Bill Morrison Papers: Timor fragments

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. 1983

Bill Morrison. 1983 [Source: The Bulletin]

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

Morrison collection
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.

Access restrictions
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.

Bill Morrison's papers on the 1983 Parliamentary Delegation visit to Indonesia & East Timor.

Bill Morrison’s papers on the 1983 Parliamentary Delegation visit to Indonesia & East Timor.

Timor Content
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.

Letter to Delegation, 1983

Letter to Delegation, 1983**

Buried treasure
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]

8 Responses to Bill Morrison Papers: Timor fragments

  1. rob wesley-smith says:

    Fantastic to see the letter from Cancio da Sousa Gama which provided the opportunity for real diplomacy, but instead led to more Fretilin deaths. This was an event that still lingers. I remember the ABC doing the translation to show the translation by officials was fraudulent. Lets ask Rudd for an apology.

  2. Ernie Chamberlain says:

    Hi John,
    Well done indeed ! A comprehensive exposition of the visit to Timor by the Bill Morrison-led Parliamentary Delegation in July-August 1983 is overdue and will certainly be well-received.
    We’ve previously discussed the late Bill Morrison’s group “bumping” into a small group of Falintil at Soba (about 30km east of Baucau) on 29 July 1983 when enroute back to Dili – my specific interest being the Delegation’s earlier visit to Iliomar. As mentioned, the Archives in Dili have a photograph of that brief meeting at Soba ie 06785.004.009 – but with Morrison mis-labelled as Mario Carrascalao (the confusion probably being that both Morrison and Carrascalao wore similar safari suits – and Carrascalao had been photographed earlier with Gusmao at the March 1983 “ceasefire talks” in the Viqueque area). I have tried to correct the Arquivo & Muzeo labelling of that photograph several times – handing over a proposed written correção and sitting beside Hamar (ie Antoninho Baptista Alves – former Falintil cadre, Region IV) in the Muzeo on 21 October 2008 while he typed the correction into the Muzeo computer.

    ie: Photograph 06785.004.009: Legenda: Guerrilheiros de segurança de Xanana Gusmão durante o cessar-fogo, Lariguto, Ossú, Viqueque, Março de 1983.
    Should be: Legenda: W.L. Morrison (Australian Parliamentarian) speaks with guerrilheiros Falintil (Câncio da Sousa Gama, Adolfino Ximenes, Francisco Morais, José Morais) at Saba (on the road from Los Palos to Baucau – 30 km east of Baucau) – 1715-1745 hrs, 29 Julho 1983.”

    Interestingly, Dennis Richardson (then serving in our Jakarta Embassy) was present at the Fretilin/Falintil meeting) – as you know, he was later the ASIO Director General, Secretary of DFAT, and is currently Secretary Department of Defence. The late John Holloway – also a DFAT officer and Indonesian linguist (and later Ambassador in Manila and Phnom Penh), acted as Morrison’s interpreter, I believe.
    Regarding the Delegation’s visit to Timor: In an interview published in Gatra magazine (Number 47/IV, 10 October 1998), Gatot Purwanto (a Kopassandha major in 1983 – the “manager” of the 1983 Ceasefire meetings) related that Xanana had asked him (Gatot Purwanto) to arrange a meeting with the Morrison group. Gatot promised to arrange a meeting, but “deceived” Xanana and “quietly sabotaged it” as – probably “it would cause difficulties for Indonesia”. “Thus their visit concluded – and Xanana was angry.” As we’ve discussed, that 1998 Gatra article also has some information on the Kraras Massacre.
    Best wishes, Ernie

    • Joana Ruas says:

      Caro Ernie
      Tive o cuidado de pesquisar no arquivo da Resistência Timorense da Fundação Mário Soares a fotografia 06785.004.009 de que faz menção no documento acima e verifiquei que a figura em traje de safari tem cabelos brancos como Bill Morrison na foto deste documento. Já enviei ao Dr. Alfredo Caldeira da Fundação Mário Soares o documento aqui publicado. Foi um imenso prazer voltar a falar-lhe. Os meus cumprimentos para si e para John.
      Joana Ruas

  3. John Waddingham says:

    Thanks for comment Wes; yes, an opportunity missed (more on this in a few weeks).

    Thanks to Ernie for reminding me about that AMRT photograph and the incorrect caption. See photograph at:

    Grateful to Joana for her offer to draw the caption error to the attention of Alfredo Caldeira.

    • robert wesley-smith says:


      I see Sabalae’s name on the photo archive of Morrison – not knowing the language can’t see if it was in his archive, or he was anywhere nearby. The group had to expose themselves a lot to possible TNI attention, which of course happened. I can’t see how Morrison got away with it.

      I wonder if abc has film of the incident which John …. attended.


      • John Waddingham says:

        Hi Wes. According to AMRT the photo is/was in Sabalae’s collection. No information available online on how he might have come by it. And I don’t know off-hand who took the pic; Ernie C. might have some ideas.

        I don’t think the interception was recorded on video. The audio was recorded by John Lombard, one of the two Australian journos accompanying the delegation (the other was Peter Hastings). I guess that’s Lombard in the striped shirt, obscured by Bill Morrison, and holding the microphone

  4. Thanks for this detailed blog post. We are always delighted to work with groups such as CHART to share our collections and information with communities of interest. The Bill Morrison papers are one example of the wide range of collections relating to Timor-Leste that the Library holds, both in our archival and our Asian special collections. We hope that your outreach helps us to collect and preserve further historical and contemporary materials and to facilitate research and access to knowledge about Timor-Leste. If any of your readers wish to contact us about specific questions, the best method is via the “ask a librarian” service:

    On a related note, you and you readers might be interested to know we also have a new installment recently made available in the papers of Jill Jolliffe. Collection record:

    As the catalogue reference says: “The Acc12.040 installment comprises manuscript and published material relating to Portugal and its colonies, specifically East Timor and Angola with some references to Macau. The contents include newspaper articles, photographs, monographs, realia, manuscripts and correspondence. Much of the material is written in Portuguese (3 boxes).”

    Robyn Holmes Senior Curator at the National Library of Australia

    • timorarchives says:

      Thank you for the feedback, Robyn. And beaut to be brought up to date on Jill Jolliffe’s archives. I was aware that her materials were going to the NLA but didn’t know at least some of it is now available for research access. Good news. John Waddingham.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: