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.

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.


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.

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)