Subject: Gone, but never to be forgotten

Gone, but never to be forgotten

The Canberra Times August 23, 2009 Sunday

PAUL STEWART recalls the day in 1975 when a newspaper banner shouted "Five Newsman Missing In Timor".

"I knew one of them must be Tony [his brother, television soundman Tony Stewart]."

Stewart, then aged 14, ran home to find his mother, distraught, surrounded by other members of the Melbourne family.

The release of the film, Balibo, on the death of five Australian newsman, has once again brought those memories, and the tragic consequences of the invasion, into stark relief.

The five were later confirmed as killed in Balibo near the border of Indonesia and East Timor during the Indonesian invasion of East Timor.

The Indonesians claimed they were caught in crossfire but family members always accepted independent reports that they were executed by the Indonesian invasion forces.

"People ask if I am upset by the film but for me it started the day of that headline and has never really stopped," Stewart said.

He has seen it twice, once in a private screening for the family and at the opening night of the Melbourne Film Festival. He also acted as a musical consultant on the film.

But Stewart said it was decided the film would be too much for his 82-year-old mother, June.

He admits he and his family are still bitter towards the Australian Government.

"In 34 years, the only time my mother heard from Canberra was a couple of weeks after the confirmation of Tony's death when someone rang to ask where to send the bill for his coffin."

There had always been a failure on the part of the Government to acknowledge the suffering of the families.

"It has been amazingly disrespectful," Stewart said.

Kevin Rudd in opposition had said he would do something to acknowledge the Balibo Five, but Stewart said it had not happened and Rudd had never made contact with his mother or the other families.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister said the Government was consulting with the families on the return of the remains of the Balibo Five but was awaiting agreement between the families on the best way to proceed. He said if the families wanted to meet with the Prime Minister than they were welcome to make contact with his office through the normal channels.

Since the time of the invasion, and even following eventual independence in 2002, the deaths have been a sensitive aspect of relations between Indonesia and Australia.

"The irony is that Tony would have known very little about the issues surrounding the conflict. He was a Collingwood-supporting, Monty Python-quoting rascal," Stewart said.

This coming from someone who could hardly be described as an angel.

Stewart, or "Paulie" as he is widely known, was an angry young man and became lead singer for the legendary Melbourne punk band, the Painters and Dockers.

He was also, for many years, a hard-drinking news journalist. But he remained connected to the former Portuguese colony after being contacted to speak at independence rallies in Australia "It would draw more attention for the events if family of the Balibo Five were there."

It was in the 1980s that Stewart became even more involved in the East Timor independence movement.

"I never set out to help but I met some Timorese people who became my pals," he said.

It led him to co-write the song Liberdade, accepted as the anthem for East Timor independence, and also to form the Dili Allstars, which performed to thousands of adoring fans, including President Xanana Gusmao, following independence from Indonesia.

He has been to East Timor eight times to perform and help raise funds for local causes.

His latest charity is a group of four nuns who care for hundreds of disabled children in and around Dili. Fully qualified physiotherapists, they teach parents techniques to improve flexibility. "You have to understand the children are among the most disadvantaged in one of the poorest places on Earth," he said.

Stewart said the ALMA Order nuns travel around Dili on a single motor scooter.

"We are trying to raise enough money so they can get a car and travel further around Dili and carry physiotherapy equipment to help with their work."

Stewart, who had a liver transplant two years ago, said the nun who cared for him in hospital in Melbourne had by coincidence trained with the head of the ALMA Order in East Timor.

He is once again actively involved in music and said it was possible the Painters and Dockers would do some touring later this year.

"We have always got great support in Canberra and it would definitely be on the itinerary."

He said although a NSW Coroners Court inquiry confirmed the newsmen were executed by Indonesian forces he still hopes the day will come when Indonesian authorities are prepared to bring those responsible to justice.

Donations for the nuns can be sent to: ALMA Nuns East Timor, C/O The Jesuit Mission, PO Box 193 (31 West Street) North Sydney, NSW, 2059. 

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