28.2 C
Byron Shire
November 27, 2022

The ghost in the archives #4: Searching for that rainbow at the end of conformity

Latest News

A treasured community asset

The Bowlo, a treasured community asset in Bangalow very popular with young families, is now destined to be part...

Other News

Vale Dave Howard ‘builder extraordinaire’

Local identity Dave Howard passed away in the arms of his wife Libby and surrounded by the six children they share on Monday 14 November.

Roots, reggae and hip hop

Since topping the charts on Triple J’s Unearthed for the seventh time, The Lyrical has become the rising star of...

International Day for the Elimination of Gender-Based Violence and the start of 16 days of activism

Today marks the start of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign, a global campaign dedicated to ending gender-based violence.

Concern over Belongil Creek fish kill event

An investigation is underway into a fill kill event in Belongil Creek earlier this month.

Star City Casino fine should go to most vulnerable: Community Foundation

The Northern Rivers Community Foundation (NRCF), has joined with seven other Community Foundations from across the state to call on the NSW Premier to use the money from the Star Sydney Casino fine to help vulnerable communities.

Killer Queen & Bowie

For the first time, two of Australia’s favourite live acts – The Killer Queen Experience, and Bowie, starring Jeff...

In which a former Echo drudge wanders into the crypt, turning on lights randomly…

Michael McDonald

Locals fought long and hard against Club Med in Byron Bay and eventually won through the courts. Photo Jeff Dawson.

The art of the peaceful protest has been a staple of Byron Shire life since the ‘new settlers’ arrived in the 1970s, searching for that rainbow at the end of conformity. It has taken on elements of theatre and of humour, often expressed through costume, dance, music and that ubiquitous medium, face-painting.

In 1991, as well as protests against indiscriminate government logging mentioned in Archive #2, some 400 people took to the streets of Byron Bay in January to protest against ‘the current crisis in the Persian Gulf’. Various luminaries addressed the rally at Main Beach, backed by a large banner, ’No Bloody War’.

‘The Gulf Crisis’, as it was then known, was part of the ongoing crisis in the Middle East, helpfully established by colonial powers, such as Britain and France in the 19th century – or we could go back to the 11th century Christian Crusades – and brought to a later climax in 1998 by the USA bombing the crap out of Iraq.

In that same week in 1991 a group of artists and poets staged a piece of performance art at Cape Byron. The Echo reported the claims that war in the Gulf ‘could ignite oil reserves, resulting in further exacerbation of the greenhouse effect and damage the marine environment by leaking oil’.

(It wasn’t until 2015 that the US military lost its ‘emissions exemption’ under the Paris climate accord, with a Brown University report noting that US military greenhouse gas emissions totalled 59 million tons in 2017, 11 million tons more than the nation of Sweden in the same year! So many different ways a large army can kill people.)

I had the privilege of covering many different protests in the nineties and into the noughties. In general the local police were helpful and hands-off, unlike some American police forces clad in military gear and all too willing to wield a baton and spray the mace – or to just shoot people.

Rusty gets crucified on the front lawn of the Byron Bay police station. Photo courtesy of Graeme Dunstan

The patience of the Byron Bay police might have been tested when a 2001 Good Friday protest against the use of sniffer dogs ended up on their doorstep. Fortunately that perennial activist, Graeme Dunstan, had a way of establishing rapport, or at least some agreement, with senior officers before the protest took place.

The parade wandered through the Bay to the police station, accompanied by the blaring music of the Baha Men’s 1999 cover of ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’. The patience of the Christian cops present must have been further tested by the ‘crucifixion’ on the station lawn of Rusty Harris, who had been busted earlier in the year after being sniffed out by a labrador named Thor. A colourful and somewhat coloured report of the drama, complete with photo containing Rusty and the banner ‘Sniff Butts Not Buds’, can be found at peacebus.com/Rusty/easter2001.html on the site still held by Graeme on an insecure connection, according to the Firefox browser.

A side effect of a protest by Mullum identity Rhonda Ellis, a Byron councillor and later a Southern Cross University academic, saw my first appearance in court as a witness. Rhonda was arrested for interfering with the progress of the XPT train as part of general dismay at the closure of rail services.

Naturally The Echo had covered the protest and taken many photos. These were produced during the Mullum local court proceedings and the police prosecutor asked why I had brought them along.

‘I didn’t’, I replied. That put a dampener on the prosecutor’s line of enquiry and was about the extent of my testimony.

Rhonda is also the author, with Fiona Martin, of a 2002 report in the Transformations journal on the evolution of the alternative press in Byron Shire from 1970 onwards. The Echo gets covered, of course, in itself initially a protest at the media’s failure to cover the police’s 1983 marijuana raids called Operation One-Up.

‘There we were, bailed up in Main Arm for three days by gun-toting police and low-flying helicopters,’ Nicholas Shand told filmmaker David Bradbury. ‘Biggest bloody story in Australia probably that week and the local press wouldn’t report it.’

The 1979 Terania Creek protest. Photo David Kemp

Some 12 years before the 1991 Byron Bay peace protest there was the famous ‘Battle For Terania’ rainforest in August 1979 at Terania Creek. In 1999, to mark the 20th anniversary of the successful blockade, Byron Bay activist Dailan Pugh noted, ‘The Terania Creek protest was the precedent for taking direct non-violent action to protect forests. The political effect of the blockade was inspirational for a range of future environmental confrontations around Australia.’

And, unfortunately, the confrontations must continue.

The film Mullumbimby’s Madness – Activism & Politics, by Sharon Shostak for the Brunswick Valley Historical Society, covers many of the protests of the ’70s and ’80s that informed the ’90s, and includes interviews with several of the participants.

Support The Echo

Keeping the community together and the community voice loud and clear is what The Echo is about. More than ever we need your help to keep this voice alive and thriving in the community.

Like all businesses we are struggling to keep food on the table of all our local and hard working journalists, artists, sales, delivery and drudges who keep the news coming out to you both in the newspaper and online. If you can spare a few dollars a week – or maybe more – we would appreciate all the support you are able to give to keep the voice of independent, local journalism alive.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Curious statements on Assange

The couple of letters under the headline of ‘In Defence of Julian Assange’ contained some curious statements in an attempt to justify the unjustifiable.  Marc...

Emergency radio tower

An emergency radio tower is proposed for Teales Lookout, Koonyum Range. It is proposed by the telco authority via Catalyst One Pty Ltd, via Amalgamotion...

Ballina water supply

A recent Echo article regarding Rous County Council’s plans to access Alstonville ground water through bores for its Future Water Project 2060 via an...

For the record

Since early January 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic started, when the world population started to be informed of the new health danger facing everybody,...