Saturday, September 4, 2010

Balibo Fort House progress

Following visits in June and August 2010, plans for visitor accommodation at the Balibo Fort have commenced. First mooted during a visit in December 2008, plans for a homestay in Balibo supported by the Friends of Balibo has morphed into a guest house in the historic Balibo fort and again into a small hotel located within the fort grounds, including the original fort house. A 30 year (15+15) lease was signed with the Ministry of Justice by Balibo House Trust chair and Victorian MP Rob Hudson, securing the fort site for redevelopment. Professor Damien Kingsbury signed the design contract with Community Housing Limited in the office of the Minister of Justice, Lucia Lobato, in Dili in June 2010.

A series of consultations have taken place with community leaders in Balibo, including the Bobonaro District Administrator, Snr Domingos Martins, the Balibo Sub-District Administrator, Snr Paulo dos Santos, village chiefs from Balibo and surrounding villages and a number of other local community figures. The project will initially employ and train between 15 and 20 local people for the period of construction of the project and will provide continuing employment in support capacities and tourism development following its completion.

Professor Damien Kingsbury and Dr Grazyna Zajdow both attended the August community meeting on behalf of the Friends of Balibo and the Balibo House Trust. Their visit to Balibo preceded their attendance, with Snrs Martins and dos Santos at the 'Strengthening Friendship: People to People/Haforza Amizade: Husi Povo ba Povo' conference, hosted by the Timor-Leste Ministry of State Administration and the Australia Timor-Leste Friendship Network in Maubisse on 27-28 August 2010.

Initial funds for the project have been raised by the Balibo House Trust

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Balibo Community Learning Center evolves

Surviving and Moving Forward Together!

The Balibo Community Learning Center (CLC) and its Community Management Committee(CMC) have walked a bumpy road after the new CMC members were elected last year. BELUN and WVTL have been continuing to assist the Balibo CMC and its activities mainly by building the capacity of the CMC and village leaders. However, building the capacity of CMC is much more than just providing training; such efforts must be tied to local needs to create trust and services for their community in the long term.

Understanding that the CMC members have different background and didn’t have experience managing community learning centre; the CMC members were trained in the area of organisational management and BELUN encouraged the CMC members to learn and share experience from others local NGOs to have better skills and understanding on how to manage a learning centre. As a result, the CMC members submitted a proposal for a comparative study to local NGOs in Baucau and Aileu districts.

Six CMC members undertook a week long internship, in two local NGOs namely CDC and CTA (Centru Treainamentu Aileu) which are located in Baucau and Aileu district respectively. All of the CMC members have learnt different skills related to their roles and responsibilities in Balibo CLC. During the internship, the Treasurer, Maria, focused on learning about financial control and management. Meanwhile Rogerio as the President of the CMC learnt about organisational structure, leadership and fund rising.
“I have never been trained on how to write proposals for donor, so far the donor who heard about Balibo House and people who works for various governmental and international organization which passed by the house stop by and asking how they can support Balibo CLC. And now I understand the importance of fund raising within and outside the community to make Balibo CLC sustainable and benefiting more community members in the future”. Rogerio has also learnt about organizational structure and how to ensure that each person in the structure understands their roles and functions.

After the study visit there have been significant changes in the CLC. Each CMC member has better understanding about their role and the trust among them is significantly improved. They also more transparent about the CLC’s income from the carpentry and mechanic classes and also the procurement process in Balibo CLC. “In the past, Rogerio, the president, took over my role, I have never been involved in procurement process such as asking for quotations from vendors before decide which vendor offer low price. Furthermore, I didn’t get involved in the approval of the payment”, Maria Lake explained. “But now the president has delegated procurement task to the treasurer and secretary, it is more transparent now and our communication and working relationship is better”, she added.

Balibo CLC serves the local communities by providing skills training in four areas, namely computers, mechanics, carpentry and sewing. The mechanic workshop is now bigger than before, in the past only a basic service was provided such as changing engine oil and small repairs, but now they can also re-paint the motorbike. “The competition among mechanic workshop is higher now, we have to have diverse and better services for our community in order to meet their demand” the trainer said. In addition to the mechanics workshop, regular furniture orders from the community continue.

