Nine activists, two yachts, dozens of teddy bears and a message of goodwill. These are the ingredients that make up the Flotilla Of Hope, a journey of political protest and humanitarian support that begins this Saturday.

The Eureka and the One Off will sail 4000 miles to Nauru as a gesture of support to the asylum seekers who are currently incarcerated on the island republic. Among the crew is 69-year-old gay man Lance Gowland, who isn’t at all surprised to find himself on board (and not just because he owns and skippers the Eureka).

It’s just a continuation of what I’ve been doing all my life really: fighting for underprivileged people, Gowland said. I’ve always been involved in social movements. The most important one of my life was the gay rights movement.

Gowland joined the gay liberation protests in the 1970s filled with an anger carried over from his involvement in anti-Vietnam demonstrations. It was a time of unlikely coalitions: protests for gay liberation were bolstered by support from groups like the Builders Labourers Federation.

After the first Mardi Gras when the police attacked us we had demonstrations -¦ calling for the charges to be dropped against Mardi Gras people who were arrested, Gowland said. And most of those people were heterosexual, liberal-minded people who were opposed to discrimination of people on the basis of race, colour and creed.

That’s what I’ve always worked for. We should have coalitions with Aboriginals and other oppressed groups in society and work together not just for our own liberation but for everyone’s liberation.

Helping to organise the first four Mardi Gras was stressful, but involvement in the Flotilla of Hope has posed new types of challenges.

The group have been denied tourist visas, despite their proposed delivery of a generator for the island’s hospital and a non-offensive cargo of toys. The activists have also had to raise $20,000 for a trip with no guarantee of dockage.

If we’re not allowed to land we blame Howard, Gowland said. Goddamn, we’re just humanitarian people, we’re not going there to start a revolution. We’re just going there to support these poor people and take toys to the children.

Currently there are 264 refugees held on Nauru, and 93 of them are children. Gowland said the refugees had been contacted through surreptitious means to ask that there be no violent protest on the Flotilla’s arrival.

Because they’re sort of half-way around the world people tend to forget about them, Gowland said.

There’s an election coming up and it’s time we pressure the government to do something about it. It’s a blight on Australia and it’s shameful.

The Flotilla of Hope departs from the old water police base at Pyrmont Point, Sydney Harbour this Saturday 15 May. The event begins at noon, with speeches by Lord Mayor Clover Moore and Greens NSW Senator Kerry Nettle commencing at 1pm. Visit www.flotilla2004.com.

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