McIntosh Ulun Toos

1 May 2016

Almost thirty years after it was written, a letter from resistance leader Xanana Gusmao to Australian senator Gordon McIntosh has come to light. The correspondence provides a detailed insight into 1980s resistance thinking. It also indicates the particularly high regard in which McIntosh was held for his support for East Timorese self-determination.


Xanana Gusmao’s 1988 letter to Senator Gordon McIntosh is an extensive and passionate exposition of the East Timorese resistance leader’s views on the internal and international aspects of the Indonesian occupation at that time.  Key areas covered by the letter include:

  • An outline of the driving force of resistance – the fight to protect and preserve the distinctive cultural identity of the Maubere people (pages 1-3);
  • The changes in the political direction of the organised resistance (p.4);
  • Strong criticism of Australian, Indonesian and other arguments against East Timorese independence (pp. 5-9);
  • Resistance proposals, based on the 1983 Fretilin peace plan, for resolution of the conflict (pp. 10-11)

The 1988 letter refers several times to the Hawke government’s Timor Gap interest as a driver of Australian policy against the Timorese. This is a striking harbinger of Xanana Gusmao’s current advocacy against Australia’s maritime boundary policy in 2016.

Click links here to see the 1988 Xanana Gusmao letter, official Timor-Leste Tetun and English translations and a somewhat-more literal private English translation.*

Late delivery, late reply
Unhappily, Gordon McIntosh never received this important letter in 1988. A photocopy of the letter was discovered in August 2015 in a private collection being processed by CHART. With the collection-owner’s agreement, a photograph of the copy was forwarded to McIntosh. In turn, McIntosh’s belated reply to the letter was handed to Xanana Gusmao in Melbourne in December 2015.

The reason why the original letter never got to McIntosh is unclear. One possibility is that it went astray in the postal system; perhaps not reaching McIntosh who had already ceased being a Senator before the letter was sent.

Gordon McIntosh told CHART that he was most disappointed not to have received the letter in 1988. “I would have been able to communicate it to other East Timor supporters in Australia and elsewhere and used it in speeches I gave about East Timor in my post-Senate years”, he said.

Click here to see Gordon McIntosh’s reply, 30 November 2015.

Ulun Toos
An associated letter was also found with the 1988 copy – a Xanana Gusmao letter to Agio Pereira (then a key external resistance contact in Australia and now senior minister in the Timor-Leste government). This letter explains why McIntosh was chosen by Xanana to be the recipient of the 1988 exposition.

Xanana notes the admiration the resistance felt for Gordon McIntosh when he refused in 1983 to endorse the report of the Australian Parliamentary delegation to East Timor**. He recalls the affectionate name the guerillas gave to McIntosh after this event: ‘McIntosh Ulun Toos‘ – literally ‘hard-headed’ or ‘stubborn’; the Tetum word Toos rhyming with ‘-tosh’.

Click links here to see text of the covering letter and an English translation.

Xanana Gusmao with Gordon McIntosh and Lere Anan Timur, Dili, March 2016. [Source: Max Stahl]

Xanana Gusmao with Gordon McIntosh and Lere Anan Timur, Dili, March 2016. [Source: Max Stahl]

On receipt of McIntosh’s reply in December 2015, Xanana Gusmao invited him to Timor-Leste as a guest of the nation. McIntosh, accompanied by his son Craig, visited Timor in March 2-7 and was an honoured guest at a Veterans Conference on March 3. He was emotionally received by many veterans who knew his name from the occupation years.

He also met up with East Timorese who had risked their own safety to pass documents to him to carry out of Timor in 1983. McIntosh donated to the the Resistance Archive and Museum digital copies of his personal archives on the 1983 parliamentary delegation visit – including a document from the then-prison island of Atauro listing political prisoner deaths and disappearances.


* Private translation work by Atoki Madeira, Graeme Edis and Luis Pinto. Official translations by the National Directorate of Translation, Presidency of the Council of Ministers, Government of Timor-Leste.

