Jim Dowling

I grew up in a fairly poor family in the Brisbane suburbs of Redcliffe and Virginia. I can still recall when I was young seeing pictures of starving children on television and thinking that the world is not fair. Even though I was poor, I knew that we were living comparatively luxuriously, with everything we needed to survive. I think that was a bit of a turning point in my life and I have had a passion for justice ever since then.

When I grew up, I left home and travelled around Australia for 7 years. During the Joh Bjelke-Petersen era I took part in actions about the right to march and linked arms with a fellow named Ciaran OReilly, who started a community Catholic Worker house a few years later. I visited that hosue, learned all about the Catholic Worker, their aims and means in relation to social justice and hospitality for the poor and have been involved ever since.

I witnessed the government’s betrayal of people for politics a few years before I got involved in the Catholic Worker. The invasion of East Timor was happening just when I was getting out of school. I remember being shocked by our government’s obvious callousness in the situation.

This was at 17 when I had little politics whatsoever really. So one of the things we did was take up the cause of the Timorese people. Then there was the nuclear issue throughout the 80s when everyone was scared the US and Russia were going to have a nuclear war. PND formed and other things were happening.

We did a lot of actions against nuclear ships and various bases that were part of the war machine, including Pine Gap for the first time in 1987. People from all over the country, about 700 or 800 people did all sorts of actions. It was a good witness, a good anti-war witness, a good feeling of solidarity back then. But I wasn’t awe inspired by the Pine Gap base much.

When I first went to Pine Gap we did actually get into the back of the base. It was more of a cat and mouse game with the police. The police grabbed us where we could just see some of the domes. It was much more moving the next time I went in 2005 when we actually went into the base and cut fences, climbed up on a building, and took photos. It was a very empowering moment.

Pine Gap symbolises war, ultimately the destruction of the planet in a nuclear war. That is what we were all talking about then, and it’s still the case. If a nuclear war happens, which is no less likely really in the way politics works today as in 1980s. Anything could happen, and any time in terms of crazy leaders and nations deciding to go to war. In that event, Pine Gap will play a major role and will almost certainly be destroyed along with the whole of Alice springs.

Pine Gap ultimately represents nuclear annihilation. Pine Gap is primarily there to serve the US war machine by whatever means are necessary. Part of that is spying on Australians as well as the peoples of the Asia Pacific region. We intercept phone conversation of leaders, as we discovered in relation to Indonesia and other places in recent years. It is used to gather intelligence, whatever the US government and Australian government think they need in waging war and maintaining economic dominance as well.

I have been to court a number of times. The last Pine Gap case was just another court case but it was the biggest I’ve been involved in. The nature of the penalty for merely trespassing and the extent to which the government went to try to get us in jail is significant. They went to enormous expense and hired a QC to prosecute us, and when we weren’t jailed but merely fined, they appealed to the full bench of the supreme court. They lost out badly there!

It was great having such strong people to work with, Bryan Law, Donna Mulhearn and Adele, and lots of people supporting us. Lots of people came to Alice Springs for the court case and supported in other ways, through fundraising, etc.. We made a CD of anti-war songs called “Rise Up” that sold well.

It felt good that we had so much support and the people I was working with were great people. We all brought different things to the court case, Bryan with his deep voice and authority and knowledge of law, Donna with her powerful witness having been in Iraq and seeing the destruction caused by Pine Gap and the US war machine. And Adele with her passion.

I guess I was just a witness to my faith and my conviction that war making is a great crime and that we need to resist it. I have spent a large portion of my life doing that, so I guess I brought my life to the trial.

For the first 300 years of Christianity, we were pacifists; no body took up the sword. Christians suffered persecution and martyrdom without retaliating. There is a whole tradition of that for 300 years. From the time of the conversion Emperor Constantine all that changed. The church got into bed with the state in wars.

There have been many Christians throughout history who have refused to be part of that war making, Quakers and Anabaptists and other people. But in the 1933 Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin started the Catholic Worker movement that I become part of. That has a very strong tradition of nonviolence and nonviolent resistance to war, so I guess that’s been an inspiration to how we have acted in response to war.

