Companion to East Timor - The Dawn

The Dawn

Australian activists first tried to send shiploads of aid to various ports of East Timor. In September 1976, four activists – Cliff Morris, Robert Wesley-Smith, James Zantis and Manolis 'Manny' Mavromatis – were arrested while trying to sail to East Timor with medical supplies.

Collectively, they illustrate the diverse and highly contradictory nature of the early solidarity movement. Cliff Morris was an Australian dairy farmer in his mid-fifties from Deniliquin, New South Wales. At the age of 21, he had fought in East Timor during World War II as a commando with 2nd/4th Independent Company. By contrast, Robert Wesley-Smith was a peace activist and agricultural scientist had worked on land rights with the Gurindji and Larrakia people and coached Aboriginal children in Australian Rules Football. James Zantis was a right-wing political activist from Bondi in Sydney's eastern suburbs. His connection with East Timor came from his association with other right-wing political figures and the Australian Society for Inter-country Aid – Timor (ASIAT). Manny Mavromatis had no overt political stance. He was a sailor and adventurer who believed that something should and could be done to help the Timorese, and that a trip to a war zone was exciting and worthwhile in itself.

Their vessel, Dawn, had large supplies of medicines, some food, radio equipment and six firearms. They were charged with attempting to smuggle drugs (the medicines) and guns (the six firearms) to East Timor. On 14 February 1977, after ten days in court, the four activists were convicted and placed on small bonds. The Northern Territory Supreme Court later overturned their convictions on appeal, but the attempt cost Wesley-Smith his life-savings.

He kept at it, despite the financial blow. In response to reports that Indonesia had used napalm in its aerial bombing campaign, Wesley-Smith advertised that he was going to burn a dog on a public oval in Darwin. This attracted considerable publicity. On the appointed day, 14 July 1978, Wesley-Smith arrived at the oval with a dog hidden under his shirt. Also present were a large crowd of curious onlookers, animal rights activists, members of the media, police and fire brigade. The police had earlier warned Wesley-Smith that he would be arrested if he attempted to carry out his plan. When he pulled the dog out from inside his shirt, it turned out to be a fluffy toy dog. He then declared that people were prepared to be outraged at the burning of a dog, but not of the burning of humans in East Timor by napalm. While there was relief from the animal rights activists and disappointment from some of the onlookers, who had brought their cameras along to record the occasion, the goal of the publicity stunt had been accomplished: Wesley-Smith had raised awareness of Indonesia's actions.