CHART recently visited the National Library of Australia to examine some Timor fragments in the papers of former Australian diplomat and parliamentarian, the late Bill Morrison.
We present here a brief summary of the collection’s Timor-related contents and report our discovery of a minor archival treasure.
Bill Morrison (1928-2013) was a career diplomat-turned-politician who was a minister in the Whitlam Labor Government, 1972-75. He lost his seat in 1975 but returned to parliament in 1980 until becoming Australia’s ambassador to Indonesia, 1985-89.
While the Timor issue would have crossed his desk as Defence Minister in late 1975, his most prominent public connection to Timor was as leader of the controversial Australian parliamentary delegation visit to Indonesia in July-August 1983
The National Library of Australia (NLA) holds Bill Morrison’s personal papers accumulated in his terms in public life (1969-1989). In many ways, the papers are typical of a number of other politicians’ archives in Australian public repositories. They contain a mixture of subject files, correspondence and files on specific parliamentary activities such as serving on various parliamentary committees. Morrison was a member of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and his papers also include ALP internal organisational materials.
The National Library’s general description of the Morrison collection can be found here.
For a more detailed guide to the content of the collection, see the NLA’s online finding aid.
The Morrison papers originally carried an undated 30-year restriction on access. Following CHART enquiries, the NLA manuscripts division has determined that some of the papers are available for immediate public access; others remain restricted.
CHART learned in discussion with the NLA’s manuscripts curator that access to papers like Bill Morrison’s is subject to the 1983 Archives Act and the 1993 Parliamentary Services Act. In short this means, for example, that Morrison’s nearly-40-year-old Defence Minister files from 1975 still need to be examined by National Archives for possible exempt materials* before being cleared for access.
Similarly, the full extent of Mr Morrison’s papers on his time as Indonesian Ambassador will not be accessible until 2015; even then, the papers will likely be subject to prior examination by National Archives.
CHART’s examination of a small selection of boxes from the Morrison papers revealed the collection to contain Timor materials of unquestionable research interest.
1. Labor Party Timor policy development
The collection contains materials offering insight into ALP policy development, especially on Timor. Of particular value are internal papers leading up the the landmark 1984 ALP national conference which watered down the party’s Timor previous position (see our earlier article on this issue).
2. Parliamentary Delegation
The three boxes of material on the 1983 Parliamentary Delegation, while partly restricted, offer particular insight into the original drafting of the delegation’s report. From the examined files, it seems that Morrison himself wrote in long-hand, the very first draft of key sections of the report. The boxes also contain a good collection of Indonesian print media coverage of the overall delegation visit and a comprehensive file on the so-called ‘chance meeting with Fretilin’ (see below), including the public controversy which followed.
The unscripted interception of a delegation vehicle by members of the Fretilin-led resistance became a public sensation; even moreso when it was alleged after the delegation’s departure that the Fretilin member’s words to Bill Morrison were mistranslated.
At the interception, the resistance member (Cancio de Sousa Gama) handed Morrison a letter from Fretilin – the text of which was translated and incorporated into the Delegation’s formal report.
CHART was greatly surprised to find the original letter in Bill Morrison’s personal papers at the National Library. Click image at right to see the front of the four-page original text.
CHART will explore the broader 1983 Parliamentary Delegation saga in more detail in coming weeks.
The Morrison collection at the National Library of Australia contains valuable additions to the overall archival record about East Timor, 1974-99. In addition to the non-Morrison primary source materials therein, it also offers some insight into Mr Morrison’s views and work on the East Timor issue which ran strongly against the case for East Timorese self-determination.
*Exempt materials: Materials which still contain sensitive information; see details here. In the case of East Timor, most government-sourced materials are automatically regarded as sensitive and a decision on access often takes many months.
** Fretilin Letter to Delegation, 26 July 1983, Papers of Bill Morrison, National Library of Australia, MS 4957 / Addition 1 November 1984 / Box 65.
[Letter reproduced here by kind permission of Pictures and Manuscripts, National Library of Australia]