Thursday, December 17, 2009

Paulie at the Flag House: Koori spirit

Koori spirit in Balibo

By Paul Stewart.

The Koori ``spirit’’ has made it all the way to the small East Timorese village of ``BALIBO.’’

At the house where five journalists were murdered by invading Indonesian soldiers in 1975 it gave my great satisfaction recently to place one of Aunty Jan Brown’s Koori `Sprits Of The Dreaming’, above the photo of my brother Tony, 21, the youngest of all the journalists killed.

Aunty Jan, a proud Gumbaynggirr woman, is a true and close friend of my family and her unique hand painted ``Spirits’’ are classic works of art.

She is also a member of the Aboriginal Catholic Social Service (ACSS) who run a Community Centre for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people who live in Western Sydney including the Penrith, Mt Druitt, St Marys and Blacktown areas.
This fantastic bunch of women looks after many people in counseling/healing and support groups or art and craft activities.
``We are inspired by the actions of Mary Mackillop and the way she just helped everyone. She was also a firm believer in all children learning to read and write which we want young Koori kids to do.’’
A few years back I was real sick in hospital waiting for a new liver and was the prayers and messages of support from the women at the ACSS got me through some real tough times.
Readers of the Koori Mail may now be familiar with the incident at ``BALIBO’’ in East Timor, as this year a major film about the event starring Hollywood star Anthony La Paglia was released too much acclaim.
Along with Samson & Delilah it was one of the big winners at the recent Australian Film Institute awards.

I was lucky enough to get a new liver and came out of a hospital to work on the soundtrack for the movie.

A coupe of months back we actually won the 2010 ARIA award for ``Best Soundtrack’’ album where I met leading indigenous singer songwriter and ex-Pearl fisherman Seaman Dan from Broome, who won the award for ``Best World Music’’ album.

This year I got to return to East Timor to deliver some donated guitars but I was determined to get one of Aunty Jan’s Spirits Of The Dreaming up to the BALIBO House which was purchased by the Victorian Government several years ago and set up as a community centre.

While in the capital of East Timor Dili, I met a group of blind musicians who were ``blown away’’ and greatly impressed and encouraged when I played them some of the music of indigenous superstar Gurrumul Yunupingu

What many Kooris may not know is that many East Timorese people consider indigenous Australians their ``cousins.’’

Their elders up there tell their classic song-line story of a huge crocodile that lived in the Top End of Australia.

One day it went for a swim and where it put its head up above the water, became the island of East Timor.

I have been involved with helping the East Timorese in their fight for independence for 25 years now and have produced four compilation charity albums for the mob up there.

Generous and loving indigenous musicians to donate songs for East Timorese young mums, war widows, orphans and students include Archie Roach, Yothu Yindi, Kerri Anne Cox, The Briscoe Sisters, Christine Anu, Black Velvet and Liz Cavanagh.

Many of these albums featured artwork designed by leading Koori artist Donna Brown, also a proud Gumbaynggirr girl.

Big thanks also to the crew at 3 KND (Kool And Deadly) in Melbourne, for all the airplay as well and to Aunty Jan for her DEADLY piece of art

Monday, December 7, 2009

Indonesia’s heavy-handed censorship backfires

In Indonesian political culture, there was a view that inconvenient or challenging truths should be suppressed in order to retain harmony. This view had largely disappeared from Indonesian political life in the 1950s, but was re-invented by former President Suharto in order to remove challenges to his personalised authoritarian rule between the mid-1960s and the end of the 1990s.

One consequent of this was that Indonesia has refused to accept culpability for the deaths of almost 200,000 people in East Timor between 1975 and 1999. So too Indonesia has steadfastly denied responsibility for the deaths of five Australian based journalists at Balibo in October 1975, maintaining the fiction that they were killed in a cross-fire.

Now, a former Indonesian special forces officer has confirmed what we have known from a range of sources for decades, that the ‘Balibo Five’, as they have become known, were murdered by Indonesian troops to cover up the first moments of Indonesia’s invasion of that tiny territory.

This stark admission by a former Indonesian army officer, who was at the scene of the crime, that the Balibo Five were murdered by Indonesian troops because they were reporting on an illegal invasion follows the banning and then illegal screening of the Australian movie ‘Balibo’ in Jakarta last week.

‘Balibo’ is a dramatised account of the murder of the Balibo Five, and the search for the truth of their murder by another Australian journalist, Roger East, who was himself murdered by Indonesian troops at Dili’s wharf almost two months later.

The Jakarta Foreign Correspondents’ Club intended to screen the movie last week, but was stopped by Indonesia’s censorship board, at the behest of the Indonesian military. An army spokesman has since said that the movie should not be screened because it would damage Indonesia’s international standing and harm Australia-Indonesia relations.

The army spokesman also said that the search for truth over the murder of the Balibo Five should be based on a ‘consensus’ on those events. This idea of ‘consensus’ also harks back to the Suharto era, in which a confluence of views, usually dominated by the most powerful source – the army – displaced verifiable truth.

Despite the army’s attempt to have ‘Balibo’ banned, an Indonesian sub-titled version was privately screened last Thursday night, and has since been screened to audiences of hundreds in Jakarta, including Indonesian journalists, pro-democracy and human rights activists and others . DVDs of the movie will hit Jakarta’s streets soon.

As Indonesia democratises, elements of its former authoritarian rule continue to resurface. As the progenitor for Indonesia’s descent into authoritarian militaristic rule the army has, unsurprisingly, been the slowest and most reluctant institution to reform. Yet the tide of openness that necessarily accompanies democratisation has continued to rise. That a retired Indonesian army officer has finally confirmed what we already knew is surprising only because he has broken ranks on the issue.

Indonesia’s has a profoundly troubled past, one of the smaller parts of which was the murder of the Balibo Five which has become, for outsiders at least, emblematic of the much greater horror visited upon the people of East Timor. There is also the murder of perhaps a half a million or more suspected communists and sympathisers in the mid-1960s, the gross human rights abuses and repression employed in West Papua, Aceh and upon trade unionists, activists and even many ordinary Indonesian citizens who lived under the Suharto regime.

The old political method of suppressing inconvenient truths continues to hold sway in Jakarta, but it is under real challenge. It may be expecting too much to hope for accountability for those responsible for the murder of the Balibo Five, much less the hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, who have been murdered, tortured or imprisoned in Indonesia.

But it is encouraging that a film that was intended to open a door to the gross human rights violations in East Timor, through the device of focusing on the deaths of six newsmen, has had the type of impact that was hoped for it. And it is encouraging that the heavy-handed attempt to censor the film has had the opposite effect of burying the truth, but rather helping reveal it.

Monday, October 19, 2009

New developments at Balibo

Damien and Rae Kingsbury, and Victorian parliamentarian Judith Graley and her husband Stephen, visited Balibo on 6 October to progress plans for the further development of the Flag House and environs. Judith was in Timor-Leste on a scoping mission to assess the options for a parliamentary delegation visiting Timor-Leste in 2010, to begin an on-going dialogue with the parliement of Timor-Leste.

More locally, on behalf of the Balibo House Trust, Damien signed an MOU with the Flag House committee of management convenor, Rogerio Goncalves, and the following day with the Dili-based NGO Belun, committing all three parties to work together for the future of Balibo around the Flag House project. Belun has placed a worker at the Flag House, who will assist the committee of management with planning and seeking sources of funding. The Trust has also committed to providing capital for the development of varous projects associated with the Flag House.

In recent developments, new computers bought by the Trust have been installed by InfoTimor, and discussions are underway concerning the establishment of a satellite up-link to provide internet access to the Flag House. A new, larger generator was also recently installed, providing adequate reliable power for all the Flag House needs.

Damien Kingsbury took to the Flag House a framed poster from the movie 'Balibo' which had been signed by the cast and director. This is intended to hang above the pictures of the 'Balibo Five' and Roger East in the Flag House front room. InfoTimor has said it will soon take a copy of the movie 'Balibo', dubbed in Tetum, and hold a public screening in the town.

The Trust was also recently approached by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) about establishing an 'Uma Media' (Media House) at the Flag House. This move was supported by the Trust and has received in-principle support from the management committee. ICFJ representative Emmanuel Braz will hold further discussions about the establishment of the Uma Media at the Flag House, including a news and information gathering and distribution network and a small radio station. If the Uma media project goes ahead, the ICFJ will employ a local person to be a full-time worker at the Flag House.

Similar Uma Media have been established elsewhere in Timor-Leste and the proposal looks to be able to add yet another important and exciting element to the work that is going on in conjunction with the Flag House.

Funds were recently raised by a melbourne Rotary branch to help with the refurbishment of the kindergarten, which continues to be in need of repair, especially the fencing and playground. It is hoped work on this project can commence early in 2010.

Discussions also continue with the Ministry of State Administration about the refurbishment of the house in the old Portugese fort for visitors. People coming to Balibo for training from outlying villages often require a place to stay, and it is hoped that the 'Fort House' will be able to provide such accommodation, as well as for visitors and tourists coming from Dili and further afield. There is an in-principle agreement to develop the Fort House, with some technical details now being worked through.

At one level, progress on these projects seems too slow, perhaps more reflecting the impatience and excitement of the those involved. But after something of a lull in developing new projects at the Flag House, there is again significant movement, with 2010 holding the prospect of new, large developments for the Balibo community.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Visit to Balibo June 2009

REPORT ON TRIP TO TIMOR LESTE - JUNE 2009 – Rob Hudson, Chairman, Balibo House Trust, Member Friends of Balibo

I travelled to Timor Leste, (East Timor) for six days from the 24th June to 4th July, 2009 as Chair of the Balibo House Trust. The purpose of the visit was to meet with Trust partners World Vision Timor Leste, Belun and the Balibo House Community Learning Centre Community Management Committee to develop a forward plan and funding agreements for the Balibo CLC for the next three years.

I was accompanied on the trip by Damien Kingsbury, Trust Board Member and Convenor of the Friends of Balibo Network and Rae Kingsbury, Convenor, Australian Timor-Leste Friendship Network.



We first met with World Vision Timor-Leste (WVTL) National Director Stephen Harries, and ADP Program Officer, Try Laksano Harysantoso.

