At the Fort


This scene from the film shows Mark Winter, who plays Tony Stewart, leading the five journalists as they scramble for cover.

What actually happened that morning?

This question can now be answered authoritatively, thanks to the coroner's inquest, where eyewitnesses were subjected to rigorous questioning. The inquest also heard second-hand accounts from East Timorese witnesses who were told what happened by people who had been in Balibo at the time of the killings. The second-hand accounts provide convincing support for what the eyewitnesses said. Although at first sight there appear to be differences in the eyewitness accounts, there is in fact complete agreement on the central facts of the murders. Any differences arise from the fact that different witnesses saw things from different angles and for different lengths of time.

On the central facts, there is agreement that the Indonesian military murdered the journalists as follows:

At about 0400h the five journalists were woken by Fretilin soldiers. They separated into two groups. The first group was the Channel 9 team of Malcolm Rennie and Brian Peters. They went to the fort and filmed from it. Brian Peters captured footage of an Indonesian helicopter hovering over the fort. The second group was the Channel 7 team of Greg Shackleton, Gary Cunningham and Tony Stewart. They were near the Chinese house filming the advancing Indonesian ground troops. Then the two groups came together near the Chinese house where they were captured by the Indonesian troops.

The Indonesian troops were divided into three teams: Susi, Tuti and Umi. Team Susi led by Captain Yunus Yosfiah was the first to enter Balibo. Its members wore civilian clothing. There was no shooting from the Balibo Town Square or the Chinese house.
The journalists were not mistaken for combatants. They clearly identified themselves as Australians and as journalists. They were unarmed and dressed in civilian clothes. They all had their hands raised in the universally recognised gesture of surrender.
Brian Peters was the first to fall. Three journalists were shot inside the house. The last one hid in a bathroom and was stabbed when he came out.

The five journalists were not killed in cross-fire but were deliberately killed by the Indonesian troops.

After their deaths the bodies of at least three of the journalists were dressed in Portuguese army uniforms, placed over captured Fretilin machine guns and photographed and filmed in case they needed to be used in propaganda photos. However, the machine guns had been rendered inoperative by withdrawing Fretilin soldiers.

The five bodies were then burnt several times over the course of a few days. The Indonesian authorities then launched a disinformation campaign.

According to counsel assisting the inquest, Mark Tedeschi QC:

"When news of the deaths came out, not a single word in public or in private, was uttered by the Australian Government or political leaders to suggest involvement or blame on the part of the Indonesians for the deaths of the journalists. Instead, Australian officials in public and in private persisted in what can only be called a bizarre charade of asking the Indonesian Military to use their good offices in seeking information from their Timorese militia allies about the deaths of the journalists..."