Living next door to Aussie

Australian ‘bastardry’ is something we Kiwis are pretty familiar with on the sports field. But the phrase is used in a more damning context by Australian writer Paul Cleary in his book, The Men Who Came Out of the Ground.

Cleary tells the story of the 400-strong Australian force that waged a guerrilla war against the Japanese in the Portuguese colony of Timor throughout 1942. As the Japanese swept down through South-East Asia, the tiny Australian contingent tied up an estimated 20,000 Japanese troops.

The key to their success was local support. Lieutenant John Rose wrote to his parents in June 1942: ‘The people we are living with are natives and they have been wonderful to us. They are great friends to the Aussies… they are invaluable guides, philosophers and friends here.’

HMAS Voyager wreck, Betano

Pat beside all that remains of the destroyer HMAS Voyager, wrecked in September 1942 after landing Australian soldiers and supplies on Timor’s south coast beach of Betano.

It was a smart strategy for Australia. Continue reading


Peacekeeping in Maliana

I haven’t seen an animal slaughtered since I worked in Petone’s freezing works in the 1970s. Killings there were quick and the sacrifice I saw a few weeks ago in the mountains of Timor was equally humane.

A man thrust a foot-long knife straight into a goat’s heart, just below its left shoulder. The animal kicked and squealed but was bound tight by two other men – one held its back legs and another held a rope around its neck. Blood gurgled from the goat’s mouth and then it was still.

Elders in traditional costume gather to accept the sacrificial goat.

Elders in traditional costume gather to accept the sacrificial goat.

Continue reading

Endangered dream

Tensions in Dili have risen lately. Around 9pm on 24 September two guys on a motorbike went mad with machetes. They slashed several people. One died. Police commander Longhuinos Monteiro put up a message on Facebook, warning everyone in Timor to stay home after dark. He signed it ‘Big hugs and good night’. Somehow this made me feel more vulnerable.

Timor Police Commander Longhuinos Monteiro dances with Prosecutor General Ana Pessoa.

Timor Police Commander Longhuinos Monteiro on the dance floor with Prosecutor General Ana Pessoa.

UN security warnings came out daily. Our landlord added a chain to the padlock on the gate of our family compound. Police set up checkpoints all over the city. They confiscated dodgy motorbikes on the spot and jailed their owners for up to 72 hours if they couldn’t produce the right documents. One VSA volunteer had his bike seized because its exhaust was too noisy. Continue reading