Penny Tweedie’s photographs of post-civil-war East Timor are among the best-recognised images of that dramatic period in Timor-Leste’s modern history. The National Library of Australia now holds the original Tweedie photograph collection. We present here a guide to the full set of Tweedie’s Timor images from September 1975.
Penny Tweedie was among the first group of journalists and photographers to go to East Timor after the short civil war of August/September 1975.
Prior to this she recorded in Darwin the arrival from Dili of a group of refugees on the ship, Macdili. In Timor she captured images of the Fretilin leadership and its newly formed Falintil armed forces in Dili and on patrol outside Dili, going as far west as Balibo.
Tweedie photographed ordinary East Timorese recovering from the effects of the war, including receiving humanitarian aid and medical attention. She also took many photographs of prisoners held by Fretilin, mostly UDT* followers but also an Indonesian soldier captured on the East Timor side of the border.
Important to Timor-Leste’s archival record
Penny Tweedie’s images have long been recognised by East Timorese as a key record-set in the new nation’s history. Many of her images appear repeatedly on Timorese history and political websites and on social media – though usually without permission or attribution.
More formally, Timor-Leste’s 2002-2005 truth and reconciliation commission, CAVR*, purchased a set of prints of key images which today can be seen displayed at the successor institution, Centro Nasional Chega! It is also known that during his period as Timor-Leste President, Jose Ramos-Horta was negotiating with Penny Tweedie to acquire a fuller set of her images for Timor-Leste archival purposes.
CHART arranged with Tweedie in 2009/10 to put online a full set of her 1975 images as a guide to the collection for researchers and Timor-Leste archival institutions. Sadly her unexpected death in early 2011 meant the project didn’t proceed.
Tweedie at the National Library of Australia
Having unsuccessfully sought over some years to determine the fate of Tweedie’s collection, we were delighted to learn recently that her son Ben had donated her lifetime’s photographic record to the National Library of Australia in 2013.
The collection is a large and complex mix of original film negatives, contact and full-size prints, transparencies, notebooks and correspondence. Timor is a tiny fragment of the whole collection; Tweedie covered many conflict situations in other countries and is particularly well-known for her striking images of indigenous Australians.
See also CHART’s extract from the NLA’s collection list to point directly to the disparate Timor elements in the Tweedie collection.
Visual guide to Penny Tweedie Timor images
CHART has prepared a visual guide to all Tweedie images from August/September 1975.
With the permission of Ben Tweedie, who inherited legal copyright ownership of the images, we have created low-resolution copies of Tweedie’s contact prints* of all her 1975 film negatives. We have supplemented the images with very brief descriptions of the content of each contact print.
Our purpose in doing this is to inform all East Timor history researchers and Timor-Leste archival institutions of the range of Tweedie’s Timor images and her particular contribution to the historical record.
Note on access and use restrictions
These images may not be reproduced elsewhere without prior permission. Requests for higher resolution copies of any of the images for any purpose must first be directed to the National Library of Australia.*
UDT: União Democrática Timorense / Timorese Democratic Union.
CAVR: Comissão de Acolhimento, Verdade e Reconciliação / Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation.
Contact prints: These are direct, original size positive copies of the original film negatives. They were used in the pre-digital-camera era to identify and select images for reproduction. In the case of the Tweedie Timor items, the negatives were standard 35×24 mm black and white film.
Contacting National Library of Australia: See links from NLA’s catalogue entry for Tweedie collection.