Balibo CLC has several sources of income which are useful to cover overhead costs. The old generator and plastic chairs are being used to generate income. The community rents these for parties or others occasions. “People sometimes rent the truck, it is benefiting us and we can use the money to maintain the truck”, the driver added.

The Balibo CMC is working hard to increase accountability to their community. CMC has conducted a stakeholders meeting aimed to report CLC’s activities and its income from carpentry, mechanic workshop, generator and chairs hire and truck hire as well. In this meeting the CMC encouraged all participants to give inputs and feedback about what they can do to make CLC sustainable or even better in the future. The meeting included Sub-district authorities Village council representatives, the sub-district administrator, Church leader, youth group, womens group, PNTL and the CMC. “We are very proud with the significant changes achieved in CLC, now I can see that we are moving forward. The trust is increased and we have to working closely together to make everything better in the future”, the advisor said after stakeholder meeting.



I travelled to Timor Leste in my capacity as Chair of the Balibo House Trust from 23rd April to the 1st May.

The purpose of the trip was to:

1. To meet with the Trust’s partners Belun and the Balibo House Community Learning Centre Community Management Committee to discuss the forward plan and funding agreements for the Balibo CLC for the next 12 months.

2. To further progress work on the development of the Balibo Fort House Hotel project in Balibo.

I was accompanied on this trip by Damien Kingsbury, Balibo House Trust Board member, Rae Kingsbury, Chair of the Australia-Timor Leste Friendship Network and Ricardo Krauskopf, the Proprietor of the Alto Hotel in Bourke Street, Melbourne and a member of Port Melbourne Rotary.


The Balibo House is known to many Australians as the Australian Flag House.

It was the last refuge of the five Australian based journalists who were murdered by invading Indonesian troops in 1975. It is the house on which the TV news journalist Greg Shackleton painted the Australian flag and the word Australia, believing it would make them immune from attack.

In October 2002, then Premier Steve Bracks announced the establishment of a Trust to purchase and refurbish the Balibó Flag House, with a grant of $50,000. This grant was matched by $25,000 each from Australian TV Channels 7 and 9.

I was appointed the Chair of the Balibo House Trust by the Victorian Government in March 2003.

Graduates from Multiplex played a major role in the refurbishment of the house; together with the Australian Peacekeeping Force in East Timor and local workers from Balibó.

The House was officially opened by then Premier Steve Bracks, President Xanana Gusmão, and Foreign affairs Minister José Ramos-Horta, on 31st. October 2003, in the presence of family members of the Balibó Five, overseas dignitaries and 2,000 people from Balibó and surrounding villages.

The Trust has partnered with first World Vision East Timor and now Belun to run programs from the house in conjunction with the local Community Management Committee.

The House is now a Community Learning Centre, (CLC). It includes a library, computer classes, sewing machines, carpentry and mechanics workshop and a kindergarten for 30 children. It also houses a memorial to the Balibó Five and local Balibó martyrs who were killed in 1999 by departing Indonesian forces.

In the past year, the Balibo House Trust has been negotiating with the Ministry of State Administration and the Ministry of Justice to lease the 300 year old Portuguese fort at Balibo to provide visitor accommodation in the Bobonaro District. It is hoped that this project will generate local employment and training opportunities in construction, tourism and hospitality and generate some income to support the work of the Balibo Community Learning Centre. A lease over the Fort was granted for 30 years in April this year.


A meeting was held with Luis Ximenes, CEO, Dominica Ribeiro, Accountant and Serpa Pinto, Balibo Project Worker to discuss the operations of the Balibo CLC. The discussion centred on the Strategic Plan developed by Belun in conjunction with the Balibo CLC Community Management Committee.

Belun has been working with the Balibo CLC on its Strategic Plan for the next three years and a two day workshop was held on 3rd & 4th April for this purpose. The objectives of the workshop were to strengthen the capacity of the organisation, to improve the group’s performance in implementing its activities and to reflect its established mission and vision in the strategic plan. The participants involved in the meeting were local authorities, the leaders and members of Balibo CLC and the community from 6 villages within the Balibo sub-district. Total participants in the meeting were 23, (8 females and 15 males). The first day of the workshop focussed on values, vision and mission and a SWOC analysis, (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Challenges). The second day focussed on clarifying goals and developing an Action Plan for the Balibo CLC, with 32 actions identified by the group.