Non violent resistance is an alternative to taking up the sword or the nuclear bomb. I felt we were acting in that tradition by actually blocking the activities of places like Pine Gap, by trespassing and locking it down. It’s symbolic in some ways and actual in others, how we interfere with the war machine. I feel it’s a Christian duty to be peace makers, as Jesus called us. Bessed are the peace makers. So I feel I was fulfilling that Christian duty by going to Pine Gap and exposing the war crimes that it is involved with.

I have been doing this for a long time, since 1982. As I get older the risks seem less. I haven’t been to jail in quite a while. In 2008 I just spent 8 days there prior to our appeal. Jail doesn’t hold a great amount of fear, as I get older. My kids have mostly grown up so going to jail is not a huge threat to me. I am not fearful in that regard. Of course I still feel strongly that it’s necessary to resist and expose the war machine, which is still such a threat in our age.

The wars in the Middle East don’t show any signs of abating. We have basically turned the whole of Iraq into a living nightmare for millions of people and we are still waging a horrible war in Syria and Afghanistan and Yemen. Who knows what these wars will escalate into?

New wars may start at any time, as well of course as the ever present threat of nuclear war which will be so devastating for the whole planet. It’s all there still, and nothing has changed. Maybe it’s worse than when I first started out. So I felt compelled to once again go and resist the war machine.

The idea was proposed that we do it in the form of lamenting our country’s crimes. We lamented complicity in crimes; we lamented the frontier wars, the wars against the indigenous people of this nation, that have been so long blocked from our history. We lamented the wars since then that we have waged and the wars that we are waging today. It’s pretty necessary, to lament and repent. Witnessing firstly empowers one who is doing the witnessing.

In this society we all feel disempowered in so many ways. People are always saying what can one person do? To actually go to a place like Pine Gap and say well, this place is an abomination, it’s taking part in war crimes, to just be there and say that, even if only very few people listen, is a powerful thing for oneself to feel like you are speaking out and doing something about what is happening. So firstly, the power of witnessing is there. Secondly it does inspire other people and it does speak truth to power in a lot of ways.

In the case of entering pine Gap, eventually the Attorney General had to okay our prosecution. The whole process has been a witness to a lot of people along the way, a lot of people know about our little action. George Orwell said, “In a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” I love that quote, it’s so true. Everyone is walking around in our society without thinking much other than what we are feed by the mainstream media. It’s great to speak out on issues that matter, and to try to have an impact on the general culture by doing that.

I did this action with one of my children, it was great acting with Franz. Franz is a real inspiration to me in how he has turned out. He is such a lovely gentle person, he is living for higher values, and is involved in a house of hospitality as we were in our younger days. He is very brave and it was great traveling and working with him. It was a great experience.

I have no doubt that people in power would want to put us in jail for a lot of years. The fact is they don’t run the judiciary. We have a system with the separation of powers. The last time they spent a lot of time and energy trying to get us into jail and they embarrassed themselves before the full bench of the Supreme Court. Those judges were angry at the prosecution for their pointless vindictiveness in trying to punish us.

In the last arrest police at the watch house in Alice Springs, people treated us respectfully. We were exhausted from walking through the night, so we slept. The atmosphere downstairs was calm and polite and when we came upstairs to court, I was in a bit of a shock really. I couldn’t take it in for a little while, in terms of the case being dropped. I think I felt good to be able to get out at that stage.

Ultimately it wasn’t a great thrill because I guessed the Attorney General would eventually give permission and the case would go on. I suspected all along that they would not drop it. When it took so long, I began to think they might drop it, and I was a little bit surprised when I finally got the summons. Someone came to my door eventually, we live out of town an hour from Brisbane on a little property and he had been here twice before, he had come quite a distance with the warrants.

I got mine weeks after the others had for that reason. The guy came to the door, he was very friendly, I shook his hand and said thanks. He was just a process server. We never actually saw the signed piece of paper from the Attorney General but just got the summons and the charges.

The charge is trespass under the Defence Special Undertakings Act of 1952. As always, the best way people can support us is to spread the word about Pine Gap and the war crimes its been involved in. Keep talking about it as much has possible.

Through realising what it does, awareness among ordinary people, one day a place like that can be closed down. It’s certainly great to get support in terms of fundraising as well, we will need some funds to run the case, but mainly I’d like people to act wherever possible themselves if they feel capable of resisting the war machine.