Author: Kelham, Megg
Date published: January 1, 2010
This article is dedicated to the memory of Jan Gladys who led the 111 Karen Silkwoods into Pine Gap and who died in Melbourne in March 2010
I first heard about the Pine Gap Women's Peace Protest when, in September 1983, my girlfriend and I, city-bred feminist activists on a 4WD tour of Australia, arrived in the small township of Atherton in far north Queensland and were invited to attend a local protest planning meeting.
As I remember it, twenty or thirty women of all ages and lifestyles were cramped into a small room, enthusiastically organising local area actions and how to get as many representatives of their community to Pine Gap as possible. At liberty to do what we liked, and eager for the company of other lesbians- of whom we had seen little in our outback travels- my girlfriend and I agreed to go. In a matter of weeks we found ourselves driving across the country with a small group of complete strangers.
There was Lemone, a 70 year old self proclaimed Scottish Quaker witch, born in the world's first town with a nuclear power station, who'd attended protests against the military industrial complex all around the world. I'd never heard of Pine Gap and knew little about the global network of American military bases. Lemone was an enthusiastic informant. There was Wendy, a young card-carrying communist student of Aboriginal languages eager to connect with language speakers in the desert. Wendy didn't like 'hippies' because she thought they were 'apolitical'. She took an immediate dislike to the sarong-clad strangers that my girlfriend and I then were. And there was Yvonne, the middleaged middle class owner of the 4WD troop carrier we travelled in. Yvonne was attending the protest as an official representative of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) one of the oldest international women's peace organisations on the planet. It was her first protest and the first time she'd ever met a professional demonstrator, lesbian or communist, let alone a witch.
This small and eclectic group of women, unlikely to have met each other in the course of ordinary Australian life, found themselves pooling resources and challenging their own and each others' prejudices as they talked their way through several thousand miles of the Australian inland to join other similarly diverse groups of women for what we, perhaps naively at the time, assumed was a common cause. This diversity of protest participation lay at the core of both Pine Gap's magic and sometimes discomforting complexity.
A decade later, as a new resident of Alice Springs, I found myself standing on top of a mountain range staring down at the distinctive white spheres of the still-operational Joint Defence Space Research Facility (JDSRF), as Pine Gap is officially known - the physical location for this historically unique gathering of Australian women. A woman several decades younger than me was prompted by sight of the base's domes, looking for all the world like the egg sacs of the poisonous redback spiders which lurk in the cracks and crevices of Alice Springs homes, to ask 'Wasn't there a women's protest there once? Why doesn't that story get told?'
As an academically-trained historian who'd taken far too long to decide that the only way to ensure women were written into the historical record was for women to write their history themselves, I took up the challenge and began the task of piecing together the protest story. Although my own protest memories were strong, I realised I didn't have a 'big picture' understanding of how the protest had come into being, the sequence of unfolding events, or what place the protest occupied in individual/ local/ women's/ feminist/ protest/ peace/ anti-nuclear/ green/ Aboriginal/ national history/histories. The more research I did and the more conversations I had with both protest participants and protest opponents, the more I realised that I was not alone in lacking an overview. The protest was somehow much bigger than the sum of its individual parts.
I began my research by writing down my protest memories and sealing them from further sight until such time as my historian's account was complete- an attempt to measure my own historic objectivity or its lack, at the project's end.
Next I began a systematic search of Australia's archives, tracking the documentary resources which would enable me to obtain an historic rather than autobiographical view. An abundance of paper, photographs, objects, audio, visual, and textile remains, in public and private collections across the country, are a still-living testament to the astonishing amount of work which went into the protest's organisation. The creative energy it unleashed, its national character, the huge amount of media coverage it generated, and the significance which institutions and individuals have attached to it is evidenced by their decisions to preserve rather than destroy protest memorabilia. Yet another reason to wonder why, comparatively speaking, the protest has received so little attention in the historic record1 and how it is that recent Base protesters, could, like early participants in the second wave of feminism, realistically believe they were the first kids on the block.2
Finally, I began somewhat serendipitously interviewing as many people with a 'bird's eye view' of the protest as I physically happened across, with the explicit aim of finding as big a variety of protest perspectives as possible. Interviewees, whose voices became the raw materials for two radio documentaries and the beginnings of a small oral history collection in a specialist audio archive,3 included local and interstate protest organisers and participants, locals opposed to the protest, journalists, politicians and police.
These voices, predominantly but not exclusively European and female, revealed a fundamental fracture line in post-protest assessments of the event. Non-local voices, by and large, spoke about the protest in glowing terms, identifying it as marking, in its creativity, a radical departure from the male-dominated demand-focussed protests which had become a mainstream part of Australian democracy since the moratorium marches of the Vietnam War. Somewhat surprisingly, those presenting such a positive view came from opposite sides of the demonstration fence, from both police and protestors.4
Local voices, on the other hand, ranged from cautious praise and critical commentary5 to scathing scepticism that anyone should even consider the protest worthy of serious historical attention, given the blatant disrespect protesters had shown for local politics as evidenced by their outrageous public behaviour. 'Disgusting women'6 is still the most common response to mention of the protest in Alice Springs. Surprising, at least to me, was that amongst the local voices the seriously critical were not restricted to the conservative right but included feminists, antiPine Gap activists, outspoken Aboriginal women, and members of Alice's 'left'.7
While my research had answered some of my big-picture protest questions, it had, like many of the best and richest of investigative journies, exposed even more unanswered questions and still-to-beexplored, research terrain.
The Pine Gap Women's Peace Camp took place at 'three minutes to midnight' Cold War time, at the height of Russian-American squandering of global resources in their race to keep up with each other's production of 'weapons of civilian destruction'. This human chess game, referred to in military circles by the acronym MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) operated on that noble defence sentiment that 'if I die then I'm going to make sure you die too' and, for as long as both parties thought that a nuclear war was unwinnable, helped create world peace through a precarious balance of power based upon fear of not wanting to be the one to push the start button first. When President Reagan and his political compatriot Margaret Thatcher declared that a limited nuclear war was possible and decided to place Cruise and Pershing missiles on American military bases located on European soil, hundreds of thousands of the world's civilians took their fear-born outrage onto the streets demanding an end to the MADness.
Like the Cold War, the second wave of feminism was also in full swing. In Australia laws had finally been passed which promised equal pay for equal work, made sex discrimination illegal, and saw governments consider it their business to provide services for those women whose lives were disrupted by domestic violence and sex crimes. A sense of international female solidarity was nurtured by United Nations conferences celebrating the International Decade of Women. 'Women only' peace actions supportive of, but organisationally separate from the general global dissent sprang up around the world, a product of the gendered politics of the times. The most famous of these autonomous women's peace actions took place at Greenham Common in England, when a group of Welsh women made a permanent camp on public land within sight of one of the places America intended to deploy its new weaponry. As public support for Greenham grew and it became possible to believe that the might of the military industrial complex could indeed be stopped by people power, Greenham women began touring the world to garner strategic support for their cause.
It was in this context that 150 or so women, including Greenham's Australian ambassador and one new Alice Springs resident, attended a Women's Peace Symposium held in Canberra in April 1983 and decided to organise an Australian Greenham. Pine Gap was chosen because its location- slap bang in the middle of Australia- made it a practical choice for national action and because, unlike the other sites of Australian/ Ameri can military activity, it is located conveniently close to a reasonably sized town with all the comforts of modem civilisation. And then there was the enormous symbolic power to be derived from doing something in the heart of the nation.