The Strategic Plan affirmed the core activities of computer training, sewing, woodwork and mechanics and the kindergarten. It also identified the strategic value of the Balibo guest house project, the need to extend the space available for computer courses, more space for women in sewing and cooking, a tailor course, metal work program, cultural activities, dance and language courses. The Plan also identified a desire to reactivate and rehabilitate the youth centre.

It was clear from our meeting with Belun that:

 Belun has had difficulty in obtaining government or donor funding for the operations of the Balibo CLC for 2010.

 Balibo CLC has several sources of income, including the truck, old generator and chairs that are rented out for parties in the villages.

 Belun is clarifying the income the Balibo CLC is generating from its own activities and has requested a statement of income and expenditure from the Balibo CMC. Belun pays the CMC US$120 per month for office rental in the Community Learning Centre.
 The four core activities identified in the strategic planning for the Balibo CLC: computers, sewing, woodwork and mechanics are proceeding well. In addition the kindergarten is open and functioning.

 The Balibo CMC is working hard to increase accountability to their community. Six CMC members undertook a week long internship, in two local NGOs namely the Centro Dezelvolvimentu Communidade in Baucau and the Centru Treainamentu in Aileu. All of the CMC members have learnt different skills related to their roles and responsibilities in Balibo.

 Serpa Pinto is not able to devote as much time to the activities of the Balibo CLC because of the demands on his time from the EWER Program in the District.

 Elections will be held in September/October 2010 for the Community Management Committee.

It was agreed out of this meeting that the Trust and Belun would discuss the following issues with the Balibo CMC at the meeting in Balibo:

1. The Strategic Plan developed by Belun and the CMC.
2. The Balibo CLC Budget for income and expenditure.
3. The needs of the Balibo CLC for building and equipment.
4. The Balibo Fort House project.


Community Housing Ltd (CHL) is a national and international provider of affordable housing, set up with the support of the Victorian Government. In Timor Leste, CHL has carried out the design and construction of a residential centre and dwellings for 17 people with physical disabilities and a range of small housing projects in Dili. CHL also constructed residential accommodation for an orphanage in Gleno. Community Housing currently employs 40 people in its office in Dili, 90% of whom are local Timorese.

A meeting was held with Humberto Marum, the Design Manager and Architect to discuss architectural plans for the Balibo Fort House project. A new Construction Manager, Mick Petrov has recently been appointed to replace Chris Hollands and was consequently unable to attend the meeting.

Initial discussions centred on how to develop a new wing of 8 rooms that would be consistent with the heritage values of the fort and the existing fort house. From the discussions it became clear that it would be difficult to build in the old Portuguese style, which is typically heavy, high mass construction with thick walls of 60cm to 80cm and a heavy roof. Discussion then turned to more contemporary architectural designs that would fit in with the existing heritage buildings and be suitable for the East Timorese climate.

Humberto emphasised the importance of local consultation and using local labour wherever possible.
If CHL undertook this project they would:

 Consult closely with the District and Sub-District Administrators, the Chef de Succo and the village of Balibo as well as the Balibo CMC.

 Have a Project Supervisor who would live in on site.

 Bring in skilled labour where needed.

 Use local labour with a fixed price for workers and pay them every fortnight.

 Provide supervision and food for the workers.

It was agreed that CHL would develop architectural plans for the project to the design contract stage. The Balibo House Trust could then decide whether it wanted to let the contract to CHL based on a quote for the works or go to competitive tender.

It was also agreed that Humberto Marum would accompany us on the trip to Balibo to survey the site and further discuss the layout of the Fort House Hotel within the walls of the Portuguese fort.


A discussion was held with the Australian Ambassador to Timor Leste, Mr Peter Heyward on the general political, economic and social climate in the country. Of particular interest was the national program to provide water and electricity to every village in Timor Leste by 2012, and the local government elections, now deferred until at least 2013.

There was also a more detailed discussion with Ali Gillies and Darian Clarke about possible funding sources for the operations of the Balibo CLC.

