Companion to East Timor - Jude Conway
Jude Conway, born in Newcastle, Australia in 1949.
Divorced with one grown up son.
B.A. with majors in Mathematics and Psychology, Diploma of Education, Graduate Diploma of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.
I have lived in Darwin since July 1991.
I am one of the founding members and the treasurer of Australians for a Free East Timor (AFFET) which was established in Darwin in late November 1991.
I was a member for 3 years in the early 90s of the Darwin Branch of the East Timor Relief Association (ETRA) and on their financial subcommittee.
I worked as office manager and project officer of the East Timor International Support Centre (ETISC) in Darwin from January 1997 to January 2000.
I am one of the founders and was the director of the Asia Pacific Support Collective (APSC) which operated in East Timor from January 2000 to May 2002.
This submission is dated 3rd January 2004 and is dedicated to Dr Andrew McNaughtan who died unexpectedly in December 2003. It focuses mainly on the activities of AFFET. To write this submission I consulted with AFFET members Vaughan Williams, Stuart Highway, Jessie Watson, Andrew McNaughtan, Cesarina Rocha and Ray Hayes and supporter Emma King. Darwin ETRA and ETISC require their own stories.
My Introduction to the East Timor situation
I first heard about East Timor from the news reports of the five journalists who were killed at Balibo in October 1975. At this time I was teaching mathematics at Coonabarabran High School, separated from my husband, with a six-year-old son. I was politically active on feminist issues (1975 was International Year of Women) and always concerned about human rights. I kept abreast of information through a number of newspapers including the National Times which ran in-depth articles on the Balibo killings and the invasion. I had no problems believing that the Australian government had not supported the journalists and lied to their families, or considering the invasion of East Timor wrong. However the sacking of the Whitlam government and the subsequent election were at the forefront of my mind plus I moved back to Newcastle from Coona in late December 1975 and had to re-establish my life there.
My only memories of the East Timor issue from the 1980s are of watching the Gil Scrine documentary (Buried Alive) and being impressed with the work José Ramos-Horta was doing for his country; and buying a sticker saying 'Free East Timor' from an old leftie who had been a member of the Waterside Workers Union which I put on my fridge.
When I came to Darwin in 1991 I got a job at the Environment Centre NT as the shop manager. It was though the Centre that I met a number of politically active people. I read an article in the Northern Territory News that someone suspected of being East Timorese had fired shots at the Indonesian consulate so I knew that there was intense emotion around the East Timor issue in Darwin. At the time the USSR was breaking up and I was glued to the television watching the news. I briefly met Russell Anderson and Saskia Kouwenberg before they left Darwin to go to the Netherlands via East Timor so as to be there when the first Portuguese delegation visited.
After the Santa Cruz massacre occurred on 12 November 1991 I was told about a commemoration rally being held at the front of NT House (on the corner of Bennett St and Mitchell St in Darwin city) so I went along. Long-time Timor activist Rob Wesley-Smith (Wes) was the MC and I was very impressed with him and all the people (Timorese residents and asylum seekers, politicians, union people, etc) who spoke so movingly about the massacre and how they did not know if their family members were alive or dead. Wes asked for 120 volunteers to lie on the ground representing the dead bodies (it was how many we thought had been killed at the time).
I joined in. Veronica Pereira wailed a funeral dirge while we lay on the road looking up into the sky. I was very affected by this, I remember a rush of emotion piercing my heart. Wes suggested that the crowd, which was still worked up, march to the Indonesian consulate in the suburb of Stuart Park. The police made no effort to stop us. Initially there was much anger vented at the consulate, then the Timorese began a vigil with the burning of candles and placement of placards along the fence.
The 24 hours a day vigil lasted for 3 weeks until a union organiser persuaded the Timorese to abandon the vigil which I thought was a shame but it made the police and the consulate staff happy. A special moment during the vigil was when the Elcho Island Aboriginal dancers came down the footpath towards the consulate stamping, clapping sticks, droning – it was a powerful effect. They danced in the street in support of the East Timorese.
During those 3 weeks I would go to the vigil to show support, and from talking to other Australians who were doing the same (about 12 people) we decided to form an activist group named Australians For a Free East Timor (AFFET).
Australians For A Free East Timor
AFFET's first major activity was hosting a visit by José Ramos-Horta to Darwin in early January 1992. We organised a well-attended public meeting, markets stalls with Horta in attendance and an AFFET meeting at my home. After that meeting my phone started playing up and one of our members who was ex-army intelligence found that it was probably tapped. When my housemates returned from their holidays they were displeased that I had possibly endangered our house by having Horta visit.
At my workplace, the Environment Centre NT, we had a memorial with a candle burning 24 hours a day for weeks in the shop window and a sandwich board out the front during the day calling on the Indonesians to leave East Timor. The police ordered us to remove the board after the Indonesian consul complained and also the management committee of the Environment Centre criticised me for making the shop seem too radical. So I realised early in my involvement with Timor activism that it was a very sensitive topic in Darwin, one that even other activists did not want to be closely involved in. The Environment Centre shop continued to sell t-shirts, posters and books about East Timor.
I liked the other activists involved in AFFET. They were not necessarily easygoing people but they were people with very strong views about human rights and were not shy about putting those views forward or being criticised by the mainstream.
Meetings of AFFET commenced in a small room in an arcade in the city which soon became too crowded so we moved to the 'Old Workers Club', also known as the Darwin Music Development Centre (run by Vaughan Williams), and later to people's houses. The meetings were often fiery with people in the group for different reasons e.g. ex-Army or human rights activists, and people with different personalities e.g. flamboyant or wanting order. The less determined tended not to come back. However the meetings weren't all like that and in October 1994 I wrote in my journal 'the good humour of these meetings is a joy and I feel I am on the coal face of action.'
