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.