Early November was chosen because Pershing missiles were due to be installed at Greenham on November 13, while November 11, marked both the anniversary of the fall of the Whitlam Government- believed in some left wing Australian political circles to have been orchestrated by the CIA- and the end of World War One, the war which had clearly failed to achieve its self-proclaimed promise of being 'the war to end all wars'. Concerns that November might be too soon to organise a national protest, or that it might be too hot in the desert, were overridden by an overwhelming desire for action and a sense of relief, amongst feminist participants in particular, that consensus, increasingly rare in a women's movement that was only just beginning to realise there was not one feminism but many feminisms, had been so easily reached.8
Decision made, symposium women returned to their individual communities to galvanise local support while Greenham's Ambassador hitched, trained, and bussed her way around the Australian mainland talking up the protest to anyone who cared to listen. Controversy, always a good publicist, barked at her heels.9
Seven weeks after the Canberra Symposium, forty women gathered in Alice Springs to attend to the practical details of protest organisation in a series of meetings which were expected to solidify the protest's political goals and personal organisational bonds. Instead, the July weekend was characterised by intensely deep and conflicting passions with words like anger, disillusionment, anxiety, distress, and despair dominating postweekend reflections. One Alice Springs local called it 'the absolute worst experience I have ever had with women in my life',10 while another pondered the possibility that 'the CIA actually did put something in the water to confuse us'.11 The practical and political complexities of organising a national protest in the middle of the Australian desert had become a reality.
On the practical side, local women pointed out that the distance of Pine Gap from the township of Alice Springs (19 km) and the choice of November, a month which could, as indeed it did, see daytime temperatures soar into the 40 degree zone, required the creation of an enormous camp infrastructure- toilets, water, food, shade and transport- for the hundreds of women expected to attend. The small Alice Springs women's peace group did not have the physical or temporal resources required to undertake such a mammoth task on its own.
On the political side, conflict arose from the very different priorities women attached to the multiple political agendas encompassed in the protest's deceptively simple name.
For those feminist participants who had experienced the personal empowerment which followed from women having to learn to do traditionally male tasks in an exclusively female environment and who were eager to attract more women to a waning feminist cause, the 'women only' nature of the action was not negotiable.
For those with peace, anti-nuclear and environmental agendas, 'women only' was the icing on the political cake, worth supporting because of its media-attracting novelty effect, but otherwise negotiable if it meant allowing men, behind the scenes, to solve some of the practicalities of protest organisation.
For those who lived near Russian military targets and who believed increasing and persistent media reports that nuclear war was imminent and so stood to lose their own and their families' lives- a group which included the Greenham Ambassador and some Alice Springs locals- the 'Pine Gap' in the protest was more important than anything else. The threat of death by nuclear bomb could be averted if the women's action really did succeed in closing the 'Space Base' down. For these participants the protest's date and place were practical, not symbolic and were the not-negotiable items on their participatory agenda.
For others, process was more important than purpose. Fuelled by the victory of Tasmania's 'No Dams' Campaign which had been pivotal in the Hawke Labour government's recent electoral win, this group of social change activists advocated non-hierarchical, consensus decisionmaking and non-violent direct action as the tried and true mechanisms for achieving social change. Their beliefs were fuelled by Ghandi's victory in ending British control of India, the defeat of racial segregation by the American Civil Rights movement and Hawke' s own advocacy of consensus style government. A national protest provided the perfect opportunity to educate a wider circle of Australians in these principles of participatory, as opposed to representative, democracy.
And, as is always the case in any popular activity, there were those protest participants for whom politics was less important than the opportunity the event provided to be part of a great Australian adventure. And of course, most women were motivated by a complex interplay of different parts of each of these participatory agendas.
The transformation of these differing political priorities into practical decision making action in the politically complex landscape of Alice Springs took discussion into the still-uncharted region of where women's and Aboriginal rights do, and don't, meet.
In a place where 25 per cent of the population is Aboriginal, most of that population still speaks a traditional language first and English as a second, third or even fourth tongue; they live on traditional lands and inhabit a world of traditional cultural practice and law, and their Indigenous rights in relation to European colonisation were legally recognised- despite Territorians' electoral conservatism- long before they were even considered eligible for recognition by the rest of Australia, a women's only action could not avoid this rocky race/gender terrain.