Usually we had a representative from the Democratic Socialist Party at our meetings in the early and mid 90s. In the late 90s they had their own group ASIET (Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor) which an AFFET member would occasionally attend.
Robert Domme, who recorded the first interview with Xanana in East Timor in 1990, was in Darwin for a couple of years and would attend the occasional meeting. In October 1994 he brought a letter from Xanana to an ETRA meeting at my house asking that we help fund a human rights group in Indonesia who were working for East Timor so we pledged $500.
After 1995 many chaotic AFFET meetings were held at the house where I was living at 25 Mosec St Ludmilla (owned by Andrew McNaughtan). Minutes were not taken but actions were organised. Some meetings were tense. 'When you've got people with strong ideas, passionate, you get this' says AFFET member Jessie Watson. 'There was almost a consensus that the formal meeting consultation didn't need to happen for actions and poster runs, you just did them.'
The amount of time I spent on AFFET activities varied in the early and mid-nineties depending on my feelings of commitment and my other activities. In 1991 I worked part-time at the Environment Centre, in 1992 I studied law, lived on a boat and was a project officer for Reclaim the Night, 1993 and in I went back to Newcastle for 6 months to pack up my house. While I was in Newcastle I had the chance to talk with Gough Whitlam at the May Day dinner. I asked him why he had taken such a disappointing stance on the East Timor issue and he ridiculously declared that Fretilin was as bad as Pol Pot!
I returned to law studies in Darwin for second semester 1993. Around this time Andrew McNaughtan and Sally-Anne Watson came to Darwin and joined and strengthened AFFET. I withdrew from law in 1994 and started work part-time as a masseur which I did until mid 1995. From 1991 I was also tutoring indigenous students in Maths. In 1996 I moved into Mosec St with AFFET members Ilana Eldridge and Vaughan Williams, worked as an organiser for the census and began a Graduate Diploma in Aboriginal Studies with the plan of getting work on an aboriginal community. Our house members began a long relationship with an Aboriginal town camp (Fish Camp) through activist and anthropologist Bill Day who stayed at Mosec St for a few months. In 1997 I completed my Graduate Diploma and started full-time work in January with Juan and Ceu Federer at ETISC.
So by the second half of the 90s I was sharing a house with other activists, socialising with them (we had some great parties), accommodating visiting activists and from 1997 I was working with activists. This was when my life became nearly 24 hours a day 'East Timor'.
Key AFFET Activities
AFFET organised numerous demonstrations which would have colourful banners and placards (mainly designed by Tony Jefferies and painted at the Timorese club Lafaek). We usually had some kind of street theatre to catch media attention (which was the main reason for the demonstrations) e.g. a re-enactment of Balibo and Roger East being killed which involved Rob Wesley-Smith being thrown into the water off Stokes Hill wharf.
On the front cover of the book Free East Timor edited by Jim Albury, a Darwin Timorese women is pictured at a 1995 AFFET demonstration in front of the Indonesian consulate stamping on a dummy of Indonesian president Suharto and on the back cover is a photo of the burning of 20 Indonesian military flags in Darwin on the 20th anniversary of the invasion (7th December 1995). These flags were intricate and much more difficult to make than the simple Indonesian red and white national flag but we tried as often as possible use these to make the point that we were protesting against the Indonesian military regime rather than the Indonesian people. We had a gigantic Timorese flag that highlighted all our demonstrations which was made by local Larrakia (Aboriginal tribe) woman June Mills as a gesture of solidarity with the East Timorese cause.
AFFET demonstrated every year on
- July 17th - the day of 'integration' of East Timor into Indonesia
- August 17th - Indonesian independence day
- October 16th - to commemorate the deaths of the journalists at Balibo
- November 12th - to commemorate the Santa Cruz massacre
- December 7th - to protest the Indonesian invasion of East Timor
AFFET and the Timorese had a contingent in every May Day march which is a big event in Darwin.
We also demonstrated if atrocities occurred in East Timor e.g. on 'Integration Day' in July 1994 when three students were killed in a Dili demonstration, in November 1998 when a massacre occurred in Alas, and in April 1999 with the horrendous killings at Liquiça church. We tried to ensure that any killings in East Timor were brought to the attention of the media.
Demonstrations were held mainly at the Indonesian consulate and the department of Foreign Affairs and rarely at the Indonesian consul's home. Visits were also made to the Timor Gap Authority office and to companies linked to the Timor Gap oil drilling which was one of our ongoing campaigns over Australia's role in attempting to steal the Timorese share of the oil and gas profits. We made, and covered town with, a critical poster about one of our long time supporters ALP MHR Warren Snowden after he took up a position on the Timor Gap authority. We knew that he was appointed to try to keep him quiet about East Timor and it worked. (Snowden's office has always been a great asset for AFFET by providing free photocopying and use of the fax machine and phone).
In August 1993 AFFET joined the Timorese in demonstrating against the presence of the Indonesian navy in Darwin.
In November 1993 we demonstrated outside a ministerial meeting on Timor Gap at the casino. Security asked us to move away from the front entrance, then turned the hoses on us. We met the head of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Darwin at that event who from then on was always interested to talk to us and would attend the occasional protest and any public information sessions on East Timor that we held (we realised that he wanted to know what AFFET was up to, but we thought he might actually learn something from us!)
On 17th August 1994 as on other Independence days we noisily disrupted the celebration in the Indonesian consulate grounds. This particular year we burnt a dummy of Suharto and an Indonesian flag. The dummy had a plaster-of-paris head which looked very much like a skull in the ashes and we got a lot of media coverage. This demonstration, along with one in Canberra, caused Ali Alatas to protest against flag burning and also suggest Australia change its laws and not allow demonstrations in front of consulates or embassies. However both Gareth Evans the Foreign Minister and Marshall Perron the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory stated that Australia was a democracy and protests were allowed.
