Photographs: Creators, context, content

24 June 2016

Photographs are an important primary source of information in Timor history but information on their creators is often lost. We post a few such images here and ask: Who were the photographers and where are the original hard copies?

Thousands of Timor images for the 1974-1999 period can be found in private archives or online on social media or in archival databases* – but seldom with any record of the key information needed to extract their full historical value. Photographs are most valuable when we know the photographer’s identity, when they were created and where.

Identifying the photographer  serves a number of purposes. It assists in determining the date, location and context of the images. It increases the probability that the image is depicting real events and is not fake. It also ensures proper attribution or credit to the original creator of the photo.

In many cases however, the actual photographer may never be known. This is particularly so with photos from inside occupied East Timor such as the many available images of the armed resistance. To establish authenticity of such images, we can draw on whatever knowledge we have about the ‘chain of custody’ or the first identifiable owner of the photographs.

Central Register?
In the interests of long-term historical knowledge and research, a case can be made for a central online register of historical photographs of the 1974-1999 era. Such a register would enable researchers and publishers to identify the origins of a particular image. It would also provide an opportunity for missing information to be provided by anyone with such knowledge; so-called ‘crowd-sourcing’ the data.

Ideally, such a register would be established and maintained by a relevant institution in Timor-Leste.

Who took these photos? Do you know?
We present here a few images for which we would like to establish the name of the photographer and any known location of original prints or negatives.

We invite you, the ‘crowd’, to assist us in this task by making a public comment on this post or emailing us at: blog[at]

IMAGE A: FRETILIN rally. 1975?

IMAGE A: Fretilin rally. 1975?

IMAGE B: Fretilin rally. 1975?

IMAGE B: Fretilin rally. 1975?

IMAGE C: Nicolau Lobato. 28 November 1975? Photographer could be Jill Jolliffe or Michael Richardson?

IMAGE C: Nicolau Lobato. 28 November 1975? Photographer could be Jill Jolliffe or Michael Richardson?

IMAGE D: First RDTL Government. Photographer could be Jill Jolliffe or Michael Richardson.

IMAGE D: First RDTL Government. Photographer could be Jill Jolliffe or Michael Richardson?

IMAGE E: Fretilin resistance members meet Australian parliamentary delegation leader, Bill Morrison. July 1983.

IMAGE E: Fretilin resistance members meet Australian parliamentary delegation leader, Bill Morrison. July 1983.

_ _ _ _ _

*  Some image sets can be found online through the following links:

1975 Australian professional photographers Oliver Strewe, Penny Tweedie and Bob Hannan.

Timorese Resistance Archive & Museum

Facebook Albums on FALINTIL and Indonesian invasion.

McIntosh Ulun Toos

1 May 2016

Almost thirty years after it was written, a letter from resistance leader Xanana Gusmao to Australian senator Gordon McIntosh has come to light. The correspondence provides a detailed insight into 1980s resistance thinking. It also indicates the particularly high regard in which McIntosh was held for his support for East Timorese self-determination.


Xanana Gusmao’s 1988 letter to Senator Gordon McIntosh is an extensive and passionate exposition of the East Timorese resistance leader’s views on the internal and international aspects of the Indonesian occupation at that time.  Key areas covered by the letter include:

  • An outline of the driving force of resistance – the fight to protect and preserve the distinctive cultural identity of the Maubere people (pages 1-3);
  • The changes in the political direction of the organised resistance (p.4);
  • Strong criticism of Australian, Indonesian and other arguments against East Timorese independence (pp. 5-9);
  • Resistance proposals, based on the 1983 Fretilin peace plan, for resolution of the conflict (pp. 10-11)

The 1988 letter refers several times to the Hawke government’s Timor Gap interest as a driver of Australian policy against the Timorese. This is a striking harbinger of Xanana Gusmao’s current advocacy against Australia’s maritime boundary policy in 2016.