For the last six years the Balibo House Trust has formed a partnership for the delivery of programs and services at the Balibo CLC with World Vision Australia and World Vision Timor-Leste. In June 2008, WVLT indicated that it would be ending its association with the Balibo CLC and refocussing its efforts on maternal and child health, nutrition, water, sanitation and agricultural programs.

At that time, WVTL agreed that it would provide transitional funding to support the Balibo CLC until September 2009 and would facilitate a transition to a new partnership between Belun, the local Community Management Committee and the Trust. The main purpose of the meeting was to finalise these transitional arrangements.

There was a wide ranging discussion about the activities of the Balibo CLC.

Try Laksano made the following observations:

 The Balibo CMC has rented two rooms in the CLC to Belun. One is used by Belun as an office and the other is used by the worker, Serpa dos Santos, to sleep in during the week. On the weekends he returns home to Maliana.

 There is still a need to build the capacity of the Balibo CLC Community Management Committee in financial matters. One of the barriers is that a number of the CMC are civil servants and therefore do not have a lot of spare time to devote to the CLC.

 There is the potential for the Balibo CLC to look at income generation opportunities in areas such as providing facilities for local events and parties. This could include the hire of chairs, crockery, kitchen utensils, marquees and a generator.

 The young people’s music band that operates from the house and plays at parties needs an electronic keyboard to complement the guitars provided by Paul Stewart.

 The furniture workshop and the motor mechanics workshop are going well and have made a profit of US$500 since October 2008. There is the potential to expand this source of income generation. There are five regular participants in the furniture making workshop and seven in mechanics.

 The sewing machines are being taken out from the Balibo CLC and sewing classes are being provided in the outlying villages.

 There is a need for a permanent house toilet.

 The water pump for the well doesn’t work and needs to be replaced.

 The library needs some new books for children. One possible source could be CARE International (near the Biro Pite Health Clinic in Dili), which has a monthly magazine for children.

 There is a strong local desire for English classes, but appropriate English teachers willing to come to Balibo are hard to find.

 Opportunities to sell the Balibo movie DVD from the house should be explored following the general release of the movie. The Trust should also look at an audio visual display in the memorial section of the house and the production of a local tourist brochure.

 There is a need for a new, more powerful diesel generator which would be cheaper to run. For 8 hours a day, the current generator costs about US$450 per month to run.

The main outcomes from the meeting were:

 WVTL agreed to purchase a new, more powerful generator for the Balibo CLC from the available transitional funds.

 WVTL agreed that even though the Balibo CLC Budget was underspent, all the remaining funds would be applied to Balibo CLC programs and activities.


We also met with Luis Ximenes, Director, Rebecca Engel, Principal Adviser, Andrew Marriott, Program Manager and Dominica, Finance Administrator, at Belun.

Belun specialises in building the capacity of civil society in areas such as organisation, finance, administration and leadership.

The main purpose of the meeting was to discuss how the transitional arrangements from World Vision East Timor to Belun were proceeding, future funding for the Balibo CLC and a possible Memorandum of Understanding, (see Appendix B), between Belun and the Balibo House Trust.

At the meeting we were informed that:

 The current operational Budget of the Balibo CLC is US$21, 911. Belun contributes 50% of this funding and WVTL 50%. WVTL also currently provides a car and pays for a security guard at the House.

 The four volunteer Program Managers at the Balibo CLC receive some payment from Belun, (5% of income generation activities). The Trainers are paid US$80 per month.

 Computer training is provided free for 3 months. After this there is a small charge.

 The worker based at the Balibo CLC, Serpa Dos Santos, spends around 75% of his time on Community Learning Centre activities. The remainder of the time he works on land title issues and conflict resolution as part of the Early Warning and Response (EWAR) conflict resolution program run by Belun.

 Belun cancels training for the Balibo CMC if Committee Members are unable to attend. A number of the civil servants on the Committee often get caught up on government business.

 It is not yet clear what the programmatic sources of funds for the Balibo CLC from the Government of Timor-Leste could be. Possibilities in the future could be the Civil Society Program from the Ministry of Justice or the Decentralisation Program. However, this will not be rolled out until well after the local government elections and new local administration is established. Another possible source of funds could be AusAID.

 The crèche, including its roof, needs refurbishment. Belun tried to obtain funding from UNIMET for this, but was referred back to the Department of Education. At this point the proposal has not been funded.

A draft of the proposed MOU between Belun and the Balibo House Trust was subsequently discussed with Rebecca Engel and Luis Ximenes, (see Appendix 1).


We held a meeting with Mr Abelio Caetano, Director of State Administration in the Government of Timor-Leste.

The main purpose of the meeting was to discuss the possibility of utilising former administrative buildings or land at or near the old Portuguese fort in Balibo to provide visitor accommodation.

The Director indicated he was supportive of this proposal, as did the Minister for State Administration, Archangelo Leite, in a subsequent discussion.
A subsequent meeting was held with Mr Domingos, the District Administrator for Bobonaro, and Mr Paulo Soares, the Sub-District Administrator for Balibo, on the visit to the Balibo CLC.

The Sub District Administrator revealed that the former administration buildings at the fort were occupied by sub-district administration workers, although it was not clear on what basis.

However, land on which government buildings had previously stood below the fort as well as land with a burnt out building and on the opposite hill adjacent to the square were identified as suitable for constructing new visitor accommodation.

Local Council Elections – December 2009

Following Local Council election in November, there will be two elected leaders in the Bobonaro District; the Mayor and the President of the Local Assembly, who will be elected by the Councillors. The elected Mayor in effect replaces the District Administrator. Councillors themselves will be elected from a list provided by the competing political parties at the elections.

It is anticipated that Local Councils will have three sources of income: per capita funding, tied grants and council rates. Other sources will include the funding that is provided by Friendship Groups.

Local government will provide:

 basic health services such as community health, immunisation and child health, but not medical clinics
 Water and sanitation
 Core administrative functions

Education services and programs will continue to be delivered by the government of Timor-Leste.


A meeting was also held with the Chair of the Balibo CLC Community Management Committee, (CMC), Rogerio Gonscalves, some CMC members and the local Belun worker, Serpa Dos Santos.

The main purpose of the meeting was to discuss the current program of activities at the Balibo CLC, discuss the next three year Strategic Plan and inspect the CLC and possible sites for visitor accommodation in Balibo.

At the meeting we were informed that:

 The current number of regular participants in Balibo CLC programs is: computer training-24; carpentry and furniture making-5; motor mechanics-7; sewing classes-10; the crèche- 40 to 50. (Since the visit, 8 new computers with new software, training, maintenance and support have been installed by Info East Timor, funded by the Trust).

 In relation to the crèche, there is a need to provide toys and other educational materials for the children and to refurbish the building and playground. At the moment there are some problems with adjacent building works that are spilling over into the crèche playground.

 The CMC would be interested in the proposed visitor accommodation at Balibo. The CMC indicated that it could also provide overnight accommodation for outlying villagers who come some distance to the CLC for training and cannot return home in one day.

 The Balibo CMC is elected for two years until October 2010. The CMC were concerned that if they prepared a 3 year Strategic Plan for the CLC they may not be around to implement it after new elections in October 2010. Nevertheless, the CMC agreed to prepare such a Plan outlining their priorities in conjunction with Belun.

 The CMC were interested in becoming incorporated as an NGO in 2010.


A meeting was held with Glenda Laslett, the AVI Country Manager for Timor Leste in Dili, to talk about the possibility of basing an AVI volunteer at the Balibo CLC.

There are currently 17 AVI volunteers in Timor-Leste. Each volunteer costs AVI around $25,000 per annum. AVI provides each volunteer with a living allowance and an accommodation allowance.

Each volunteer also needs infrastructure support, including transportation, a secure place to live and desirably, email capacity.

Glenda stressed that an AVI volunteer in Balibo would need to be self sufficient, used to working with minimal contact with other westerners in remote locations. Training and organisational support skills are also necessary.

Glenda was replaced by Martina Shanahan on July 6th 2009. Martina has previously worked in Southern Sudan, Uganda, Sri Lanka and conducted civil society work with the support of Irish Aid.


To be sustainable in the long term, the Balibo CLC needs four key ingredients:

1. Community buy–in and ownership by local people in the Balibo sub-district.

2. A plan with a vision and a strategy that is jointly shared by the Balibo House Trust, the Community Management Committee and Belun.

3. An external focus on the needs of the village of Balibo and the surrounding sub-district.

4. A sustainable organisational and funding model.


That the Balibo House Trust:

1. Finalise the draft Memorandum of Understanding with its partners, Belun and the Balibo CLC Community Management Committee.

2. Work with Belun and the Community Management Committee to finalise a Strategic Plan for the Balibo CLC by December 2009.

3. Work with its partners to source funds for the refurbishment of the crèche building and playground as soon as possible.

4. Work its partners and the governments of Timor Leste and Victoria to establish visitor accommodation at Balibo.

5. Negotiate with Australian Volunteers International for the placement of a volunteer with the Balibo CMC.




The Balibo Community Management Committee (CMC), Belun and the Balibo House Trust agree to work in partnership with the Balibo community for the next four years up to October 2013.

The Balibo CMC, Belun and the Balibo House Trust will jointly work to develop a Strategic Plan for the development of the Balibo Community Learning Centre over the next four years.

Work on the Plan will be initiated by the Balibo CMC in partnership with Belun in August 2009.

Final agreement on the Plan will be reached between all three parties by December 2009.

Each party to this agreement makes the following commitments:


The Balibo House Trust is committed to work with the people of the Balibo Sub-District in accordance with the Trust’s purposes, (see Appendix A).

The Balibo House Trust is committed to provide all funding necessary for the maintenance and refurbishment of the Balibo CLC and its associated grounds and buildings.

The Balibo House Trust will provide funding for new capital equipment and buildings jointly agreed between the Trust, the Balibo CMC and Belun.

The Balibo House Trust will work with the Department of State Administration in Timor Leste, the Balibo CMC and Belun to build an accommodation facility that could assist in providing accommodation for visiting CLC participants from the surrounding Balibo Sub District, the Belun staff member and other visitors to the area.

The Balibo Houst Trust will seek interim support for Belun and the CMC during the strategic planning phase after which any recurrent costs will need to be generated by Belun with the support of Balibo House Trust.