On 19th August 1994 we held a vibrant demonstration when the Prime Minister Paul Keating and all the premiers and chief ministers came to Darwin for the opening of the NT's new Parliament House and a Heads of State meeting. We stood on the steps to the old Legislative Assembly building across from the new parliament house while the press and pollies walked through the square below. The two large buildings gave excellent acoustics. We had fine-tuned our demonstrations by then and had percussion consisting of sticks and tin drums which made a solid beat, and well practised chants, so we made lot of noise which provided background for many media interviews. The media was from Canberra as well as local and many filmed us. On any radio interviews of heads of state you could hear the chanting and people down south told us they saw the protest on TV.
For the third anniversary of the Dili massacre we held a rally at State Square. A new recruit, graphic artist Hugh Ekeberg, had designed black and white masks for people which had been painted at Lafaek. We marched through the city to the new Indonesian consulate where the crowd knocked down a barricade that the police had erected and surged to the fence. We did eventually agree to return to the road but we sent a delegation to the local council to complain about not being allowed to use the footpath.
Hugh Ekeberg proved a valuable asset to AFFET as he also had advanced computer skills and was happy to help out whenever needed. However his wife asked him to cut back these activities as AFFET tended to take over your life and he decided his marriage was more important. In 1997 Hugh joined ETISC as the computer manager. He set up the ETISC website Timor Today which was updated 5 days a week and by 1999 was being hit by hundreds every day. He also regularly assisted José Ramos-Horta with computer and email problems.
On 14th November 1994 AFFET staged a demonstration with local East Timorese in support of the 30 East Timorese students who had jumped into the US embassy in Jakarta while the APEC conference was on. The protestors decided to go to the Department of Foreign Affairs and ended up staging a nine hour sit-in saying they wouldn't leave until the Minister for Foreign Affairs agreed to talk to Suharto about East Timorese self-determination. This action received Australia-wide media. After that date no one could enter the Department of Foreign Affairs without speaking through an intercom and waiting for the door to be unlocked.
On invasion day 7th December 1994 eight protestors were arrested for trespass at the Darwin home of the Indonesian consul after a demonstration there.
In 1995 AFFET managed to stop Indonesia from attending the Arafura Games because they were so concerned about the amount of demonstrations that were occurring in Darwin. The games were a popular sporting event for nations in the region. Darwin activists' efforts were referred to in an editorial in the New York Times around that time.
Wes's brothers, Martin and Peter Wesley-Smith, wrote an opera about the suffering of a young Timorese man in Darwin called Quito which Wes provided information for, and in which the sounds of an AFFET protest are heard, chanting Free East Timor now! No blood for oil!
The behaviour of the Darwin police at the demonstrations varied but many acted as though we were common criminals and treated us roughly and rudely. There were always more police than needed – sometimes nearly as many as protestors - and yet calls to police about domestic violence involving aboriginal people would often have to wait hours for the police to turn up. A policeman said to me at one demonstration 'we've over-reacted as usual'. The Northern Territory government was definitely on the side of the Indonesians and one of the ways this was reflected was in the attitude of the police. Vaughan Williams always made an effort to engage them in friendly conversation which in hindsight I realise was wise but at the time I was too disgusted with their behaviour to be friendly.
Other AFFET Activities
AFFET members designed and made t-shirts (e.g. Free East Timor - Total Independence designed by Vaughan, Free Xanana designed by Tony) and sold these and other t-shirts on the issue, including years later one produced by Laka and George Bernadino with a picture of Konis Santana on the front. Occasionally even now I see these t-shirts on Timorese in Dili. One of the Total Independence shirts was stolen from my Dili room in 2000 which is a sign of its value.
AFFET kept Darwin covered in original posters and graffiti about East Timor and Xanana throughout the whole 1990s. They were mainly designed by Vaughan Williams plus early designs by Pete McVean and later collage posters by Jessie Watson. They were made by hand and/or computers, then photocopied for free at local politicians' offices.
We were also given posters from international organisations which we put up. These were mainly about East Timor, including a copy of a poem Bono wrote beginning 'there is no silence deep enough' but also anti-militarism. Posters about gigs and local politicians were included in the paste-ups. Pasting up posters was an illegal activity and resulted in occasional run-ins with police and security firms and the odd fine but this never deterred anyone. In fact a lot of pleasure was had carrying out this clandestine activity. The council would make efforts to pull the posters down and within a couple of days there would a fresh batch up. I only participated twice. One time with three other women we were writing graffiti on builders' plywood panels in front of a construction project when a security guard spotted us. Our lookout gave an early warning and we ran down a lane to our car then Sally-Anne drove quite fast out to the suburbs before we were able to lose them.
In early 1992 AFFET painted FREE EAST TIMOR in enormous letters on the outskirts of the Darwin airfield so George Bush would see it as he flew in to Darwin and we kept it painted for weeks. Two of our members went up in a plane and could see how effective it was.
In 1992 the Lusitania Expresso, a ferry organised by Portuguese students for their Missão Paz en Timor, was moored in Darwin for a few days before it unsuccessfully attempted to reach East Timor. AFFET members attended meetings and press conferences with the students. Darwin resident, a rare attendee at AFFET meetings, Andrew McMillan wrote about a trip to Timor and his voyage with the Lusitania in Death in Dili published later that year.
In 1993 AFFET ran a 'Boycott Bali' campaign in an effort to cause a drop in tourist dollars for Indonesia. This consisted of posters, stickers and demonstrations outside Garuda and Ansett. It may not have cut numbers but certainly made more people aware of the East Timor issue.
The Free Xanana campaign was ongoing until he was freed – posters, placards, stickers, chants at protests, letters, petitions.
Every time any person of influence or relevance to the cause of East Timor visited Darwin AFFET made efforts to speak to them or stage a protest e.g.
- In 1992 an Indonesian member of the Human Rights Commission came who was very happy to talk about East Timor and very supportive.