Click links here to see the 1988 Xanana Gusmao letter, official Timor-Leste Tetun and English translations and a somewhat-more literal private English translation.*

Late delivery, late reply
Unhappily, Gordon McIntosh never received this important letter in 1988. A photocopy of the letter was discovered in August 2015 in a private collection being processed by CHART. With the collection-owner’s agreement, a photograph of the copy was forwarded to McIntosh. In turn, McIntosh’s belated reply to the letter was handed to Xanana Gusmao in Melbourne in December 2015.

The reason why the original letter never got to McIntosh is unclear. One possibility is that it went astray in the postal system; perhaps not reaching McIntosh who had already ceased being a Senator before the letter was sent.

Gordon McIntosh told CHART that he was most disappointed not to have received the letter in 1988. “I would have been able to communicate it to other East Timor supporters in Australia and elsewhere and used it in speeches I gave about East Timor in my post-Senate years”, he said.

Click here to see Gordon McIntosh’s reply, 30 November 2015.

Ulun Toos
An associated letter was also found with the 1988 copy – a Xanana Gusmao letter to Agio Pereira (then a key external resistance contact in Australia and now senior minister in the Timor-Leste government). This letter explains why McIntosh was chosen by Xanana to be the recipient of the 1988 exposition.

Xanana notes the admiration the resistance felt for Gordon McIntosh when he refused in 1983 to endorse the report of the Australian Parliamentary delegation to East Timor**. He recalls the affectionate name the guerillas gave to McIntosh after this event: ‘McIntosh Ulun Toos‘ – literally ‘hard-headed’ or ‘stubborn’; the Tetum word Toos rhyming with ‘-tosh’.

Click links here to see text of the covering letter and an English translation.

Xanana Gusmao with Gordon McIntosh and Lere Anan Timur, Dili, March 2016. [Source: Max Stahl]

Xanana Gusmao with Gordon McIntosh and Lere Anan Timur, Dili, March 2016. [Source: Max Stahl]

On receipt of McIntosh’s reply in December 2015, Xanana Gusmao invited him to Timor-Leste as a guest of the nation. McIntosh, accompanied by his son Craig, visited Timor in March 2-7 and was an honoured guest at a Veterans Conference on March 3. He was emotionally received by many veterans who knew his name from the occupation years.

He also met up with East Timorese who had risked their own safety to pass documents to him to carry out of Timor in 1983. McIntosh donated to the the Resistance Archive and Museum digital copies of his personal archives on the 1983 parliamentary delegation visit – including a document from the then-prison island of Atauro listing political prisoner deaths and disappearances.


* Private translation work by Atoki Madeira, Graeme Edis and Luis Pinto. Official translations by the National Directorate of Translation, Presidency of the Council of Ministers, Government of Timor-Leste.

** The 1983 Australian Parliamentary delegation, which included Gordon McIntosh, was seen by activists at the time to be a part of a Hawke government strategy to dismiss Labor Party policy supporting East Timorese self-determination. McIntosh’s decision to dissent from the delegation report, combined with a resumption of military hostilities in August-September 1983, undermined the strategy.

Gordon McIntosh archives: Preliminary list.

Resistance radio 1975-1978

21 April 2016

Recordings of radio communications and broadcasts from the Fretilin-led resistance in the early occupation years are rare historical primary-source materials. We present information on known surviving copies and introduce a project to give access to them in Timor-Leste.

Alarico Fernandes, November 1975. The main voice of resistance radio until his surrender/capture with the radio in late 1978. [Photo: Jim Dunn]

Alarico Fernandes, November 1975. The main voice of resistance radio until his surrender/capture in late 1978. [Photo: Jim Dunn]

Alarico Fernandes’ desperate radio transmission (see sample below) from Dili on 7 December 1975, describing the full-scale Indonesian invasion of the newly-declared Democratic Republic of East Timor (RDTL), marked the beginning of three years of direct resistance contact with Australia and the outside world. The radio communications were the only regular source of information from East Timor not controlled by the Indonesian military in those early years.