From the discussions it became clear that the possible sources of funding were:

 The Australia-East Timor Community Assistance Scheme, (ETCAS) grants of up to US$35,000.

 The new Australian Volunteer Program.

 The Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development Program.

 The Australian Business Volunteers Program

Of these the most likely source of funding for the Balibo CLC looks to be the Australia-East Timor Community Assistance Scheme. To be eligible, the Trust would need to submit an application with Belun as a local NGO. Applications for a slightly re-vamped ECTAS will open in September, with successful applicants being informed by December 2010.


The Board members also travelled to Balibo and met with the Balibo CLC Community Management Committee and Belun. The meeting was held with Rogerio Gonscalves and Lorenco Celestino, tow of the three leaders of the CMC, (Maria Lake was unable to attend), the Balibo Sub-District Administrator, Senor Paulo dos Santos and members of the local community. (A separate meeting was held in Dili with the Bobonaro District Administrator). The main focus of the CMC discussion was:

1. The Strategic Plan developed by Belun and the CMC.
2. The Balibo CLC Budget for income and expenditure.
2. The needs of the Balibo CLC for building and equipment.
3. The Balibo Fort House project.
4. The Balibo kindergarten refurbishment and playground project.

The main points made by the CMC at the meeting were:

 The CMC is unclear what training they can provide in the second half of 2010 because of the uncertainty over funding for the Balibo CLC, and the inability to date of the CMC and Belun to attract recurrent funding from other sources.

 The CMC wants the Balibo House Trust to provide recurrent funding for the activities of the Balibo CLC for the remainder of 2010 until other new funding sources are identified.

 The CMC currently has US$2,300 in its account from income generation activities and another US$500 at hand in petty cash.

 The CLC is providing training for 12 people in each of computers, carpentry, mechanics and sewing.

 The CLC has a need for some additional tools including a plane, circular saw, drill and compressor for the woodwork workshop.

 The CLC has a need for some additional computer equipment including a UBS Adapter, a colour printer and computer tables. The CMC would also like to install Microsoft word on the computers rather than Ubuntu, as this is the computer software program recognised by the civil service and NGO’s.

 The CMC would like to add culture as a core activity as it is a national government priority.

 Local participants should be paid to attend training and cited an ILO standard of US$5 per day.

In response the Trust Board members indicated that:

 The Balibo House Trust sees itself as principally providing capital rather than recurrent funding and that Belun and the CMC need to identify funding sources from within government and overseas aid programs. The Trust will work with Belun to submit an ETCAS grant application in September 2010.

 The Trust is willing to provide some interim funding for the second half of 2010. Hopefully, a more sustainable source of long term funding will have been obtained by then. The Trust is also willing to provide some additional funding for tools and equipment.

 The CMC will need to develop a budget with Belun outlining income and expenditure for the next six months work of the Balibo CLC. The Balibo House Trust will need to see an income statement, receipts and a list of people who are employed by the CMC or receive incentive payments.

 The Trust has made a major commitment to raise capital funds for the refurbishment of the kindergarten and playground and the Balibo Fort House project. It is also willing to commit funding to the refurbishment of the Balibo CLC, and in particular the construction of an extension of a large room on the back of the building for training and meetings.

There was also a general discussion about the Balibo Fort House project and the opportunity it provides to generate jobs and income through tourism and hospitality. The CMC and the Sub District Administrator were particularly interested in who would run the Fort House Hotel once construction was completed. The Trust indicated that staff would be employed by the Balibo House Trust, but there would be extensive local consultation and involvement, with a preference for employing local Timorese people with the appropriate skills.


Over the course of the week a number of discussions were held with people involved in the local hospitality industry about what was required to make the Fort House Hotel successful. Visits were made to the Poussada Hotels in Baucau and Maliana and discussions were held with Barry Hinton from the eco tourism resort on Atauro Island and Ashley Reece, the Proprietor of the Esplanada Hotel in Dili.

From those discussions emerged the following insights:

 The appointment of a Manager with the requisite skills is critical. This will require the payment of a good wage and the provision of decent accommodation within the hotel complex. It may be desirable for the manager to be from outside the local community, (although other staff should be employed locally).