- AFFET 'greeted' the Indonesian Ambassador at the opening of the new Indonesian consulate in Darwin city in June 1993. They had decided that the old consulate was too vulnerable to protests.
- We protested at the Australia-Indonesia Business Conference in October 1993
- In February 1995 the ALP hosted a lunch for Paul Keating. AFFET staged a demonstration with lots of placards and a chorus of 'shame on you Keating' as the Australian Prime Minster arrived. Inside, José & Fatima Gusmão in their traditional clothes presented Keating with a copy of Michele Turner's moving book Telling: East Timor, personal testimonies 1942-1992. I shook Keating's hand and asked him to stand up to Indonesia over East Timor.
- Annita Keating gave a talk about breast cancer on the same visit. I accompanied a group of three Timorese women (including Ceu Lopes Federer) to give her a letter about women in East Timor and a copy of Telling.
- In October 1997 we were informed that Indonesian magistrates would be attending a court session at the Darwin Magistrates Court so Vaughan and I went in and sat next to them. I gave each one a copy of the ETISC Human Rights Violations in East Timor and Vaughan showed them torture photos which had been smuggled out of the country.
In 1994 Hugh Ekeberg wrote a note in Arabic describing the evil Suharto was perpetuating in East Timor using phrases from the Koran and we photocopied them and dropped them on different nights over the consulate fence and sometimes in the consul's yard. I helped one night and when the security guard yelled out we had to sprint separate ways back to our car – I ran faster than I had for many years.
The Northern Territory Business Expo held for three days in late June at Darwin High School every year is attended by Indonesia and other South-East Asian countries. AFFET attended as well. In 1994 Vaughan was arrested for trespass at the Expo for standing near the East Timor stall in the Indonesian section with a Free East Timor t-shirt on because security said that the t-shirt was insulting to the Indonesians. The Expo had hired a security firm, mainly to stop AFFET members stirring up trouble. So the next day we held a demonstration at the front of the Expo and a number of us wore our Free East Timor t-shirts, as we did also in 1995. After these events the Expo organiser decided to give AFFET a stall in 1996 next to the entrance to the Expo. I remember East Timorese people who'd come to visit the Expo praising us for our efforts. In 1998 we had an exhibition of the torture photos at the Expo that was set up so people had to walk past warning signs then behind a screen to view them. A member of Australia's special army forces (SAS) looked at the photos and when I said that a number of people had were incredulous that torturers would take such photos he assured me that it happens regularly and that they take them as trophies and to try to coerce new prisoners into speaking.
AFFET put submissions into, and appeared at, every government or private enquiry that was in any way relevant to East Timor e.g. two that I was involved in
- In 1992 after a briefing by Juan Federer I spoke at a senate committee enquiry into 'Australia's Relations with Indonesia'.
- Wes and I wrote separate submissions supporting a pipeline to East Timor to Philips Petroleum in 1998 re the building a gas plant in Darwin Harbour which would use gas from the Bayu Undan Timor sea.
AFFET – mainly Wes – regularly put out press releases whenever there was any event related to East Timor. Wes and Vaughan, and when he was in Darwin (1992-1996) Andrew McNaughtan, were regulars on talkback radio. In early 1994 AFFET started putting our press releases and reports onto the East Timor news list on email which was an extremely valuable tool in the international solidarity struggle. It ensured that all over the world support groups were raising the same issues and making the same demands and also made some of the activists from other countries familiar names long before there was an opportunity to meet them.
We also held book launches e.g. Timor - a Western Made Tragedy in 1992, in 1996 Children of the Resistance by Sally-Anne Watson under the pseudonym of Rebecca Winters and Brian Kelly which was published by AFFET, and in early 1999 Buibere: Voice of East Timorese Women which was compiled by Sally-Anne with support from ETISC, myself, Cindy Watson and others.
We arranged, or assisted with, or participated in
- candlelight vigils e.g. on the third anniversary of the Dili massacre there was a mass at the Catholic cathedral then a candlelit march to the Indonesian consulate then a vigil
- ETRA film nights at the University, Deckchair cinema or museum e.g. In Cold Blood, plus a film on Xanana that José and Fatima appeared in, and smuggled films about Falintil. Col Thompson (former AFFET member who set up ETRA in Darwin) ran the Deckchair Cinema and was able to arrange a sneak preview of Death of a Nation in February 1992. It was not advertised but 80 people turned up who were so moved by it they donated $500. We also saw Prisoner of Conscience about the brother of Darwin Timorese Zecka Branco who'd been gaoled for 15 years for involvement in the demonstration at Santa Cruz
- Over the years hundreds of market stalls at the famous Mindil Beach night markets and Parap Saturday markets either organised by ETRA or AFFET. The stalls provided information on the situation in East Timor, had letters and petitions to sign and sold t-shirts, badges, books, stickers, postcards and Timorese crafts and were a good opportunity to talk to travellers as well as locals.
AFFET provided speakers on the issue of East Timor when required e.g. in July 1994 Community Aid Abroad organised an East Timor information meeting. Andrew spoke about his recent trip to Timor and Wes spoke about the APCET (Asia Pacific Coalition for East Timor) conference in the Philippines and how the local people who helped the few foreigners who had got in, not to be deported. Also at that CAA meeting one of our supporters, lawyer Alistair Wyvill, spoke about his assistance to the Australian high court challenge to the Timor Gap Treaty on the grounds that the UN had not accepted the Indonesian takeover of East Timor.
AFFET organised many music nights for East Timor at the Darwin Music Development Centre. These featured a mix of Darwin and Timorese bands and Timorese cultural dancing and drumming, everyone playing voluntarily. Not a lot of money was made but the cause of East Timor was highlighted, everyone had a good time and social bonds were strengthened between Timorese, activists and supporters.