Australian and East Timorese activists in Darwin conducted clandestine, coded, two-way radio contact for communications between the internal and external wings of the resistance. Occasional uncoded contacts and regular broadcasts from East Timor under the name of Radio Maubere, were also recorded by the activists for later transcription and reporting to solidarity groups and mainstream media.

The public transmissions from Timor reported on all aspects of occupation and resistance inside the territory. Extracts or summaries of then-public material can now be found online in the CHART-digitised, pre-1979 copies of CIET mimeographs, East Timor News and Timor Information Service.

While a definitive history of this part of the broader Timor story has yet to be written, published accounts of the transmission and recording operations at the Australian end can be found in the writings of activist participants Brian Manning, Chris Elenor and Rob Wesley-Smith.

Surviving recordings
Some 250 audiocassettes of resistance radio material is known by CHART to survive in Australia. Almost all surviving tapes are recordings of public radio material; very few internal or coded messages are known. The largest public collection comes from the archives of Melbourne’s Timor Information Service (TIS) and is held at the National Film & Sound Archive (NFSA) in Canberra (see partial list on NFSA catalogue). Other material is still held privately, including a few items owned by Rob Wesley-Smith who recorded them with his own receiver.


Numbers of radio transmission recordings known to CHART to still exist in Australia.

As the figure above shows, we know of no recordings from the very early post-invasion months and the record of the controversial last period of contact in late 1978 is incomplete. It remains to be seen whether more recordings will emerge within Australia or from the archives of the Fretilin external leadership at that time.

We present here a few fragments of radio transmissions recorded in Australia. Click red ‘play’ button to listen.

Short fragment of Alarico Fernandes reporting full-scale Indonesian invasion of Dili. 00:13 (mins:secs). Source: East Timor Calling/Rod Harris collection. 

The opening segment of a standard Radio Maubere broadcast. 05:41. Source: Rob Wesley-Smith

Alarico Fernandes dictates a message from East Timor Red Cross in resistance-held areas to be forwarded to International Red Cross. 01:51. Source: Rob Wesley-Smith.

Excerpt from Nicolau Lobato speech following the 1977  arrest and expulsion of Xavier do Amaral from his positions as President of Fretilin and the Democratic Republic of East Timor. 05:20. Source: Timor Information Service / NFSA

Small fragments from the final days of radio contact. (1) Coded message from Alarico Fernandes; (2) Awkward two-way exchange between Fernandes and the Australian activist operator; (3) Rogerio Lobato sending repeated message to (unsuccesfully) re-establish radio contact with Timor. 02:57. Source: Rob Wesley-Smith.

Access in Timor-Leste
In concert with Australia’s NFSA and Timor’s Resistance Archive and Museum (AMRT), CHART has initiated a project to make radio recordings available for research and exhibition in Timor-Leste.

The TIS collection of some 200 recordings was deposited with NFSA in 2002. These recordings were given to TIS in the late 1970s by key Timor and radio contact activist, Denis Freney. All recordings have since been professionally digitised by NFSA for long-term preservation and access.

In July 2015, CHART and AMRT signed an agreement for a pilot project on transfer of recordings to Timor-Leste. In exchange for digital copies of recordings, AMRT staff will create, and copy to NFSA, textual summaries of recording content to assist researcher access. At the conclusion of the pilot project some time in 2016, the parties will review the process and decide on the next steps to ensure eventual access in Timor-Leste to available radio recordings.

Max Stahl archive in peril?

13 April 2016

In the second of our reports on 2016 archival developments, we report on the fragile circumstances surrounding the Max Stahl Audiovisual Archive Center for Timor Leste (CAMSTL) and the need for urgent action by all concerned parties.

