12 October 2022


Welcome to my  Interests & Activities section. Here you can rummage amongst all those bits that don’t fit into the other pages – photo albums, travel tales, interesting conferences, and more. Think of it like that spare room in your house or the garage where you put things you want to keep until someone works out where to store them.

Scroll down, enjoy the mess and, BTW, let me know what you think!

11 October 2022

Religious dimensions of the Timor-Leste reconciliation process

A culturally sensitive CAVR reconciliation ceremony in process.

In December 2009, four years after the dissolution of Timor’s Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR), where I learned so much, I presented on its reconciliation experience to the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne.

I began by highlighting the care that CAVR’s architects took to include Timor-Leste’s rich religious traditions in its reconciliation process. And framed this by reflecting on the religious dimensions of each of the key words in CAVR’s title and program.

Thus commission (its leaders, who were all East Timorese and included two ministers of religion, its prayerfulness, its use of custom); reception (a nod to the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke’s gospel); truth (remembering rather than forgetting); victims (blessed are they who are persecuted in the cause of justice); reconciliation (nahe biti boot / ‘opening the big mat’, Timor-Leste’s traditional reconciliation process).

Click here to read my presentation.

10 October 2022

Suffering and forgiveness

In Timor-Leste in May 2008, I was invited to speak on suffering and forgiveness at an ecumenical conference.

Reflecting on recent events in Timor-Leste, I drew a distinction between an individual’s response to personal violation and that of society. In such circumstances, the motives of an individual who finds it in themselves to forgive are subjective and deeply personal. Somewhat akin to the father who wrapped his arms around his prodigally wasteful son.

That of society as represented by its high officials is of a different order. Leaders have obligations not just to themselves but to the general good of all their citizens and the imperative of standards, laws and objective due process to ensure that society functions well.

I also spoke to the place of ‘apology’ in reconciliation. Withholding ‘sorry’ can be hurtful and damaging to relationships. Offering it freely and genuinely is healing.

Click here to read my presentation.

9 October 2022

Mainstreaming solidarity on East Timor: the ACFOA experience

Staff at ACFOA head office dubbed John Waddingham and I ‘rats up a drainpipe’ on East Timor. It was a tribute to our tenacity but also carried a hint of mission impossible. Note that Waddingham is further up the pipe than me.

In 2022, I presented a short paper (sadly, by Zoom, not in person) on pre-independence solidarity with Timor-Leste hosted by Dr Rui Feijo and his colleagues at Lisbon’s Museu do Oriente. The paper served a couple of purposes. It was primarily an opportunity to document and share the story of the contribution of ACFOA (Australian Council for Overseas Aid, now ACFID) to Timor-Leste’s liberation (and incidentally to ACFOA’s own internal development particularly on human rights). It was also something of a dry run as I prepare to write a memoir about that experience (to be called Rat Up a Drainpipe).

Calling the paper ‘mainstreaming solidarity’ may be a slight over-statement. My intention, however, was to register that solidarity took many forms in the constellation of solidarity and that the equally critical role of organisations like ACFOA (and, by implication, Amnesty International, International Commission of Jurists, Churches, Unions, etc) should not be over-looked.

The main features of ACFOA’s work were its commitment to and advocacy of the following: self-determination, accurate information, the UN, empowerment of East Timorese, networking, Indonesian civil society, and human rights. Siding with East Timor from 1974, however, put ACFOA at odds with the Australian government which sided with Suharto. This divergence also defined the period and shaped ACFOA’s modus operandi until the demise of Suharto slowly allowed government and civil society to write on the same page.

Click here to read my paper.

1 October 2021

Like a bird on the wire

Joseph Cardijn on the cover of the French magazine La Vie in 1957. (Courtesy of The Cardijn Institute)

This essay recounts my experience as a chaplain to the Young Christian Students (YCS) in Australia in the 1970s when it radicalised in response to the Second Vatican Council and cultural upheaval in the West.