 Training of staff is critical and needs to be continuous. Staff wages for cleaning and cooking would be in the order of US$90 to US$100 a month, for 6 days a week, (compared to the average income of US$1-US$2 a day.)
 Good quality furniture and fittings for the hotel can be sourced relatively cheaply in Surabaya, Indonesia and shipped to Timor Leste.

 Solar panel installations are becoming increasingly cheap, (the Atauro Eco Resort provided solar power to their accommodation for approximately US$600 per hut).

 There are local options for tourism and hospitality training, (eg the Dili Institute of Technology in partnership with the William Angliss Institute). Enterprises like the Café Aroma also run training programs.

 It will be important to market the Balibo Fort House Hotel as part of tourism within the region. This will include: the spectacular coastal and mountain roads to Balibo, the hot springs on Bobonaro, the history of Portuguese colonisation and Indonesian occupation, the Balibo Flag House and fort, local sites of cultural and historical significance.

There are six potential markets for the Balibo Fort House Hotel:

 Travellers, particularly Australians who are interested in the historical significance of the Balibo Five and the Australian Flag House.

 Expatriates living in Dili who are looking for a weekend away.

 Group travel expeditions such as Intrepid Tours, Carpe Diem Travel and Eco Discovery Tours.

 Public servants and MP’s travelling to the districts for local meetings.

 Government departments and NGO’s getting out of Dili for strategic planning workshops and conferences.

 One off events coming to Balibo such as the Tour de Timor, (cycling).

Overall it was thought desirable to develop the Balibo Fort House Hotel to 4 star standard, with tariffs in the range of US$60-US$65 per room per night.

The Balibo House Trust is currently raising money for the Fort House Hotel project, and hopes to have attracted sufficient funds to commence the project in 2011.

Robert Hudson, MP
Member for Bentleigh
Chair, Balibo House Trust

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

AusTimorFN welcomes H.E. Abel Guterres (back) to Australia

The Australia Timor-Leste Friendship Network (AusTimorFN) has welcomed His Excellency Abel Guterres following his appointment as the new Timor-Leste Ambassador to Australia. Former Australian resident and long-time Timor-Leste activist, H.E. Guterres was welcomed at a dinner hosted by the AusTimorFN at the Zen Yai restaurant in Canberra on Tuesday 1 June.

AusTimorFN convenor Rae Kingsbury opened the dinner by saying she was very pleased to welcome back her good friend H.E. Guterres. She said it was especially pleasing to see him return to Australia in his new and well deserved role.

Ms Kingsbury and H.E. Guterres together founded the Australia Timor-Leste Friendship groups in 2000. The Friendship groups network now spans more than 50 relationships between local communities in Australia and Timor-Leste. Building on a decade of cooperation, a number of Friendship groups are now planning their next 10 years of cooperative community development.

Speaking to the dinner, Friends of Balibo member Professor Damien Kingsbury noted that all present had a strong friendship with H.E. Guterres. He said that friendship between Australia and Timor-Leste was at the core of the bilateral relationship. He noted that the real strength of the friendship lay in the bonding between the communities of both countries, especially since Timor-Leste voted for independence in 1999.

Professor Kingsbury said that despite occasional ups and downs in the relationship, its enduring friendship would continue to underwrite a long-term positive relationship between the governments of the two countries and especially between the people of the two countries.

In his reply, H.E. Guterres thanked AusTimorFN for hosting the dinner and welcoming him back to Australia. He said that friendship between Australia and Timor-Leste was critical to the future of both countries, and that the community to community relationships continued to give real substance to the more formal diplomatic relationship.

H.E. Guterres also warmly welcomed Timor-Leste’s other friends to the dinner, including the Portuguese Ambassador, H.E. Rui Quartin-Santos and his wife Snr Ana Carlota Meirelles do Canto e Castro, the Brazilian Ambassador H.E. Fernando de Mello Barreto, the Philippines Ambassador, H.E, Ernesto H de Leon, and the Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd’s senior foreign policy advisor, Philip Green.

In particular, H.E. Guterres noted the long-standing contribution of H.E. Quartin-Santos to Timor-Leste, since 1976 working with President Jose Ramos-Hora during his long years of exile.

