Nth Queensland (Australia) and Anti-War sentiment

Kim Bullimore k_bullimore at hotmail.com
Fri Jan 24 20:26:18 MST 2003

I was  (pleasantly)  surprised to click on to The Australian today to find
an article on my home town entitled "Townsville Against PM on Troops". The
reason this came as a surprise is Townsville is home to  one of Australia's
largest  military deployment bases.  Larrack Barracks is the staging ground
of Australia's operational defence force.  Townsville is  also home to one
of Australia's major Airforce Bases as well.  It also acts occassionally as
a naval port (althought the main North Qld  naval base is located in Cairns
about 4 hours drive north)

Townsville and the North have often had the reputation of being a
"conservative redneck/racist state" (although for many years in the 40's/50s
it was a Communist Party strong hold.  For example,  Australia's only
communist to be elected to parliament - Fred Paterson was from Bowen a
couple of hours from Townsville).

Townsville is the largest regional city in North Queensland and is
completely economically dominated by the military - with the Army and
Airforce injecting hundreds of thousands of dollars into the local economy.
The Army's presence is also very "physical" and "visual" with thousands of
military personnell stationed in the city.  Townsville is  the staging base
for many of the joint Australian/American military exercises and as the
article points out, the town is quite use to troops being sent off to
"fight" somewhere (for example, the main Australian continigent of UN
peacekeepers to Somalia and East Timor were deployed from Townsville.  The
were also the main troops sent to deal with the various coups in Fiji).

So it was really great to read The Australian today, it really reinforced to
me just how broad the anti-war sentiment is across Australia.   According to
a poll in the local rag - The Townsville Bulletin  - 84% of people oppose
sending troops without UN sanctions (according to apoll in the Sydney
Morning Herald, the national figure was 62% without UN sanction, 30% say no
to war altoghter and only 6% were for war regardless).  The Townsville
figure is way above the national figure which is amazing.


Townsville against PM on troops
  By Leisa Scott,  January 25, 2003, Sydney Morning Herald

FOR more than 35 years, Townsville has been a garrison city, its Lavarack
Barracks spawned in the throes of the Vietnam War and its people used to the
   sight of their defence personnel heading off to danger zones.

But the decision to deploy troops without UN sanction in readiness for war
with   Iraq has hit a nerve, with many in the north Queensland city
believing it's too   unclear what the fight is about, too soon to be going
and too reminiscent of Australia going "all the way with LBJ" in Vietnam.

   Janie Page, a member of the Townsville-Thuringowa Peace Group, had been
fighting a losing battle trying to talk the conservative population around
to  sharing her view on Australia's treatment of asylum-seekers.

   She expected a similar hardline stance to sending off service people on
the  HMAS Kanimbla, about 40 of them from Townsville's 10 Force Support
Battalion. She did not expect to see an online poll in The Townsville
Bulletin  yesterday showing more than 84 per cent of respondents opposed
such action  without UN agreement.

  "I tended to think Townsville would be more rednecked about this as well,
so   I'm pleasantly surprised," Ms Page said.

The group's spokesman, Mal McLean, said he believed there would have been
stronger support for the deployment had it come with UN backing and feared
that without "credible evidence" of the need to strike Iraq, there could be
a  Vietnam-style backlash against the troops.

  Similar sentiments were expressed on The Strand, Townsville's foreshore
playground, with only one person in a straw poll of 12 unreservedly
supporting  the troops moving out. That person was Janice Brehaut, whose son
is part of a
Townsville-based unit in readiness to head for the Gulf.

"I'm right behind them," said Mrs Brehaut, adding that given Australia's
distance from the Gulf, the troops would be "a bit slow off the mark" if
they had  to wait for UN agreement.

"What's the UN and who's making the decisions there anyway, who's to say
they're not biased, looking after their countries' interests?"

But her walking partner, Patricia Kirkman, could not be more opposed – with
or  without UN sanction. "I wake up with nightmares about it," the survivor
of  Germany's WWII bombing blitz on Britain said.

  "Everybody has weapons of mass destruction but does that mean we have to
bomb the living daylights out of the Iraqi population?"

  David Kingsley, 67, who was involved in the Vietnam War, wanted UN support
   and was concerned John Howard's backing of George W. Bush was too similar
  to going all the way with LBJ.

  Len Gallagher, however, believed the troop deployment was a "necessary
evil" as a means of showing Saddam Hussein "we mean business". But he was
vehemently opposed to the Prime Minister approving military action without
UN agreement.

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