The YCS, an international student movement, is based on the teachings of Joseph Cardijn, a Belgian priest from a working class background. In the 1920s, Cardijn founded a social movement to empower and uphold the dignity of young factory workers that spread across the world. YCS adapted his concerns and methods of formation to secondary students.

The essay has been written in response to a request by the Cardijn Studies journal, an Adelaide based publication. I used an interview format to make the text more accessible and readable.

Full text here: Like a bird on the wire.

See also: A shorter version of the one above; a less historical reflection on my experience as a chaplain to the Australian Young Christian Students (YCS) in the 1970s.

I timed the essay to coincide with the Australian church’s plenary council 2021-2022. The council’s agenda includes assessing how well the church is living up to the promises of the Second Vatican Council, which included elevating the laity to a new level.

Full text here: YCS in the 1970s – young laity in search of vocation.

24 August 2021

Vale Carmel Budiardjo (1925-2021)

Carmel Budiardjo (née Brickman) died in London in July 2021 after a lifetime of service to human rights in Indonesia, Aceh, West Papua and East Timor. Many tributes to her and accounts of her life and work are available online. The following is my brief tribute in words and images based mainly on Timor-Leste’s record of her contribution in its Chega! report.

Carmel Budiardjo (sitting right) with Ibu Ade Sitompul and supporters after being awarded the Ordem de Timor-Leste by President Jose Ramos-Horta in Dili on 30 August 2009, the tenth anniversary of the independence referendum.

Many fine and utterly deserving tributes have been published about the legendary Carmel Budiardjo since she died in London on 10 July, 2021, aged 96. Katharine McGregor’s obituary in Inside Indonesia 19 July 2021 is particularly recommended.

In addition to the Timor-Leste government’s affectionate motion of condolence, and before that it’s prestigious Ordem de Timor-Leste in 2009, the country’s most enduring tribute can be found in the CAVR report. Chega! highlights the uniqueness and authority of Carmel’s Tapol bulletin. Unique, because its ‘regularity, longevity and professionalism’ made it an essential pre-internet resource on East Timor. Authoritative, because Carmel was one of the few foreign Timor activists who spoke Indonesian and knew Indonesia well.

Carmel at the post-award reception chatting with Manuel Tilman (red tie) and Rocque Rodriques.

Carmel and Mayra Walsh at the post-award reception.









Chega! also points out Carmel’s productive collaboration with Indonesians, notably with Liem Soei Liong. Inter alia, they co-authored important books on East Timor. Liem’s contribution should not be forgotten. At the Permanent Peoples Tribunal in Lisbon in 1981, Liem and Jusfiq Hadjar were the first Indonesians to openly oppose the Indonesian occupation and support independence for East Timor. As punishment, the Suharto regime blacklisted both from returning to Indonesia. Chega! reports that Liem denied that he and Carmel’s work was undertaken to advance the interests of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), an excuse used by Indonesia and some to discredit her work. Liem’s daughter, Alexandra Van den Bergh, worked at CAVR.

Carmel, 80 years old but still on the job: meeting at CAFOD in London, 2006, to discuss the CAVR report with me, colleagues from CAFOD, Progressio, Amnesty International and Paul Barber (right), Carmel’s right hand man at TAPOL for many years.

I valued Tapol bulletin, exchanged material, brought Carmel to Australia to testify in the 1982-83 Parliamentary inquiry into East Timor and visited Tapol more than once. The last time was with Annie in 2006 (see photo) to discuss responses to the Chega! report, but Tapol was more focussed on West Papua by then. In 2009, I caught up with Carmel again in Dili when we were both awarded OTLs. My lead photo here shows her at that time with Ibu Ade Sitompul, another Indonesian not to be forgotten.

I will also never forget Carmel’s distinctive English accent or her way of saying East Timor, always emphasising the last syllable!

         Carmel with Annie Keogh and me, London, 2006.