** The 1983 Australian Parliamentary delegation, which included Gordon McIntosh, was seen by activists at the time to be a part of a Hawke government strategy to dismiss Labor Party policy supporting East Timorese self-determination. McIntosh’s decision to dissent from the delegation report, combined with a resumption of military hostilities in August-September 1983, undermined the strategy.

Gordon McIntosh archives: Preliminary list.


1 August 2014


A forthcoming public talk on post-election Indonesia by the internationally-recognised expert on contemporary Indonesian politics, Sidney Jones, will raise money for CHART’s East Timor archival work.

The event is organised by Peter McMullin and the Melbourne legal firm Cornwall Stodart in partnership with the Victorian Branch of the Australian Institute for International Affairs.

Sidney Jones
Sidney Jones is founder and director of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict. From 2002 to 2013, she was with the International Crisis Group’s Asia program, as Southeast Asia director and then as senior adviser. From 1977-2002, Sidney variously worked with the Ford Foundation, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. She is well known in Timor advocacy circles for her detailed research on human rights violations during the occupation.

Register to attend
Formal registration is required to attend this event.  Please register by close of business on Thursday August 14 through this online registration form.

Entry by donation to CHART
This event will assist CHART to raise much-needed funds for its ongoing Timor archives work. The organisers recommend a donation of $150 but if that is beyond (or below!) the means of some, other amounts are accepted. Donations to CHART are tax deductible.*

We look forward to your attendance and your support for our work.

John Waddingham
CHART Archivist & Manager


*Please Note: Under tax deductible gift rules, the first $25 of your donation to attend this event will not be tax deductible.

Further information: event[at] or phone 0421 179 533

Event leaflet

Authenticating Documents (3)

15 June 2014

Continuing our series of articles on the authenticity of rare materials from the early years of occupied East Timor, we briefly examine a 1980 resistance newsletter, ‘Nakroma’.


Nakroma, 1980: Click image to read

Any document which might throw some light on the state of the Fretilin-led resistance after the military defeats of 1978-79 but before the historic 1981 reorganisation is of considerable interest. One such document which has recently come to CHART’s attention is a 31-page late-1980 newsletter  entitled Nakroma. Written in Portuguese-language over the name of Bere Malay Laka, the document reports and reflects on recent history and events and includes information on Fretilin.

CHART does not have the knowledge or resources to translate and fully analyse the document. We invite readers to examine the document (click image above) and offer comments on its content and whether there is any reason to doubt its authenticity.

Where does the document come from?

The 1980 Nakroma newsletter can be found in an Australian Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (DFAT) file* held by the National Archives (NAA) in Canberra.

According to the file records, the document was passed to Australia’s Jakarta embassy sometime on or before 30 November 1981. Embassy staff reported that the item was given to them by ‘a church source’ with the information that it had been circulating in East Timor in hand-written form. No information is given on how this typescript version came into the hands of the un-named church source.

The DFAT file also records embassy staff talking with two different Catholic Church sources around this time – Father Zegwaard from the Indonesian Bishop’s Conference (MAWI) and the Vatican’s envoy to Jakarta, Monsignor Pablo Puente, an occasional visitor to East Timor. Both men were in regular contact with the Australian Embassy; either could have been the source.

Newsletter contents

The file shows that the DFAT head office in Canberra sent the document to its Lisbon Embassy for pointers to significant content, resulting in an English-language summary.

Of particular interest to CHART is the Lisbon Embassy’s translation of Nakroma‘s claims about military events during 1979-80 and a backgrounder on Fretilin. Especially notable in the latter is the naming of Fretilin as the Partido Marxista-Leninista “Fretilin”. 

Assuming the newsletter is authentic and was written in December 1980, this is the earliest public documentary reference to Fretilin’s formal adoption of Marxism-Leninism yet seen by CHART. It precedes the now well-known March 1981 reorganisation meeting records.