The Balibo CMC, with the support of Belun will engage with and consult the villages of the Balibo Sub-District to ascertain their priorities for the work of the Community Learning Centre and will wherever feasible incorporate them into the four year Strategic Plan.

The Balibo Management Committee will adjust and/or revise its organisational procedures and by-laws necessary for good governance of the Balibo CLC and as a result of its community consultation process.

The Balibo CMC will maintain the Community Learning Centre in good order and provide a security guard to protect the assets of the CLC at night.

The Balibo CMC will make every effort to ensure that the CLC is opened during the day for visiting tourists.

The Balibo CMC will provide an office in the CLC for the use of Belun at an agreed yearly rental.

The Balibo CMC will explore further opportunities for income generation through the activities of the Balibo CLC.

The Balibo CMC will conduct elections for positions on the Management Committee every two years in accordance with its organisational procedures and by-laws.


Belun is committed to work with the people of the Balibo Sub-District in accordance with Belen’s strategic plan for the Conflict Early Warning and Response Program in the District, (see attachment).

Belun, with the support of the Balibo House Trust, will facilitate a strategic planning process with the CMC and in consultation with the Balibo Sub-District community.

Belun will seek to secure and provide funding to meet the recurrent costs of the Balibo CLC in accordance with the agreed Strategic Plan and Budget.

The funding will be at least equivalent to the current Budget for the Balibo CLC for the year September 2008 to September 2009.

Belun will provide at least one part-time staff member to support the work of the Balibo CLC and help facilitate decision-making and the implementation of decisions by the Balibo CMC.

Belun will facilitate organizational development workshops/ training opportunities for the CMC and Learning Centre program staff on finance, administration, leadership and conflict prevention and resolution.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Another test for Australia-Indonesia relations

The Australian Federal Police announcement that it will investigate charges of war crimes against perpetrators of the murder of five Australian based journalists in the East Timorese town of Balibo in 1975 has put a legal cat among the diplomatic pigeons. Already senior Indonesian politicians have objected, saying they will not cooperate with such an investigation, while the Australian government and department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is going into a now well practiced mode of damage control.

The Australian government, including PM Rudd and Foreign Minister Smith, have predictably – and correctly - said that the matter is a judicial one that does not involve political intervention. Indonesia’s President Yudhoyono is likely to say much the same, although a government spokesman has already reacted with some hostility.

The questions now are whether AFP members will need to travel to Indonesia to collect evidence and be allowed to do so, whether charges will ultimately be laid, and whether Indonesian courts will uphold the provisions of an extradition treaty to allow those who may be charged to be tried in Australia.

One objection to the investigation, from Indonesia as well as from some pundits in Australia, is that the crime was committed too long ago and should not now be allowed to disrupt otherwise good bilateral relations. Some also note that the Indonesia of 2009 is a much improved place over that of 1975.

Indonesia is indeed democratising, and paying much greater respect to the rule of law. It is also true that Indonesia’s statute of limitations for conventional criminal charges has been exceeded. However, under international war crimes provisions, there is no statute of limitations; witness the pursuit of war criminals decades after the end of World War II, and from Pol Pot’s Cambodia.

Further, for Indonesia’s democracy to be more than procedural, impunity from rule of law must cease. Indonesia has a long history of unresolved gross human rights violations, and cooperating with the AFP investigation would be one important step in ending that culture of impunity.

However, many in Indonesia remain untrusting of Australia’s intentions, do not accept the separation of powers between government and judicial processes, and are in many cases still mired in authoritarian thinking. The reality is that if charges are finally laid – and this is by no means a certainty – then extradition from Indonesia will still face a large and probably insurmountable hurdle.

In the meantime, the roller-coaster that is the Australia-Indonesia bilateral relationship is again plummeting, and its much-touted ‘maturity’, and that of the respective political leaders, will be tested on the way down.

Associate Professor Damien Kingsbury is from the School of International and
Political Studies at Deakin University, and is a member of the Balibo House Trust

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Movie 'Bablibo' to be dubbed in Tetum

``The Stewart family are thrilled that in the new East Timorese dubbed version of Robert Connelly's ``BALIBO'' movie the voice of our brother and son Tony Stewart will be played by our long time East Timorese friend and founder of The Dili Allstars, Gil Santos.

The voice of East Timor's then young Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta will be played by East Timorese actor Alex Tilman who starred in the Australian/Canadian tele-movie ``Answered By Fire'' several years ago.

Producer John Maynard said he would leave for East Timor soon with the new version of the movie proudly boasting that it featured 100 per cent Tetun dialogue apart from a few words in English spoken by Gough Whitlam.

``The East Timorese Government have purchased a 20 foot screen and a couple of large sound speakers and we will screen the movie in seven different locations. In some areas where we show the film it will be the first time ever the locals will have seen a big movie so it should be a real thrill for them,'' he said recently.

``It has also been announced that the film will be screened at this year's Toronto Film Festival.''

Producer Maynard, actor Damon Gameau and Dili Allstar Paul Stewart will all attend a charity screening of the movie at
Sydney's Cremorne Orpheum on Monday August 31.

Money raised on the night wll go to the Alma Nuns who look after disabled children in East Timor.

Paul Stewart

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Timor Ten Years After

Damien Kingsbury*

On Sunday (30 August), it will be 10 years since the people of East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia. Following 24 years in which more than a quarter of the population was killed or died as result of the occupation, the vote of almost 80 per cent in favor of independence was not surprising.

What was extraordinary was that in what had become a war zone, 98.6 per cent of registered voters turned out to vote. Many had trekked long distances over rough tracks, coming down from the relative safety of the mountains to line up before dawn at polling stations across the territory.

Heavily armed Indonesian police and soldiers stood at, and inside, polling centres. The Indonesian army’s proxy militias strolled in and out intimidating voters. In the village of Balibo, Indonesian intelligence officers directed the Halilintar (Lightning) militia and paid cash to ‘voters’ trucked in from West Timor.

Yet wearing their best clothes, the East Timorese defiantly voted, before returning to their homes or to the mountains.

By early afternoon on the 30th, the first polling station, at the village of Ritabou, near the troubled town of Maliana, was already in flames. Thus ended the brief hours of ‘truce’ that divided the violence leading up to the ballot and that which followed it. An orgy of violence and destruction spread from there, engulfing whole communities, a whole people.

At Maliana, the people had been told they would be safe at the police station. Once inside, the police helped the militias stage a massacre. Hundreds were similarly murdered at the cathedral in Suai on the south coast. Balibo on ballot day had been dangerous. A few days later, it was the scene of another massacre, of students trying to return to Dili.

Officially, around 1,4000 people were said to have been killed across East Timor, although many more have never been accounted for. Unofficially, the UN Serious Crimes Unit investigating these war crimes estimated that three to four thousand people were murdered, their bodies believed to be buried across the West Timor border or dumped at sea.

In a clever strategy of intimidation, ballot observers and UN staff had been directly threatened but rarely harmed. Yet the day after the ballot, my house in Maliana was in flames. At one of 13 militia roadblocks between Maliana and Dili, a screaming militia member affected by drugs and alcohol put an M-16 rifle to my head. The TNI gave the militias amphetamines the locals called ‘anjing gila’ (‘mad dog’), describing its effect. East Timor began to burn more furiously with the police, sent under a deal with the UN to protect it, standing by and watching, or helping to burn it.

After the 30th, our observer group had been leaving as they could, the last main group going out on the 4th of September on the deck of a refugee filled cargo boat, leaving the port under gunfire as the flames spread. In the following days, a third of the population was forced at gunpoint across the border to become hostages, and more fled to the hills.

It was only the strength of public Australian feeling that forced the deeply reluctant Howard government to form Interfet, and an American requirement that Australia lead it. After the TNI and militias withdrew across the border, the first emergency months were devoted to keeping people alive. The hard work started after that.

In the lead up to the ballot, the expectations of independence had been impossibly high. The reality disappointed, as it so often has after a semi-competent colonial power departs, taking administrative capacity, jobs and money with it.
Indonesia not only pulled out its trained staff, but murdered many of the few skilled people who would have remained. More than 70 per cent of the country was burned and, beyond a few roads, there was no infrastructure to speak of left.

After promising the people of East Timor that it would not leave, the UN returned to begin building a new country. It brought very mixed skills and interest and consequently produced very mixed results. As local and returning elites vied for greater political control, the UN was only too happy to hand over power and then withdraw too early.

The result was a fledgling government with limited capacity faced with growing disenchantment and dissent. The dominant group in the government, including the prime minister, Mari Alkatiri, had received their political training in Mozambique, which was not known for its tolerance or pluralism. In the face of dissent, the government increasingly trended towards authoritarian responses.

The people of East Timor had, however, not voted out Indonesia to replace it with domestic authoritarianism, but the party of government, Fretilin, had wrapped itself in the cloak of independence. The stage was set for a split, which in 2006 almost plunged the fledgling country into civil war.

Having left too soon, the international community returned, elections scheduled for 2007 were held and the government was changed. Despite some post-election violence, the situation increasingly settled.

Particularly in 2008 and into 2009, the economy has grown, largely due to government spending on the back of oil receipts. The drought that had plagued recent years also ended and the markets are again full of food, in part assisted by government purchases of subsidised rice. Public works and infrastructure development is visible, notably in Dili.

A sense of security and stability has returned to East Timor. After two years when people would not venture out after dark, public life in the evening has returned to Dili, and other centres are even more tranquil.

East Timor continues to face many obstacles. It takes many years to turn around illiteracy and limited health care, and economic growth, while good at 13 per cent, is still off a very low base.

But East Timor is not a failed state and is decreasingly likely to become so. It has overcome the common post-colonial challenge of slipping into an easy authoritarianism. There have been elections and democratic consolidation. Its people have embraced electoral politics, voluntarily turning out for elections in numbers equal to compulsory voting in proudly democratic Australia.

It is ten years since the brutality and destruction surrounding East Timor’s brave and defiant vote for independence. There have been difficulties over that decade, hardly surprising given this nation’s traumatic birth.

Ten years on, East Timor is a small country and still vulnerable, but after the Indonesian occupation, and the events of 1999, its people are now beginning to enjoy at least some of the fruits of political freedom.