17 July 2021

The Yoo-rrook Commission and East Timor’s experience

‘This exhibit must be a path that we follow for reflection.’
Then President Jose Ramos-Horta’s public exhortation to visit East Timor’s
Chega! exhibition and reflect on its teachings.

To prepare the way for a Treaty between Indigenous peoples and the State of Victoria, the State’s First Peoples Assembly and the Victorian Government have established a truth-telling Royal Commission to inquire into past and current systemic injustice, educate the wider community and recommend change.

Neighbouring East Timor’s CAVR truth commission had a similar mandate, including truth-telling and dealing with the traumatic consequences of violence, colonisation and denial of self-determination.

This article by me identifies similarities between the Yoo-rrook commission and East Timor’s CAVR experience and potential challenges that could arise.

See also:

Yoo-rrook Justice Commission

Centro Nacional Chega (East Timor’s successor institution to CAVR)

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

30 June 2021

Book Review: A Narrative of Denial: ‘Australia and the Indonesian Violation of East Timor’ by Peter Job

I was pleased to contribute to the first public launch of an outstanding book on Australian government Timor policy in the Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser years (1974-1982), held in Melbourne on 29 June 2021.

This is a book that should be read and be widely discussed in foreign policy circles.

What follows is a formal review based on my presentation at the launch.


A Narrative of Denial by Dr Peter Job is an important academic work. It is also an indictment of Australian policy on East Timor during the Fraser years. As such, it is a fitting complement to the Chega! report which includes East Timor’s own assessment of this period. It is to be hoped, however, that it is not ignored in official circles as Chega! has been.

Melbourne University Press (MUP) is to be complimented on lending its prestigious name to this work and giving it the status it deserves. Its excellent production is user-friendly and includes an instructive selection of images. These pictures tell the story. Those on the cover show PM Malcolm Fraser, the Toorak born patrician, looking down on Suharto, the Indonesian dictator, to whose wishes on East Timor Fraser was to defer. ….

…… Read full text of my review.

How to purchase: Good bookshops and directly through Melbourne University Press.

9 May 2020

Milking Our Memories: Excerpts from my new book

Excerpts from Milking Our Memories: 150 years of the Walshs of Walshs Road South Purrumbete (Pat Walsh, April 2020)

Why this memoir? There are too many reasons to unpack here. Chief among them, however, was a deeply felt imperative to re-connect with my own family, place and origins after many years doing other things and to leave future generations with a sense of their history before it was lost. As no family is an island, this inevitably meant re-connecting us to our bigger clan, past and present.

I also felt the memoir would work and be fun. I had to do a lot of digging but, at a practical level, there was plenty of good, colourful material to work with and to knock into a readable story. ‘If you haven’t got the ball’, says Sam of Coodabeen Champions fame, ‘It’s very hard to score!’

Given the ambitious scope of the memoir (four generations across 150 years), my biggest challenge was to avoid swamping the reader with detail. Rather than putting everything I was told into the story, or writing a series of detailed biographies, I’ve been selective in the interests of readability. I also wanted to capture the milieu in which the Walshs lived by telling the stories of places, institutions, events and issues.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Chapter 2. The First Walshs of Walshs Road
The story of Maurice and Margaret, the first Walshs of Walshs Road, South Purrumbete, is both improbable and remarkable. From their earliest years, the odds were stacked against them. They were born losers, condemned by dehumanising and systemic poverty, discrimination, bigotry and repression to a second-class ride through short lives distinguished only by ill-health, frustration, and daily struggle. Remarkably, however, their lives didn’t work out like that. Thanks to some lucky breaks, great sacrifices, prodigious leaps in the dark, and, it has to be said, their enterprise and strength of spirit, the road, initially rocky, finally rose to meet them and the wind of Providence filled their sails. It carried them half a world away from their desperate origins to a new world, Australia. Here they not only survived; they thrived. [p. 21]

Andrew Walsh, Maurice and Margaret’s great great grandson, explaining the design he created for their refurbished grave site in the Camperdown cemetery. See Milking Our Memories, pp. 11-12.

