Subject: Shots echo down years - Paul Stewart
Shots echo down years
February 12, 2007 12:00am
NOT again. Yet another version of how five Australian newsmen met their deaths in Balibo, East Timor, at the hands of the Indonesians in 1975. One of them was my brother, 21-year-old sound recordist Tony Stewart, from HSV7 in Melbourne.
My family has heard so many different versions of how these boys died, it hardly affects me any more.
Now, an inquest has heard they were shot after raising their hands to surrender.
You can add this to other eyewitness accounts of how they were captured, wrapped in barbed wire and set on fire, mutilated with knives, buried alive and shot in the back after running away.
Most people I know have lost a family member or close friend, but not many have had to face more than 30 years of different stories of how their loved ones met their grisly deaths.
My old mum June has done well to keep her sanity against the constant onslaught.
There is only one good aspect to this story, and that was the decision by the Victorian Government to buy the house in Balibo where the journalists met their end.
It was set up in their honour as a community house to benefit local families.
This was thanks to the efforts of Premier Steve Bracks and Bentleigh MP Rob Hudson.
Most people would be amazed by the disrespect and dissembling many Australian politicians have served up to the families of the newsmen since 1975.
Prime minister Gough Whitlam basically gave the Indonesians a green light for their 1975 invasion.
This led to the deaths and rapes of countless East Timorese and a feeling among the invading military forces that they could do anything they wanted to.
This led directly to the deaths of the journalists.
Malcolm Fraser certainly never told the families of the murdered journalists the full story and Bob Hawke seemed more concerned with how his hair looked than foreign affairs.
Worst of them all was Paul Keating, who seemed to bend over on every occasion possible to please the Indonesians.
At one stage he suggested the families were upsetting the Jakarta elite by wanting to know exactly how our loved ones died.
Steve Bracks and Rob Hudson were the first politicians to take our feelings into account.
They are honourable men. When we all went up there to open the house as a community centre they didn't try to pull any creature comforts for themselves or their wives.
They got bitten by the same mozzies as the rest of us. Little wonder the Timorese leadership of Xanana Gusmao and Jose Ramos Horta were so impressed with them.
I only wished I lived in Bentleigh so I could have Rob Hudson representing me.
He showed great respect for the Timorese when it came to the delicate process of buying the house.
He also made sure that our family finally got our say after 25 years.
Hudson will hate me for saying this, but if the Premier ever retires this state could do a lot worse than having someone like the member for Bentleigh at the helm.
Another top guy is Tim Costello, the head of World Vision Australia, and his team of Julie Smith and Fiona Hamilton.
They deserve credit for the popularity of the Balibo house among the locals. Other villages want a place just like it.
The Balibo house is used as creche, sewing school, computer centre, carpentry workshop, sports facility, meeting place and a safe environment for local women and children.
A children's library at the house needs books in the Timorese language. Most of the books it does have are in English and Indonesian.
However, Timorese actors in Melbourne, who starred in the ABC movie Answered by Fire, will read stories to children in their own language on a DVD to be shown at the Balibo house.
Anyone who is prepared to buy a television and DVD player for the Balibo house should get in touch with me.
And if you are ever in East Timor, drop into Balibo to visit the house.
Great things can come from tragic circumstances.
PAUL STEWART is a Melbourne writer.
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