*Associate Professor Damien Kingsbury, of the School of International and Political Studies at Deakin University, is author of ‘East Timor: The Price of Liberty’ (Palgrave, 2009). He was in-country coordinator of the 1999 Australian non-government observer group, and again for the 2007 elections.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Guitars to Timor-Leste, Five to Balibo

From Paul Stewart

WHEN my band mate Gil Santos lost his father in the 1975 Indonesian
invasion all he was left with was his Dad's ``soccer ball and guitar.''
It was fitting really because music is such a vital part of life too
many Timorese as we found out on a recent return visit to East Timor
where Gil and I distributed 30 donated guitars to groups of blind,
disabled and struggling musicians.
Giving a kid a guitar in Timor is like giving them a car, such is the
joy and wide eyed rapture at such a gift.
Amongst the 30 guitars, we thought it only fitting to take five
guitars up to the Balibo House to donate one for each of the
journalists lost there in 1975.
It was a great trip and house manager Rogerio gladly accepted the
Once again, though any visit to East Timor only opens you up to other
worthy fund raising tasks,
For example in Dili we met the Alma Nuns who look after the disabled
kids of Timor Leste.
Unfortunately for the Sisters their work load is an equation that
just does not add up.
Afterall, there are hundreds of disabled children, four nuns and they
own only one tiny motor scooter.
The spirit may be willing but it just does not add up for the ALMA nuns.
The four nuns of this religious order, inspired by the work of Mother
Teresa, fight a constant battle against the numbers in their
inspirational work looking after the disabled children of the former
Portuguese colony who are described in social terms as ``the lowest
of the low.’’
Raising a disabled child is hard enough to contemplate in well to do
Australia but in one of the world’s newest and poorest nations it is
just a nightmare.
The nuns of the ALMA order are attempting to help the parents of
disabled children with their help but because of their limited means
of transport they just cannot get around to visiting enough kids.
ALMA is an acronym for " Asossiasi Lembaga Misionaris Awam", which
means Association of Lay Missionaries for the poor and the disabled).
The Nuns who consecrate themselves completely to Christ and the
Kingdom of God, serve only the most disadvantaged children (the poor,
the abandoned, the disabled) and live amongst them in togetherness in
the community.
The sisters task is to help and to empower the abandoned, poor and
disabled helping along the way to change the mentality of the
community towards them.
They are under the jurisdiction of Bishop Dili and their mission has
been operation in for three years.
At the homes they do visit the Sisters perform physiotherapy on the
disabled children and then instruct the parents of the disabled child
to do the same.
Their work is showing great results.
On a recent visit around the back blocks of Dili with the Sisters I
met a young chap called ``Lorenzo’’ who could now sit in a chair and
perform tasks his crippled body just would not let him perform until
he started therapy with the nuns.
Unfortunately, the Sisters say they cannot keep up with the huge
demand for their services.
East Timorese Alma Nun Sister Justine said the order had only the use
of one tiny motor scooter.
``If we had a four wheel car with a tray we could do a lot, lot more
work,’’ she sighed.
``We could even get out into the countryside to visit the really
disadvantaged disabled children.
``It would be a miracle if Australian Christians could help us get a
vehicle. Not brand new just one to help us with our work.’’
A leading East Timorese Government official Joaquim Santos has said
he would purchase a good vehicle for the nuns from a credible Dili
second hand car dealer.
``We would just need about $10,000 in funds,’’ he said.
``While the world is going through tough economic times and money is
tight for everyone these kids need a lot more help than most.’’
The Jesuit’s have come to the party agreeing to get funds to the nuns
via their Dili office.
Those wishing to making a donation should send funds to ``ALMA Nuns
East Timor’’ c/o The Jesuit Mission, P.O. Box 193 (31 West Street)
North Sydney NSW 2059 AUSTRALIA.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

‘Balibo’: film, truth and justice

The movie ‘Balibo’ headlining the coming Melbourne International Film Festival will again put in the spotlight the murder and its cover-up of six Australian based journalists in East Timor in 1975 - five in the border village of Balibo and one in Dili eight weeks later.

There will be some who argue that the events depicted in ‘Balibo’ are now part of history, that again raising this issue serves no productive purpose and, perhaps, that we still don’t know what really happened in that remote border village on 16 October 1975.

Despite these often self-serving objections, what ‘Balibo’ does remind us of is that grave crimes have gone unpunished. It also shows that the mistakes of our governments still reverberate, and its continued inability to be honest about these events tells us much about the difference between the type of society we think we live in, and that which we actually live in. As a society, we retain a stain that can only be removed with the application of transparency and accountability.

On 16 October 1975, Indonesian special forces led by Yunus Yosfiah murdered Australian-based journalists Greg Shackleton, Tony Stewart, Gary Cunningham, Brian Peters and Malcolm Rennie, who were reporting on Indonesia’s then covert invasion of East Timor. Roger East, who went to investigate their deaths, was murdered in Dili during the formal invasion, eight weeks later, on 7 December.