Chapter 3. The Stoney Rises
Mitchell’s euphoria over the natural wealth of the area was surely shared by his Aboriginal contemporaries. It was ‘felix’ to them too. And because they valued and cared for it like family leaving only the lightest of footprints, Mitchell, and later our ancestors, ironically had them to thank for the prime condition of the area. [p. 61]

Eugene von Guerard. Stony Rises. Painted in 1857, it shows Aborigines at home in The Rises fourteen years before the first Walshs, Maurice Walsh and Margaret O’Brien, refugees from Ireland, settled there and started the Walsh clan. See Milking Our Memories, p. 61 ff.

It can be safely assumed that Maurice and Margaret and their seven children all enjoyed rabbit stew and knew how to trap, skin and cook rabbits. The tradition was passed down to us and continues today, though in a far smaller way. As kids, we all learned to hunt rabbits. Our shed was festooned with metal rabbit traps and the wire frames on which skins were stretched to dry. Ferrets, dogs and guns completed the hunter’s kit. We learned where to set a trap by identifying fresh droppings and new mounds at the entrance to burrows. We learned to shoot our single barrel 4-10 shot gun and rifle. One of my worst memories is being asked by Mum to cull our numerous dogs by shooting one of their number, Blackie. Unable to look him in the eye close up, I tied him to a post and shot him from too far back. This left him badly wounded and yelping in pain until I forced myself to complete his execution. [p. 83-84]

Chapter 6. Cyril Augustine Walsh: War Hero
All (Uncle Cyril’s) siblings were impacted by the Second World War. But his story stands out in sharper relief and poignancy because he lost his life in the service of freedom. He was our very own victim of Nazi Germany. His death, the knock on the door that all parents whose children were on active service feared, admitted the very beast, not just its shadow, into the inner sanctum of a farm house on a back country road at the far edge of the Western world. [p. 159]

Four generations of Walshs attended the South Purrumbete State School. Taken in the 1920s, there are five of Maurice and Margaret’s grandkids in this photo. Cyril is fourth from the right at the front and looking just as serious as the other farm kids. See Milking p. 97.

Chapter 8 The Third Walshs of Walshs Road
(Mum and Dad’s) wedding was the first to be celebrated at St Brigid’s. The Darcys dispute this and claim that Jack and Noreen were the first. The Camperdown Chronicle, however, states it was Mum and Dad. As they say in research ci.rcles, whoever writes the minutes has the last word even if one of our aunts wrote the story. It misspells Mum’s name as Foster, but the Corangamite Heritage Study (2014) also supports our claim to fame. [p. 229]

1936 wedding party – Joan Forster, Bernie Walsh, Ruth Walsh (Forster), Des Walsh.

Nothing, apart from a fat milk cheque, quickened a farmer’s pulse more than the sight of a freshly mown paddock strewn with bales of hay ripening in the summer sun. Where Van Gogh might have seen living colour, the scene presented the farmer, as producer and breadwinner, with a comforting vision of order and security, insurance for him and his family against the vagaries of the seasons and the market, at least for another year. [p. 260]

Chapter 9. The Fourth Walshs of Walshs Road
Peter, John and Cyril all played for the (South Purrumbete) Panthers at various times. John reckons Peter could have played VFL if circumstances at home and the club had been more favourable. Facilities at the ground were rustic. There were no showers or fancy amenities to clean up after a muddy game in the middle of winter. When they came off at half time, players were offered a shot of whiskey to fire them up. Income depended on gate takings and Cyril, who ran the boundary before joining the contest himself, had to work hard to get his ten bob off the committee. [p. 311]

Peter Walsh (right) and his rover, Jimmy Howard, in their South Purrumbete Panthers footy jumpers, ready to take the ground in the 1960 grand final. I particularly like the spectator, hands on hip, standing on the bonnet of his car for a better view of the contest.