In mid 1995 AFFET, particularly myself, with a few Timorese, organised the Blue Moon Ball at the Botanic Gardens to raise funds to support the nomination of Bishop Belo for the Nobel Peace Prize. The Bishop was unsuccessful that year but was nominated and won the prize the following year.
AFFET with Timorese activists staged a 3-day hunger strike for a free East Timor at the front of the Indonesian consulate in Darwin from 7th to 9th December 1995.
We organised information sessions and forums for visiting speakers e.g. José Ramos-Horta, Sonny Inbaraj (Malaysian author of East Timor: Blood and Tears in Asean), and Timorese from inside East Timor. These were held at Browns Mart, the University or Nungalinya College.
We made large banners to hang from water towers and bridges.
We printed and sold hundreds of stickers with
FREE EAST TIMOR
THE BRUTAL COLONIALIST
We wrote petitions and collected signatures, asked people to sign petitions and letters from other organisations e.g. the East Timor Justice Lobby trying to get permanent residence for the Timorese asylum seekers. We distributed newsletters and leaflets, and sold stickers and postcards, and wrote letters to politicians, newspapers and the UN.
We made connections with Darwin politicians (especially ALP members John Bailey and Warren Snowden), members of the Catholic church, lawyers (especially Colin McDonald QC and Alistair Wyvill), journalists, aboriginal people, students and the Student Union at NT University, trade unions, public servants, medical workers (to get medicines to send to Timor and free treatment of East Timorese when in town), musicians and artists, the Environment Centre NT, Community Aid Abroad, Amnesty International etc in Darwin. There were also a number of businesses which would support our activities by allowing posters to be pasted up and providing prizes for raffles e.g. Dusty Jackets second hand bookshop.
We had meetings with visiting East Timorese leaders e.g. José Ramos Horta, Mari Alkatiri, Emilia Pires.
Over the years many AFFET members and supporters were involved in a number of court cases after being charged with a range of offences e.g. trespassing, disorderly conduct (flag burning), criminal damage (putting up a poster), assaulting a police officer (in self-defence at a protest), offensive language and resisting arrest (when being manhandled by police), loitering (standing in front of the Indonesian consulate for 5 minutes). Often these charges were dropped but not all. AFFET members mainly did their own legal work and provided strong support for any other member who was in court by helping prepare cases and attending the court sessions. Wes was particularly good at this, invariably attending each court-sitting day whenever any member was in court.
Sally-Anne, Vaughan and Wes were charged with disorderly conduct for the burning of Indonesian military flags 6 months after the event. Wes's case was dropped but Vaughan and Sally-Anne were found guilty. They appeared for themselves in the magistrate court but decided to use a lawyer to appeal the guilty verdict and Alistair Wyvill offered to help. The appeal was lost but a further appeal to the Supreme Court in front of three judges again with Alistair's help was successful and an important legal case determining the right to burn flags at demonstrations.
I avoided getting arrested for many years but on 17th July 1998 I was arrested for trespass, resisting arrest and two charges of assaulting police officers at a protest at the Department of Foreign Affairs. The court cases dragged on for a couple of years and unfortunately I received a criminal conviction, though with a suspended sentence.
In 1995 AFFET organised the Indonesia and Regional Conflict Resolution Conference in August to coincide with Kangaroo 95 military exercises to be held in the NT to which Indonesia was invited. Northern Territory University suddenly found that they had double booked their venue (i.e. they decided they didn't want a controversial conference on campus). This conference was organised with minimal funding. We held one fundraiser, a quiz night with an East Timor slant. However Juan Federer arranged funding from Professor Barbedo in Portugal to bring six pro-democracy activists from Indonesia to participate in a conference about East Timor for the first time. Vaughan accommodated them at the Music Development Centre. For Darwin activists both Australian and East Timorese it was rewarding to make personal acquaintance and links with Indonesian activists and discuss ways of supporting each other. It made us emphasise at future rallies that we were against the Indonesian military regime not the Indonesian people. Most of those Indonesian activists continued working in various ways for East Timor and I met some of them when I went to Jakarta for ETISC in 1998. This event was referred to in a TAPOL summary of important East Timor international solidarity activities.
Despite the name, the conference was mainly about East Timor with one session on West Papua.
The topics included:
- The policies, objectives and strategies of the East Timorese support movement.
- Australian Foreign Policy and the role it plays in the region.
- The militarization of the North.
- Feminist Conflict Resolution Strategies.
- The Arts as a tool for conflict resolution in the region.
Activists from around Australia attended the conference including Jim Dunn, Paddy Keneally and George Aditjondro who was lecturing at the time in Perth. For me it was a widening of my network, though because I was the very busy organising I hardly had time to socialise. Sonny Inbaraj came to this conference, stayed at Andrew McNaughtan's house and met AFFET member Ilana Eldridge who he married in 1996 (with José Gusmão as the best man). In 1997 Sonny came to live in Darwin with Ilana and worked as media officer for ETISC as well as being an activist with AFFET and at times ASIET. In 1998 Sonny and Ilana established the Australasian newspaper and website which included many articles about East Timor. (Ilana had lost her job as an ABC journalist in 1988 for painting on the front of her house at Stuart Park in large letters INDONESIAN SPY BASE with arrows pointing to the Indonesian consulate.)
Alongside the 1995 conference Andrew McNaughtan organised a brilliant exhibition of photos from the Australian War Memorial of Australian soldiers in East Timor in World War II and also testimonials from Darwin Timorese who had assisted the Australian army at that time. He received funding from the Australian government for events associated with the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. Andrew spent many hours interviewing the Timorese and recording this information and he also accompanied two of them (Veronica Pereira and Tony Maia) to Japan to speak at the 'War Crimes Compensation Forum' in order to raise awareness about Japanese abuses in East Timor in World War II. (The NGO I later ran in Dili had some of these photos on the walls. We lent them to the Australian army base in Dili in 2001 and to a local bar popular with Aussie soldiers in 2002. One of the Timorese 'kriados' in a photo was recognised by a relative and the old Australian soldier was tracked down and a reunion resulted.)
