Timor bond of blood - Salute to lost dad in Balibo
Northcote Leader (Australia)
November 5, 2003 Wednesday
Timor bond of blood
Salute to lost dad in Balibo
By Rachel Kleinman in Balibo
A FAMILY history entwined in international politics and tragic death was not what John Milkins expected when he began the search to uncover his past.
The 33-year-old set foot on East Timorese soil for the first time last week. But his life was inextricably woven into the country's complex history from the moment he was conceived.
Until now Mr Milkins, who works for environmental designers in Fairfield after a stint as Darebin Council's environmental officer, had stayed out of the spotlight.
But he spoke to the Leader last week after arriving in East Timor to attend the opening ceremony for the Balibo Flag House.
Mr Milkins was born in a Heidelberg hospital and adopted when he was six weeks old.
He grew up in a happy and stable environment but was keen to find his birth mother when he turned 18.
Mr Milkins, of Greensborough, joined an adoption support agency called Vanish and began a painstaking two-year search for his mother.
After reaching a dead end with a Northcote address dating to 1970, neighbours redirected Mr Milkins to Frankston where he eventually tracked her down, arranging a meeting with her in Fitzroy Gardens in 1990.
But if the reunion itself was not overwhelming enough, what Mr Milkins discovered during that first meeting was even harder to digest.
His father had been news cameraman Gary Cunningham, one of the Balibo Five a group of journalists working for Channel Seven and the Nine Network who were murdered when Indonesian forces invaded East Timor in 1975.
Twenty-five-year-old Cunningham, who had a brief affair with Mr Milkins' mother while working in Melbourne in 1970, died without knowing he had a son.
She lost touch with him when he was posted to Sydney in the early seventies, Mr Milkins said.
"She gave me up for adoption because she felt I would have a better chance with two parents."
When the Balibo Five were murdered, Mr Milkins said his mother struggled to deal with it.
"She basically turned off the TV and radio for a few years after that and didn't listen. It was too much for her."
Eventually, Mr Milkins went to the library and started looking up stories about the Balibo Five.
"It wasn't the best way to deal with it, sitting in a dark room reading gruesome reports about what had happened to my father," he said.
In 1995, he plucked up the courage to track down his father's family in Moorabbin.
"It was a shock to them because they had never known about me," he said. "But they were incredibly generous with information about Gary."
When the State Government set up the Balibo House Trust two years ago, Mr Milkins joined the board.
In a further twist of fate, he discovered an uncle in his adoptive family had been a pilot based in Darwin who crossed paths with Cunningham and his colleagues when they were on their way to East Timor in 1975.