The phrase a “Debt of Honour” circulates and resonates in Australia in relation to East Timor.
The first time I heard about the debt Australians owed to the Timorese was at the first Port Phillip community meeting held in December 1999. The meeting was held to discuss what the Port Phillip community might do to help in the recovery of East Timor. Local Timorese Abel Guterres was the guest speaker and it was he who suggested that “we have come full circle now, and now it is time for the Australians to help East Timor” because over 40,000 Timorese died in WW2 due to the war between the Japanese and the Australians in Portuguese East Timor. The survival of the 2/2nd Company in East Timor is attributed to the dangerous work and loyalty of hundreds or thousands of Timorese boys and their families who helped them survive the tropical conditions, by providing local knowledge of the geography, food, labour, security, nursing and protection.
There is still debate taking place about whether Australia should have been in Portuguese East Timor and whether the Japanese would have gone to East Timor if the Australians had not got there first. See unpublished chapters by David Scott for more about this in English and Tetun.
In 2004 the few remaining Australian survivors of WW2 came forward for a television advertising campaign, funded and organised by Melbourne business man Ian Melrose, that was mounted to pressure the Australian Government into changing their attitude to their negotiations with the Timorese regarding Australia’s share of the oil and gas revenues from the Timor Sea. The power of the Diggers’ voices had sufficient impact to cause the television stations concerned to respond to counter-pressure from the Australian government to remove the Ads!
(Photograph of Joaquim da Silva Copyright: Michael Coyne).
Veterans of World War 2 who served in East Timor were among the most loyal and active supporters of the East Timorese after 1975. Harry Levi a former resident of Port Phillip was one of these men who were active throughout their lives. This is a photograph of Harry when he was camped outside the Indonesian Embassy protesting.
Harry wrote hundreds of letters to the editors of many newspapers protesting at Australia’s continued betrayal of the Timorese from 1975 to 1999.
Archie Campbell was not a resident of Port Phillip, but he wrote a memoir titled ‘The Double Reds of Timor’ (1995). There are some poems and extracts from his memoir on Suai Media Space because it autobiographically expresses his feelings and those of some of his friends while in East Timor and afterwards, giving us a small insight into how some of the Australian soldiers thought about their service there, how they felt about the Timorese who helped them and as well as the values and colloquial language of the time. Archie documented in his memoir his apprehension about landing in the sovereign State of Portuguese East Timor without the permission of the Portuguese.
Port Phillip artist, Liz Milsom’s father George Milsom served in East Timor in the 2/4th Company and she joined the Friends of Suai in about 2007. During a visit by two Timorese artists to St Kilda Liz took the opportunity to entertain the guests and discuss their shared history while showing them her father’s work and memorabilia.