‘Balibo’ recreates these events, and the circumstances around them, with great skill and accuracy. But more than simply telling a story, ‘Balibo’ reminds us that the Indonesian military commanders who thereafter perpetrated massive crimes in East Timor continue to lead lives of impunity. As with the crimes against humanity that were pursued for decades after World War II, the crimes committed in East Timor have not disappeared because of the passage of time. It is simply that their perpetrators have managed to evade justice.

As a movie, ‘Balibo’ is confronting, heart-wrenching, and raises a sense of legitimate anger. These responses parallel how many Australians responded to events in East Timor in 1999, when by their numbers they compelled the Australian government to finally intervene.

Such responses also parallel how many Australians felt in 1975, and in the years since. If the concerns of 1975 faded, it was because our governments so effectively covered-up the truth of these events, and the horrors subsequently perpetrated upon the people of East Timor. The Indonesian government led that complicity, culminating in the carnage and its ignominious departure from East Timor in 1999. But our own governments, under Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke, Keating and Howard, participated in that complicity.

The movie ‘Balibo’ also captures the reality that East Timor’s its people were just ordinary human beings caught in terrible circumstances. The scenes, too, in the forests and of streams, over the steep mountains and of the sea and sky are so accurate because they are East Timor. Dili’s emblematic Hotel Turismo had, and retains, the atmosphere of a Graeme Greene novel.

‘Balibo’s’ critics will attack it not for its art, but citing that Australia’s relationship with Indonesia is, these days, positive, and East Timor is now an independent state with its own aspirations and struggles. What they are unlikely to admit it that the problems that East Timor has endured since independence have been rooted in its brutal past.

Importantly, too, two of the generals who were so instrumental in East Timor’s misery are now competing for Indonesia’s vice-presidency. Wiranto and Prabowo Subianto were not expected to be successful, but that men who might legitimately face charges of crimes against humanity could run for office a heart-beat from leading Indonesia speaks volumes. This impunity continues to gnaw at the people of East Timor, as well as the families and friends of the murdered Australian journalists.

On grounds of truth, it is difficult to fault director Robert Connelly’s film, from the order and accuracy of events to the dress of the characters. Colonel Dading Kabualdi is shown to murder Brian Peters, although it was Yunus Yosfiah who fired the shot, if on Dading’s orders. On the back of his gruesome work in East Timor, Yunus rose to become a Lieutenant-General, and later Indonesia’s information minister.

The remnants of Australia’s discredited ‘Jakarta Lobby’ might claim that its depictions have not yet been proven. Yet the now formally recorded eye-witness accounts have become too overwhelming for any doubt to remain. The 86 people, including Roger East, murdered on Dili wharf on 7 December 1975, is known because others who lived were made to count as they were shot.

In the following few years, somewhere between a quarter and a third of East Timor’s population were killed or died of starvation or preventable disease, establishing a record of brutality matching that of Pol Pot’s Cambodia. ‘Balibo’ takes us back to the first fearful moments of that unimaginable human catastrophe, precipitating that which followed.

Connolly is to be congratulated for creating, with ‘Balibo’, a landmark piece of Australian cinematography. He is also to be congratulated for reminding us of crimes still unpunished and of wounds that, without justice, remain unhealed.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Another visit to Balibo

Damien Kingsbury and Rae Perry visited Balibo on 24 and 25 February, meeting with Rogerio Goncalves of the Balibo Flag House Committee of Management, and others in the town. Despite numerous trips to Timor-Leste, it was Rae's first visit to Balibo since 30 August 1999, when Rae visited as an observer with the Australian Parliamentary delegation to the 'popular consultation', otherwise known as the vote of self-determination which allowed East Timor to finally achieve independence.

This visit focused primarily on discussions around the possibility of establishing the house in the old Portuguese fort as a home-stay for visitors, given there is no accommodation in Balibo at this time. The idea of establishing a home-stay in the fort house has been favorably received by the government of Timor-Leste, although there are numerous issues to sort through before this can become a real possibility. Damien also talked with locals about issues of language, which were raised in his last visit.

The regional linguistic patchwork of the sub-district includes the (Austronesian - Malayo-Polynesian, similar structure to Malay) Tetum Terik (original Tetum) being spoken at Cova, near the Indonesian border, Tetum Praca (Market Tetum) at Batu Gade, and Tetum Praca and some Tetum Terik as well as (Austronesian) Kemak being spoken in and around Balibo. About seven kilometres south of Balibo, next to the Indonesian border, the people of the village of Leohitu speak Becais (which they call Welaun). Becais is aalso an Austronesian language, of about 3,000 speakers and which is related to, but distinct from, Kemak.

Across the Bebai River, the villages of Leolima and Nunara speak Kemak, while in the sub-district of Maliana the languages of Tetum Maliana (a minor variation of Tetum Praca), Kemak and (the Trans-Papuan) Bunak are spoken. However, within the trading town of Maliana itself, Indonesian remains dominant: ‘It is the language of business’, said one local resident. Near Maliana, the border villages of Tapo Memo, Sebura, Holsa and Oromau all speak Bunak.

Beyond this linguistically inclined visit, there has been discussion with the Balibo House Trust about the type of arrangement that might exist between it and the Friends of Balibo. The Trust was undergoing a reorganisation at the time of writing, and it was hoped that following that reorganisation, a formal, cooperative arrangement would be established.