He also noted the invaluable contributions of lawyer Bernard Collaery, who during the occupation advocated on behalf of Timor-Leste and was legal advisor to the CNRT in the critical period up until formal independence in 2002.

Also acknowledged by H.E. Guterres for their friendship to Timor-Leste were former advisor to then Foreign Minister and later Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta, Janelle Saffin, MP, Senator Julian McGuaran, who was a notable supporter of Timor-Leste at a time when his own party position was in favor of Indonesian occupation, and Australian Capital Territory Deputy Chief Minister, Ms Pam Davoren, Timor-Leste Charge d’Affaires Jorge Camoes, Dr George and Barbara Preston and other guests.

H.E. Guterres said he would convene a further dinner of friends of Timor-Leste in 12 months’ time and until then that he looked forward to working closely with his and Timor-Leste’s friends.

Dr Greg Stewart to work with Dr Dan

THE strong connection between the people of East Timor and the families of the five newsman killed up at Balibo in 1975 is set to continue soon
when Dr Greg Stewart spends a stint working at the much acclaimed Dr Dan's medical clinic in Dili.

Dr Greg, who works as a GP in the Victorian country town of Daylesford and is the brother of slain newsman Tony Stewart, has previously worked
at the clinic.

He first went to East Timor when the Victorian Government purchased the Flag House in Balibo and it was refurbished as a community service house and it was presented over to the local community in October 2003.

Located in Dili, Dr Dan's Bairo Pite Clinic sees an average of 300 patients per day and is one of the most highly visited health clinics in the country.

Services provided by Bairo Pite Clinic presently include maternity and infant care, vaccinations, tuberculosis (TB), malaria and dengue fever treatment, HIV diagnosis and treatment, in-patient and dental services, health outreach, and training for local health care workers. The clinic also operates a medical laboratory, pharmacy, kitchen and laundry.

Bairo Pite Clinic was previously a military clinic used by the Indonesian government and abandoned when Indonesian forces withdrew from Timor-Leste. The clinic was founded in 1999 by Timor Aid and Dr Dan Murphy and in partnership with AFAP to serve the immediate needs of a population affected by the violence of the Indonesian withdrawal. Bairo Pite Clinic became an independent NGO health clinic in 2001 that provides free health care services to those in need.

To donate funds to Dr Dan's contact Australians For People's Of Asia and the Pacific at:

Free Call: 1800 007 308
Phone: 02 9906 3792
Write: PO Box 12,
Crows Nest, NSW 1585
Visit: 536 Pacific Highway
St.Leonards, NSW 2065

Saturday, May 8, 2010


Port Moresby television, network` Kundu 2' broadcast a “movie marathon” recently to celebrate World Press Freedom Day, with several screenings of the movie, ``Balibo'', which tells the story of how the Indonesian army executed five Australian newsmen attempting to report their invasion of East Timor in 1975.

The movie, banned last year in Indonesia, was introduced live in Port Moresby by the Media Council’s special guest, Paul Stewart, himself a long-time journalist, the younger brother of one of the murdered Balibo Five and lead singer of Australian/East Timorese rock band The Dili All-Stars.

``I met many Papuan New Guineans who expressed solidarity with the families of he Balibo five,'' said Stewart. ``Young journalist s at a conference on media freedom even stood in silence for a minute in honor of the fallen newsmen who many regard as media freedom champions. ``I was also asked to write and perform a song about media freedom with leading PNG singer-songwriter George Telek a true legend in his homeland and who regularly yours the world. He is like the Bob Dylan of PNG.''

Each night throughout the week, Kundu 2 broadcast movies and documentaries, including several by the celebrated Australian investigative journalist, John Pilger, which illustrated the theme that the freedom of the media is a vital element of the universal human right of freedom of speech.

In addition, Kundu 2 covered all Media Freedom Week activities for regular news and current affairs programs, and for some special programs during the week.