If it turns out that John is the last of the Walshs of Walshs Road, South Purrumbete, we will have regrets but no reason to complain. Our connection to country will be broken and links to ancestors further weakened. But we will have him to thank for his keen sense of history and his contribution to the family narrative, both as hyperthymesist and participant. He has kept the show on the road thus far and helped keep us in touch with our past, enabling us to appreciate better what has gone into creating a story that has all the ups and downs, twists, turns and rugged beauty of the Stoney Rises. [p. 335]

– – – – – – – – – – – –

MORE INFO: Visit Facebook page The First Walshs of Walshs Road, South Purrumbete.

Tony Wright, Special Writer for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, writes: Walsh, “a story teller with a rare gift for words… has returned to his childhood to write an arresting history of his dairy-farming family just south of the Stony Rises at South Purrumbete, a land of ancient volcanoes and lakes between Colac and Camperdown in the Western District” of Victoria. See his article here.

Contact Pat Walsh by email (padiwalsh@gmail.com). Price: $30.00.

29 April 2020

Moves by Australia to sanction abusers of human rights

Late last year, Australia’s Foreign Minister Senator Marise Payne asked the Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade to inquire into Australia’s use of targeted sanctions to address human rights abuses.

In my April 2020 submission to the Inquiry, I argue that :

Retired Lt.Gen Syahnakri has visited Australia despite being indicted in 2003 for crimes against humanity in East Timor.

(1) Sanctions like visa bans against individual perpetrators would strengthen Australia’s existing vetting through its visa application process and sanction perpetrators such as some former Indonesian military;

(2) would give some justice to East Timorese victims of crimes against humanity; and

(3) would protect minorities like the Papuans and back up East Timor’s efforts to pre-empt human rights abuses in Indonesia and internationally. Recommendations made in 2005 by East Timor’s CAVR truth commission included visa bans and asset freezes on perpetrators.

The idea of sanctioning individual perpetrators with visa bans and asset freezes is based on the Magnitsky Act adopted by the US Congress in 2012 and aimed at Russia. Since 2016, it has been broadened to cover human rights abusers anywhere. Countries like Canada, Estonia and Lithuania have legislated their own versions and the UK has committed to follow suit. The US has used the Global Magnitsky Act to sanction many abusers. In our region these include named individuals from Burma and Cambodia, but no-one from Indonesia.

More information

Read the full text of my submission

Joint Standing Committee Inquiry webpage.

1 October 2019

The Dili launch of ‘The Day Hope and History Rhymed in East Timor’

“Our beloved Pat Walsh was influential in my diplomatic formation and laying the foundations for my role today in Timor-Leste’s foreign ministry. He always stressed the fundamental importance of working from first principles. His wonderful book will continue to inspire me (and to honour the political cat with only six lives that I had to leave behind in Jakarta!).” Vicky Fun Ha Tchong, Director General, Multilateral and Regional Affairs, Timor-Leste Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation. 

Caption to come

Me with Ian Martin (right) and Vicky Tchong who launched the book in Dili.

The launch of my new book, The Day Hope and History Rhymed in East Timor and Other East Timor Stories, was held in Dili on 28 August 2019, two days before the 20th anniversary of the historic 30 August 1999 ballot referred to in the book’s title.

The site of the launch was significant as were many of the participants. It was held at the former UNAMET precinct, now a teachers’ college, from where the UN administered the ballot. Many documentaries of that time show images of terrified Timorese throwing children over the razor wire into the precinct to escape militias. 

The audience at the launch included many Timorese and internationals from 1999, including Ian Martin, the then head of UNAMET. 

The book was launched by my long-time friend Vicky Tchong, whom I had known from the late 1970s through my contacts with the East Timorese diaspora community in Melbourne.

Many thanks to Vicky for her warm tribute to me and the book in her lovely launch speech. And many thanks to supporting reactions from other friends, two of which I reproduce immediately below.

