Issues of East Timor News (ETN) are now available in digitised form through the Timor Archives: Newsletters website.
ETN was an Australian newsletter in the top rank of influential Timor solidarity newsletters in the early post-invasion years. In its first two years, it was the principal international vehicle for publicising, in English, radio communications from the Fretilin-led resistance inside Indonesian-occupied East Timor.
It began as a fortnightly publication in a newspaper format of ‘tabloid’ size. Like most comparable Timor newsletters of the time, publication became less frequent in later years.
After the loss of radio contact with the resistance in early December 1978, ETN continued production with analyses of available information and reproduction of significant reports, including mainstream print media articles.
ETN was produced in Sydney in the name of the East Timor News Agency (ETNA), 1977-1985. The driving force behind ETN was prominent Timor independence activist Denis Freney (1936-1995).
Denis Freney was a leading member of the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) at the time. He travelled to East Timor in 1974, soon after the formation of ASDT, the forerunner of Fretilin. He was the key figure in the Sydney branch of the solidarity organisation, Campaign for Independent East Timor (CIET), which had branches in most Australian states.
The Sydney CIET office was located in the old Boilermakers Hall in Castlereagh Street where, from 1975, Freney issued prodigious volumes of news and commentary on Timor using the roneo technology of the time. ETN began in 1977 as a more formal vehicle for Freney’s output; it was he who largely planned and prepared the newsletter. ETN was printed at the CPA printer at Forest Lodge and mailed out to subscribers by CIET volunteers.
Compiling the news input for ETN was a team effort – especially when it came to handling radio communications from the resistance. That work involved the clandestine radio team, transfers of tapes in Darwin and transcription in Sydney. This team also transcribed Fretilin’s encoded communications and telexed them to the Fretilin External Delegation in Maputo, Mozambique.
Denis Freney worked very closely with Fretilin and was a confidant of senior members of the Fretilin external delegation in the early years.
From this distance, it is unclear whether the East Timor News Agency which published East Timor News is a direct successor to the ETNA created by Fretilin in East Timor in late 1975. The first issue of ETN in February 1977 is ambiguous on this question, but does talk of the ‘re-establishment’ of the 1975 ETNA.
Either way, Denis Freney’s strong, unambiguous commitment to Fretilin was reflected in the style and content of East Timor News. His identification with both the CPA and Fretilin meant that ETN, while widely valued in solidarity circles for its news content in particular, was often treated with scepticism by Australian mainstream media, many politicians and non-government organisations.
East Timor News has an important place in the archival record of Australian support for the East Timorese struggle for self-determination. We are delighted to make it available here.
Thanks to Cecily Gilbert for her work to convert the brittle and fading original newsletters into the digital form.
Thanks to Peter Murphy for some background information on ETN. Peter was a member of the original ETN editorial collective and currently coordinator/secretary of a CPA successor organisation, the Search Foundation.
A valuable record of the work of CIET and Denis Freney can be found in his surviving papers at the National Library of Australia (NLA). Library Reference: MS9535
The Freney papers at the NLA include a comprehensive set of his aforementioned roneo-format productions. In 2004 a copy of this set went to Timor’s Commission for Reception, Truth & Reconciliation (CAVR) in Dili. When resources permit, Timor Archives will digitise Freney roneod material surviving in the Timor Information Service archives in Melbourne.