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(en) Australia, Melbourne to Woomera, from "In ya face" magazine of barricade books collective

From dr.woooo@nomasters.org
Date Wed, 12 Mar 2003 09:14:03 +0100 (CET)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

In late March and early April, several thousand activists
descended on one of teh detention centres established
by Australia's racist regime near teh small town of
Woomera, in South Australia. Here is a Spanish
companion and ex-Barricade collective member's
account of what happened. 
the following was published in " in ya face " barricade
books collective magazine. 
details at the bottom. 

>From Melbourne to Woomera 

When I first heard about the Woomera protests, I got
pretty enthusiastic about it although I didn't get
involved until later. Now, I wish I had done it before.
From here, I want to beg pardon to those 6, 7 or 8 people
that nurtured the idea and also present them my
congratulations and my admiration for having detected
such a good issue, going a step forward on the last year

The preparation have been a whole experience for me in
the same way as the protest itself. That is why I want to
talk about a bit of everything here. 



1. When I went to the first meeting, my first surprise
was that out of 34 people, just 5 were representing
groups. This is a very big difference in comparison with
southern European or southern American way of
organising. In fact, this is evidence of how individualist
is the Anglo-Saxon culture. This culture is shown in the
way people manages to organise themselves out of
organisations and a whole lot of individuals get together
and are able to organise whatever they want: s-11,
mayday, Woomera... Coming from Spain, it's been a
cultural shock but also a good experience. There, the
rate of groups and individuals is the opposite or even we
would all come from the same organisations. 

Anotehr aspect that shocked me was the fact that
everyone accepted to use the email list as a reference
point and as a discussion place, leaving the meeting to
organise practical stuff (campsite, resources, transport
etc). In a way, this is very effective: the meetings don't
get stuck in empty debates that a lot of times don't take
anywhere; it opens the running of the organisation to all
the people that are interested but dont watn to
participate; it saves money to get in contact with other
groups around Australia, or the world, and so
coordinating ; it is, finally, the best wat ro open the
communications to everyone. 

On the other hand, meetings lose one of the important
reasons to be: discussions and sharing of political ideas.
Also, it leaves behind the people that don't have access
to the Internet. That was my case so, in the end, I feel
that I have missed a 50% of the whole thing: discussion
and information day by day. That doesn't mean that I
have felt isolated, which is the opposite, I have felt
completely into it as, fortunately, there were other ways
of communications, as personal ( the majority ) and
sometimes meetings. 

3. Our group, the Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation (ASF)
joined teh fundraising group with other individuals. I
should say about these fundraising events two things.
Forst of all that Australians are not opened to other
activities rather than the daggy discos and bands, as the
Latin party and the auction were a complete disaster.
The only one thing that has seemed to set a precedent
was the massages at the streets, which we were able to
raise $140 the first time and $800 the second time, when
the medical group took over and did, obviously, a really
great job. The second thing about it was the benefit gig
with Tim Rogers and Bernard Fanning. The person that
organised that gig wanted to have control over the
money to be sure that it was used for what it was
supposed. That created a bit of tension among us, but
the thing is that we weren't able to give an image of
responsibility and honesty when we didn't do the only
one job taht we were asked for: put posters up. We
should learn 
rom this and be more honest next time in terms of doing
what we are committed to, at any level (low or high). 

4. Another observation from this protest is that
Melbourne seems to be the most organised and activist
city around Australia. I think this is not the proper
space to talk about it, as the reasons relate to history
and culture. But in this sense, a few questions come to
mind: have other places done their best or have they put
on Melbourne's shoulders all the responsibility? Isn't
this a good opportunity for other places to organise and
create movement? What would have happened to
Melbourne meetings if there wasn't any "practical stuff"
to organise apart from the busses? 


1. There are very few things that have shitted me, but
the most has been the use of the expression of 'direct
action' by political parties and corporate bureaucrats
unions. When they said direct action, they wanted to
mean actions. Behind Direct Action there is a whole
philosophy that takes straight away to anarchism. This
means that the people is able to organise and take over
all ambits without any representation or mediation: at
workplace, at home, at government and so on; it is
related to the idea of self-management. How can
mediators talk about direct action if they are the
opposite of it? Political parties, bureaucrats or official
unions with paid members are a barrier to direct action
as their role is to mediate between the people and the
people's responsibility, stealing their capacity to do
them. In fact, it is through direct action how we will get
rid of them. 