From the moment the only Alice Springs resident whose attendance at the Canberra Women's Peace Symposium had influenced the choice of protest location returned to Alice to announce the coming national action, local women opposed it.12 A number of local European women who had spent years working closely with the Aboriginal community as lawyers, interpreters, anthropologists and teachers, and were integral to the establishment of Alice's independent Aboriginal health, education, media, and land rights organisations, worried about the impact such a protest might have on the local Aboriginal community. As committed advocates of Indigenous rights, these women believed that any protest action had to obtain the consent of traditional land owners before it could take place, a complex process which could not be guaranteed to fit a pre-determined European time-line.13 While everyone who attended the July weekend in Alice agreed that any proposed protest should show support for Aboriginal rights, the exact nature of that support floundered in the practical detail.
In July, the locus of floundering centred on relationships between the proposed women's camp at Pine Gap and a newly established Indigenous women's camp protesting the construction of a dam at Werlatye-Therre, a women's sacred site close to Alice Springs. The suggestion by some enthusiastic interstate women that both camps be joined together was met with 'horror' by local European women who understood the Arrernte women as simply wanting money and blankets.14 It also angered a group of non- Aboriginal women from Brisbane who interpreted it as a classic example of Europeans taking over Aboriginal issues to promote their own cause and hence a continuation of mainstream colonial politics.15
Attempts to reach consensus became deeply emotionally painful when European women began accusing each other of racism. Many of the city women present, who observed local European women speaking out whilst local Aboriginal women remained silent, judged the local European-Aboriginal relationship as old-fashioned paternalistic colonialism. Local women's explanation that the Aboriginal women spoke little English, were shy of public speaking, and were telling the European women what to say and do behind the scenes- and in so doing exercising a cultural prerogative acquired as a result of their age obethence which, in the Arrernte world, was a sign of respect- went either unsaid, unheard or unbelieved.16
A series of Aboriginal-only meetings, in which interstate Englishspeaking Aboriginal women talked with local Arrernte speakers in the absence of European women fluent in both languages only added to the confusion when individual Aboriginal women reported contradictory meeting outcomes to their particular European friends.
In a story that speaks loudly of the communication breakdown which characterised the July weekend, one of the local Arrernte women emerged from an Aboriginal-only meeting convinced she was going to be given a Toyota- the ultimate symbol of wealth and prestige for Indigenous Centralians. The story of the Toyota promised and never given, 'proof that racism pervaded the organisation of the Pine Gap protest in the same way it pervades mainstream society, surfaced in the pages of 'Women for Survival' newsletters a few years later and still surfaces in protest conversations today despite statements from local European women present in July that if such a promise was made it wasn't made by them.17
As an Adelaide woman, reporting back to FANG (the Feminist AntiNuclear Group) immediately after the July meetings observed, the 'process in the group of 40 women' was 'very poor', 'Aboriginal/white relations were very unsatisfactory' and protest 'logistics were not dealt with'.18 The extant written record pertaining to the July meetings suggests that if Aboriginal/European relations were poor, intraEuropean relations were even worse.
At the end of the long weekend, organisers returned to their home states to discuss the implications for the proposed national peace action amongst themselves. Sydney WAAGV (Women's Action Against Global Violence) spearheaded by a group of house and religion-sharing feminist friends, continued to push for the November action while, in Alice, locals began formulating the ground rules for local engagement and considered postponing the action till March.
In Brisbane, a group of non-Indigenous women, whose politics had been heavily influenced by the recent anti-apartheid campaign at the Commonwealth Games, canvassed their concerns that the protest's support for Aboriginal rights was tokenistic in the pages of the women's press which refused to publish an Alice Springs reply. Condemning the protest as racist, the Brisbane women, along with some Alice Springs locals and Adelaide FANG, withdrew their support for the action.19
A small group of Alice women finally agreed to support the process on the basis that they would 'play a directing role throughout the action . . . receive financial and practical support from interstate' and that actions would be Organized around Australia to occur at the same time'.20 Their decision was heavily influenced by the pragmatic realisation that such was the national enthusiasm for the protest it was likely to go ahead with or without their support and their involvement was more likely to ensure due process with regard to local conditions and Aboriginal protocols than not being involved at all.21
The particular conflict regarding the nature of the relationship between the Aboriginal women's dam protest and the national women's peace protest was to remain forever unresolved when a death at Werlatye-Therre resulted in the permanent closure of the on-site Aboriginal women' protest camp.