“This is saturation coverage -- by the end of the week, media freedom will be well on the way to being a household phrase with the idea being cemented into people’s concepts of democracy. If we can achieve that, and reinforce and build on it in succeeding years, we will be fulfilling one of the Council’s key goals,” a spokesman for the PNFG Media Council.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Balibo Fort lease

Damien, Rae, Rob Hudson and Ricardo Krauskopf recently visited Balibo following the signing of a 15+15 year lease on the Portuguese fort in Balibo, with the intention of developing visitor accommodation there. For years, people have visited balibo, but have had nowhere to stay. It is hoped that the Fort accommodation will address that need, as well as attract weekenders from Dili and tourists increasingly visiting Timor-Leste to the west of the country, where accommodation is still sadly in short and ordinary supply.

The proposal to develop the Fort house and surrounds was initiated by the Friends of Balibo and subsequently taken up by the Balibo House Trust, with the support of the Victorian government.

Initial plans for the accommodation have been drawn up and it is hoped that final plans can be completed within the next few months. Construction is estimated to take up to a year, providing some work for Balibo locals.

Redevelopment of the Balibo kindergarten is also in the planning stages, with funding having been raised for that project. In other works, it is hoped that the proposed Uma Media (Media House) project for Balibo will be able to progress later this year, providing Balibo with a radio station broadcasting to the district.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Balibo Fort House lease to be signed

The Ministry of Justice has forwarded to the Balibo House Trust a draft lease to be signed to allow work to commence on the development of the Balibo Fort House for visitor accommodation. Plans have been drawn up for the accommodation, including extra bedrooms and bathrooms, as well as the refurbishment of the original house in the fort and the repair of the fort walls.

Damien Kingsbury initially developed the idea for visitor accommodation at the Balibo Fort House two years ago and it now looks like going ahead.

The lease is expected to be signed in late April by former Victorian Premier and adviser to Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, Steve Bracks, and chair of the Balibo House Trust, Rub Hudson, MP.

video from Jessica farrelly, Stewart family

Monday, February 15, 2010

Review of 'Balibo'

Review – By Bruce Honeywill in Dili

Balibo, the movie, has two special Amnesty International screenings in Auckland before going on general New Zealand cinema release on Thursday. The film, banned in Indonesia, tells the story of the murder of five members of two Australian-based television news crews in a tiny East Timorese border village in 1975. The narrative exposes the duplicity of the Australian government – and New Zealand – in covering the truth of the deaths for more than a quarter of a century.

In 2010, I stand on the wall of the old Portuguese fort overlooking the tiny mountain village of Balibo. I was here previously, 10 years ago.

East Timor then, for a short period, was an undeclared territory under United Nations sovereignty. The Indonesian military had just withdrawn after 24 years of occupation. As the Indonesian forces withdrew in late 1999, they and pro-Indonesian militia put the tiny impoverished nation to the torch in one of the horrors of recent history.

I worked for a time with journalist/author Jill Jolliffe filming eyewitness accounts of various witnesses to the violent deaths of these five journalists and camera crew. I followed, with my camera, witnesses’ graphic descriptions of the last minutes of the lives of the group now known as the Balibo Five.

The witnesses came from both the defending East Timorese military (Falantil) and pro-Indonesian militia working with Indonesian special forces. The witnesses described how the news crews were killed by the bullet and blade of the Indonesian military and its supporters.

These witness accounts added to the volumes of research collected by Jolliffe in what became her life obsession to see the truth of her colleagues’ deaths revealed.
Journalist Jill Jolliffe's original book Cover-Up has been republished as Balibo.

Jolliffe’s ensuing book Cover-Up not only told the story of the murders of the members of the news crews but exposed the complicity of the then Australian Labor government with the United States and Britain, in tacitly supporting the invasion of East Timor by Suharto’s Indonesia.

The book particularly focused on the Australian government’s “cover-up” of the truth of the deaths of the Balibo Five.

Chillingly accurate
The story of the Balibo Five was taken by screen writer/director Robert Connolly and producer John Maynard to become the feature film Balibo.

While honed to a partly fictional narrative to meet market expectations, the accounts of the deaths of the journalists and crew are chillingly accurate to the eyewitness accounts.

The Balibo Five working for the Seven and Nine Networks in Australia mirrored the cultural makeup of their grandfathers’ generation at Gallipoli – a Kiwi, three Aussies and a Pom all under the common flag of journalism and the world’s right to know.