Difficult times - but still working. Max Stahl with CAMST-L staff Gilberto and Eddy Paraujo. [Source: CAMSTL]

Difficult times – but still working. Max Stahl with CAMSTL staff Gilberto Neves and Eddy Paraujo. [Source: CAMSTL]

CAMSTL was established in 2003 with assistance from UNESCO. The focus of the centre is to (1) preserve historical Max Stahl footage on the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre and records of resistance from then until 1999 and (2) create audiovisual recordings and productions on all aspects of life in now-independent Timor-Leste. The historical materials are inscribed on UNESCO’s prestigious Memory of the World Register under the title On the birth of a Nation.

When we visited CAMSTL in 2015, we reported optimistically on the institution’s future. Newly equipped with government-funded, high-cost digital audiovisual preservation systems and awaiting completion of a dedicated building, CAMSTL’s founder, Max Stahl, could see the emergence of Timor-Leste’s national audiovisual archive.

Sadly, these optimistic prospects are now in trouble. The immediate sign of this is a cessation of Timor-Leste Government funding. In the absence of any specific statement from the parties, the reasons for the funding cessation are difficult to determine.

Possible factors
It is known that some in government circles are asking the question: Who owns the CAMSTL collection and what is Timor-Leste getting from its funding of the archive?

Another likely factor in the current situation is the status of the new audiovisual building attached to the Resistance Archive and Museum (AMRT). Originally envisaged for housing CAMSTL, there are signs that a move to the building may be conditional on some form of merger with the AMRT. Given the continuing strong official commitment to AMRT, the merging of CAMSTL with AMRT on one building site might seem simultaneously helpful to CAMSTL and financially attractive to government.

Whatever the reasons, there is evidently a communication breakdown between CAMSTL and the Government.

Current CAMSTL-occupied building. Barely fit for audiovisual archives.

Current CAMSTL-occupied building. Barely fit for audiovisual archives.

The CAMSTL collection and ongoing work is of inestimable value to Timor-Leste. Protection of the integrity of the collection and access to it for historical, educational and community purposes is paramount.

Whatever the actual reasons for the funding cessation, the current situation is untenable. The future of the collection is at risk and CAMSTL needs at least some bridging finance to maintain basic functions until the problems are resolved. It also needs an urgent improvement to storage and working conditions; the present building seems to us quite unfit for audiovisual archive purposes.

There appears to be some mutual lack of confidence between CAMSTL and the Government. Both parties have a responsibility to do all they can to correct this. Perhaps finding a mutually agreeable mediator will help re-establish understanding and communication between the parties.

The centrality of Max Stahl to CAMSTL is both its strength and a prospective weakness. He has somewhat single-handedly driven the development of this high-value archive and he has trained many East Timorese in archival and audiovisual processes and production. However, it seems evident that the institutional basis of CAMSTL, especially its management structure, needs to be expanded and consolidated. The present difficulties are amplified by Max’s continuing health condition.

Despite the possible administrative attraction to government of merging CAMSTL with AMRT, this needs very cautious consideration. The 2016 edition of UNESCO’s authoritative Audiovisual Archiving: Philosophy and Principles draws attention to the particularly difficult technological and management challenges of audiovisual archives. In the area of governance, it recommends on the basis of international experience, semi-autonomy of the audiovisual archive as a desirable minimum (our emphasis).*

Given our knowledge of the present management styles at AMRT and CAMSTL, we doubt they could work easily together and a ‘forced’ merger would likely fail. We also doubt AMRT, by itself, currently has the range of expertise to successfully manage the CAMSTL collection and program. While the pre-independence historical materials at CAMSTL are relevant to the resistance theme, much of the post-1999 material seems to be outside the Resistance Archive’s collection purpose and mandate.

We can envisage one practical interim solution: the relocation of CAMSTL into the AMRT-connected, newly-constructed audiovisual building. The two institutions could perhaps share some facilities in common but with each institution retaining separate identities and management systems.

Sooner or later, however, Timor-Leste will need to establish a dedicated, technically specialised national audio-visual archive. In addition to holding nationally significant audio-visual materials, such an institution could provide guidance and assistance to other institutions with fragile materials. Given the specialised work and systems already established at CAMSTL, it is a prime candidate for becoming a distinct national institution.

Resolving the current difficulties is an urgent priority for all concerned. We urge that all parties keep in mind the immense value of the CAMSTL collection and program to present and future generations of Timor-Leste’s citizens .


*  See Section 4.7 Governance and autonomy, pages 49-51.

Background info:

CAMSTL Website (on Facebook).


Cafe Pacific/David Robie 2014 backgrounder

Timor’s National Archive advancing

8 April 2016

CHART’s John Waddingham visited Timor-Leste in March 2016 to assess recent archival developments. In the first of several articles, he reports on continuing activity at Timor-Leste’s first but least well-known institution, the National Archive.

Hive of activity: National Archives staff cleaning and rehousing historical files.

Hive of activity: National Archives staff cleaning and rehousing historical files. [CHART photo]

Timor-Leste’s National Archive collects and preserves the records of government and administration dating forward from the Portuguese colonial era. Observations in 2015 that the National Archive appeared to be emerging from a decade of obscurity were confirmed in March 2016. The archive is now a hive of activity and senior staff are optimistic about its immediate future development.

Compared to other archives in Timor, the Archive operates on a relatively small budget (USD$259,000 in 2016). There are indications that the current responsible Minister for State Administration, Dionisio Babo Soares, is championing the expansion of the Archive, including a significant capital injection for a new purpose-built repository.

Current activities observed at the Archive included cleaning and re-housing a very large volume of Indonesian-era administration records and conservation/repair work on fragile collection items. The latter work arises from recent training and equipment donations from the National Archive of Brazil. The Archive has also put itself more in the public eye through a display of some of its historical materials in the exhibition space at the Resistance Archive & Museum.

In addition to the Brasil connection, the Archive is establishing relationships with other National Archives, including Portugal and Indonesia. A previous connection to Australian archives – a donation of archival storage materials to the Archive in the early 2000s – has not yet been revived. However, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology equipped and trained Archive staff to scan Portuguese-era weather records to be added to international climate change data.

Renewed activity in recent years to draw-up the legislative framework for the National Archive functions and responsibilities has yet to be finalised. And in common with all Timor-Leste archives, the National Archive has few if any staff with formal archival qualifications. We understand this is seen by the National Archive as a critical issue and it is exploring options for change.

Collection Access
The National Archive holds an extensive collection of Portuguese-era administrative records some of which, reportedly, are not even held in official Portuguese archives. Other holdings include yet-to-be described Indonesian and United Nations administration records and an unknown volume of post-2002 Timor-Leste government materials.

The Archive does not yet appear to have formal public documentation on conditions for access but researchers have been able, on application, to access Portuguese-era records. Creation of a dedicated researcher-access room within the existing facility is planned. The large backlog of unprocessed post-Portuguese-era records means they will not be accessible to researchers in the near future.

Kevin Sherlock Collection: Work in progress

28 September 2015

The late Kevin Sherlock, Timor bibliographer and collector extraordinaire, willed his outstanding archive to the Charles Darwin University Library. CHART’s John Waddingham and Cecily Gilbert have just completed two weeks in Darwin assisting the Library to prepare the collection for researcher access.

Kevin Sherlock with his expanding collection, c1980s. [Source: ETRA Archives]

Kevin Sherlock with his expanding collection, c1980s. [Source: ETRA Archives]

Hundreds of Timor-related books and journals collected by Kevin Sherlock are now visible through the CDU Library catalogue. Arrangement and description of Kevin’s vast collection of other collected materials and his own bibliographic and research work on them remains a work in progress.