The township of Alice Springs was officially notified that there would be a national women's peace protest in their backyard in August 1983, three months before its November 11 start date, giving local authorities sufficient time to erect street lights and a barbed wire boundary fence at the Space Base entrance and dismantle public toilets and a public playground located nearby. And three months was the time that it took local protest organisers, with support from a handful of interstate women who moved to town to help, to negotiate with local Aboriginal organisations, traditional land owners, Territory and Commonwealth Police, Pine Gap authorities, and the town's health inspector, to create the infrastructure which gave the camp a legal existence.
The protest's political goals were negotiated between the different women's peace groups in the nation's regional and state capitals. A dearth of protest correspondence, meeting minutes, and newsletter articles testify to the extraordinary efforts that organisers made to minimise political conflict through the establishment of small group, non-hierarchical, consensus-based decision making processes and the efforts city women made to honour the decisions of the local host community. In the absence of an organisational central command, however, it is not surprising that not all the decisions of the local group reached all protest participants' ears, leaving some locals with a sense, still extant, that the promise to respect local conditions was not, in the end, adequately kept.
It was this same small group decision-making structure which selfconsciously encouraged autonomous participation and humorous performance-based articulation of the protest's political agenda that lay at the core of the extraordinary creativity and community support that the protest generated.
Across the country women gathered together in groups, large and small, as strangers and friends, to organise protest transport, hold community awareness and fund-raising events, plan protest actions in local communities and create the spectacular visual architecture, utilising women's traditional skills in the textile arts, which would mark Pine Gap as one of the most colourful protests Australia has ever seen. As good ideas were born, the well-oiled gestetner machines and protestready communications networks of the women's, green, anti-nuclear, peace and union movements spread the word, aided by an intrigued mainstream press.
In Sydney, weekly workshops in non-violent direct action saw women learn to climb fences using techniques derived from human pyramid circus skills which would eventually lead to the arrest of 111 people all named Karen Silkwood, in a signature protest event reported around the globe. And it was Sydney women who gained the support of the maledominated Union Movement, through a series of strategically chosen speaking engagements which assuaged initial hostility at the gender exclusivity of the protest and resulted in all male ships' crews sending well-timed telegrams of support following the Silkwood arrests.22
In Canberra, protest organisers lobbied newly-elected female members of parliament for support. The result was unfettered access to nationwide electoral office staff, telex machines, and telephone lines, essential to the protesters' ability to communicate with the nation's media in that pre-computer age.
The uniting force in all these practical endeavours was the 'Double Your Numbers' banner which encouraged women to decorate sizespecified, political content un-specified, pieces of cloth depicting people from their communities who supported the protest action but who could not, because of its remote location, participate. The banner, sewn together in the days immediately prior to the protest's commencement, was a masterpiece of political community art which added half a kilometre's length to the protest's opening march, provided much needed shade and would, if the protest had actually managed to close Pine Gap down, be the Bayeux Tapestry of a truly independent Australian foreign policy.
These nationwide community-based activities came together in the second week of a hot desert November when somewhere between five and eight hundred women journeyed to central Australia by train, plane, bike, car and bus and met for the first time in the beautiful surrounds of a sandy river bed a few miles from the object of their political ire. Their first united task was to make decisions about the protest's opening ceremony. As in July, logistical discussion was derailed by political difference as theoretical support for Aboriginal rights foundered on the rocks of its practical application in Alice Springs.
This time, passionate debate was sparked by the announcement that some local Aboriginal men intended to participate in the opening ceremony, a possibility never canvassed in pre-protest literature which had proudly and loudly advertised the protest as women only. General agreement that the protest should show support for Aboriginal rights tripped over some women's passionate views that if the camp refused to allow traditional land owners the right to access their own lands simply because they were men, then the women's support for Aboriginal rights would be nothing more than an empty tokenistic gesture.