The house owned by Andrew at 25 Mosec St Ludmilla (a suburb of Darwin) played an important role in the struggle. AFFET members who lived at Mosec St pre-2000 include Andrew, Tony, Ilana, Vaughan, me, Jessie and Cindy Watson and various supporters. Many activists, students, journalists and photographers stayed there on their way to and from East Timor including John Martinkus, Kieran Dwyer, Sonny Inbaraj, Yannis Tosunoglu from Norway, Sam Maresh and other Melbourne university students, Sarah Niner (to collect information in Darwin for the biography she was writing on Xanana), Cairon O'Reilly, and an Indonesian activist from NGO Kontras.
AFFET members, especially Wes, also looked after numerous activists on their way through Darwin e.g. Helen Hill and Shirley Shackleton. Later in 2000 when Vaughan Williams and Cindy Watson set up 31 Woods St in the city, they accommodated many who were passing to and from Timor. John Martinkus wrote A Dirty Little War at 31 Woods St, thanked a few AFFET members in the book and held the Darwin book launch there.
AFFET had representatives at APCET conferences in Manila (Rob Wesley-Smith), Kuala Lumpur (Ilana Eldridge and Sonny Inbaraj) and Bangkok (Jude Conway). The Indonesian government put a lot of pressure on the Philippine government not to let certain people in to attend the APCET conference and one of our links, Juan Federer, was upset at being publicly listed as he did not want to be known as an active supporter. We held a demonstration at the consulate to protest over the Indonesian government's actions and Sally-Anne was arrested for trespass (thought the charges were later dropped).
Ilana and Sonny were arrested along with Andrew McNaughtan and others including a Darwin nun, just for attending the KL APCET conference. Ilana was able to phone Vaughan while under detention and asked AFFET to publicise what had happened. A day later the Malaysian High Commissioner to Australia happened to visit Darwin so AFFET held a demonstration and one member, Stuart Highway, jumped inside the commissioner's car. This action received much publicity and the opportunity to say what had happened at the APCET conference.
AFFET's activities were all carried out on a shoestring. We hardly ever had any money in the bank and if we did make any money it was usually sent to Falintil or the clandestine in East Timor. We made an effort in 1995 when we mailed out a brochure to every household in the inner suburbs of Darwin under the title Remembering East Timor. This raised a few thousand dollars which all went over to Timor. It was difficult in Darwin with the Northern Territory government, army and local businesses so supportive of Indonesia and anti-East Timor.
Late May 1995 AFFET members with local Timorese watched from the coastline in great excitement for the only boat of asylum seekers to come from East Timor with 22 brave Timorese on board. We were not allowed to talk to them when they arrived, but AFFET helped lobby the government to allow them to live in the community rather than at Port Hedland. Some of those 'boat people' still live in Darwin and in late October 2003 finally received their permanent residence visas. AFFET had been helping them with support letters and lobbying. They were all politically active and participated in many demonstrations and behind the scenes work with AFFET. The most active of all of them was Antonio Goveia. He raised a lot of money for Falintil and established radio contact with guerrilla leader Konis Santana. He arranged the first opportunity for Ramos-Horta and Santana to talk in 23 years via satellite phone. (Goveia gave up waiting for his permanent residence visa and returned to East Timor in 2000.)
In 1996 a group organised by Albie Viegas comprising Tony Maia and Risto Nousalien with support from Wes, built a full-scale copy of a Timorese sacred house on Wes's block. The first showing of this house was as part of the Tuba Rai Metin installation in Darwin town hall ruins with symbolic lead soldiers made by Albie, tais with the names of all the people killed in the Santa Cruz massacre by Veronica Pereira and Veronica weaving tais under a bamboo shelter. Albie stayed at Mosec St while this was on and AFFET members helped with finding another venue when the NT Museum pulled out at the last minute, publicity, setting up, security, transport and the pack down.
After John Howard became prime minister he closed down the Cox Peninsula radio transmitter (on the far side of Darwin Harbour). After closure Radio Australia was forced to transmit from Melbourne and was unable to reach as large a footprint in the South East Asian region. AFFET unsuccessfully wrote letters to the government protesting the closure of this transmitter as it meant that many people in Indonesia were no longer able to hear news about the human rights violations carried out by their military in East Timor.
We organised a number of different photo exhibitions e.g.
- an exhibition of photos that Andrew McNaughtan had compiled that we showed for a week at a gallery in the city in 1998. This exhibition included a few photos from World War II so I went across the road to the RSL to inform them. I only had to mention the words 'East Timor' and I was rudely interrupted with 'get out of here, we're not interested in THAT.' Another example of the atmosphere that AFFET operated in.
- two exhibitions with photos I had taken from a women's demonstration in Dili on November 25 1998 and an IMPETTU demonstration in Jakarta on December 7th 1998. One exhibition was in an auditorium at the NT University when AFFET organised José Ramos-Horta to speak in early 1999 and the other was a public showing at 25 Mosec St.
- Vaughan Williams has taken many photos of the protests and people associated with the East Timor cause which have been shown at a wide range of events.
Throughout the 90s AFFET managed to keep East Timor in the news constantly in Darwin and often further a field.
One of AFFET's most productive members Andrew McNaughtan left Darwin to return to Sydney in 1996. It was a quieter year than 1995 for AFFET and by 1997 demonstrations were very small and many of the Timorese stopped attending. Tony Jefferies was influenced by a friend in the ALP who thought that small demonstrations were counter-productive and he stopped participating. The other AFFET members would not stop. We could not let an important date go past without letting the powers know that we were still concerned about the situation in East Timor. The setting up in Darwin of the East Timor International Support Centre (ETISC) in January 1997 (and my employment from that date as office manager) meant that through me AFFET was able to have a strong link with a range of activities going on in support of Timorese self-determination within Australia, Indonesia, East Timor and internationally. The full story of my ETISC activities must be kept for another time. However it wasn't until Suharto was forced to resign in May 1998 that spirits really started to lift among Timor activists.
