Bearing Witness to Indonesian War Crimes
in West Papua
Outside the Indonesian Consulate
70 Queens Parade St Kilda
27 December 2018
Looking splendid, the tall West Papuan Morning Star flags stood four in a line by the kerb outside the Indonesian Consulate General
in Queens Road, Melbourne. They were the product of four days sewing and painting in my mate's bush black shed west of Ballarat a fortnight before. This was their first public display.
The action was a solidarity witness for the West Papuan Independence movement called "to condemn the actions of Indonesian government for the military airstrikes and use of banned chemical weapons which killed over 10 civilians in Nduga regency of West Papua, ... another 3 civilians were later shot by the Indonesia military."
This part of a larger, global campaign for a UN Peacekeeping Mission in West Papua.
Posted just before Christmas I saw it on FaceBook and resolved to support it.
Bamboo poles on the rood racks, Bec, Sunny dog and I journeyed in Peacebus 150 km to be there, arriving an hour before so that we might scope the site and find a convenient place to park Peacebus. We found that the Consulate had its entrance at rear and a lovely garden with fence and trees out front, a narrow public footpath and nature strip fronting on to Queens Road, which as a major arterial road, streamed with traffic.
We found a park in an empty No Authorised Parking area outside a public housing high rise about 50 meters away. Excellent exposure for the #FreeAssange mural. There we settled in to wait for the arrival of the West Papuans.
Come 11 am, the official start time, the only arrivals were a pair of Australian Federal Police in a red patrol car. They cruised by Peacebus and stopped. I went over, introduced myself and, speaking through the window, explained that the Peacebus presence was to support the West Papuan action.
"Do you know anything about it?" I asked. "Has it been cancelled?" Agents Barry and Cassidy (first names) didn't know. I explained my intention was to rig some flags and pointed to the bamboo poles on the roof racks. They were friendly. "Okay but not on Consulate property," they cautioned and went off patrolling.
Fifteen minutes later the first West Papuan appeared. Wearing white trainers, shorts, reflective sunglasses and cap, he carried a Morning Star flag and exuded sass, vigour and enthusiasm. He introduced himself as Jonah.
I explained my flag mission and rigged one to show him what and how. Soon Jonah and I had the four flags mounted on steel stakes by the kerb side, eye-catchingly visible to the passing traffic out front and the Consulate offices behind.
The next to arrive was Bill Garner, an age mate, Melbourne based actor and writer, known to me from when he was a journalist reporting for The Digger in the lead up to 1973 Aquarius Festival. 'Twas a very favourable report and me forever grateful.
Bill was also known to me as the author of , a book that resonates with my Victorian working class memories of family holidays. It resonates with me still because the Peacebus mission is, for the most part, an extended camping trip.
I was truly pleased to see Bill, a FaceBook friend made flesh. The camp chairs were set up, I introduced Bill to Bec and began drawing out Bill's story, thinking that the wonderful thing about occupying public space is the wonderful people one meets.
But our conversation was interrupted by the appearance of ten men from the Consulate, six wearing matching batik shirts and led for an impressively tall, handsome and self assured man whom I guessed must be military or Kompass or a Javanese prince or all these.
I engaged the BatikShirts asking their names and their roles in the Consulate. Their distainful manner told me that they took me to be a more than a little crazy old man. Instead they kept their eyes on the Prince who was engaging Jonah and demanding the removal of the flags.
I heard the Prince claim that the reports of the use of white phosphorus by the Indonesian military were lies and saw Jonah explode in indignation, wheeling away saying: "Don't tell me that I don't know what's happening in my country." It was to be the beginning of a rant that was to go on for 15 minutes, full of passion and outrage. Magnificent to behold, Bec recorded for radio. When he finished Bill and i applauded.
Meanwhile I saw an Indonesian hand move to untie the pole of one of the West Papuan flags. I saw Bill raise his phone camera to record the incident. And I saw the timely intervention of Federal Agent Cassidy who firmly ordered the agent of the Javanese Empire to: "Leave it! They have a right to protest here."