The need to go to bed and get the protest show on the road the next morning brought an end to formal debate. Unity returned as women woke to a cool dawn and worked hard to pack themselves into the trucks, buses and cars that would take them to the Space Base where a large contingent of the world's media was waiting. The beautifully choreographed opening ceremony, set on a flat desert plain whose endless vista was interrupted only by barbed wire and the distant line of an ancient mountain range, was as spectacularly beautiful as conditions were ugly, with 'soaring temperatures, dust, flies, and rationed water'23 forming the backdrop to the women's actions.
More disruptive than the flies, however, was the unscheduled appearance of a non-local Aboriginal man from Queensland who, with the support of a female Aboriginal activist from Sydney, emerged from hiding in the back of a truck to make a speech about land rights, breaching the women's consensus-based decision making processes and sparking even more intense debate in subsequent organisational meetings about the place of Aboriginal men in a women-only protest.
At each of the protest's daily organisational meetings as political theory was transformed into practical action, and as more and more seemingly minor practical actions provoked impassioned political debate, resolution of difference was disrupted by the need to attend to the logistics of another entertaining political performance in order to stop the media, the protest's small but immensely powerful authence from going away. Protest without authence has no meaning.
Dissent in discussion, unity in action became the cyclical rhythm of a protest which seemed to develop a character of its own independent of some participants' considerable, well-intentioned and often impassioned attempts to control its form.
Funny, tearful, entertaining, clever, and beautifully musical, the women's political performances, both at Pine Gap and as enacted at simultaneous political actions around the nation, were a moving feast of women's creative talents, justly deserving of the by and large positive media coverage they initially generated.
Some performances- such as the 'Boston Tea Party' and the 'The Whole World Is Watching' reading of hundreds of telegrams of global support were carefully planned and executed pieces of political theatre. Others- such as the 'Preventative Medicine' action which saw the front gate of the Space Base removed from its hinges- were the spontaneous products of group interaction, seen by some local critics as 'mob rule'.24 Other actions still, like the local Aboriginal women's performance of 'alwuye ... in the hope that order would be restored to the women's community at Pine Gap',25 following yet another difficult meeting, were gifts of the heart.
The bulk of protest action- internal debate, public performance, and media attention- took place in the first few days with most of those who participated in this 'sacred'26 democratic dance- interstate protestors, journalists and police- returning to their home communities by the end of the first week. By this time, media coverage had shifted from praise of the musically tuneful to debate about protest violence following allegations that police had used a thumb screw to forcibly obtain fingerprints in the arrests that followed.
The second week of the camp saw a much smaller number of protesters direct their performance-based political attentions towards the local community of Alice Springs. Street theatre at the town's newly constructed swimming pool, information stalls in the centre of the CBD, and an anti-nuclear film night at the Araluen Arts Centre did little, however, to appease the town's increasingly antagonistic attitude to the protesters' public behaviour which included nude swimming in a large, spectacularly beautiful temporary waterhole on the edge of town and open displays of same-sex affection from those 'women with women husbands'- as one vocal local Aboriginal anti-Pine Gap activist described the lesbian protesters.27
Two weeks after the protest had begun, seven months after the idea had captured the imagination of the nation, the Pine Gap Women's Peace Camp ended. Unlike the permanent camps established by women at American bases in other parts of the globe, Pine Gap was always going to be a temporary affair. The same conditions which generated mass interest, a protest in Australia's hot, arid, dusty, and fly-blown desert heart, also mitigated against physical permanency.
The intense debates about the relationship between the Aboriginal and women's movements sparked by the protest's location also disappeared from conversational view as protesters returned to their home communities where public and private, mainstream and alternative, spoken and written post-protest reflections focussed on the political priorities of the places in which these reflective conversations occurred rather than the national context which had inspired them and returned, in the absence of the requirement to make a practical decision in relation to camp function, to the realm of political theory.