The document archive
The large non-monograph component of the collection is visually dominated by labelled folders containing collected articles, pamphlets and unpublished items,’chronological files’ containing copies of Portuguese official bulletins from the mid-19th century and newsclippings up to mid-2014. Additionally, Kevin constructed from these collected sources, compilations of colonial-era materials on a range of research topics like administration, health, education, shipping, roads and buildings.

Complementing these folders is a bewildering array of hand-written and typed indices, along with a comprehensive record of correspondence with authors, academics, journalists and activists from around the world who sought Kevin’s always-generous sharing of knowledge, materials and meticulous proof reading expertise.

The particular strength of the collection is its assemblage of pre-1975 Portuguese colonial era materials already mentioned. The post-1975 materials is predominantly published materials from the many actors in the East Timor political issue, including a fair sample of rarely-seen Indonesian government items and a good number of unpublished academic higher-degree theses.

More detail on the collection contents can be seen in Kevin’s 450-page, but incomplete, 2002 shelf list.

CHART’s work
Our first task was to restore order to the hundreds of labelled folders and then add to them a significant number of unlabelled folders.

More difficult was the substantial volume of loose or unstructured materials. These were a surprise given Kevin’s very evident devotion to order but are perhaps a reflection of seriously declining health over his final decade. Our approach was to derive a provisional list of folder sequences or ‘series’ from the labelled folders and sort the loose papers into manilla folder sequences reflecting that list.

The end product of our work for the CDU Library will be data about the collection in the form of a ‘finding aid’ for researchers to gain an overview of the collection structure and to identify materials they wish to examine.

Labelled folders: Chronologies, compilations, indexes, correspondence and much more.

Labelled folders: Chronologies, compilations, indexes, correspondence and much more. [CHART photo]

Missing Kevin
This is a seriously impressive research collection which will be much consulted in the years to come. What is clearly missing from it is Kevin himself. He was the living key to exploiting the richness of his holdings. It will take some time for archivists and researchers to unlock some of the secrets of his indexing work and filing systems to again realise the full value of his materials.

Kevin is however present in another way. The collection as a whole, and in its many parts, is an enduring testament to this extraordinary person. For a tiny taste: a sample of his data sources research for others, his quiet humour, and a note on Dili’s ‘oldest building’ – the latter being exactly the kind of work that earned him the ‘Sherlock Holmes’ moniker from one long-time correspondent.

Accessing the collection
CDU Library is preparing to launch the collection and make it available for researcher access. The exact timing remains unclear; the Library is rightly ensuring that they first have systems in place to protect the physical integrity of the collection for the generations of researchers to come.

Pictures of CHART Work, Darwin, 10-23 September 2015

An archivist's joy: A grand mix of labelled folders, journals and unsorted document clumps.

An archivist’s bread and butter: A grand mix of labelled folders, journals and unsorted document clumps.

Sorting the unsorted (shelves at right) into folders and then into archive boxes (rear, left). {CHART photo]

Sorting the unsorted (on shelves at right) into folders (on table) and then into archive boxes (rear, left). [CHART photo]


Teamwork: Adding unique number IDs to folders (John) and updating collection data (Cecily). [CHART photo]

More of those sorted, Kevin Sherlock-labelled folders. [CHART photo]

More of those sorted, Kevin Sherlock-labelled folders. [CHART photo]

In progress: Thirty archive boxes (at left) of now-sorted but not fully described materials. [CHART photo]

In progress: Thirty archive boxes (at left) of now-sorted but not fully described materials. [CHART photo]

Introducing the Sherlock collection to a CDU 'Engagement with Timor-Leste' seminar, 21 Sept 2015. [Source: CDU]

Introducing the Sherlock collection to a CDU ‘Engagement with Timor-Leste’ seminar, 21 Sept 2015. [Source: CDU]

CDU Library Director Ruth Quinn with some of the catalogued monographs in the Sherlock Collection. [CHART photo]

CDU Library Director Ruth Quinn, responsible for arrangements with Kevin over his bequest, with some of the catalogued monographs in the Sherlock Collection. [CHART photo]

Many thanks to CDU Library for covering travel and other costs for our work in Darwin. Particular thanks to the retiring CDU Director of Library Services, Ruth Quinn, CDU archivist Stephen Hamilton, and Palmerston campus librarian Tita Allom and staff for their friendly welcome and support.

