As the Sydney Invictus Games come to a close, perhaps unsurprisingly, media coverage didn’t address an important question. And it’s this: why are arms manufacturers sponsoring an event for people disabled by injuries of war?
In a provocative and thought-provoking piece, anti-war activist Nick Deane asks this very question. And he also asks about the victims of those wars. Those “who it must be said were never even capable of threatening Australia.”
Nick Deane is an Australian peace activist who along with others, has dedicated much of his life to creating a just world. In this profile story, he talks about why he puts his body on the line for peace.
The attack on Jakarta Thursday was part of a campaign targeting citizens of countries fighting Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria, according to a statement released by the group.
In a timely reminder about how we got here, We Are Many, is a film that tells the story of the huge opposition to Iraq’s invasion, and what happens when politicians ignore the people. It was shown around Australia toward the end of last year. I put this story together about the film, with David Cosgrove.
I have had the privilege of working with many refugee communities in Australia and hearing first hand, stories of courage from people who’d fled persecution and war. People who put their lives on the line for others, for a principle or a cause; people who just wanted to live a life of dignity. And while hurt by their experience, they embraced their new home and generously shared their lives and stories with people like me.
Like many, I was horrified by the heartbreaking stories of Syrian refugees trying to reach Western Europe, and their inhumane treatment both by smugglers and some European countries. The distressing story this morning about toddler Aylan Kurdi who was found on the Turkish coast will always haunt and shame me about the climate of fear I live in. A fear that is the result of western privilege. So many of us in the west are living in countries which have acted scandalously on this issue.
I am reminded of some of the stories I had the privilege to record over the years and how such stories should be heard, read again and repeated so that we don’t forget what a terrible lottery life is. Below is an excerpt from a collaborative radio piece I produced as part of the cultural development program of the Sydney based Information and Cultural Exchange (ICE) and the ABC’s Poetica program on Radio National.
You will hear the voice of Afeif Ismail from Sudan describe the horror of Dafur in an incandescently quiet language not easily forgotten. Afeif speaks in Arabic, and Vivienne Glance reads the translation.
The older she gets, the more pessimistic she feels. To writer Jill Mather, there’s no cure for humans’ lack of respect for animals. And so since her retirement, it’s been her mission to record their stories. Specifically, those that perished in war.
Eight million animals died in the Great War. They carried soldiers and supplies, delivered messages, were shot at and killed. Six million alone were horses, about as many as the allies’ military casualties. The difference is, as Ms Mather says, the horses didn’t volunteer.
She talks about how she had to give up her horse after she contracted polio at the age of 16. There’s a silence, and then she says: “I never really recovered”.
Looking out the window at Yarramalong Valley on New South Wales’ Central Coast where she lives, she can see horse and goat paddocks. The animals seem fine despite the day being one of those stormy rainy days on the east coast of New South Wales . Her love for animals and knowledge of the horse has driven her work. The former journalist and teacher has written five books including Forgotten Heroes, about the Australian Waler in WW1.
Walers are mixed breed horses bred for outback conditions. They are evenly tempered animals, reliable in tough environments.
“ We have a special affinity with horses,” she says. ”Let’s take the light horsemen who were on patrol in the Sinai for example. If those horses made a noise or snorted, or stamped, or called for a mate, they could reveal their position. So when a trooper put his hand on his neck, that horse knew to freeze.
“He also could move through those desert sand hills very silently. They could rely on one another. If the trooper was shot or injured in any way, there are many stories of horses carrying the trooper back to base camp.“
Through the complex history of WW1, the fall of empires, battles won and lost, the horse remains on the fringes. Looking for their story has highlighted the “profiteering” of war for Alex McInnis, media and communications officer at the Addison Road Community Centre in Marrickville. She sees evidence of that in the Australian Government’s refusal to bring home horses sent to war.
“The Government sold them,” she said. “It was too expensive to bring them back. They abandoned them.”
The Australian War Memorial records 136,000 horses being sent from Australia to France, India, the Western Front and the Middle East with the troops. At the end of the war, most horses were sold to European countries, and to India, then a British colony.
“At the end of the war,” says Jane Peek, Curator of Military and Technology at the Australian War Memorial, “most of the horses were sold onto Belgian farmers or unfortunately –the ones that couldn’t be sold on–there was a very strong market in horse meat and that’s still the case in Belgium and France. And the very best of them were selected to go to Britain for breeding.”
