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Viqueque 1999

Solidarity is not quite the same as friendship. Through his association with East Timor Jacob has many East Timorese friends. This story is a story about solidarity, as are many of the stories told by the Timor Ponies in Port Phillip.

In 1999, Jacob was still under house arrest, when KIPER, an Indonesian democracy movement, appointed him an official observer of the referendum in East Timor. Before he arrived, two United Nation staff in Viqueque, where he had been posted, were killed; an event which steeled his will to ensure locals had the information they required to vote. He maintained his committment to nonviolence, and two days before the referendum, quietly organised a Melanesian feast for the Indonesian military, the militia, local elders and student campaigners from Dili. Days later, East Timor lay scorched and dying, but some months later, the Liurai (chief) of Viqueque told his daughter in Melbourne how surprised he was by the comparatively low level of destruction in his territory.

Survival of the army’s “scorched earth” retreat required not only the quiet assurance of the nonviolent practitioner, but also Jacob’s experience of war and his intimate knowledge of the product created by the Indonesian Military Academy. The learned ability to observe violence saved his life during cross-fire between two Indonesian military units; his three Timorese travelling companions were shot dead, and the driver of the car seriously injured. It also helped him to slip past Major-General Zacky Anwar’s security net in Baucau, and board a RAAF Hercules with Bishop Belo.

Jacob considers East Timor a practical education in the creation of a modern nation. He keeps track of his friends as they take up positions in the new bureaucracy. He examines the policies they devise, reads reports by international observers, and on 20 May 2002, he participated in the new nation’s celebrations.

In Melbourne, he likes to spend time-out fishing on St Kilda Pier, or weeding his plot at VEGOUT. Sometimes he thinks while he’s playing pool; or the guitar, accompanying scratchy old tapes from home. Nick, a journalist friend, met him recently ambling home along Fitzroy Street; a short man with mountain-bred calf muscles, one shoulder sloping unnaturally, and a distinctive mop of Melanesian fuzz squashed under a broken straw hat. He carried a pack on his back that was full of life’s necessities, including his Australian passport and a couple of old photos. A fish was still swimming in the plastic bag swinging from his belt, and Jacob apparently offered to share his catch; and “for a dizzying moment” Nick said “the town I knew, the city I walk around in, became the village he was born in. I imagined him, with immediate access to his garden and the market. Here, in Melbourne, he’s walking a different path, gathering and knitting a fabric of his own design. He seems to make possible things that I don’t even notice. His offer, to share his fish, was a gift of possibilities which I may not have ever realised”.