In addition to requests for comments made earlier, CHART also invites comments or corrections on the Lisbon Embassy’s translation and discussion on what this document adds to knowledge of the resistance before the March 1981 reorganisation.


NAA File Reference:  NAA 1838 3038-2-1 Part 21. See digitised copy.

Authenticating documents (2)

9 June 2014

Documents from the armed resistance inside East Timor in the early occupation years are very rare. In this post we throw more light on an important 1981 record of the re-organisation of the resistance.

Fretilin external delegation, Lisbon. early 1980s. Abilio Araujo at centre. [Source AMRT]

Fretilin external delegation, Lisbon, early 1980s. Abilio Araujo at centre. [Source AMRT]

In March 2012 we examined a 50+ page record of the March 1981 re-organisation of the Fretilin-led armed resistance and the formalisation of Xanana Gusmao’s leadership. See original article and link to document here.

While acknowledging that the document content broadly matched other accounts of the historic event, we did raise questions about its authenticity as a complete record. In particular, we wondered about the provenance of the document – who produced it and was it a retyped or rewritten version of an original document created at the meeting in the mountains of East Timor?

We can now answer some of these questions.

The 1981 document appears to have been prepared in November 1983 by Abilio Araujo, the then Lisbon-based head of Fretilin’s external delegation.  It was based on audio recordings  received that year by Araujo from an unidentified source.

The missing pages

Image of first ‘missing page’

We know this because we have now seen a more complete copy of the document – one that includes the three introductory pages missing from the version we examined in 2012. This more complete version was seen by CHART in August 2013 in the unprocessed archives of long-time Timor researcher Prof. Barbedo de Magalhães.

The missing pages, over the name of Abilio Araujo, briefly describe the source materials of the larger document. Most of the missing pages are, in the highly rhetorical language of that period, Araujo’s reflection on the significance of the document for the resistance inside and outside East Timor.

The text of the missing pages can be seen here. We have also produced a rough English translation courtesy of Google Translate.

More questions?
A question on whether this document is a full record of the March 1981 meeting still remain. We noted in 2012 the surprising absence of detail about the newly-created Revolutionary Council of National Resistance (CRRN) and now note no reference to it in Araujo’s introductory pages. There are a number of possible explanations – the most obvious being that parts of the record did not reach Lisbon.

Any doubts about the authenticity or completeness of this 1981 meeting record can be answered by examining the original source materials given to Abilio Araujo in 1983. We can hope that one day these original materials will be returned to Timor-Leste and be kept in a suitable public repository for present and future generations to study.


Many thanks to Luis Pinto for drawing our attention to the document in the Barbedo de Magalhães archive.

Top Photograph: In the collection of the Timorese Resistance Archive and Museum (AMRT), Dili. See full image here.

Australia’s new Labor government, March 1983

5 March 2013

The election on 5 March 1983 of a new Labor government under the populist prime minister Bob Hawke held the possibility of a change in Canberra’s direction on Timor. The Australian Labor Party came into the 1983 election with a formal Timor position strongly supporting East Timorese self-determination.

We present here some source materials which illuminate development of Labor’s Timor policy, the new government’s approach to the policy and community reaction to early signs that the government was broadly continuing the pro-integration approach of  the Whitlam and Fraser governments.

Bob Hawke, election tally room, 5 March 1983. [Source: ABC]

Bob Hawke, election tally room, 5 March 1983. [Source: ABC]

In 1977 the Australian Labor Party (ALP) rejected former Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam’s approach on Timor by adopting a strong resolution opposing the Indonesian annexation and supporting self-determination. In 1979, however, this policy was significantly reduced in scope (see both texts here). A renewal of Australian activism after the political, military and humanitarian disasters inside Timor in 1978-79 included a focus on re-invigorating ALP policy.