“I read The Day Hope and History Rhymed (a great title) from cover to cover on my flights back (to the UK), and enjoyed it hugely.” Ian Martin, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General to Timor-Leste’s 20th anniversary of the 1999 referendum.

“I deeply enjoyed each page of this book. I especially love its quirky angles, characters, nods to history (including bits not known by many) and its Seamus Heaney anchors.” Kieran Dwyer, bookworm, Senior Communications Officer, UNICEF, New York.


See here for some selected extracts.

The book is available for purchase in Timor-Leste, Indonesia and Australia.

20 November 2018

The great famine in Timor-Leste, 1977-1980

laga-girl-1979This year marks roughly the 40th anniversary of the great famine in Timor-Leste 1977-1980. Famine was employed by the Indonesian military to force civilians out of the mountains into their control. It was the major cause of war-related death during the Occupation.

Recently I travelled to Laga, east of Baucau, to visit one site where thousands died anonymously and are not commemorated. The photo opposite is a nameless girl photographed in Laga by Peter Rodgers in October 1979.

Click heading below to see my findings and recommendations to the Centro Nacional Chega! (CNC).

Laga famine 40th Anniversary: Integrated proposal to Centro Nacional Chega! (CNC)

13 August 2018

Memorialising Russia’s Soviet past


Many of the basic freedoms of so-called enemies of the people were repressed by the Soviet
Union/USSR during its existence 1922-1991. These violations were particularly massive and
brutal during the Stalinist period 1929-1953. They included the exile and death in forced
labour camps (gulags) of millions of peasants, political opponents, members of the
intelligentsia and church; famine and starvation; intense surveillance, harassment and mass executions by the Secret Police and show trials.

During a visit to Russia in May 2018, I had the opportunity to check out, albeit superficially,
how contemporary Russia is dealing with this horrific past. I was surprised and impressed to
see that civil society and the State have chosen to remember, not suppress, these events.

Below is a link to information, images and reflections on seven memorials in Moscow and St
Petersburg that I was able to visit, photograph or learn about. This introduction is offered in
the hope that it will further inspire and strengthen efforts in Indonesia to reclaim and
publicise the truth about its past during the Suharto years and confirm advances on
memorialisation already underway in Timor-Leste particularly through its Centro Nacional

Memorialising Russia’s Soviet Past: Inspiration for Indonesia and Timor-Leste. Pat Walsh, July 2018.

28 January 2016

European launches of the English Chega!


Nobel Institute of Peace Seminar, Oslo. L-R: Olandina Caeiro, Fidelis Magalhaes, Stig Traavik (chair, Norwegian Ambassador to Indonesia and Timor-Leste), Bishop Belo, Arnold Kohen discussing Timor-Leste’s colonial past.

The European launch of the English language Chega! was conducted at the Nobel Institute of Peace, Oslo, 25 Jan 2016. I was a panellist in the associated seminar which was sponsored by the Norwegian Government and brought together key activists, officials, and experts on transitional justice to reflect on Chega! and Timor-Leste, ten years after the appearance of CAVR’s monumental report. Timor-Leste’s two Nobel Peace Laureates, Jose Ramos-Horta and Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo, also participated.


Jose Ramos-Horta presents the English language edition of the Chega! report to Norway’s Crown Prince Haakon, 25 Jan 2016


Bishop Gunnar Stalsett, former Norway Special Envoy to Timor-Leste and Member of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, Emeritus Bishop of Oslo. The seminar was Bishop Stalsett’s initiative.










Further Information:

Pushing the envelope on truth, justice and reconciliation in Timor-Leste
My talk given at the Chega! launch seminar, Nobel Institute of Peace, Oslo, 25 Jan 2016.

Impunity is Contagious, but so is Truth
Oslo seminar presentation by Galuh Wandita, Director, AJAR.

European launches of the English Chega!
My summary of proceedings at European launches of Chega! in Oslo and Brussels.

