If you travel down the Ross Road out of Stanley towards the former garrison settlement of Moody Brook there is a small rather unpromising looking track off to the right. In normal times this particular route would not garner much attention and is largely unused. Today, some 24 hours before the referendum is officially opened, the track has gained new significance. At approximately 2.30pm, a procession of 4×4 vehicles amassed just outside Stanley to travel collectively along the muddy track towards a local landmark known as the Camber.
The vehicles, on the instructions of the convoy organisers, were heavily decorated in stickers, posters and flags (hanging in some cases from large makeshift flag poles). Drivers and passengers had invested large amounts of time in customising their vehicles and designing an array of striking—and occasionally provocative—posters that were placed inside the windows of their 4x4s. Their destination was highly symbolic. The Camber, opposite but visible from the Stanley waterfront, is inscribed with the names of Royal Naval guard ships that have been stationed in Stanley over many decades. The names Barracuda, Beagle and Protector are etched in white stone into the heavily vegetated hillside.
With the careful choreography of a group of dedicated Falkland Islanders, the convoy of approximately 50 vehicles was arranged into a prominent pattern that spelt out the word YES. The word, with the referendum pending, is pregnant with meaning. For these men, women and children the referendum question deserves not only to be answered in the polling station but also to be performed in a highly visible and symbolic manner.
The weather was not their ally. Despite asking everyone to pray for fine conditions, the Falklands gods were not, today, performing. This made the careful positioning of the vehicles all the more challenging in these bleak times. The judicious use of white plastic sheeting, the modern equivalent of those stone memorials of the past, helped to plug the gaps created by the kaleidoscopic array of vehicles. Islanders are accustomed to being inventive and have proved in the past to be very capable of organising symbolic gestures, especially ones involving convoys and flags.
Timing was everything. This afternoon a large contingent of journalists have arrived via the Lan Chile air-link. They are here to cover the referendum itself but, at the same time, their arrival into Stanley (via their own convoy) presents an opportunity. As they leave the by-pass road that connects Stanley to Mount Pleasant Airbase the journalists will descend via Dairy Paddock Road into the heart of the town. Before reaching their hotels, their local drivers will pause by the side of the road and the journalists will be invited to look out over the water towards the Camber and the unmistakable ‘YES’.
For the journalists, many of whom may never have visited the Islands before, and who are still to grasp the intricacies of this community, the spectacle is intended to set the tone for their forthcoming coverage. The weather may be bleak but things are gearing up as we edge ever closer to the referendum days.
Alasdair Pinkerton & Klaus Dodds (Stanley, Falkland Islands)