Day seven in the Alice Springs supreme court for the Pine Gap peace pilgrims, with all the evidence done and the jury out considering their verdict. Surely it couldn’t go any longer?
We have been staying at a lovely Christian retreat centre, where among other things they have communal prayers every morning. Today one of our hosts read from the bible about John the Baptist and then played a beautiful song about John’s ministry and his unfortunate end. I’ve always loved the wild desert prophet, but today it had even more significance. Jim spoke about how last time they came out to the Alice Springs supreme court in similar circumstances, they stopped in at the Mt Isa catholic church. The reading that day was the same one, and the story of a voice crying out in the wilderness brought people to tears. We appreciated that again, as well as John’s invitation to repentance a new way.
The jury had been out for four hours yesterday afternoon, but it took less than 30 minutes this morning before we got the call from the judge’s associate. Caught slightly unawares despite the long buildup, we rushed to the court. Margaret got back into her colourful hippy wedding dress she had worn at different key times in the trial.
The jury filed in, and there was a tangible tension in the air. The scene wasn’t quite like the movies though – the judge’s associate had to read out the charge in full for each defendant before getting the verdict, and even after that she read them out again to double check. The whole thing took about five minutes. So though lacking somewhat in dramatic punch, the epic adventure for ourselves and the jury was over. We were all found guilty.
The jury members got up and walked out. It’s odd to spend seven days with people who find out intimate details about us; yet we never actually get to know their names or anything about them. We’ll never know what they thought of us and our actions, though after four and a half hours we can at least assume they took their job seriously. Justice Reeves announced the sentencing hearing would be in three hours and adjourned the court.
One of the good things about doing something completely insane (like representing yourself in the supreme court and pleading not guilty to something you openly admit you did) is that the pressure is totally off. So after the verdict was announced, our demeanour and group dynamic was exactly the same as before – supporting each other, not taking the whole thing too seriously, holding on to a certainty of purpose that stopped us from being blown around by external factors.
The Crown QC called me over to his side of the bench. He told me I was obviously an intelligent and passionate person. He said he didn’t start studying law until he was 30, and he thought if I gave it a go I could have a future as a lawyer. I think he meant it as a compliment. I told him he also seemed like a talented man, and we are always welcoming of new people in the peace movement.
We went downstairs and outside. We grabbed our banners and instruments and performed one last encore in front of the court. It started out with Franz and Margaret’s lament, which as always was very moving, but then we realised people might think we were sad because of the court verdict. So we changed to something more jaunty – the old gospel tune Down By The Riverside, with a few verses updated to make it more relevant to Pine Gap and the age of remote electronic warfare.
Sentencing submissions needed to be prepared; so we did that sitting in the park, only mildly disrupted by various people stopping in to say hello and wish us well. Having already seen the Crown’s submissions for Paulie’s sentencing over a week ago, we weren’t surprised to see them claim we were a great threat to national security and the only appropriate sentence was one of imprisonment. We had already seen Justice Reeves ask on what grounds they could claim this and Mr McHugh squirm behind the bench as he tried to justify it. So we weren’t that worried.
Once we got to the hearing, the prosecution was far less insistent on us getting prison than they had been for Paulie. We handed in the 90 letters asking for clemency the court had been sent from politicians, lawyers, organisations and random strangers. We also had one last bit of courtroom fun arguing against the Crown’s submissions and looking through each others’ criminal records (unfortunately we are going to have to plant a few trees to offset the paper used in this court case; and Jim’s list of prior convictions was one last hefty document).
Justice Reeves helpfully reminded each of us that we could get our sentence somewhat mitigated if we showed contrition for our actions. He got responses varying from “I have nothing to offer on that count”, to “I’m very sorry Pine Gap is still open and committing war crimes”, to Franz quoting Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day’s immortal line “our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy rotten system”.
Sentencing was put off until December 4th; by which time the defendants, prosecution and judge will all be back in our various home cities. By the time this trial is over I will have written enough daily blogs to publish my first full length novel. We said thankyou and goodbye to all the court staff, who most of us had seen every weekday for the last fortnight.
One local friend had invited us to eat pizza at the community garden; another (who we met when she was walking past our banners and signs one lunch break) offered to take us exploring some underground caves. So we did both.
Our little sojourn in the red centre has been exhausting, challenging, inspiring and empowering. It’s been a pleasure working on the case with my four co-defendants (now co-offenders, I suppose); but also wonderful to be part of a diverse and beautiful community of people from Alice Springs and across the country that the trial has given an opportunity to come together. It’s not over yet; but whatever happens on December 4th, we will be alright and better for the experience.
Tomorrow we will probably leave town – we all have lives to get back to at home. But before we get on that long straight highway we’ll pay one last visit to the front gates of Pine Gap to remind both ourselves and that institution that one little court case is just a blip in the long struggle that is trying to resist empire and create a more peaceful world.