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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 No. 3. 15th March 1972

Unjustifiable Violence at Mount John

Unjustifiable Violence at Mount John

Court action against at least one Police officer is intended following last weekend's demonstration at Washdyke and Mt. John.

One demonstrator had his jaw fractured and lost two teeth when he was allegedly kicked in the face by a police dog handler. Several demonstrators suffered bites from police dogs and one was bitten on his cock, another in his stomach, and many others had their clothing ripped or suffered minor bites to the legs or arms.

In addition several demonstrators were hurt, some quite seriously when they jumped over bluffs on Mt. John to avoid being bitten by the dogs.

It began peacefully enough on Saturday, March 11, when about 300 demonstrators, mostly young and students gathered from all over New Zealand at the Post Office in Timaru, on the East Coast of the South Island, They marched from there along the waterfront to Caroline Bay, a distance of about one mile.

From Caroline Bay the demonstrators moved out of town to Washdyke, about 3 miles to the north the site of the logistic end supply base for the Mt. John installation. The building, with a sign in front of it describing it as part of the U.S. Aerospace Defence Command was thoroughly defended by Police and the demonstration stopped there only long enough to hear a short speech by U.S. base expert Owen Wilkes. Owen spoke of the PX store and U.S. Post Office, the one-day ration packs and the 12 U.S.A.F. officers who occupy the building. Ha linked it with the U.S. military bases at Harewood and Mt. John.

Organisation Lacking

The lack of organisation from the South Island end was beginning to show. A demonstration without focus and without audience in Timaru could have been dispensed with. The Washdyke demo lacked energy or organisation. The organisation got the demonstrators there, but once it got them there it did nothing with them.

On this wet note the demonstrators moved on to the real focus, the Baker-nunn Satellite Tracking Installation of the U.S.A.F. at Mt. John, by Lake Tekapo. Camp was set up on Canterbury University land by the Lake. Nothing was organised. A number of people climbed the mountain to have a look at the base, and came back with a glowing report of the numbers of cops organised in defence. Meanwhile mathematicians calculated that at least 80 police and their dogs must have gone to the base. Local hotels and the army base were full up A local spy reported that two helicopters had been flown in the day before.

As evening closed in an increasing number of people made their way up the sides of Mt. John, a 1-2 hour climb in the dark. In camp a meeting around a bonfire failed to produce any speakers. By about 9pm there were twenty demonstrators on the dark and windy top of the mountain. They were sitting on a small rocky knoll which descended in a a 6 foot bluff on one side, and fell away fairly gently towards the U.S. base, 100 yards away on the other. A police officer told the demonstrators not to move from there, and moved a number of his men, including two dog handlers with their dogs up towards them. Someone on the demonstrators side let off a skyrocket end a number of crackers. The inspecter told his dog-handlers "use your dog and disperse that crowd". Two ran up the hill towards the seated demonstrators. One was screaming "fuck off, fuck off" This cop reached the top and began kicking the seated demonstrators. A sixteen year old Christchurch high-school student was kicked full in the face, but no-one else was seriously hurt.

Dogs go Berserk

When the dogs and their handlers withdrew the injured demonstrator was taken by two others to the U.S. base where the base doctor put on some bandages. He was taken by police down to the demonstrators and dumped at the feet of Christchurch organiser, Keith Duffield who was told that he should take him to a dentist. The Doctor at Fairlie diagnosed a probable broken jaw, and the boy was later admitted to Christchurch hospital. Press Association reports apparently based on information released by the Police stated that the injury occured when the boy fell or was hit by a rock.

Protestors at Mount John

Protestors at Mount John

After the first police attack the number of demonstrators increased to about 100. On three further occasions over the next 2 hours orders were given for the dogs to be brought in. The demonstrators were never closer than 20 yards from the edge of the base. When they were commanded the dogs went berserk amonst the seated demonstrators and those who did not get out fast enough were bitten. Richard Suggate was near the front during one charge. As the police told the crowd to move back a dog took hold of his arm in its teeth. Suggate told the cop handling the dog that he could not move while the dog was biting him, and asked him to remove it. The dog handler gave him a violent push. He fell on his back, and the dog attacked him and bit his penis. The base doctor told him that if it was still bleeding on Monday he should see a doctor. Suggate was later treated at Fairlie. John Holtz of Dunedin was bitten in the leg. A demonstrator from Christchurch suffered minor facial injuries when he fell trying to escape. Another person was treated for a shattered knee cap.

No Justification

There was no justification for the repeated police assaults. The crowd of demonstrators were never even within throwing distance of the sensitive part of the base. Violence from the demonstrators side was limited to a few stones thrown at police floodlights. Verbal abuse and threats were heavy on both sides. At one stage the Inspector in charge said "you can use any language you like, I don't mind", yet later Dunedin demonstrator Brian O'Brien was arrested for "inciting violence", and summonses for obscene language have been issued against two others. Brian O'Brien had just been handed the megaphone by another demonstrator and had not had a chance to say anything when he was grabbed from the middle of the crowd. Presumably one of the cops on duty had been ordered to arrest the man with the megaphone, end did as he was told.

There was tension in the air on Sunday morning when the main "official" demonstrators set out to climb Mt. John on the American built road up the mountainside. As was typical the organisation had no plans for any action when the march reached the base. Demonstrators arriving found themselves on a hill overlooking the Baker-Nunn satellite tracking camera. They also found themselves being looked at by a photographer inside the camera dome which had been lifted a few inches to allow photos to be taken and observations to be made The partly hidden photographer soon closed the camera dome when rocks thrown by demonstrators threatened to enter the dome end damage the precious' military equipment inside.

Owen Wilkes announced that an invitation had been issued for 4 demonstrators to be shown round the base, but explained that the only part of the base with a solely military function, the communications room, would not be opened. The marchers voted that a delegation should not go unless they could see over the communications room. In the end a strictly unofficial delegation saw over the base.


While they were inside the people outside amused themselves by stoning the base windows, but the aim was bad and only 2 windows were broken. No stones were thrown at police or people. Police left demonstrators at least 10 yards from any part of the base and the demonstration broke up earlier than planned. As the marchers returned down to the road they found that some of the last to come up had conceived the idea of throwing rocks on the road as a measure of harmless but annoying sabotage. The idea took on fast. An observer at the top of the road could see dozens of groups of 10 or more demonstrators rolling end carrying enormous boulders onto the road, making it impossible to vehicular traffic. Others systematically dismantled fences and removed road signs. One group developed a new technique of stapling wire rope to tar seal. Patents have been applied for Basically it was an act of political vandalism, a piece of sabotage not difficult to re-pair, but at the same time an action symbollic of the demonstrators attitude to the U.S. Air Force base. It was also a sign of bitterness. Most of those also walking down the road had been injured themselves or had had close friends injured by police the night before. As individuals they were helpless before police violence. As a group they could make the Police, and even the U.S.A.F. itself, very temporarily helpless before their protest.

Protestors at Mount John