The camp, which dominated the nation's television, radio, and newspaper headlines for the better part of two weeks, succeeded as organisers proudly declared in informing a largely ignorant Australian authence of the existence of American military bases on Australian soil. It 'Put Pine Gap on the map'. Like the physical existence of the camp itself, however, this was an ephemeral achievement.
Informal random surveys of Alice Springs visitors today reveal that few have heard of Pine Gap, whilst use of the word 'military' as a descriptor to the word 'town' in local conversation is more likely to be greeted by a slight raise in the respondent's eyebrows and rolling of eyes to indicate the speaker's madness, than by concurrence or acceptance of fact. During the Iraq war, public debate about Australia's contribution as one of the 'Nations of the Willing' focussed almost exclusively on troop numbers, ignoring our role as host to the communications base which, one assumes, made America's computer-directed invasion possible. A small local protest at the gates of the Space Base went virtually unreported despite the presence of an ABC cameraman. Pine Gap, it seemed was no longer on the map of Australia's political consciousness.
Equally ephemeral were post-protest claims that the women's action created new benchmarks in the political power of non-violent direct action. Media interest in the novelty of 'women only' protests was short lived, as the subsequent experience of the Women for Survival camp at Cockburn Sound in Western Australia showed. Though the Cockburn women performed magnificently, the media failed to show.28
Claims by protest organisers that Pine Gap contributed to the personal political empowerment of those who were new to protest as a political tool,29 and of women journalists who were allowed much greater access to protest stories than their male colleagues, are hard to measure given that Pine Gap was a product rather than the instigator of 1970s feminism.
Easier to prove but less often claimed is the unanticipated impact the protest had on the demographics of the local community which became its reluctant host- that of dramatically increasing the town's lesbian population. Today Alice Springs is, as ABS statistics appear to corroborate, the regional lesbian capital of the nation.30 What impact this has had on the social fabric of Alice Springs would be interesting to know.
Equally interesting and yet to be investigated areas of potential impact are the effects the protest had on the political power of the international women's peace movement in general and on the Greenham women's protest in particular; on Australian policing and the operations of the Australian Federal Police following Human Rights Commission investigations into police use of helicopters as weapons of intimidation; Northern Territory legislation relating to the use of force to obtain fingerprints; the internal operations of the Hawke Government resulting from Labor women parliamentarians' public support for a protest at a time when their government remained silent, and the impact of this on Hawke' s ultimate endorsement of Pine Gap as a joint rather than American-controlled defence facility; the peace, anti-nuclear and other protest movements resulting from the participation of women activists from those movements at Pine Gap; on local Aboriginal politics and, flowing from this, on national Aboriginal politics and on relationships between the Aboriginal and women's movements as articulated in the protest's immediate aftermath at National Women and Labour Conferences and, in the longer term, the failure of both movements to effectively engage in the gender/race debate- with who knows what consequences for the daily lives of those Aboriginal women who, like the author of this essay, find themselves living in a town which, as so many times before in its comparatively short existence, finds itself at the centre of national headlines, this time as the 'violence capital' of the nation.
Even if historical research reveals the protest to have been, like other demonstrations against the might of the military industrial complex 'nothing more than a flurry of publicity',31 it still deserves a more prominent place in the annals of Australian history than it currently receives. As the first and, as far as I am aware, only national gathering of Aboriginal and non- Aboriginal women about a political issue specific to neither gender nor race, the Pine Gap Women's Peace Camp was a milestone in Australian women's democratic coming of age. Whoever it was that organised the thousands of purple, white and green helium balloons- the colours of the first wave of women's suffrage- to be released during the protest's Opening Ceremony recognised this.
The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance of the Northern Territory Archives Service who provided financial assistance with travel and photocopying costs associated with the Pine Gap research through two Northern Territory History Grants in 2002 and 2003. She has produced two radio documentaries about the Pine Gap Women's Peace Camp, one for ABC Radio National and the other broadcast on local community radio station 8CCC.