European launch of the English version of the Chega!, Oslo
Unofficial summary of Oslo seminar by Dr Ai Kihara‐Hunt, University of Essex.

5 January 2016

Chega tenth anniversary regional roadshow

A pictorial summary of events in seven countries to mark the 10th anniversary of Timor-Leste’s monumental Chega! report.

For further information, see my tenth anniversary roadshow report.

Academics workshop on teaching Chega!, Omar Munir Museum, Malang, 4-5 Nov 2015.

Academics workshop on teaching Chega!, Omar Munir Museum, Malang, Indonesia. 4-5 November 2015.

Seminar to mark 10th anniversary of Chega!, Palacio Presidencial, Dili, 13 Nov 2015.  L-r: Jacinto Alves, Prime Minister Rui de Araujo, Guilherme Caiero.

Seminar to mark 10th anniversary of Chega!, Palacio Presidencial, Dili, 13 Nov 2015. L-r: Jacinto Alves, Prime Minister Rui de Araujo, Guilherme Caiero.

Pat Walsh presents Chega! to Prof Mab Huang, University of Soochow Centre for the Study of Human Rights, Taiwan, 16 Nov 2015.

Pat Walsh presents Chega! to Prof Mab Huang, University of Soochow Centre for the Study of Human Rights, Taiwan, 16 November 2015.

Timor-Leste's Ambassador to the Philippines, Juvencio de Jesus Martins, speaks at Chega! seminar, University of the Philippines, Manila, 14 Dec 2015.

Timor-Leste’s Ambassador to the Philippines, Juvencio de Jesus Martins, speaks at Chega! seminar, University of the Philippines, Manila, 14 December 2015.


12 June 2013

Red Cross archives on Timor-Leste

Red Cross index cards used to trace the missing after World War I.

Red Cross index cards used to trace the missing after World War I.

The International Red Cross is revered for its service to suffering humanity as both the world’s conscience and humanitarian front-line. It is also a keeper of the world’s memory and stores a vast archive of records on man’s inhumanity to man in the subterranean vaults of its headquarters in Geneva.

On 21 May 2013 I was privileged to visit these archives and see what material the ICRC holds on Timor-Leste where it worked during the 1975 civil war, the great famine of 1979-80 and subsequently.

CAVR recommended that organizations such as ICRC make their records available to Timor-Leste so that it can accurately and fully reconstruct its historical memory. Some of the ICRC material is public and accessible. The bulk of it – records related to the missing, family reunions, displaced people and political prisoners – will only be declassified 40 years after the event.

Further information
Report of my visit to ICRC, Geneva.

10 June 2013

Archives and transitional justice

Medieval Bern, the beautiful capital of Switzerland.

Medieval Bern, the beautiful capital of Switzerland.

A conference I attended in Switzerland in May 2013 made me more aware than ever of the importance of archives in Timor-Leste. Participants from Morocco, South Africa, Argentina, the former Yugoslavia and others explained how records were being preserved and made accessible in their countries to assist victims, combat impunity and promote human rights.

In my presentation on Timor-Leste I explained that a good start has been made by CAVR and others but that national archival legislation, cooperation between existing archives, professionalisation of staff, and the establishment of an Institute of Memory are needed to make further progress.

The visit was also an opportunity to discuss Timor-Leste with the Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs and the UN and to visit Timor-Leste’s Permanent Mission to the UN.

Further information:
My report on meetings in Switzerland, May 2013

4 April 2013

Australia and East Timorese victims of historic crimes

I recently made a submission to the Australian Parliament’s new inquiry into Australia’s relationship with Timor-Leste.

The submission points out that the reports of Timor-Leste’s two truth commissions post-date the last Parliamentary inquiry into Timor-Leste, held in 2000, and that this inquiry is an opportunity for the Parliament to assist East Timorese victims of historic crimes by addressing the findings and recommendations of the CAVR commission in particular.

