Talisman Sabre 2007

The month long Talisman Sabre 07 (TS07) war games were not conducted without resistance and harassment from the ordinary people of Australia, particularly those of the Central Queensland area. TS07 was a huge Australian-US military exercise held over much of Northern Australia. It included 20,000 US and 12,000 Australian troops.

Much of the exercise was conducted off-shore but it came ashore at the Shoalwater Bay Training Area (SWBTA) near Yeppoon and Rockhampton in Central Queensland. This is where the peace movement of Australia decided to oppose it and bring the issues surrounding the exercise to the fore.

Local resistance

Since the 2004 announcement that Shoalwater Bay and two bases in the Northern Territory would become permanent US training bases, local resistance has been building. TS07 is a taste of things to come for central Queenslanders with regular US military personnel in their streets, and bombing and other live firing in pristine environments as well as cordoning off large sections of the sea from local fishers, recreational boaters and tourists.

Military propaganda says the base will be economically good for the area but many locals are not buying these lies. Some years back they set up the Shoalwater Awareness Group (SWAG). This group facilitated the peace protests from June 16 to 24 which culminated in a large rally through the streets of Yeppoon on Sunday June 24. In a major step forward, almost half the 1,000 marchers were local people.

Queensland and others states support

Brisbane peace activists calling themselves the Peace Convergence were a major driving force in building support and getting the issue to other parts of the country.

More support came from the Australian Anti-Bases Campaign which has for years been fighting expressions of the US-Australian military alliance such as US bases and military exercises. NSW provided the largest part of Peace Convergence after Queensland and some of the credit for this has to go to the Anti-Bases.

Protest rallies and meetings were held in capital cities and regional centres around 15 and 16 June calling on the Federal Government to stop TS07. Protesters then travelled to Yeppoon. The major contingents arrived on Thursday or Friday with the weekend of June 23 and 24 being the period of most activity.

International visitors

In solidarity with the peace protests, visitors came from Kapai 'Aina (Hawai'i) and Gua'han (Guam).

Terri Keko'olani and Leimaile Quitevis from Kapai 'Aina and Fanai Castro, a Chamorro from Gua'han, were warmly welcomed at Rockhampton airport by Aunty Jeanette and Aunty Olive, elders of the Darumbal people who are the traditional owners of the Shoalwater area. Discussions between the three groups convinced Peace Convergence organisers that progress had been made in relations with local indigenous community.

Highlights

For several days protesters occupied the training area to prevent live bombing - while the military claimed there was no one in the area. The military faced difficulties when gates to the training areas were blocked by protesters (and by flooding), the army depot and barracks in Rockhampton was harried, and protesters locked onto one US vehicle, throwing Rockhampton traffic into chaos.

Significant meetings were held, especially the welcome in Yeppoon Town Hall which was packed out. It was addressed by many luminaries from the peace movement such as Helen Caldicott, Zohl de Ishtar and Hannah Middleton.

In a significant breakthrough, local Mayor Bill Ludwig told an excited audience he believes Shoalwater Bay should be a national park rather than a military training area. This put a hole in the military propaganda that the base will bring economic benefits to the region.

Conclusion

The campaign to rid Australia of US military control took some major steps forward over the weeks leading up to and including the Peace Convergence on Yeppoon.

In 1997 8 people contested the war games. In 2005 it was 80. This year the number reached about 500. We are confident that many more people will fight the Talisman Sabre war games in 2009. And we will put an end to them!

Photos of Sydney solidarity demo held June 15, 2007 +
Photos of welcome at the Rockhampton Airport by indigenous leaders.