AFFET and Timorese in Darwin
Darwin had a Timorese population of a few thousand. The majority of the Timorese had been UDT supporters who fled the Civil War in 1975 and they did not tend to be politically active except when the situation in East Timor was particularly extreme e.g. for a few months after the Santa Cruz massacre and in September 1999. Darwin had three Timorese clubs: Lafaek (Fretilin members), the Portuguese-Timorese club and the Chinese-Timorese club. The head of Fretilin in Australia who was based in Darwin, Alfredo Ferreira, attended AFFET meetings regularly with José Gusmão in 1992. After a period Alfredo stopped attending but we worked with José and his wife Fatima throughout the 90s. We also worked closely with Laka Pires and George Bernadino, Veronica Pereira and Tony Maia, Antonio Goveia and Luisa Ferreira, Ceu Lopes Federer, John da Silva, Maria Pires, Cesarina Rocha, Flavia Pinto, Florentino Neves, Vitor Lay, and a varying cast of many others. In the early 90s also Zecka and Alice Branco, Dulcie Munn and Rita Lytter.
It was difficult for the Timorese to demonstrate as the Indonesian consulate filmed and photographed them and endeavoured to find out their names in order to harass their families in Timor or make it difficult for them to return to visit their families. Young people like Cesarina went directly against her parents' wishes by being involved in activism. It was easier for the asylum seekers like Goveia and Luisa to protest because they could not return anyway and their families were already being watched because of their flight from East Timor. Alfredo Ferreira was an employee of the Darwin City Council and from about 1994 on was sometimes seen pulling down Free East Timor posters. We could only imagine that he had come under pressure at work to not be seen as any kind of activist but it was disappointing to AFFET.
There were cultural complications as well e.g. we discovered that if we worked with some Timorese and they were feuding with other Timorese then the other Timorese would also stop talking to us. This was upsetting to me at the time. Also a few AFFET members had Irish tempers which amongst ourselves we were able to deal with but the East Timorese were generally shocked by bad temper and would not want to work with people who displayed it.
Cesarina Rocha (Ces) became a key part of AFFET. She said that although she was affected by the situation in East Timor it was not profoundly until late 1994 when she saw John Pilger's Death of a Nation at an East Timor week at the Northern Territory University. She was invited to attend a protest the next day where she met Wes and Veronica Pereira. She soon became involved at all levels - letter writing, street protests, national and international gatherings, even clandestine meetings. (She met one of the resistance fighters secretly in East Timor in late 1998). Ces remembers with humour many of the protests that she was involved in e.g. sitting in the Indonesian consulate singing We who believe in freedom then being dragged out carrying a daffodil (she wanted to look like she wasn't there as a threat). Although a naturally shy person she felt an obligation to do media interviews because so few of the Timorese in Darwin would fill the role. Ces was the only East Timorese person at the world youth conference in South Korea in 1996 and attended a conference on East Timor in Portugal with Laka Pires in 1998 when, along with other East Timorese women, they demanded a bigger say for women who initially were not on the speakers list.
AFFET members supported every Timorese cultural activity – plays e.g. Death in Balibo and Eyewitness, Timorese dancing, art banner exhibitions, and music nights at Lafaek and occasionally at the Portuguese Timorese club.
AFFET Visits to East Timor
AFFET members visited East Timor regularly but the first effort was unsuccessful when in May 1992 Stuart Highway and Robert Welfare (both could speak Indonesian) attempted to go to East Timor to see Xanana's trial but were turned back at the border. Andrew McNaughtan travelled to East Timor a number of times while he was based in Darwin. He was regularly deported, e.g. in July 1994 he spent two weeks in East Timor during which the UN Rapporteur also visited. Max Stahl had lent Andrew a camera and he interviewed and filmed Bishop Belo who confirmed Pilger's view that there was a second massacre when hundreds of the wounded were killed. Andrew also filmed a man who had been injured in the Dili massacre then tortured, and interviewed students who had participated in university riots which occurred during his visit. He got a lot of press from this visit including an interview with Amy Goodman for her US radio station. Tony Jefferies went in1995, taking a large sum of money for the clandestine. He observed a demonstration and East Timorese being brutally bashed by the police and was deported along with Kieran Dwyer and Pavel from Melbourne. Sally-Anne Watson travelled throughout East Timor in 1995 (and recorded her travels in Children of the Resistance), November 1998 (which resulted in Buibere: Voice of East Timorese Women again using the pseudonym Rebecca Winters) and late August to September 1999 when she was deported along with Andrew and Jude for being in a car which had some sample ballot papers on the floor near Suai after voting had closed on August 30th.
AFFET's best-known member, Rob Wesley-Smith, was unable to enter East Timor until late 1998 as his name was on the blacklist for years and even in 1998 he was soon kicked out. Wes can tell a great deal about his activities pre-1991 and about AFFET activities after 1991 in his own story.
I travelled to East Timor for the first time in November 1995. I stayed at Vila Harmonia with Pedro and Joanna Lebre who arranged a clandestine meeting between resistance leader David Ximenes and me so I could hand over money and receive information. We met down the back of Vila Harmonia and there were lookouts and dogs to ensure we had no unexpected visitors as the Indonesian Intel were searching for David. I met Olandina Caeiro at her Massau restaurant on the night of December 7. She had been listening to Radio Australia and heard about a demonstration in Darwin in support of East Timorese self-determination and she was thrilled about this solidarity. This made me sure about the worth of even small demonstrations that made the media.