The submission also points out that Australia’s official apologies to victims of the Stolen Generation and Forced Adoption make it clear that addressing past traumas requires more than the passage of time or developmental measures. Deeper responses, including recognition, reparations and justice, are also needed to assist the healing and reconciliation of victims and the shared objectives of nation-building and poverty reduction in Timor-Leste.

Based on proposals by the CAVR, the submission recommends 10 ways in which Australia can assist Timorese victims. These include an apology, justice measures, a victim impact review of Australia’s aid program, reparations, and support for several relevant institution building and project initiatives.  

Further information
Full text of my submission
Parliamentary Inquiry home page.

24 March 2013

Victims’ right to the truth

Governments around the world, including Australia, are increasingly recognising that victims of gross human rights violations have a right to the truth and to dignity. The right articulates their entitlement to seek, receive and impart information on their case and the associated duty of governments to preserve and provide access to relevant official files.

The UN has declared March 24, the date of Archbishop Oscar Romero’s assassination in El Salvador in 1980, an annual day to publicise this right.

The right has many implications for victims (e.g. of sexual abuse in Australia, of violence by the Suharto regime in Indonesia and Timor-Leste) but also for security agencies, archives and related legislation.

Further information
My recent reflection on the UN Right to Truth Day
United Nations Right to Truth web page

28 February 2013

An evening with Les Murray, Australian poet

les-n-pwAnnie and I braved the Melbourne evening rush hour and wet weather on Thursday, 27 February 2013, to travel across the city to listen to Les Murray read and discuss his poetry. It was well worth the effort. Les, who flew down from his home at Bunyah in NSW that day, was the guest of The Carmelite Centre in Middle Park for their Poetry for the Soul series.

Looking every inch the ‘bushie’ he says he is, Les, now 74, is the antithesis of what many might expect of someone who is an Australian living treasure and said to be one of the best poets writing in English. Portly and dressed in a multi-coloured woollen jumper and track-suit pants, he speaks with an uncultivated voice which, together with his way of talking in images, adds to his warm, rustic charm. One sensed that poetry, and what he called the ‘trance’ and ‘ecstasy’ that inspire it, comes first and that everything else is secondary. He was also refreshingly candid about his poetry, volunteering that he was no good at writing religious poetry and that some of his poems weren’t much good. He shared freely about his life, his semi-autism, being bullied at school, tensions in his father’s family, his conversion to Catholicism (because its ethos of forgiveness attracted him more than the narrow Protestant ethic he’d grown up with), and 20 years of depression. During those dark years he found he could write poetry. You can write yourself out of trouble, he said.

Poetry, he told us, is hard work, harder than prose but more satisfying. It’s like jazz, which looks like improvisation but is difficult because both freedom and control are present. Poetry is like dancing with a book on your head. It has an element of play and of lightness about it. A work of art must always exceed its own rules. Poetry is the fruit of three processes – dreaming, reason, body (the rhyme, words, images etc that incarnate the work). It will last if it embodies this tri-fusion, not least the first element. An under-dreamt poem will be flat; one must go beyond intelligence. Poetry is whole speak, the opposite of the narrow speak that characterises, for example, stock exchange reports. The idea that sparks is essential. Usually making it into a poem requires much work and dexterity but sometimes the poem writes itself, comes down your arm and out through your fingers.

As we left I told Les I was originally from a dairy farm and that his poems on cows, butter factories and stock whips (described as ‘thonged lightning’ in Kiss of the Whip which he read to us) resonated with me. He confessed, however, that – like me – he hadn’t done much milking! In his talk he made some references to the Armenian genocide, to Hitler, and to Mao but when I told him I had learned a lot in East Timor about genocide and forgiveness, he said he did not know much about Timor. I also told him that my sister-in-law Paula Keogh has just completed a memoir on the Australian poet Michael Dransfield. He replied that Michael wrote some good poetry and has been neglected.

You can read some beaut samples of Les Murray’s poetry on his website.