Many thanks also to Mauri Heading SJ for his generous provision of always-comradely accommodation. And to Flavia Pires, a long-time friend and help for Kevin, and who spread his ashes in the Timor mountains, for her friendly support.

Wes: Timor archives of key Darwin activist

10 August 2015

Rob Wesley-Smith has been the most continuously identifiable public face of East Timor political activism in Darwin since 1974. CHART’s John Waddingham and Cecily Gilbert examined his Timor papers in July and will assist him to prepare the collection for long-term preservation and access.

Konfrontasi: Wes being arrested outside the Indonesian Consulate, Darwin, 1999. [Source: Rob Wesley-Smith]

Konfrontasi: Wes being arrested outside the Indonesian Consulate, Darwin, 1999. [Source: Rob Wesley-Smith]

Known universally as ‘Wes’, Rob Wesley-Smith is a unique identity in Australia’s Asian-frontier city, Darwin. An agronomist by profession, Wes brought unbounded energy to his formal work and to his persistent public commentary on Darwin or Northern Territory issues. Driven by principles of social justice, he was directly involved in Aboriginal issues, including the landmark Gurindji/Wave Hill events in the 1960s and 70s. And then there was Timor….

Timor activism

Wes’ Timor work began sometime in 1974. A fragile and fading document in his archive shows the early Australian activist Denis Freney asking Wes and unionist Warwick Neilley to arrange public meetings for Jose Ramos-Horta’s visit to Darwin in December 1974 and suggesting they establish the Campaign for Independent East Timor (CIET) at the same time.

Following the 7 December 1975 Indonesian invasion, Wes became an inveterate letter-writer and key organiser of public demonstrations. He was involved in monitoring and conducting radio communications with the Fretilin-led resistance inside Timor, though not without some frictions with Communist Party of Australia activists such as the legendary Darwin unionist and activist Brian Manning.

Breaking the blockade

ntnews-1976-caa-18Wes was directly involved in several attempts to break the Indonesian blockade around East Timor and get humanitarian aid to the territory. All attempts failed; the most notable one occurring in late 1976 when he and three others, including former World War II commando Cliff Morris, were forcibly prevented by armed naval and customs officers from going to Timor.

Arrested and charged, under political direction, with exporting medicines and weapons, the four were initially convicted but the verdict was overturned on appeal. This story of the ‘Dawn’ venture, summarised here, is worth a more detailed telling.*

Keeping the faith

From the late 1970s until the dramatic resurgence of Australian activism following the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre, Wes continued to raise the issue and lead public demonstrations wherever possible. Along with others in the 1990s, he was a key presence in the newly-formed Australians for a Free East Timor (AFFET) in Darwin.

Wes was banned from visiting Timor in the lead-up to the 1999 independence ballot, but then spent months working with NGOs in the post-ballot chaos. His account of 117 days in East Timor offers great insight into his energy, commitment and not-always-welcomed passion for East Timor.

The archives

Rob Wesley-Smith’s personal Timor archive is a unique and irreplaceable record of his actions and that of Timor activist activities in Darwin. In addition to a large volume of correspondence, media releases and news clippings dating from 1974 the collection also includes photographs and some rare copies of resistance radio contact.

CHART has produced a preliminary guide to material examined so far. Several institutions in Darwin have expressed interest in eventually holding the collection for long-term preservation and access.


‘Dawn’ venture will be the focus of a future article on this website. See also John Izzard’s colourful 2010 account.