2. Despite the above, the preparation for the protest and
the spokescouncils were totally non-hierachical.
Everyone could do, could speak, could suggest... that is
direct action: people organising themselves in order to
change their own lives in their own way, deciding their
future without leaving the responsibility in second
hands. There were voices saying that there was a
hierachy in those spokescouncils. Those voices came
from those who were trying to spoil this way of working
by trying to show that it was not democratic. In fact, it
was not democracitic, it was more than that, it was
anarchic ( another evidence of the fact that, after the
fail of the big ideologies like Marxism and Socialism, the
way new social movements organise are with anarchic

Another evidence of how free people was to work for this
protest, was the fact that everyone could organise his or
her own affinity group, take the commitment. It's very
funny for me to see how lazy people see leadership in
those who take and make commitments. It's very easy to
criticise sitting in front of the computer, but maybe it is
not so easy to put posters upor to take "homework" after
the meetings as that compromises private's lives. I just
ignore these voices. I guess we are used to leave our
responsibilities to outer structures that when, in this
circumstances, our equals do them we call leaders. This
is not fair. 

3. One mistake that we made during the organisation
and the protest was to think and to think and to talk
twice and three times the same thing over and over. One
example of this is Thursday during the day at Woomera,
when the police was trying to kick us out of the camp
area. There were people scared, trying to move the camp
until more people came. Well, as many people were
saying that day, the choice is made from the very
beginning people decide to make the journey. The
principal activity during any kind of massive protest is
to resist. Because we resisted, we could stay there the
three following days. All what I'm trying to say is that
through the preparation and the protest, some of the
people's fears were brought to the meetings, make some
people scared and some other people bored, talking
about issues again and again thut must be solved in
people's minds before going to a protest. It is not
unlikely or weird to be scared; however, it should be
something to talk about in 
he affinity group or with friends, not in meetings. 


Friday night was one of the most exciting and emotional
experiences that I have ever had. As everybody else, I
wasn't expecting anything from that action and the
evidence is that I went there in the thumbs[?]. 

I was holding one of the flares when people started to
pull the fence down. I just couldn't believe my eyes.
Absorbed, with my mouth and eyes widely opened, I
stopped my self from running towards the fence until the
flare was fully off; once this happened I ran to help the
people putting the sandbags on the barbedwire and then
ran towards the buildings. My happiness was increasing
moment by moment. When I reached the second
fenceand I saw all the detainees with their banners,
singing with us, trying to touch our hands, saying
welcome, my happiness turned into rage. Rage towards
what human beings can do against their equals, men,
women and children: put them into cages, based on
principles of sovereignity and economy. Those who are
locked up are not because they are Afghanis or black;
they lock them up because they are poor. In this sense,
one sentence from one of the banners struck in my head:
we are victims of politics. 

When the detainees managed to jump over the third
fence, when just one fence was between us, the feelings
were more and more emotional, alot of people starting
to cry. I didn't know what to say. Everything that came
to my mind seemed so ridiculous in comparison with the
situation that they were living that I just tried to show
them that we were there to support them as much as we

And suddenly...they escaped! 

The fact that they managed to escape makes a whole
difference with the fact that we set detainees free. The
majority of the detainees were much more politically
experienced thatn us. In this sense, I should say that,
definitively, the situation was bigger than us. Despite
this, we managed to face it and we did a good job. If we
had just imagined that this could have happened, we
could have done a better job: setting everyone free, but
that was impossible to imagine. 

My rage turned again into happiness. Again I couldn't
believe my eyes and while I was pushing the police I was
absorbed watching how many of them were going out.
One sentence of one song comes to mind and stuck then
during all the protest: if the fish of the fishbowl new the
sea, it would smash the glass dying. Sad but true, it is
impossible to compare the feeling of freedom with the
one of pain or persecution. 

I couldn't fit inside me all my happiness. I was huge!
Some people were worried or even sad, I can't
understand it, but I was happy: they've got a chance. A
chance to live outside the barbedwire, a chance to sleep
in a bed and wake up in a room or under a tree but not
in a cage, a chance to try another country, a chance to
fight, a chance to be free. 


I would like to finish with three reflections: one on the
spokescouncil at Woomera, another one on the
Aboriginal workshop on Saturday and, finally, what has
happened after the protest up to now. 

1. The spokescouncils at Woomera were chaotic and
most of the time useless, making some people tired and
introducing a feeling of disorganisation. This was a
reason for a lot of people to leave the camp.
Spokescouncils plus the principle of tactics got in
contradiction with the fact that a whole lot of people
were there doing something collectively. 

As I understood, the idea was a dynamic information
sharing in which each group would tell what they wanted
to do and people would follow it or not, but it wasn't an
issue to discuss in the meetings. What really happened
is that groups brought ideas, we discussed them but
because there was not an obligation to come to an
agreement, the discussion was closed saying that there
was a diversity of tactics and everyone could do what
they want. The result of this was, firstly, that we didn't
make spokescouncils as they were supposed to be;
secondly, we wasted time and effort. 