I went to East Timor again in November 1998 where I attended the first East Timorese Women's Conference organised by the women's group from the East Timorese Student Solidarity Council based at the university in Dili. All of the visiting foreigners were praised for our support for the East Timorese cause. Before this trip I had started recording the life story of Ceu Lopes Federer and while in Dili recorded Domingas 'Micato' Alves' story and part of Laura Abrantes' story with the idea of compiling a book of Timorese women's stories.
I was in East Timor from mid July to 4th September 1999 to observe the registration and UN-sponsored referendum as a project officer for ETISC. I was deported on that date with Andrew and Sally-Anne as mentioned above.
It was a very distressing time. The Indonesian military were causing devastation in East Timor. I returned to work at ETISC which was staffed 24 hours a day as calls came in from journalists around the world. AFFET organised a protest on Monday 6th which moved from the consulate to DFAT then to the UN office where Ces and Wes managed to lower the UN flag to half-mast. This image was recorded by television cameras and was flashed around the world as Timor was still burning.
A number of marches were held in Darwin calling for peacekeepers to go to Timor and I participated in all of them. The first was organised on the afternoon of the 6th by the Darwin head of Fretilin. This was attended by hundreds of people, mainly East Timorese. People gathered at the front of NT House and marched to the Indonesian consulate to hear speeches.
AFFET set up a stall in Raintree Park that was staffed every day. It gave out information and had letters and petitions to the UN and the Australian government for people to sign (which hundreds did). AFFET also had a shop in the Chin Arcade named the Xanana shop which sold books, t-shirts and Timorese crafts. AFFET ensured the streets of Darwin city were covered in posters throughout the crisis and had a stall at Mindil Beach markets every Thursday as they had throughout the Dry.
On Wednesday 8th Rob Wesley-Smith for AFFET presented an impassioned submission to the parliamentary Enquiry into Australian's Relationship with East Timor. In the afternoon AFFET organised a protest at the Stokes Hill wharf urging the US warship USS Mobile Bay to sail to East Timor. Footage was shown on BBC and CNN. On the Thursday I organized a press conference for a women's grass-roots delegation that I had assisted travel around East Timor during the referendum period.
On the Friday evening, ASIET and AFFET organized a candlelight march. 1,500 people, led by Timorese and Australian drummers, marched through the city streets to the Indonesian consulate. At the time this was the biggest march seen in Darwin since the anti-Vietnamese war marches.
On September 15th AFFET set up the East Timor embassy in Raintree Park and Rob Wesley-Smith commenced a 3-day hunger strike. On the 17th another march was held with many hundreds of people. On Sunday 19th AFFET ran a well attended Free East Timor gig, with free entry to Timorese refugees who had been in Darwin for a week. On 20th September everyone breathed a huge sigh of relief when peacekeepers flew into East Timor. I collapsed with exhaustion.
I returned to Dili with Timor Aid in November. In December AFFET members organised over 30 musicians from Darwin to travel to Dili to perform an outdoor concert for the Timorese on the 7th. It was grey or poured rain but thousands stayed to joyously appreciate the music.
2000 and Beyond
In January 2000 I set up the Asia Pacific Support Collective (APSC) with Ilana Eldridge and Lee Kirk (Wes was a board member). We established an office in Kuluhun, Dili and worked intensively assisting local non-government organizations. APSC:
- helped write funding proposals and linked projects to potential funding agencies
- gave English language, computer and driving lessons
- linked skilled international volunteers to suitable local NGOs
- provided an introduction service for international individuals and organisations to women's, students' and media NGOs
- provided specialist computer, mobile phone (and other equipment) support
- compiled lists of resources available in East Timor
- gave visa and travel support
- assisted the implementation of media training programs
- coordinated arts exchanges
- trained and mentored Timorese women and youth at our office in computer usage, English and NGO operations.
- arranged for Timorese to attend international conferences
- provided email and fax access to Timorese NGOs
- assisted Timorese planning to study in Australia and overseas
- provided information resources including books, magazines, videos and photographs
- had a mobile team which worked in Suai, Manatuto, Baucau and Ermera, on capacity building, income generation and sourcing resources and funding for local people
- provided documentation services for project activities using video and digital camera
- helped establish Asia Pacific Support Collective Timor Leste (APSC-TL).
I returned to live in Darwin at the end of May 2002 again totally exhausted. I have since returned three times of around 3 weeks each stint to either work with APSC-TL or gather stories for the book. My link now with East Timor feels like a link with a cousin. I love to visit and am always interested in and concerned about by the difficult process of establishing a functioning nation but for me East Timor is now longer the obsession it was throughout the previous decade.
3 January 2004
APSC-TL celebrated its 10th anniversary in Dili in 2010. Directed by Beba Sequeira with Laura Abrantes as Gender consultant, APSC-TL supports women's tais co-operatives by helping market their tais products and organise their finances, supports women veterans' groups, finds funding for local scholarships for women and girls to continue their studies, collects and publishes women's stories of resistance, carries out surveys on sexual assaults, and more.
The book of stories that I compiled after many trips to Timor-Leste was published by CDU Press in 2010 and is entitled Step by Step: Women of East Timor, Stories of Resistance and Survival. I have since edited the English version of another book of Timorese women's stories collected by Laura and Beba entitled Secrecy: The Key to Independence which is to be published by BMETS in 2011.
Rob Wesley-Smith is still campaigning on east Timorese issues under the AFFET banner in Darwin. Wes, Cindy Watson and Vaughan Williams are still housing visiting Timorese and activists. I have returned to live in my hometown of Newcastle to be an active grandmother for my 6 year old granddaughter and write a social history of my mother and father in Newcastle. My Timor ties are too strong to abandon, so with other women I helped found Hunter East Timor Sisters (HETS) which sells Timorese tais products and helps raise funds for the APSC-TL scholarships.
1 August 2011