1 Books about Greenham Common and American Women's Peace Camps occupy a couple of shelves of the Melbourne University Library. To date no one has written a book about Pine Gap. I would like to acknowledge Alison Bartlett for the observation that the camp is absent from Australia's academic journals. Since 1 submitted this article, Suellen Murray has published an article on the protest: Taking the Toys from the Boys/ Australian Feminist Studies 25: 63 (2010): 3-15.
2 Personal communication with participants in the 2002 Pine Gap protests, Alice Springs.
3 Oral History Unit of the Northern Territory Archives Service.
4 See, for example, Georgina Abrahams, Oral History Interview, author's collection; Darryl Manzie and Kate Vanderlin, Oral History Interviews, author's collection.
5 See for example Jane Lloyd, 'Politics at Pine Gap: Women, Aborigines and Peace/ Honours Thesis, Deakin University, 1988.
6 See, for example, Bob O'Keefe, Northern Territory Police Museum & Historical Society Inc. Oral History Project, Content Summary, ISIS, Northern Territory Archives Service.
7 See, for example, Leslie Savage, Oral History interview, author's collection.
8 Sara Dowse, 'Feminists move toward anti-nuclear stance/ The National Times June 10-16 1983.
9 Michelle Cook, Oral History Interview, Northern Territory Archives Service, Interview Number 2005-10.
10 Girls Own #14 March/April 1984.
11 J Green, 'Reflections on a Long Weekend/ Ditton Papers, Northern Territory Library Information Service, 1.
12 Elizabeth (Biff) Ward, Oral History Interview, Northern Territory Archives Service, Interview Number 2005-06, 1.
13 Pam Ditton, Oral History Interview, author's collection.
14 J Green, 'Reflections/ 1.
15 The Brisbane Women's Land Rights Solidarity Group, 'Responses to Women for Survival Campaign/ Chain Reaction Vol 36 Feb/March 1984, 12ff.
16 Jane Lloyd, 'Politics at Pine Gap/ 60ff, 'Darwin Communique- 25/7/83' Ditton Papers, Northern Territory Reference Library.
17 See for example Women for Survival Newsletter circa 1985, Jessie Street National Women's Library Box 0018 File 11.
18 Adelaide FANG Minutes 18/8/83, Ditton Papers, Northern Territory Reference Library.
19 Undated letter marked WPG01/7/11 in Adelaide Lesbian and Women's Liberation Archives, Women's Information Resource Centre, Adelaide.
20 Undated letter from 'Alice WAAGV addressed 'Dear Sisters', written shortly after 11/8/83 Ditton Papers, Northern Territory Reference Library.
21 Pam Ditton, Oral History Interview, author's collection.
22 Georgina Abraham, Oral History Interview, author's collection.
23 Michelle Marr, Daily Telegraph, 8/11/83.
24 June Tedewski, Oral History Interview, author's collection.
25 Jane Lloyd, 1988, 75-76.
26 Simon Balderston, Age, 11/11/83 quoting NT Police Media Liaison Officer.
27 Betty Pearce, Oral History Interview, author's collection.
28 Mandy Brett, Womanspeak, Feb-March 1985, Vol 9 No 2.
29 See, for example, Murray.
30 Statistical observations courtesy Gorman-Murray, Andrew Research Fellow in Human Geography, University of Wollongong, email correspondence with author, May 2009. See also Megg Kelham, 'Something of a Sisterhood/ http://www.geocities.com/queersofthedesert/sisterhood.html
31 Helen Caldicott, Glory Years, 353.
Megg Kelham is a freelance historian, educator and radio broadcaster. She has lived in Alice Springs for the past 16 years and worked as a teacher in an Aboriginal Medical Service, on a gold mine, and in a Correctional Centre as well as more traditional educational institutions. She curated 'Freedom, Fortitude and Flies7 in the Social History Museum at Tennant Creek, and is currently researching the history of two of Alice Springs7 four gaols for exhibitions.