A history of war and solidarity led to
an unusual friendship
The two communities of Covalima Suai, East Timor and Port Phillip Melbourne, Victoria, Australia were connected in the name of friendship by the new Timorese leadership and local government leaders in December, 1999.
A community meeting held in the Port Melbourne Town Hall on December 12, 1999 led to the forming of the ‘Friends of Suai’.
Timorese Melbourne resident, and CNRT representative, Abel Guterres suggested Port Phillip community should befriend Suai in the South-West of East Timor, to assist in its recovery following the devastating events of 1999 that led to the death and traumatisation of its people and the destruction of its infrastructure. This drawing by Natalino dos Reis Pires from the village on the Timor Sea called Suai Loro was commissioned by Oxfam for a re-enactment of the massacre at the First Anniversary of the massacre on September 6, 2000. A short documentary calling for justice titled the Circle of Stones tells the story of what happened that day.
Australians had a deep and long history of relationships with East Timor since 1941 World War 2. More: the story of George Milsom father of local Port Phillip artist Liz Milsom is emerging on Suai Media Space since she became a member of the Steering Group of the Friends of Suai. An interview with Timorese criado Rufino Correira who served Lt. Tom Nisbett. And some excerpts and poetry from the autobiography of Archie Campbell. You will also find veteran David Scott’s chapters on some of the history from the point of view of Australia and Japan in English and Tetun.
The relationship deepened and broadened in 1975 when five journalists were killed in Balibo by the invading Indonesian troops. Their great mistake was to kill Greg Shackleton and Tony Stewart because Greg’s wife Shirley Shackleton dedicated the rest of her life to calling for a full judicial enquiry and working at her own expense to get justice both for the Balibo 5 and the Timorese people while Tony’s brother Paul formed the band the Dili Allstars who became a major attraction at political rallies.
1991 on the occasion of the Santa Cruz Massacre is the third point in history where the number of relationships between East Timorese people and Australian people grew fast and vigorously. This photograph lent by Barbara Preston of Canberra depicts the mock Timorese Embassy set up outside the Indonesian Embassy in Canberra and a mock graveyard set up as a protest directed to the Indonesian and Australian Governments. More: Re-enactment of the Massacre on video shot at the gates of the Santa Cruz Cemetry on the ninth Anniversary in November 2000.
The ‘Friends of Suai’ was launched in St Kilda’s O’Donnell Gardens and continued during the annual St Kilda Festival in March 2000. A request from Xanana Gusmao to provide four wheel drive vehicles to assist people in Suai inspired the first campaign. Titled ‘Truckloads for East Timor’, the campaign, in February 2000 invited the Port Phillip community to donate material goods to the people of Suai while the Council donated the four wheel drive truck. The truck for collecting gifts was set up alongside an Army recruiting van and the mandatory Indonesian spy was spotted standing sentry-like in front of a large fence pillar nearby.