Renewing Labor Party policy 1981-82
In early 1981, a few Australia East Timor Association (AETA) activists* began working with members of the Victorian branch of the ALP on an early draft policy proposal. The final product described principles and actions on a range of matters like self-determination, United Nations, refugees, military aid and the sea-bed boundary.

ALP rank-and-file member support for a pro-Timor policy was particularly strong in the state of Victoria. In June 1981, leading figures on the left such as Jean McLean were instrumental in the Victorian branch adopting a policy based on the AETA proposal. The Victorian branch then led the way in establishing  a national ALP Timor draft policy. Just prior to the ALP national conference which was to vote on the draft policy in July 1982, activists began to worry about the length of the proposal and suggested a less detailed but still principled alternative.

In the end, though, the ALP adopted a detailed conference resolution which included, word for word, seven of the eight principal policy statements originally proposed by AETA in 1981. The missing item was the sea-bed boundary issue. Many of the specific government actions originally proposed by AETA were not included, except the less controversial ones on information and family reunions.

Shoring-up the policy
In Victoria ALP member (and AETA chairperson) George Preston headed an  ‘East Timor Support Group’ within the party to build  support for the new policy. Established in late 1982, the group secured the signatures of four key Labor parliamentarians on a letter sent to all branches seeking their active support for the new policy. One of the signatories was Gareth Evans, later Australian Foreign Minister (1988-96); his letter agreeing to add his signature showed solid support for the policy but with some reservations.

Other encouraging signs for Timor supporters came when almost the entire membership of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party signed a policy-supporting statement which long-time Timor activist Senator Gordon McIntosh presented to a hearing on the UN Decolonisation Committee in November 1982. Just a few days before the 1983 election, Labor foreign minister-in-waiting, Bill Hayden, gave further signs of a new Labor government’s commitment to its policy.

Labor in Government: Alarming signs
There was considerable media interest before and after the March 5 election in how the Hawke government would handle the policy (see sample coverage here). The early signs after the election were, however, alarming for the supporters of the new policy with the new prime minister failing to affirm it in other than the vaguest terms.

Cabinet decision March 1983

Only in 2012 was the Hawke Cabinet’s first Timor policy decision made public**. The 29 March 1983 Cabinet decision showed that the government had adopted a formula which broadly followed the script recommended by the Foreign Affairs Department to successive Australian governments since 1975. The essence of the formula was that while an internationally supervised act of self-determination had not taken place, any ‘support’ for the East Timorese must go through the Indonesian government (by inference: no actions supporting self-determination).

This formula was clearly reflected in Bill Hayden’s first overseas visit to Jakarta  in early April where he played down support for East Timorese self-determination and focussed on relatively minor Timor matters like aid and family reunion.

Activist disquiet and action
It didn’t take long for Timor supporters to realise they had work to do if the policy was to survive. Within two days of the election, the ALP East Timor Support Group directed a letter of concern to Labor parliamentarians and continued to be active in the months following.

Click to viewOn March 9 a nationally-distributed letter sought participants for a March 19 strategy meeting in Melbourne. Interstate solidarity groups like the Campaign for Independent East Timor (CIET) in Sydney and Adelaide weren’t able to attend but indicated their activities and intentions.  AETA and others wrote to Bill Hayden seeking a meeting with him; AETA distributed a pamphlet which showed what it thought needed doing.

PM Hawke casts the die
Prime Minister Bob Hawke’s visit to Jakarta in early June 1983 left no-one in any doubt that the government was indeed abandoning its party policy. AETA’s subsequent pamphlet spelled out the detail.

The next element in the Hawke government’s strategy to overturn the the policy came in the form of an Australian parliamentary delegation to Indonesia in July 1983 – but that is another story.


* Initial working group members were George Preston, Pat Walsh, John Waddingham and Rod Harris.

** See full Cabinet decision and briefing notes through the National Archives of Australia RecordSearch. Worth an article in its own right.

Documents reproduced here come from the archives of the ACFOA Human Rights Office and Timor Information Service – both in CHART custody in Melbourne.