gear taken at Woomera last year. My radios are now being held by the police. I have a receipt number and cop id, plus the guy who took them is being quite nice about it. As he should, with a name like Peter Goudfellow. He rang me on Friday night to give me the receipt number and his name, and offered to try to get them released earlier than Sunday night for me. He failed, but at least they admit having them and apparently will post them out to me if I can't come in to pick them up. We'll see - people are still getting stuff back after Woomera, a year ago.

Baxter pit toilet setup Anyway, after much ruckus everyone moved back up to the top of the rise and we set up a proper camp there. Buildng of the pit toilets was organised by Ian, much to my relief (I was kind of responsible for them), so I just helped him gather gear and left him to it. I set up my shelter, PA and tent. I also acquired a table and some donated drinks, so I scrounged a donation tin and started collecting small change off people.

Friday night about 50 or 60 people wandered down to the centre for our first appearance outside. This was the first of many "noise events" - we sat outside the main gates banging, chanting and yelling in the hope that the detainees would hear us. I spent more time setting up camp then went to sleep.

Saturday

Baxter setup on SaturdaySaturday morning saw a bit of rearrangement in the camp as people switched from "how fast can we set this up" to getting set for the weekend. Food Not Bombs got organised properly, Radio Free Baxter moved to the top of the hill and we shifted the Indymedia tent to be next to them so we could scrounge power. I found out that overnight we'd been visited by the local non-uniformed thugs, who'd thrown bottles around and generally been annoying. One of the toilet screens also burnt down, either by them or just wind and a careless candle.

Baxter Saturday walk down to the detention centreThere was the morning meeting where (of all things!) we decided to march down to the centre and protest. We went straight down the pipeline, bypassing the second police roadblock and into the waiting arms of a line of police. Who broke every pole they could get their hands on. Not to stop us having poles, just to "make a point" (we saw a lot of this over the three days we were there). A 1m length of dowel was broken in half, and so was a 6m length of bamboo. Leaving two shitty bits of dowel, and two 3m lengths of bamboo with sharp, splintery ends. Now we could go through, carrying our "approved" poles. A fair few people got through unscathed in the inevitable rush. No kites were confiscated. Even the one being flown was left alone.

We had the usual bunches of media people with us, and as usual they enforced their privileged position in our midst - being more or less immune to police harassment, and demanding to be let through the protestors as well. This made it tricky to maintain any mass action, as they'd rush in and jam into any block of protestors that formed. None were injured as a result, but a couple of cameramen got very angry when they couldn't break into a bunch.

We couldn't see or hear the detainees, which meant that for most of us it was really easy to focus mainly on the police - at least they reacted to us. We weren't there primarily to confront the police, but it was hard not to.

When we reached the detention centre we were met at the front corner by a wall of police, and the remains of the boundary fence that runs on the edge of the military area. Amusement was had from various taunting things - some people found an old water tank and rolled that along the fence line, to the consternation of the police. As we approached the main gates a group started running, causing the marching police to break into double time (ie, start running frantically).

Baxter pit toilet setupAt the main gates we went into our usual routine - chanting, banging on the gates, signs and the grill over the water pipe, waving banners and so on. People wandered up and down the fenceline, basically just exercising the police.

Baxter pit toilet setupAfter a while the police broke through the fence and arrested the kite flyers, much to everyone's annoyance. It was this sort of mindless harassment that made most of us think that the police were just trying to aggravate people. Charitably, they may just have been hot and bored. In reality, I think there was a policy of trying to provoke incidents that would justify arrests, so that the state could claim we were violent and justify it by producing inflated arrest counts.

I biked back and forth between camp and centre a few times, listening in on the medic/ legal CB channel and taking photos. Taking my bike was a great idea, it made me much more mobile and opened things up. It was about 45 minutes walk between the two sites (according to one report), or about 10 minutes on my BMX.

Baxter pit toilet setupBack at camp Radio Free Baxter was cranking out the tunes and announcements, reaching easily into Port Augusta. With calm, sunny weather people were concentrating on making shade and staying in it during the heat of the day. Negotiations with the police meant that the truck for Rock For Refugees was allowed past the roadblock, but it had to be driven by a cop (AFAIK) and then disabled once it was inside. This despite the number of other vehicles that were allowed in the camp. But they were small enough to go under the bridge back up the road, so they didn't need to go through the roadblock. More pointless irritation.

Towards sunset we started back to the centre, in various groups with different actions planned. The group I was with was wandering down for a noise protest. They arrived at the main gates about the time the group around the back of the centre were discovered. Suddenly it was all on - there were police running round in circles, people rushing around, and copious excitement on the radios.

They were using horses against the group around the back, and we feared injuries but the police were denying medic access. Not good manners at all. Eventually that group was chased out of the military zone with only one arrest I think. Then we split up, some going back up to camp, others moving on to whatever other plans they had, and a smaller group going down to the main gates for the vigil.

Baxter vigil on Saturday nightI went with the group aiming to have a vigil outside the main gates, which worked well. We simply sat silently on the ground, and occasionally singing the song you can see in one of the photos:

      Freedom equality justice are one
      when we resist freedom and justice will come
      welcome freedom
      welcome freedom

Meanwhile, another group was up on the hills overlooking the camp, getting into position to set off some flares. These caused great excitement in the police system, with an even greater degree of tension at the roadblocks. They'd been very enthusiastic when I rode down earlier in the evening, going through my bag more thoroughly than before, and one in particular being stupid and hostile to the point where even her fellow officer seemed to be sick of it. Naturally, there was nothing fearsome in my bag. I suspect they got a tip-off that we'd be up to something that night, but who knows.

After the vigil I went back up, checked out Rock Against Racism or whatever it was called, got cranky with the drunkards, and eventually went to bed. The bands kept on until well after the 1am finishing time, apparently because the small group of die-hard pissheads still listening wanted them to. Regardless of the people trying to sleep all around the stage. Next time I think that part of the deal should be held a decent distance from the campsite. Like... Adelaide.

Sunday

Baxter Sunday morning wake-upOvernight there was the usual helicopter overflight nonsense but no camp invasions, or so I'm told. I slept through it all. Woke up at about 6:30am, and started groveling for breakfast. Had run out of stove fuel, so begged space off Food Not Bombs to cook rice. Donated remaining rice, rest of fresh soy milk and other remaining useable food. Donated/ dumped, whatever. Ran into Renata, on her way back from the police station where she'd spent the night helping people. She was still unhappy after her arrest, and didn't feel she could just walk away from the others who were still being processed. So she stayed up all night. I believe she slept eventually.

After breakfast fixed another puncture. Next time I'm taking a better bike, and putting new tires and tubes on it. Bigger, more gears, more carrying capacity. And a trailer if I can get away with it. What I'll take less of: junk food, books, clothes. I had way too much stuff to do on the bus (food, books), and not enough Indymedia gear. Could have used more memory cards, a bigger generator, more laptops. Overnight the wind blew the Indymedia tent down, and filled the stuff inside with even more dust. Next time I vote we take a truck, like Radio Free Baxter did.

Walking down Baxter with balloonsSomeone had organised a tank of helium and a heap of balloons, and was busy inflating these and handing them out to people ready for a mass release outside the centre. Despite the dodgy environmentalism of it (helium is extracted from natural gas which we're running out of, and the deflated balloons are eaten by animals and sometimes kill them), mass balloons are a great visual spectacle and added greatly to the colourfulness of the parade down to the centre.

Ok, Sunday morning. After breakfast I rode down to the centre again, taking photos of the procession and chatting to a couple of the police in the line. police food was apparently crap. Poor dears, all that intense physical oppression to do and they get fed shitty food too.

Baxter balloon launchDown at the detention centre things were more colourful than before, and I discovered that I'd run out of space on my CF cards. So I deleted a few dodgy-looking images and managed to get a couple of the balloon launch. This looked very festive, but the wind was blowing away from the centre so I'm not sure that the detainees would have seen them. The socialists had their megaphones down there, so had a bit of a go at talking to everyone. I'm not convinced, really. Sure, a megaphone means that even a quietly-spoken person can be heard by all, but which quietly-spoken person? It always seems to be someone they know well and approve of, which really isn't what it's all about.

Just before we left there was a display by some cheerleaders, which was far more to my taste. Funny and acerbic...

police cutting down the fence at BaxterThe police were still very keen to get photo and video of everyone, with the same policemen out there recording everything. For some reason they marched a couple of lines of riot plod out through the gates, then back in again. Who can understand the mind of a copper? On the way back there were more attempts to snatch arrest people, but only one success. We did get more photos of police cutting down the boundary fences, though.

Back up at the second roadblock the police had got all excited, and there was a line of them blocking the road and not letting any of us plebs through. I walked around, and discovered that the machine gun enthusiasts had been through. During my quick trip back to camp I'd seen some idiot pointing a camera tripod at the police helicopter, and thought rude thoughts at him. The police apparently decided to storm the camp with sub- machine guns they raided the camp, threatened a few people and scared the crap out of a lot more.

This, naturally, got the media all excited as well, so you've probably all read or seen stuff in the bought media about it. The police didn't come out looking too good, which is what we hoped for. After all, police in Australia don't often run through crowds of peaceful protestors carrying machine guns. The farcical nature of the situation was reported by many mainstream media outlets.

After lunch it was time to pack up and disappear. For me, this was relatively simple as I managed to persuade the Sydney folk to stack their gear next to where I'd camped... There was some confusion about using my PA for the jail action - my inverter stopped working that morning, so we scrounged a generator eventually. I also bribed Stef from Food Not Bombs to take our rubbish after our bus drivers proved reluctant to put it on the bus. But we got away in the end.

Baxter Sunday morning wake-upThe jail action was uneventful. We had the predicted heaps of police around, but the jail guard types were cool with us hanging out for a while. Which we did. After a while some of the more compulsively organised decided that two buses would go off to a nearby roadhouse for food and showers, while the dedicated would stay outside the centre and meet up in an hour or so. Not being able to see much benefit in showering just before getting onto a bus for 20 hours with a bunch of ferals who all smelt just like I did, I stayed at the jail.

When we finally got the roadhouse it was full, and the staff were running round furiously trying to feed everyone. I suspect this was because most people hadn't packed lunch, and so had gone from breakfast until 3pm or so without food. Me, I was just sick of dried bananas. I had a wee wash in the sink at the roadhouse, hot chips, then settled in for a nice relaxing sleep home.

Instead, the immortal crew of bus one decided to have a sing-along. Of rock hits from the 80s and 90s. Which was actually quite fun, although my knowledge of the lyrics was pretty limited... as was most other people's. We stopped somewhere for a later dinner, and played soccer in the carpark there for a while. Pretty scary soccer, but fun. And it got us all moving again. The video selection on the bus was pretty appalling, and we'd watched Sarah's copy of "Roger and Me" on the way down. So a few folk got together and bought the least awful video from the roadhouse - Goldmember, which I'd already seen on the bus to Melbourne... it doesn't get better the second time.

The three buses split up sometime after that, and I cuddled up to Leila and went to sleep. Woke up in Sydney! Getting back was the start of a hectic week - we had a get-together in a pub later that day, and I started on the epic photo and story collection that you can see here, as well as contributing to Indymedia and selling more T shirts.

The End of the Baxter Convergence.

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