The reasons for this were: 

- Diversity of tactics is a way of avoiding political
discussion, which sometimes is necessary, more in
Australia, where the majority of collectives are very

- Nobody followed the idea of sharing information
because, naturally, if we are doing something together,
the desire is to do whatever actions together. 

- Because the meeting is not though as an authoritative
organ in which the decisions must be followed, there was
not willingness to come to collective decisions. 

- The group was behind the spoke. That means that
finally all the people was talking, not only the spoke;
there was no need for individuals to organise in affinity
groups as they could keep going to the meetings as
individuals. The result is that there weren't
spokescouncisl, there were mass meetings. 

2. Another reflection is on the workshop that Rebecca
Winfield did about the Kokatha people. As I am really
ignorant I can just express my feelings about this. 

When Rebecca started talking I felt that she was being
arrogant and that she was talking to us as if she was
above us. During all her speech she made me feel, for
the first and only one time since I've been here in
Australia, as a foreigner. But I was not the only one, as
she was treating everyone like foreigners in her land. I
wasn't understand the reason for all her anger as there
was a letter from her mother saying that we were
welcome and that the only one thing they could say is
that we should respect the fact that they have been
fighting there for many years. 

When I started to say that I thought ( what I am
expressing here) not only she didn't let me talk but she
asked the crowd to take me away as well, like as if they
were slaves and I had been sentenced. Some people even
woke up to take me but I didn't move. Too many times
police, soldiers or guards have tried to take me away and
they hadn't managed, I was not going to let people that I
considered my friends to do it. She said I had offended
her because I was not respecting her. I think that, after
having listened to her, to express my feelings with
sincerity and honesty is, in fact, an evidence of respect
towards her. Under her point of view that was an offence.
Under my point of view, she was not respecting us, from
the moment she started to talk to us like crazy naive
children that didn't know what we were doing. She
wasn't respecting a lot of people that was there with alot
of political experience. She wasn't respecting the
detainees, taking them as poor creatures that didn'
 know where they were, as they needed someone to clean
their asses to survive, without taking care about the fact
that they've got a brain to think and some of them have
suffer as much as Aboriginal people. The only one thing
with which I agreed with her was that the best chance
detainees had, was Aboriginal people, but it wasn't
expected that they were going to escape, it was not even
expected that they were going to be able to reach the
inside fences. In fact, according to what one guy there
said, in the whole Woomera process had been a lack of
Aboriginal people's presence. 

The response to that from the people there was to kiss
her ass, forgetting about the previous statements such
as: if Aboriginal people don't allow us to go there we're
going anyway. Another feeling was the whole guilty
feeling towards Aboriginal people, creating a new way of
organising submitted tto what Aboriginal people said.
My country is the world and I am not going to feel
foreigner anywhere because it is what I am fighting

You both should recognise that you're not guilty of what
happened 200 years ago, that non-Aborigal people are
not English, they are Australians and that both have to
fight together, learning from each other. If the fight is
not a common fight, nor black, nor whites are going to be
able to achieve what they want, which is, in fact, the
same thing: freedom. 

3. During the preparation of the protest I was missing a
kind of discussion of what to do after it. Nobody seemed
to care too much about it or, again, there was fear to
talk about the roots of the movement and talk about
politics, which is what we've been avoiding all the time.
The ASF-Melbourne took the initiativeof suggesting a
rally followed by a discussion. This was approved on the
meeting before the protest. When we came back just No
One Is Illegal seemed to support it. Finally neither the
ASF, nor No One Is Illegal went neither to the rally nor
the discussion. So, what is the purpose of saying first, I
want to do this and then don't even appear? To bun
ourselves out? It doesn't make any sense! After seeing
what happened on the 21st of Aprilmy feeling is that
there is not a willingness to start creating a dynamic in
the movement. Maybe it is easier to keep jumping from
one issue to another, spontaneously, without any
strategy, starting from the beginning again and again.
If we are not strong enough to compromise our lives to
change the world, another 2002 years of capitalism are
waiting for us. 

We've got the land already prepared to start growing the
fruits. That is one of the best achievements of Woomera,
to put the seed for a strong structured alternative social
movement. Now... do we want to grow them? 

Receive my admiration all you people from the other
side of the world, I am carrying a duty now: take your
example, learn from it, keep fighting... until we win. 

end - 
submissions for next edition by march 31st 
barricade books and infoshop 


5 pitt st, brunswick 

po box 199 
east brunswick 

ph. 93876646 

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