[TimorLesteStudies] Meanjin Article: Remembering Balibo by Sian Prior and An interview with Robert Connelly by Sophie Cunningham

Jen Drysdale Jennifer.Drysdale at anu.edu.au
Thu Sep 3 21:50:30 EST 2009


Volume 68 Number 3, 2009


I kept a diary in 1975, through my first year of 
high school. I retain a particular fondness for 
my entry of 11 November: ‘Today the Prime 
Minister of Australia was sacked. Mum and Dad say 
it’s the end of democracy as we know it. Janice 
and I smoked a menthol cigarette.’ At the time, 
of course, I was unaware of the Whitlam 
government’s culpable actions regarding 
Indonesia’s imminent invasion of East Timor, 
which took place a few weeks after Whitlam’s 
sacking. His government had, however, already 
been made aware of the death of five 
Australian-based journalists in East Timor, and 
accepted the Suharto \government’s version of the 
stories that the Balibo Five were (variously) 
blown up in a house or caught in crossfire during 
battle. That culpability was passed, like a 
baton, from Whitlam to Fraser, to Hawke, to 
Keating and then to John Howard. It was Howard 
who finally supported East Timor’s Declaration of 
Independence on 20 May 1999, though his 
government’s refusal to put Australian troops on 
the ground for the referendum of 20 August 
allowed the Indonesians­in violent and graceless 
defeat­to kill around 1400 (more) Timorese, 
forcibly move 300,000 East Timorese into West 
Timor, and destroy around 90 per cent of East 
Timor’s buildings and infrastructure, thus 
condemning it to several more generations of 
struggle. Australian troops finally went into East Timor in September 1999.

It is a strange feeling when one’s childhood 
makes the shift from recent past to history. 
Things blur and it becomes harder to separate 
personal memory from media memory. Perhaps that’s 
why Generation Jones kids (I’m one, apparently) 
are described as having ‘a certain unrequited, 
jonesing quality’. It seems we’re that ‘large 
anonymous generation 
 Jonesers were given huge 
expectations as children in the 1960s, and then 
confronted with a different reality as they came 
of age in the 1970s.’ But I digress. At the time 
of the initial invasion I was allowed to watch 
only an hour of television a day­but news and 
current affairs shows were not included in that 
quota so I watched a lot of those. I can’t 
remember if I’m so familiar with the footage of 
Greg Shackleton’s reports from East Timor because 
I saw them at the time, or later, in the wake of 
media coverage of his disappearance­along with 
that of four colleagues­on 16 October 1975. 
Nonetheless my familiarity with the look and feel 
of that kind of footage made my response to 
Robert Connolly’s film Balibo particularly 
visceral and I was surprised by the extent to 
which the story of the Balibo Five felt deeply 
personal. I also felt a deep shame. As Connolly 
said in my interview with him (p. 150), ‘there’s 
every reason for that shame to be part of our own national story’.

Shame is a word that was much used when I was 
growing up, and ‘Shame Fraser, shame’ was often 
chanted at demonstrations in the seventies. But 
shame strikes me as an emotion, like guilt, that 
is difficult to convert into any kind of 
meaningful outcome. It’s an emotion that I felt 
most recently when watching the extraordinary 
Four Corners report on 8 June of the death of an 
Aboriginal elder who died after being transported 
hundreds of kilometres and for four hours in a 
metal van in temperatures in the mid-forties. He 
suffered third-degree burns sitting on the metal 
floor of the van. The fact that people employed 
by a government agency can still perpetrate 
violence this gross against our indigenous 
population beggars belief. It would seem our 
current Prime Minister’s moving and public shame 
back on 12 February 2008­‘We apologise for the 
laws and policies of successive Parliaments and 
governments that have inflicted profound grief, 
suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians’­has not made a difference.

One of the things that is extraordinary about the 
story of both the Balibo Five and Roger East (the 
journalist who was assassinated on the docks of 
Dili soon after uncovering the details of their 
death) is that the shame their story provoked, 
the ramifications of those murders, contributed 
to East Timor’s eventual independence. The tenth 
anniversary of Independence was celebrated on 30 
August 2009. It is in solidarity with that 
anniversary that Meanjin is publishing the 
interview with Robert Connolly and an essay on 
the deaths at Balibo by Sian Prior that reminds 
us just how important memory, and remembering, is.

Table of contents - this issue of Meanjin


Editorial by Sophie Cunningham


    * With Jessica Au, 
<http://www.riverroadpress.net>Carol Jenkins, 
Mike Pottenger, Tim Richards, Pepi Ronalds and Sam Twyford-Moore

Meanjin In Colour

    * Notes on Provenance. Or, Tom Ross's Tooth 
by <http://girlprinter.blogspot.com/>Carolyn Fraser
    * A Nice Sound: On Designing Nick Cave Stories by Mary Callahan
    * CAL/Meanjin Essay: Myth, abjection, 
otherness: Contemporary Australian Art by Justin Clemens


    * The Curious Significance of triple j by Ben Eltham
    * Remembering Balibo by <http://sianprior.com/>Sian Prior
    * Footy: The Season of Love, Faith and Agony by Matthew Klugman
    * The Tattoo by <http://elmokeep.com/>Elmo Keep
    * Nick Cave, Man or Myth? by <http://www.markmordue.com/>Mark Mordue
    * Have relationships like rock stars: a Twitter exposé by Meera Atkinson
    * Class Act: Googie Withers and John McCallum by Brian McFarlane
    * Local Lunar Landings by Michael Winkler
    * Grief and Desire by Maggie MacKellar
    * Their hooks find hold deep in our flesh: 
Part Six by Kate Fielding, Mandy Ord and <http://benfox.com.au/>Ben Fox


    * Immersing the Audience: Sophie Cunningham talks to Robert Connelly


    * How to Cook a Family by Susan Johnson
    * Loud Bones by Ruby Murray
    * Suburban Mystery by Pierz Newton-John
    * Intelligence quotient by Georgia Blain
    * Provisional Desire by Tim Richards
    * Stripped: Part Six by <http://carolinelee.com.au/>Caroline Lee


    * Heat Wave, Melbourne – Hottest day on 
Record since 1855 by Michelle Leber
    * Religious Experience by Caroline Caddy
    * Unborn by Maria Takolander
    * Standing among the philosophy class there 
will be shadows, murmuring by Dan Disney
    * Precious Few by Stephen Edgar
    * Graphology 808: Beetopic or Beetopia? by John Kinsella
    * Talking To Anger by Roberta Lowing
    * Breath Poem by Shane McCauley
    * Lure by Jillian Pattinson
    * Vocalise in the Heated World by Peter Rose
    * Mere Cogs by Rod Usher
    * The Mouth of Babe by Rod Usher
    * Spranto Lost by Chris Wallace-Crabbe
    * On becoming a Buddhist by Maria Zajkowski
    * Tank Water by Marita Hastings

Please note this email address will soon be 
defunct! New email address: jen.olley at gmail.com

Please consider the environment before printing this email
Dr Jennifer Drysdale
Moderator, Timor-Leste Studies Association List www.tlstudies.org
Mobile 0407 230 772
Skype jen.drysdale
Personal Website www.jenniferdrysdale.com  
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