“In Palestine where the Australian light horse was operating, at any one time, there were 13000 horses. Of these, 2000 were put down because they were too old or debilitated.”
Only one horse, Sandy, came home.
Bridging the divide
The old military barracks at Marrickville’s Addison Road Community Centre has been a space for multicultural services and alternative groups since the 1970s. In this small Inner West suburb, there’s a big history. The nine-acre site was the army’s major centre for enlistment in almost every conflict in the 20th century according to Sue Castrique, the Centre’s historian.
Young conscripts were sent from there for training before going to Vietnam and it was there where the Save Our Sons (SOS) movement protested against the war with its silent vigils.
But, it was not always about war. In its early days, the Centre was about the horses and the community. Rosy Porter, Program Co-ordinator at the Centre, is mindful of the layers of history. She, along with colleagues and volunteers helped to mark the site’s history and the Australian Centenary with an event about horses—Tails from the Past.
“It was actually the horses that bridged some of the divides between the community and the Army at the time [the first half of the 20th century], because the kids would come in to see the horses and then talk to the officers here. The officers would ride the horses up Addison Road and the kids would follow. The army actually had a close relationship with the community. “
Wars and Protests
But once the site became a community centre, political attitudes changed. Sue Castrique, says the organisation’s outlook was the direct opposite to the “whitewashed huts and strict military discipline”.
“Many community centre members had been shaped by anti-conscription protests,“ she writes, “some were refugees from war zones. For some time, there was unease about recognising the site’s past as an army depot, or becoming the guardians of a history with the army’s conservative and militaristic overtones. ‘Historical’ was a word most often used when talking about leaking rooves, a soggy car park and the tangle of phone lines that made technicians weep.”
But things have changed, and today, organisers of Tails From the Past stress they want to bring both sides of the Centre’s history together.
The Addison Road Community Centre is busy with activity. The black and white themed Stirrup Café is the first of the many huts on the site. Several community, arts and environmental organisations have made their home here. To the left, there’s a truck unloading old furniture for the Bower Centre —a recycling outfit that runs the Men’s Shed in Marrickville. And further down, is the Centre’s office. A strong theme of social justice runs through the posters and notices on the wall. Outside in the crisp sun, planes fly overhead, dogs run through the grounds highlighting the centre’s dog friendly policies, and children chatter as they make their way to another activity.
People who went to the Tails from the Past event and whose views varied on the question of war had regarded the Centre as a safe space Ms Porter says.
“ I think it’s important, even of you disagree, to still know the history of war and …find out what it meant for the horses or for the men and how tough it was, so you can then reflect on war and what it means to go to war now today.”
“We had the Gallipoli Centenary Peace Campaign inside the hall as one of the stalls …but we had the Light Horse Association [who] do the re-enactments. We had diggers coming back [who] remembered the site. We had family members of diggers who passed away, and they were some of our honorary guests. We had a mixture of people coming together on both sides of those two views,” she said.
Phillip Chalker, president of the Australian Light Horse Association is easygoing and relaxed, having just bought some feed for his horses, and has pulled over into a car park for the interview. He is passionate about increasing awareness of the role the horse played in the Great War.
“ When I went to school (1973), I don’t remember ever, hearing about the light horse. It was always about Gallipoli and the Western front, “ he says.
“ There was more [that happened] in WW1 than Gallipoli and the Western front. We’re interested in educating and communicating with people about the role of the horse in the third front: Egypt, Palestine and Mesopotamia (Iraq).” And after about 20 years of talking to groups and making contact with the community, Mr Chalker feels things are changing.
We owe more to animals than we know or remember as Jill Mather argues. Being forgotten by government after all they had meant–“the horses were all” she says–is to animal advocates, a terrible injustice of the war.
Horses suffered extreme thirst and hunger, carried heavy weaponry, were shot at and wounded horribly. The Hughes Government’s decision in 1918 was a blow to many.
“A lot of soldiers were prepared to pay for their horse. They would’ve paid anything to have got their mate back,” says Ms Mather.
But the soldiers had no power to influence a post-war government they had sold their horse to.
“When soldiers joined up in 1914, some of them came with their horse, in which case, the army bought the horse from them, “ said Ms Peek. “So it became army property. Now I think, there was a lot of resentment at the end of the war when the horses couldn’t come home.”