The Balibo Five were all in their 20s; they distilled the excitement, anarchy and inexperience of television news in those early decades before the commodification we see today.

The two journalists in particular, Greg Shackleton and Malcolm Rennie, were young and ambitious at a time when the first rule of television journalism was “get the story”. The second rule “get the story first”.

Cameraman Gary Cunningham was born in Wellington in 1947. Described as “a big, affable fellow”, Cunningham worked with the New Zealand National Film Unit in Dunedin. He was seconded to the NZ Broadcasting Corporation as a news cameraman where he won an award for his coverage of the Wahine ferry disaster.

Cunningham moved to Australia to further his love of news cinematography. After two years at the Nine Network he moved to Channel Seven in whose employment he remained until his death.

Tragic heart

While the story of the murders of the Balibo Five is the throbbing, tragic heart of the film, the narrative follows the exploits of another journalist, Roger East (Anthony Lapaglia). The story of the events leading up to and following the death of the Balibo Five is seen through the eyes of East and his interactions with a young José Ramos Horta played by Oscar Isaac.

The premise for the film is a videtaped investigative interview with a fictional Juliana, beautifully played by Bea Viegas, an East Timorese woman in her first acting role. Juliana describes how she, as a girl, watched Roger East’s execution on the wharf at Dili.

The Balibo Five are strongly played by Damon Gameau (Shackleton), Gyton Grantley (Cunningham), Mark Winter (Tony Stewart), Nathan Phillips (Rennie) and Thomas Wright as Brian Peters. The cinematic approach uses hand-held cameras with high grain film for the Balibo Five story that interweaves with the more traditionally shot Roger East narrative.

The skilled depths of Lapaglia’s acting and his obvious passion for the project drives the story through the few little bumps brought about by the challenges of filming on location in Dili and Balibo (although the actual death scenes had to be filmed in Darwin as the reality was considered too violent for the still traumatised East Timorese of the border towns).

Deep duplicity
This film tells a story of deep duplicity of powerful governments prepared to throw away ethical and moral responsibilities for political expediency.

It is a film of journalists at work, and sends the message that when the proverbial “hits the fan” we are all on our own.

There are a couple of interesting sidelights to the film. The East Timorese video cameraman filming the evidence of Juliana is none other than José Belo, today’s most outspoken journalist in East Timor and who won the Café Pacific award for free speech. (Balibo won the film category).

The person playing the Tetum-speaking Australian investigator is Major Michael Stone, former SAS and now military advisor to the President of East Timor, José Ramos Horta.

Here in Balibo, 2010, from my perch high on the wall of the fort I see the little town of Balibo below me: The ‘Australian Flag House’ where Greg Shackleton famously painted the Australian flag in the mistaken belief this would protect him and his colleagues, now a monument to the memory of the Balibo Five.

Death house
Across the square, the “death house” is empty and crumbling. Here in 2000 I filmed recent bullet holes, lipstick “kiss marks” revealing this was a “kissing wall” – a place of rape and murder of women, and the iconic parachute emblem of Kopassus (Indonesian special forces).

Today the old house is starting to fall in on itself as if the load of horrors over a quarter of a century is too much for the architecture.

Out across the mountains, rain clouds flume through the valleys. Corn, green with the Wet Season, grows right up to the fort wall.

I ponder on Balibo the Movie in apposition to the real Balibo beneath me. I am no film critic, just a journalist who has paid to see, in Australia, the film three times.

This is a film that everybody in the Asia-Pacific region should see. It’s a story of the counterpoint to powerful “sheriff nations” and emerging nations with aspirations of freedom. It’s a story about how the affluent can be blind to hardship, poverty and violence less than an hour distant from Australia.

This is a film of our corner of the world. Do make the effort.

Bruce Honeywill has been a journalist for 25 years work in print, radio television and online, specialising in social and environmental issues in remote Northern Australia and East Timor. He has also been a journalism educator in Australia and New Zealand.

Jill Jolliffe’s book Cover-Up has been republished under the title of Balibo . Tony Maniaty’s book Shooting Balibo also tells the story. Balibo, the movie. Investigative journalist Peter Cronau, one of the founders of Pacific Media Watch, also has a forthcoming book about Roger East, The Last Reporter.