Tuesday, June 15, 2010



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

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