The story doesn’t stop there. There were other animals such as camels, donkeys, even elephants that were used for war fighting purposes and died in WW1 according to Jill Mather. She says mules delivered medical supplies, and carried gun parts “staggering on until they dropped dead and nobody cared”.
It is why she writes books about the cost to animals in conflicts, and why it has become her life’s passion.
It was a year spent on an international student exchange that got Susan Price, Summer Hill’s Socialist Alliance candidate, interested in politics. That, a relationship and a film.
Tall with red hair, Ms Price says her friendships with Chileans while on exchange in the United States in the early 1980s was the starting point of her political activism. One of her first serious relationships was with a Chilean who had left his homeland with his family after the 1973 military coup in the country.
The violent ouster had removed the democratically elected Salvador Allende government, and installed the US backed military regime of General Augusto Pinochet. Many thousands perished in the subsequent crack down on the left, including Salvador Allende , and the gifted New Song Movement’s Victor Jara.
Not long after coming back to Australia, Ms Price, 48, saw David Bradbury’s searing documentary, Chile, Hasta Cuando, (Chile, When will it end?). It was “consciousness changing”, she says. She was horrified to learn that people can “suffer in that way and be summarily executed and disappeared”.
David Bradbury’s Oscar nominated documentary was described by The Sydney Morning Herald then as a “film full of the pain of an abused people … in rebellion against institutionalised torture and murder.” Its impact on a young Susan Price was far reaching. She had encountered, for the first time, film makers who took risks to expose the world of exposing human rights violations .
“It was probably the process of meeting friends in my late teens as an exchange student that opened my eyes to a whole other world that I had been protected from as a child.”
On Marrickville Road outside a pre-polling booth are representatives of The Greens, Labor and Liberal Parties and the Socialist Alliance candidates and volunteers.
At the Marrickville Rd Café nearby it’s busy and noisy, but the heady aroma of coffee fills the blue grey air. Ms Price talks about her involvement with progressive Christian groups as a teenager in Brisbane. “You know, the do unto others kind of thing,” she says.
Her interest in left wing politics drew her to the only non-mainstream party in the early 1990s, the Democratic Socialist Party. The party grew out of various formations of Marxist-Leninist groupings in Australia and merged into the Socialist Alliance in 2010.
The Alliance has been contesting elections since 2001, and this is Susan Price’s third state election. The pace is grueling with 12-hour days and weekends that include door knocking, letter boxing, having a street presence and attending public events around the newly formed electorate.
The seat of Summer Hill has replaced the old electorate of Marrickville, and takes in most of the Marrickville area, parts of the Canterbury and Haberfield electorates.
Marrickville has been a Labor stronghold for many years, but The Greens are making significant inroads into the political life of the area with their concern for the environment, refugees and the impact of big business resonating with community.
The Socialist Alliance’s platforms are determinedly left wing with policies on participatory democracy, electoral reform, renewable energy and making NSW a refugee safe haven. The party is campaigning on a platform to shut down the Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney’s west, and allow refugee applicants to live in the community while their claim is being processed.
She regards the latter initiative as an important protest against the way the Federal Government is treating asylum seekers. “It’s going to take that kind of initiative to force the Government back.”
Drawing on examples of national and international issues being taken up by local government, Ms Price likes to bring issues down to the grassroots level such as the refugee welcome zone effort promoted by the Refugee Council of Australia. More than 100 councils across the country have signed up to this powerful and symbolic gesture according to the Council.
It is reminiscent of an initiative from the 1980’s and 1990’s when local governments across Australia declared their areas to be “nuclear free zones”.
“It meant that you could not drive trucks carrying anything radioactive through the City of Brisbane . And there were people who supported that policy who would have been happy to get out and put their bodies on the line to ensure that was the case if the Federal Government or a mining company tried to challenge it.”
New South Wales as a safe haven for refugees is an issue close to her heart, and she and she is keen to see people providing sanctuary for refugees, or blockading the Villawood Detention Centre to prevent deportation of asylum seekers.
“You can just start to imagine what could be possible if you had that kind of political position in a state like NSW and a big city like Sydney.”
It is here that Susan Price’s deep political engagement with human rights, connects with her lived experience. After completing her student exchange placement in the United States, she moved to Sweden for a couple of years with her Chilean partner. There, she taught English and was a care worker in a nursing home, where she had to learn Swedish to communicate.
“I’ve lived as a migrant overseas, and that was actually an eye opener. It was a bit of an opportunity to walk in someone else’s shoes for a change. It was partly got me active in the first place in solidarity and internationalism.“
She sees it as an accident of fate that people end up being refugees. And with an insight gained from that experience, she ends her answer to the question with another.
“It could easily be you or me. And what makes anyone there-from Afghanistan or Sri Lanka or anywhere else any different to any one of us?”
Note: I wrote this story before the Melbourne Cup and the tragic death of two horses there yesterday. I have since tried to talk to the Australian Racing Board about whether they will now talk to animal advocates given this is the second year in a row where horses have died at the race. They haven’t responded, but I will be keeping an eye on this story.
The Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses (CPR) is calling for reforms to the racing industry as the country prepares for the Melbourne Cup. The animal welfare group is urging the public to ask whether the glamour of horseracing is worth the cruel deaths of horses every year.
According to the group’s website, 125 racehorses have died on the track between August 2013 and July 2014 from catastrophic limb injury.
“Unfortunately there has been no meaningful change [in] the industry,” said Communications Manager, Ward Young via email. “That is why we are calling on racegoers and punters to support our call to reform the racing industry and create a better world for horses.”
The group’s controversial billboard of a dead horse erected by a city expressway in Melbourne was pulled down after only four days in early October. However, they said public support has been overwhelming.
A spokeswoman for the Victorian RSPCA said while they acknowledged the confronting nature of the billboard, it showed “ the outcome that will face many horses when they finish racing.
“We believe the industry that profits from these racehorses needs to do more for their welfare when they retire,” the spokeswoman said in an email.
The industry defends its reforms and points to a retirement plan announced in July that makes it mandatory for owners to report the reason for their horse’s retirement, as well as plans beyond racing.
“The data …will provide the industry with greater insight into the reasons horses retire and their activities post racing,” said Caitlin Lei Sam from Racing NSW.
Ms Lei Sam said the industry can use the information to create more rehabilitation programs which would help alleviate public concern over animal welfare.
CPR accepts this as a good start, but they point out one of the retirement options is ‘livestock sale.’
“While there is a chance the horse may be rehomed,” said Young, “there is a much bigger chance they will be purchased by kill buyers [for] abattoirs and knackeries.”
“It is so important … the racing industry uses its money and power to ensure racehorses aren’t sent to these kill-houses of despair. ”
Last year, CPR proposed a retirement plan which allowed for every horse in the industry to be rehomed. It would cost 1 per cent of the betting turnover and end the ‘discarding’ of horses bred for racing, but that don’t make it to the track. According to the group, these horses make up the bulk of what’s referred to as ‘wastage’, and end up being slaughtered.
The plan was rejected by the Australian Racing Board who would not comment on why they had dismissed it.
In the clamour following the installation of the billboard, the Australian Racing Board’s Chief Executive Peter McGauran told The Age he had no respect for CPR because they spread ‘myths’. But others in the industry have taken a different view.
Scott Brodie who runs the unique Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Program funded by Racing NSW, is persuaded by the value of communication. With a wide background in horse training and education, Brodie’s networks have included animal advocates. And he’s tried to reach out to them.
The former NSW Mounted Police horse trainer said he thought he might be able to unofficially mediate between Racing NSW, and animal welfare groups.
“I didn’t really get good feedback … it was really disappointing at the time.”
“It’s good to have someone that’s got a foot in each camp and as a mediator, have an understanding of both environments. There’s an opportunity there to bring people together,” he said.
Brodie oversees an estimated 30 volunteers and a partnership with Corrective Services NSW’s St Heliers facility at Muswellbrook. The program also has a number of staff who look after the horses at its headquarters at Canterbury Racecourse in Sydney.
“The horses come from owners, trainers, studs,” he said. “We have horses that have been racing for 10 years; we have some horses that never even made it to the race track. “
“They go to the prison… [and] because we’ve got plenty of land up there, the horses will have six months just in a paddock being horses.”
“And once they’ve had that six months…we introduce them to the inmates [who] do six weeks with each horse utilising natural horsemanship techniques which is horse whispering.”
Mr Brodie regards the program as one providing holistic approaches to horse training where gentle interaction is core. But he also sees it as one which helps both horses and people in the art of communication.
“I’ve seen some unbelievable stuff,” he said about the turnaround in the lives of the inmates. So far, he says, no one who has gone through the program has returned to gaol.
About 100 horses go through the program each year and according to Lei Sam, there’s a great demand for it. However, there are “ many owners and trainers who already have future plans for their horses once retired…”
It is a point of contention with animal welfare groups who say the industry is not doing enough to save the lives of retired or working horses.
A disturbing video posted on CPR’s website in 2012 taken at the Victorian Laverton Knackery during Cup Week, showed horrifying treatment of horses. The animals were shot in front of one another with one horse dragged across gravel still alive after its throat was slit.
For Ward Young, watching it all has profoundly changed him.
“It does something to you that cannot be undone. For me, it stained my psyche and I could not in good conscience turn away and let it continue,” he said.
In a week when thousands marched across the globe calling for action ahead of the UN Climate Summit, Australian artists were asking how will we live?
As part of the fifth Sydney Fringe Festival, 14 artists and architects have collaborated to explore domestic spaces in an era of environmental destruction. The work is presented by Branch3D in the Sydney suburb of Forest Lodge, and is set in a private home with a difference: there’s a shop front entrance.
Sarah Nolan, who lives in the house and is director of Branch3D, has been using the shop front window as a gallery. Passers by have enjoyed the art, and the festival has drawn a wider audience. People are “intrigued about a show of artworks throughout a … private house,” said Nolan.
The site-specific work, Bunkered, takes visitors through the impact on domestic life when the outside world becomes hostile.
“I like the idea that a bunker can mean so many things… hiding yourself or disguising yourself,” says one of the participating artists, Lisa Andrew. Her work, Droom, is an exploration of what she calls the “make do” future possible in a world ravaged by climate change.
Andrew’s work is installed in a bedroom. It is a fabric construction surrounding a bed with inkjet images of wood, brick and cardboard. A place to hide or shelter in, as Bunkered’s catalogue essayist Yvette Hamilton writes.
But it’s the dramatic text stamped on the installation the visitor first notices: “Australia told to feed region or face invasion.” It’s a screen shot from an ABC news report two years ago when it reported a speech by the head of the Australian Agricultural Company.
“When I first took the photograph it seemed so out there,” says Andrew. “I was gleaning from surfaces around us to construct this incubating space that would almost be kind of camouflaged that you could exist in another way within it and not be noticed. So in a way I was playing a lot more on the actual idea of the word bunker.”
Droom is located alongside a video installation titled Emergency News Broadcast. It’s a live news report going wrong, with the anchor and reporters unable to connect, adding to the anxiety in the space.
In an observation on how instant news is incapable of giving audiences context in crises, artist Kuba Dorabiaski shows us what happens when “Everything has collapsed.” In her artist statement, she asks: “ What do they report when everything is news and nothing is anything anymore?”
“To me it’s about things not working. They can’t hear each other, they can’t communicate to the public because things are shutting down,” said Sarah Nolan.
Climate change is an issue Australian artists are increasingly addressing. Writing in the Guardian last year, lecturer and art critic Andrew Frost said concerns around climate change are shaping new Australian art. ‘’The return of landscape and nature as major themes is undeniable,’’ he said.
Climarte, a Melbourne based organisation working with artists on climate change joined the thousands strong march in Victoria Saturday September 20 as part of the global protests on the issue.
On the group’s Facebook page, they say artists need to make a choice.
“This is an invitation to join others who work, live and play in the arts in taking a stand. It is time for us to come together, as representatives of all that is creative, imaginative and hopeful in humanity.”
The organisation has run forums and engaged with thinkers on the issue. Next year, in collaboration with arts institutions, it will hold the ‘Arts+Climate=Change 2015’ festival to make climate change a focus for the arts and its audiences.
Back at Forest Lodge, Lisa Andrew points out how the artworks connect with the house.
“A lot of the work is site specific,” she said. “These were lodged into the space to bring attention to the architecture and the living environment.”
Edison and Sonny are journalists. They fled the bloodshed of Sierra Leone to start a new life in Sydney. But the past is always with them—and explaining and documenting it is now the core of their work here in Australia.
Rehearsing at Sydwest in Blacktown, the chamber orchestra jams work around life and death. This is part of a performance for the Sydney Sacred Music Festival coming up in September. Performers are: Richard Petkovic, Assim Gorashi, Yaw Derkyi, Shohrat Tursun, Mark Szeto and Victor Valdes.
This was recorded as part of an upcoming series of stories for ABC radio on Arab and African communities. The series is called Crossroads and features the work of poets, musicians, artists and communities engaged in social change. Crossroads is being produced for Life Matters on Radio National.