Friday, December 19, 2008

Report of Friends of Balibo visit, 13 December 2008

Damien Kingsbury and Grazyna Zajdow made the first visits as Friends of Balibo to Balibo on Saturday 13 December. The visit followed a visit to meet the program manager of the Timor-Leste NGO Belun, Luis Ximines, and future Belun Balibo worker Feliciano da Costa Araujo, who will take over from World Visions T-L in assisting coordination and development of the Balibo Flag House project.

Damien and Grazyna arrived in Balibo after a long drive from Dili through Ermera, Hatolia and a night in Maliana, before arriving at Balibo the following morning. For those who have not done this drive, it offers some of the most breath-taking scenery in an already breath-takingly beautiful country. The view from above Hatilia of the junctions of three rivers at the foot of the mountains is one of the worlds most magical.

Damien and Grazyna were met at the Balibo Flag House by the recently elected coordinator of the Balibo Flag House Committee of Management, Rogerio Goncalves, and a small welcoming party, where they discussed some options for local development.

In particular, the Flag House Committee is keen to receive technical and training support for its computer project. It has some computers in a dedicated room, but irregular electricity (there is a generator but it costs money to run) and no telephone/data connection to allow the internet. The committee would also like to receive training in the use of the computers and the internet. There has been discussion by the Balibo House Trust about the possibility of such support being provided by Andrew Maher of InfoXchange Australia, which has assisted with a similar project at the Friends of Baucau-supported community house in Baucau.

Rogerio also noted to Damien and Grazyna that while the Flag House had a small motorcycle workshop and some basic tools, its mechanics required training. The furniture making workshop associated with the Flag House, though, appeared to be working well, producing household furniture for local consumption. The nearby crรจche associated with the Flag House currently looks after 27 children.

The group also discussed the possibility of establishing a homestay in Balibo, to be able to offer accommodation to foreigners who might wish to visit Balibo and its sub-district. The house located in the old Portuguese fort was considered as a possible site, and this idea was later supported in principle by the Director of State Administration, Snr Abilio Caetano.

Formal government approval will need to be arranged, along with ensuring that the house is in a condition to have guests before this idea can progress. But there was general support for it, and the idea of a poussada in Balibo, even if smaller than that of Maubisse and Bauacau, would assist in attracting some of Timor-Lestes small but growing tourism trade. Further, not only would visitors be able to stay at Balibo, rather than at Maliana more than a half an hours drive away, but they would also be able to use Balibo as a base to explore the region, including the local villages such as Cova near the Indonesian border, and the old fort at Batu Gade on the coast.

The visit by Damien and Grazyna was a first, tentative step in making links to give substance to a Friendship arrangement with Balibo. But if the warmth and level of agreement on both sides was any indication, the Friends of Balibo may well have a promising future.

Balibo visit, 13 December 2008

First Friends of Balibo visit, 13 December 2008

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Friends of Balibo launched!

Following the long-standing successes of other Australian-East Timor friendship groups, the Friends of Balibo was launched at the offices of the Victorian Local Governance Association at 7pm on Wednesday 26 November 2008.

Because of the symbolic significance of Balibo to all Australians, the Friends of Balibo represents a 'community of interest', rather than a community based on a Local Government area as with other Friendship groups.

The Friends of Balibo project has the support of the Balibo House Trust, including the families of the Balibo Five journalists.

The meeting was well attended, including as inaugural members:

Rae Perry, VLGA

Shirley Sackleton, Balibo House Trust

Rob Hudson, MP, Balibo House Trust

John Milkins, Balibo House Trust

Liz Milkins

Greg Thomas, VLGA

Richard Brown, Friends of Aileu

Mario Soares, Friends of Aileu

Trish Woodcroft-Lee, Friends of Baucau

Jorge de Araujo

Kate Jeffery, East Timor Projects Coordinator

Fiona Nolan

Isaac Reichman, Taking Off Tours

Luna Reichman, Taking Off Tours

Paul Stewart, and members of Dili Allstars

Sofie Anselmi, Australian Volunteers International

Bruce Butler, Friends of Same

Valeria D'Agostino, VLGA

Darren Ray, A/CEO, VLGA

Barbara Bennett, VLGA

Damien Kingsbury, Deakin University

Grazyna Zajdow, Deakin University

Filomena Capela, International Affairs

Beth Davidson, VLGA

Joao Jong, Timor-Leste Consulate

Kevin Bailey, Timor-Leste Consul, Melbourne

Nuno Saldhnha, Radio Timor-Leste

Monica Ferrie, Department of Planning and Community Development

Ann Cunningham

Judy Bannerman

Ian L Gray

Jane Stewart

Anne Stewart

Peter Broadbent


Bernie Millane

Margaret Wilson

Chris Maddock

Esther Anderson

Gil Santos

The Agenda for the inaugural meeting was as follows:

Chair: Rob Hudson

1. Welcome: Damien Kingsbury

2. Apologies

3. Discussion on the purpose of Friends of Balibo: Damien outlined the gap in the Friendship groups, which had been created largely because of the existence of the Balibo Flag House as a community project.

John Milkens: It is ironic that Balibo did not have a Friendship group.

Paul Stewart: Asked if there were any links with WWII diggers that could be explored as further deepening the Australian connection. Paul also suggested contacting T-L and Portuguese authorities regarding the future of and access to the 'old fort', as well as making contact with Cuban doctors who had worked in or were working in Balibo.

Richard Brown: Friendships groups promote links between people, not large aid projects, mutual respect, collaboration and mutual learning, and local decision-making. They are community to community, person to person, and long-term in focus.

Mario Soares addressed the meeting on the status of the Friends of Alieu.

4. Relationship between the Friends of Balibo and the Balibo House Trust. It was agreed that the Friends of Balibo would work in support of and cooperation with the Balibo House Trust, noting overlap of Friendship and Trust members.

5. Determination of offices: Deferred to next meeting

6. Election of office holders:

Interim convener: Damien Kingsbury

Interim steering committee: Shirley Shackleton, John Milkins, Monice Ferrie, Rob Hudson, Peter Broadbent, Ann Cunningham, Anne Stewart, Nuno Saldanha.

7. Options for work in the Balibo sub-district: To be explored over coming visits by Damien Kingsbury and Grazyna Zajdow, and Anne Stewart.

Discussion of options for tourism, in particular visits to the Flag House and the fort, which is currently closed to the public.

Kevin Bailey: Development of homestays in Balibo?

Discussion of arranging an AVI volunteer to work in Balibo.

8. Links for Friends of Maliana, Bobonaro: To contact Friends of Maliana; Friends of Bobonaro represented.

Any other business: The meeting was adjourned with agreement that the steering committee would try to meet before Christmas.