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Urgent Work: Nick Deane

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.

How ISIL got here

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 of how we got here, We Are Many, is a film that finished touring Australia at the end of last year to tell the story of the huge opposition to Iraq’s invasion, and what happens when politicians ignore the people.

I put this story together about the film, with with David Cosgrove .

Animals: the abandoned mates of war

Nadyat El Gawley


August 2 2015

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.“

Horses Abandoned

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.”

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Horses of the Australian Light Horse Association at Tails From the Past , Addison Rd Community Centre. Photo with permission by Addison Rd Community Centre.

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.

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Military drill, Tails from the past. Photo, Addison Rd community Centre ( by permission)

“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.

Staying neutral

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Stirrup Cafe, Addison Rd Community Centre. Photo: N. El Gawley

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.

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A dog-friendly workplace. Photo: N.El Gawley

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.

The Horse

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Tails from the Past, Addison Rd Community Centre, Marrickville, Sydney. ( by permission)

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.

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War Horse, sculpture by the Bower Centre. Photo: N El Gawley

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.

A Year of Exchange: Susan Price on being a socialist

Nadyat El Gawley


April 25 2015

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.”

Susan Price

Socialist Alliance candidate Susan Price campaigning in Marrickville at NSW’s 2015 state election. Photo: N. El Gawley

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?”

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