Here a short video from the resolution of the incident.
After phone calls and more parley with the AFP, the Indonesians withdrew behind their fence, leaving the pavement to us and the West Papuan flags.
Soon more AFP came and more West Papuans who were led by Lewis Prai Wellip whom I knew from social media where he describes himself as "Diplomat -The Government of the Republic of West Papua and Asia Pacific Representative of Mr Jacob Prai, founder of OPM (Organisasi Papua Merdeka = Free Papua Movement) & Prime Mover of the Nation of West Papua."
By noon a band of eight West Papuans including two women had assembled. They took turns speaking to the offices and garden of the Consulate on a small megaphone. The traffic roared by, the flags plus West Papuan faces attracting many toots of support.
We white guys lounged in the camp chairs to listen. Which was not easy. Sometimes the West Pap mob spoke English, sometimes Bahasa, but the distortion of the megaphone and the background noise of traffic made comprehension either way difficult even at few meters. But so what?
The action certainly served as a provocation and backdrop for an SBS news story about the white phosphorus allegations. It also served as a pubic venting of anger born of dispossession and outrage. And for sure the staff of the Consulate knew it was happening. Reports would be made.
I noticed that a recurring theme of the anger was that West Papuans were Christians and disrespected as such by Muslim Indonesia.
Which in my ear translated as an appeal from the already colonised for the respect for the new colonisers. Not a winning argument, I thought, in Australia at this time where the Christian churches are in disrepute.
Furthermore angry Christians, like violent Buddhists, come across as inauthentic, a contradiction in terms. Worse it's an attitude which promises future sectarian violence. But hey, what do I know about the politics of the West Papuan independence movement.
My introduction to it has been via the softly spoken Jacob Rumbiac, Foreign Minister for the Federal Republic of West Papua in exile .
It was at the Tent Embassy in Canberra on Sorry Day 13 Feb 2008 where I first met him. He had recently been granted asylum in Australia. He just begiinning the work of creating an independence movement both here and abroad. From scratch. What a challenge.
In his search to find a sympathetic Australian tradition to support this work, he plugged into the annual commemorations of the Eureka rebellion in Ballarat organised by prominent Melbourne anarchist, Dr Joe Toscano, a project he calls the Reclaim the Radical Tradition of the Eureka Rebellion. There Jacob linked the Morning Star to the Southern Cross.
Out of love for the poetry of it, ten years ago I made up the first set of tall Morning Star flags (since been lost) for carrying in the annual Eureka Day march. The commemorations also include an annual Eureka Day dinner at which Jacob and friends set about winning hearts and minds with ukeles and songs of yearning with a band they call the Black Orchids.
At the mass grave of the Eureka rebels in the old Ballarat Cemetery, I have stood and wept alongside other Eurekophiles, listening to Jacob eulogise for freedom fighters dead in West Papua. A sense of history and a glimpse of a future with blood and hope mixed.
But who am I to judge? It is the nature of independence movements to have many different factions and styles. If we only knew the ways that will bring peace and justice, there would be no struggle.
When the megaphone fell quiet and the action was done, all helped to carry the flag poles, steel stakes and stuff back to Peacebus. There we talked about how effective the flags had been and how we might organise a flag painting workshop to make more. Lewis Prai said how happy his heart was to see the flags as he approached.
As we took our leave, we thanked the AFP. The West Papuans were grateful and made the point of saying that if this action had taken place in West Papua we would all have been arrested and jailed by this time. Fourteen years jail for flying the Morning Star flag there.
I had a vision and seized the moment to seed it, best I could, as a self fulfilling prophesy.
"When independence comes to West Papua, there will be a huge parade in Sorong (West Papua's biggest city) and all the emigres and the freedom fighters will be there. The avenues of Sorong will be lined with thousands of flags such as these, and long time independence campaigners will be there saying: "I first saw this tall Morning Star flag in Melbourne, Australia, outside the Indonesian Consulate way back in É"
29 December 2018