Sunday 31 October 2010

A Call to the Nation: Holding Out Light & Hope in the Darkness

ANZAC Peacemakers Lantern Vigil 
at the Australian War Memorial - 24 April 2011

In order to fully grasp what this is all about, I encourage you to first click on the "Australian Quaker Centre" link contained further below in my friend Graeme Dunstan's letter - or here - for background on what you are about to read.  Graeme originally trained as a cadet at Duntroon, but then, instead of becoming a war vet he became a veteran of the peace movement.  Today he is an inspired prophet with a strong history in community-building, including activism on behalf of the needs of war vets.  (*Read more of his own testimonial at the end of this column.) 

I originally met Graeme at that important conference - which by now I hope you have read about - held last April over the long Anzac weekend at Silver Wattle (the Australian Quaker Centre.)  We renewed our friendship over his special brand of tea spiked with raw ginger on Saturday afternoon, 23 October, sitting down together to "plot for peace" beside his "Happy Wheels" Peace Bus with the "Stand Fast" banner, parked down on the lawn at the Aboriginal Embassy in Canberra.
We talked together about the deeply spiritual nature of this whole effort and to develop these plans prayer-fully as we work together for peace and seek to broaden the base, especially among those in faith communities all across Australia and New Zealand.
You may have seen Graeme featured on the national news media on Tuesday last week when he led a visible presence in front of Parliament House, appealing for peace and withdrawal of Australia's involvement in Afghanistan just prior to the very first official debate ever there (only nine years late!) regarding the Afghanistan war.  The media covered his presentation quite favorably and respectfully, actually.  He felt pleased by the results but appalled by the overwhelming lack of support from Parliament for debate - knowing there are thousands of Australians - if not millions - opposed to what we are doing there. 
Graeme and also I share a common passion and deep concern for the mental health and spiritual needs of vets returning from these settings of conflict and conflagration.  Australia is not ready for the impending but delayed avalanche of PTSD manifesting in these veterans.  Huge numbers of suicides among returning vets are already becoming prevalent in America.  (We are working on establishing a better network of support for veterans among PTSD support groups, mental health providers who are specialized in treating it, the ADF, and chaplains and others in the pastoral care community.)

Right after our conversation on Saturday Graeme sent the communication below to the Director of the Australian War Memorial.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Graeme Dunstan 
Date: Sat, Oct 23, 2010 at 4:15 PM
Subject: Anzac Peacemakers Lantern Vigil


Major General Steve Gower AO
Director of the Australian War Memorial, Canberra

Dear Sir,

I write to you to give notice of my intention to organise for next Anzac Day eve, a lantern-lit vigil which will assemble at dusk and go through the night till the Dawn Service. We will use the occasion to recall the voices of service people who returned from war and said that war was not the answer.

It is my intention to build this event over the next few years, starting next Anzac Day eve in Canberra, and aim to have 10,000 lanterns arrayed across the nation on the eve of the centenary of the Galllipoli landing in 2015. 

Inspired to do this by my reading of What's Wrong with Anzac - the Militarisation of Australian History by Marilyn Lake, Henry Reynolds, et al and my meditations at the Australian Quaker Centre, Bungendore last Anzac Day weekend, i expect the event will have a lot of support from the many people concerned about the endless wars in which we now find ourselves engaged.  And in particular faith based peace activists and their families.

I understand that you are contributing to the planning for the national celebration of the Anzac centenary and I request that you pass on this notice of intent to the committee you are working with.

Please also point me to whoever i must talk to in order to integrate our Anzac Lantern Vigil into the overall Anzac Day celebrations in Canberra.

Yours respectfully,

Graeme Dunstan
(also an organiser for Stand Fast: Veterans and ex-service people against the Afghan and Iraq wars)


On Thu, Oct 28, 2010 at 4:08 PM, Steve Gower wrote:

Dear Mr Dunstan,

Thank you for your courtesy in letting me know your intentions for a lantern-lit vigil next ANZAC Day in Canberra.

Unfortunately I cannot grant permission to use the grounds of the Australian War Memorial in the manner you propose.  It would be inacceptable to the Council and the tens of thousands of Australians who come to participate in a ceremony that has long-standing tradition and resonance.

Could I suggest that your supporters, whose motives and wishes I have no difficulties with, gather in some alternate place where they can follow their beliefs with no possible conflict with those wishing to attend the ceremony here.  A location on the lake or perhaps Mt Ainslie or Black Mountain might be appropriate.  They could be stunning locations for your assembly.

I trust you are still enjoying Ballarat.

Yours sincerely,
Steve Gower

Graeme responded:

Date: Thu, Oct 28, 2010 at 5:48 PM
Subject: Re: Anzac Peacemakers Lantern Vigil
To: Steve Gower

Thanks for responding, Steve.

And thanks for your suggestion of possible sites for the event.

The War Memorial must, and will be, the focus of the Anzac Peacemaker Lantern event but not necessarily occupying it all night. 

We could for example approach the Memorial in a lantern parade and go onto another place for the talky talky.

I respectfully suggest that what was once acceptable at Anzac Days past is now being challenged and that a new accommodation will need to be found for the changing mood of veterans and Australian public generally when the acceptability of endless war, such as we have now in Afghanistan, is turned on its head.

The problem with Anzac commemoration has been the success of its war fostering liturgy. Now the tide is turning.

Better we keep talking and planning for inclusion rather than conflict. What we aim to do can only grow and prosper with each and every attempt to exclude the peace movement from Anzac.

Your reference to Ballarat signals that you are aware of the success and the grace of the Eureka Dawn Lantern Walks which i organised there 1998-2005. 

But i have never been resident in Ballarat. Grey nomad me, living in a van, moving from place to place organising events; currently it is a campaign of barrack gate Speak Outs against the Afghan War.

I will be back in Ballarat in November to organise something for the Eureka commemoration of 4 December. Might you be in town then? Might we meet?

Yours respectfully,

Graeme Dunstan


We are confident the negotiations will continue and the planning will progress!  The very rare coincidence this year of Anzac Day with Easter Sunday/Monday AND thus The Australian National Folk Festival in Canberra (which is always on Easter weekend) makes all this particularly auspicious.  It is anticipated that many people participating in the NFF will likely be supportive of our effort, so planning is underway to find the best time for the pre-vigil community-building event - making the lanterns - and for scheduling the actual Peacemakers Lantern Vigil Easter Sunday evening, whilst those other festivities are going on not so very far away!

If you are interested in supporting this effort - to help plan or participate, or both - please contact Graeme Dunstan at or me at:


*Quoting Graeme Dunstan regarding his background:  "As a boy i had always wanted to be a soldier and at my high school i ran the small cadet unit there for 4 years. From school i went to Royal Military College, Duntroon. At first i excelled but then became disillusioned and went from being top cadet to most punished cadet, resigned and went to university (first Melbourne Uni then UNSW) to study engineering.

Soon thereafter the Australian government announced conscription and, appalled at the lies, i directed all my organising talent to building campus resistance to the war (President of the Students Union, editor of the student paper and so on) and was very successful.

I am NOT a veteran of any war, rather a veteran of the peace movement. 

This Stand Fast work i do is karmic service for not paying attention to the needs of returned Viet vets when our successful anti war effort brought them home."

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