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.
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.
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’.Aftermath
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.