Franz Dowling

I grew up in a Catholic Worker family of 7 kids, on a farm just an hour north of Brisbane. My childhood was quite a radical one, in a house of hospitality with strong Catholic pacifist values. Dad has always been an activist and we always grew up in the scene, with a strong drive to speak out about what you believe in. I have been going to demonstrations for as long as I can remember. Dad was always passionate about the antimilitary movement and action, so we saw a lot of the same people when we were out protesting, and a got a lot of the same response from the public. I was 18 when I left home.

What is there not to hate about Pine Gap? Everything that it stands for and is just seems so morally wrong. It’s a US military spy base, built illegally on Aboriginal land and one of its primary uses is for targeted drone strikes. These machines kill innocent people in foreign lands where we are not at war, and we have no just reason to be at war. I think this is a big driving factor in what angers me about Pine Gap. It is very hidden, not many people know or care about it, but especially at this current time in the world today I think a question that really, really needs to be asked and expressed through the media is: what is this base and what do we really gain from it?

There is a lot of evidence pointing to drones that I think is just terrifying. I am motivated to oppose them, this new age weapon. Not even human beings have to be really involved to kill people. They don’t have to look at who they are killing, they don’t have to know what they look like, if they are innocent or not, and these machines give them the ability to do that. It’s quite horrendous. Wherever we choose to send drones, who has the power over these things? I am always against the taking of any human life, especially in such a desensitising manner.

I was very young when Dad went through the Pine Gap court case. I was 7 or 8, so just a kid. I have vague memories of it all. I did go to Alice Springs a couple of times, we went on two big road trips as a family. I have quite vivid memories of that, it was quite the adventure. The case was a huge deal, the hype from it all dragged on for so many years. There were many events held, and the release of the great Rise Up CD. It didn’t go away for a big piece of my youth, it was always around, this issue, Pine Gap was a big part of my life as a kid. It definitely faded out in later years, in and amongst all these other issues Dad was, and still is, battling with. To have come into again as an adult is pretty huge for me, it’s like really realising the reasons behind why all of that happened.

The Lament was always Margaret’s idea. She asked me if I wanted to play music when we go to Pine Gap. I thought it sounded great. So we played together and wrote a bit of lament. I play guitar and she plays viola beautifully. The idea of a lamentation is to grieve after a great loss or tragedy, and this time we were lamenting about what Pine Gap is doing to the planet. I think music is quite a powerful weapon in a lot of ways, it has the power to provoke human emotion, it touch hearts and join people together. In this particular lamentation we used music as a symbolic way to try and really express the immense sadness that Pine Gap has caused and continues to cause.

I think that if nothing else, if it had no other effect, I think that for myself, when we were performing the lament, playing guitar in unison with the beautiful viola, overlooking the base, it unleashed a real emotional reaction inside of myself . Once I was in that moment, I think I’d never felt so sure about what we were doing. I guess it sounds corny but it was almost like everything stood still in all of this chaos happening around us, the police fumbling around and detaining the others. I realised as we were playing that I was crying, and it really was an amazing moment. It was like nothing else mattered for a few moments at least. Then the police finally pulled us down and it came to a pretty abrupt finish. It all felt very powerful spiritually and I guess symbolically.

The court was all a blur really. I slept more than anyone else in the watch-house. I was hammered at that stage and was sleeping when I wasn’t being dragged up to get mug shots and finger prints and what not. It was all very blurry, even going into the court room. I remember being very nervous though. It was my first arrest and I was quite terrified, especially in that final stage when we were waiting to go up to the court. We had no idea that there had been a mistake made and we were free to go for while. I was called up first, before the others. I was terrified walking up those stairs. We were hoping they would bring us all up together, and together we would have a mention hearing and hopefully I wouldn’t have to say anything, but they called me up first. I got there and didn’t even have to speak in the end anyway. There was an argument between the magistrate and the police and they ended up sending me back down and then bringing me back up soon after to officially release me. They weren’t even allowed to start prosecuting us under this law without permission from the Attorney General. t

I got the summons by mail, I was in New Zealand when it came, visiting my sister and friends and road-tripping around. Three of us that did the action live in the same community house in Brisbane. My mum called me and told me it had arrived. There was always a hope beyond hope that they would forget about it. But it wasn’t to be, I think. I was never sure what to expect. Everyone else seem to have their doubts that they would forget about it. I guess when I first found out there was no real surprise. It was kind of like ‘oh well here we go, it’s begun’. I had no concept of how long the court process would be, which I now know will be a very long time.

I did know I could face 7 years in jail. I was well aware of the potential consequences. I never thought, and still don’t think, that it’d end with me getting 7 years in prison. In the watch house, our arresting officer told me in my interview that I would be 27 when released from prison. Everyone else also seemed to think that was very unlikely. I guess if it does, maybe it’s a necessary part of my journey.

I want people to think more about Pine Gap. This was always the hope from the beginning; that people would think about Pine Gap, that our creative action would be significant enough to cause people to think. To really think, about the ethics behind this military base that we have in the middle of our country. It is huge and people should definitely think more than anything: is this what we want? If everyone thinks about it, a core basic instinct of human morality will make people know just how horrible this place is, and how much it needs to be shut down.