Kevin Sherlock Collection: Researching Timorese migration to Australia

 Kevin Sherlock’s death in Darwin in 2014 marked the end of his forty years of dedicated travelling, researching, collecting, translating and indexing published materials about Timor. He bequeathed his collection to the Charles Darwin University Library for long-term preservation and access.

Dr Vannessa Hearman recently accessed the Sherlock collection for her current research on East Timorese migration to Australia. She writes here of her immersion in this rich and valuable resource. 

Dr Vannessa Hearman delving into the Kevin Sherlock Collection.

Charles Darwin University (CDU), a small regional university located in Australia’s tropical north, has an outstanding collection on East Timor worthy of a research visit. CDU holds a special collection on East Timor that can be consulted in the library of its main campus at Casuarina, as well as a decent range of monographs in its Main Collection that can be borrowed directly or via interlibrary loans. CDU really stands out, though, as the custodian of the Kevin Sherlock East Timor Collection.

Establishing one of the best private collections in the world on East Timor, Darwin-based Kevin Sherlock was recognised by the East Timorese government for his services to the country in 2010. After organising and listing the collection at CDU in 2015, CHART’s John Waddingham observed: ‘This is a seriously impressive research collection which will be much consulted in the years to come.’ In this post, I share with readers some of my experiences in using the collection.

Location: Palmerston Campus
Due to space constraints, the Sherlock collection is housed at CDU’s Palmerston campus, some 20 kilometres from the Casuarina Campus where the other collections are held. For researchers planning to visit, it is important to contact the library beforehand, so that a librarian can arrange access. The collection is housed in a locked room which can only be accessed through library staff members. You will need to find your own way around the Sherlock collection, as there is not much collection advice available from the staff, who are either casual or on rotation from front desk duties at Casuarina.

At first glance, the collection appeared to be small, as the room in which it is hosted, in one corner of the library, is small. But its treasures reveal themselves slowly. It took me a few days to get used to the way the collection was arranged. Several pieces of information were needed to reveal the depth of the collection. I used a combination of the CDU library catalogue showing the books, journals and reports that have been catalogued thus far, an Excel spreadsheet showing CDU’s entire East Timor collection drawn up by one of the librarians for me, and Kevin’s own partial shelf list created in 2002 of almost 450 pages in length. By consulting all of these resources, I managed to get a reasonably good idea of what was in the collection. Nothing, though, beat being able to touch, see and read the materials directly.

Browsing the collection
The beauty of the Sherlock collection is its integrity. Much of the historical writing about East Timor is sharply divided between the time of pre- and post-Indonesian invasion. Having materials across several historical periods in one place allows the researcher plenty of opportunities for serendipitous discovery by just walking along the shelves. Being able to inspect the items, such as by pulling out and inspecting folders, based on pure speculation and curiosity, can also help foster new ways of thinking about East Timor and consider connections, rather than ruptures, between topics and historical periods.

The collection can be roughly divided into books and other materials (such as theses, newsletters and bulletins) that can be found by searching through the library catalogue (marked by CDU with the letters KS before the call number), and a variety of materials filed in folders (as discussed here). Kevin’s partial shelf list, mentioned earlier, provides some guidance to the folder materials. For my research on the East Timorese community in Australia, I focused initially on the newsletters published in Melbourne, Sydney, Darwin and Brisbane. In particular, the collection has extensive holdings of newsletters from Darwin (Eco, O Lusitano and La’o Rai) and Melbourne (Hadomi), as well as newsletters produced by the East Timorese community in Lisbon, Portugal.

A treasure trove
But the real treasure trove, for me, was the ordinary looking folders. A group of 502 folders, consisting of materials collected and arranged in alphabetical order, contained hard-to-find materials, such as exhibition catalogues, conference programs and papers, and ephemera such as leaflets and brochures of activist groups and fundraising campaigns. Materials Kevin collected, such as minutes of the meetings of the City of Darwin’s Friendship City Committee (with Dili) and plans for the Darwin Tetum School, founded in 1993, to teach the Tetum language to Timorese children in the diaspora showed the many hours of activities carried out in Darwin in support of East Timor, including by Kevin himself.

Poignantly, many of these materials also reflected the contribution of the late Jose Adriano Gusmao, National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT) representative in Darwin, as well as of other East Timorese activists. Despite the availability of digitised newspapers now, other folders containing press clippings from the late 1970s to 2014 might also yield items of interest to researchers, for example, Jakarta Post and other media articles.

A role for researchers

Hosting a collection like the Kevin Sherlock requires ongoing support from the university and the library administration. East Timor researchers can help secure its future and demonstrate its value by using the collection and, perhaps as a professional grouping, discussing with the library as to how more of the collection could be made accessible to researchers worldwide. In this way, Kevin’s legacy may be more fully realised.


At the time of writing (late 2020), Vannessa Hearman was senior lecturer in Indonesian Studies at Charles Darwin University. In 2021, Dr Hearman will be senior lecturer in History at Curtin University in Western Australia [vannessa.hearman[at]curtin.edu.au]. Her research on East Timorese migration to Australia is funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC SR200201031).

One Response to Kevin Sherlock Collection: Researching Timorese migration to Australia

  1. Peter Woodruff says:

    John, hope you are well. Impressive lot of historical info in this archive. It will be a gold mine for scholars interested in making historical truth available to interested parties. Should help put the brakes on attempts to distort the facts, as has been done for so many years as regards the British takeover of Australia. May the New Year be one of joy for you, Cecily and family. Cheers, Peter

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

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

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google 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: