Subject: Dateline: What about Roger East? 

What about Roger?

This Sunday, Dateline uncovers new evidence in the case of the sixth Australian journalist to die in East Timor, Roger East.

Reporter Mark Davis has been following the film <>Balibo as it tours Timor's villages, playing on an inflatable silver screen.

Along the way he gathered an eyewitness account of the last hours of Roger East, before his death at the hands of Indonesian troops.

With the Australian Federal Police this week launching a war crimes investigation into the Balibo Five, the day of justice for Roger East may also be drawing closer.

Find out more this Sunday, 8:30pm on SBS ONE.

On air: 13th September 2009


A report that comes in the wake of news this week that the Federal Police are to investigate the 1975 murder of five journalists in East Timor as possible war crimes. Already, Indonesia's President has warned that the AFP probe could harm ties with this country and East Timor's Xanana Gusmao has doubts anything will come of it. Meanwhile, East Timor has been the setting for a new movie about the Balibo Five - as the journalists who died during the brutal Indonesian invasion have become known. Prompted or otherwise by the movie, 34 years on, hopefully the inquiry by the AFP will finally get to the bottom of how the Balibo Five died. That said, Dateline's Mark Davis says another related mystery remains untold. What happened, not just to the five, but to a sixth Australian journalist who died during the Indonesian invasion?

REPORTER: Mark Davis

It's been 10 years since East Timor traumatically won its independence from Indonesia. The parades and speeches are happening in Dili but for ordinary Timorese villages the event is being marked by something far less formal and more unique - a bike race across the country and for the first time, a travelling movie show.

TOM WRIGHT: There's been films in Tetum but not dubbed, not a major feature film dubbed into Tetum.

REPORTER: Have you brought your own screen

TOM WRIGHT: It's fucking going up backwards.

JOHN MAYNARD: That's what it says though. It says "bottom left".

The producer of the film 'Balibo' has created a Tetum version as an anniversary gift to East Timor. With his son and one of the film's actors, Tom Wright, in tow, John Maynard is acting as chief roadie.

JOHN MAYNARD: I mean it's a fantastic thing to do and here, at Loi Huno, what a place to do it!

The film charts the murder of five newsmen at Balibo - in itself a story fairly well known and now with enough known witnesses to propel a formal murder investigation. But the film's most unique feature is the portrayal of the sixth Australian journalist killed by Indonesian forces, Roger East, virtually forgotten in our history, who was murdered two months after the others during the invasion of Dili.

Until now Roger East's life, and death, has been almost a blank page. For Australian and Timorese alike the story of East and his murder on the main wharf in Dili is a revelation. And the lack of legal retribution for his death and the others is as perplexing here as it is in Australia.

MAN (Translation): For us, seeing this movie makes us very sad. But for the journalists who died, will there be any justice for them in the future? Is there any law to cover that? We, the ordinary Timorese, believe there should be one.

A good question, partly answered this week by the AFP and one that has clearly driven the film-makers, including producer John Maynard.

JOHN MAYNARD: There are thousands and thousands and thousands of Australia people who never gave up and who were outraged, basically, by the behaviour of their respective governments. I'm one of them. And this is one way, if not to sort of atone it, but at least to shove it up the ones who have been so awful about the whole process.

It is a sense of indignation that seems to be shared by lead actor and co-producer Anthony LaPaglia in Dili for the Tetum premiere.

ANTHONY LAPAGLIA, ACTOR: I have always been Switzerland politically, in public, but you know, six Australian nationals were murdered - that's confirmed. Nothing's been done. Why not? You can say anything you want about the movie. You can take it to any level, but there is one clear fact, and nobody is dealing with it - they were murdered. What are you going to do? Since when is it OK and acceptable to murder anyone in cold blood?

Six Australians were killed and six Australians are worthy of a murder investigation. The lack of official interest in East, is perhaps not surprising but what is, is the lack of almost any public scrutiny or attention to his case.

REPORTER: I mean Roger East doesn't appear in the public record at all.


REPORTER: How do you paint a character?

ANTHONY LAPAGLIA It is one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do. The first time I tried to do research, you know, I did what everybody does - I put him in Google. In relation to Balibo - zero. In relation to anything - zero. There's maybe three photos of the guy. There's like no evidence he ever lived.

REPORTER: But this stuff on Roger East is quite interesting to me because no-one knows Roger East. Did you know Roger East before you ventured into this?

JOHN MAYNARD: No, no we didn't.

REPORTER: Have you contemplated why the hell nobody knows what happened to Roger East?

JOHN MAYNARD: We have and there have been a lot of things buried. A huge amount of things have been buried. They've been buried for all sorts of reasons. They have been buried for, dare I say, professional jealousy, other events overtaking things, and this is just another death - it's an outrageous oversight and a terrible thing that people haven't ever really discovered this story.

Tonight, the main wharf in Dili Harbour is the setting for a celebration of the 1999 Independence vote. For President Ramos-Horta, a colleague and friend of Roger East, it is a bittersweet location.

PRESIDENT RAMOS-HORTA: It was here that a lot of ugly things took place in December 7, 1975. Here that Roger East was shot and pushed down.

Scores of East Timorese were also killed here, along with Roger, on the first days of the Indonesian invasion. Ramos-Horta has long been troubled by the disappearance of Roger East from the public's consciousness - a man he befriended and encouraged to come to East Timor to set up a news service with him.

PRESIDENT RAMOS-HORTA: And we decided to set up this so-called East Timor News Agency which basically it was Roger East typewriter. You know, when you talk about a news agency, you talk about a building. Back then there was no electronic equipment. You had like telex machines.

REPORTER: But this was like you were to be business partners, you were journalists together.


REPORTER: Has it disturbed you that there has been so little interest in him? You introduced him here - you must've felt some responsibility for him.

PRESIDENT RAMOS-HORTA: Oh yes, I feel, felt ever since, pretty bad about it all. It was fate that brought him to meet with me - if he had never met me he would retire a nice quiet life in Northern Territory.

ANTHONY LAPAGLIA: Yeah, old but versatile.

For the film-makers, writing Roger into the script, with virtually no public record to draw on, was a voyage of discovery into private letters and the scattered memories of dozens of people.

ANTHONY LAPAGLIA: It was like actually discovering buried treasure. And it's a bit like that. It's a bit like raising the 'Titanic'. You've got to breathe life into a character who's been expunged from history. A lot of journalists I talked to, they say the main reason for that is probably because he was an independent. And there was not a lot of love for independents.

REPORTER: He's a bit of an outsider?

ANTHONY LAPAGLIA: Yeah, he's an outsider. So when he went missing, it was like - he's a guy, he's an independent and doesn't really fit in with the regular stuff and he can be a bit of a pain in the arse.

FILM SOUNDTRACK: No, no, no, no! So it's possible that they're still alive, right? Is it possible?

He may have been a pain to other journalists but East cracked an incredible story that no-one else even came close to.

FILM SOUNDTRACK: The Indonesians are invading. We have to go. Please, draw me a map of Balibo.

For more than two decades it was broadly accepted that the five newsmen were accidently killed in crossfire. But remarkably, Roger East got the story, and got it right within weeks, detailing how the five had surrendered and were murdered. It seems a simple truth now, 34 years later. But it appears East's account was ignored by both government, and it would seem, much of the media.

PRESIDENT RAMOS-HORTA: He got the scoop - first eye witnesses. It was by-line in major Australian newspapers.

REPORTER: And yet this story was not accepted, obviously. Did it frustrate you that this story was buried?

PRESIDENT RAMOS-HORTA: Yes, it was first writing and I was naive thinking that you bring in a professional writer, an Australian, he writes, and particularly being here always alone, the media would pick up.

The story of the murder of the five was buried with Roger as comprehensively as his own story was. For the film-makers, part of Roger's story lay buried in the Turismo Hotel where East lived for the last months of his life and formed a friendship with waiter Joao Pereira Calado.

FILM SOUNDTRACK: Would you like to join me in a glass of wine? No, no. Please sit down. Thank you.

And Joao is still serving and gardening at the Turismo 34 years later. Still filling in the blanks on East's last days when every other foreigner had left the country or gone to the island of Atauro expecting the invasion.

REPORTER: Did you talk to Roger, then?


REPORTER: Why did he stay?

JOAO PEREIRA CALADO: He said, "Joao, I don't understand why they want to go to Atauro. No, no, no. I like coming from my country, my place, I want to stay in Dili. I don't want to stay with the government in Atauro."

East witnessed the hasty swearing in of the Fretilin Government in late November. Then, it was clear that the end was near for East Timor.

PRESIDENT RAMOS-HORTA: So even I was chatting with Roger East, about going to the mountains because we were already making preparations for evacuating Dili.

REPORTER: You were expecting the invasion, of cause?

PRESIDENT RAMOS-HORTA: Yes, we were expecting the invasion. I told Roger, "You should leave, you should come with me."

REPORTER: What clue do you get of a guy who stays in a town – when every other person is leaving?

ANTHONY LAPAGLIA: The same guy that ran an anti-Franco newspaper when Franco was in power in Spain. The same guy who was the first, as far as I can tell - white Western journalist to get official permission from the Chinese to go into China and report that stuff. He never said how he did it, but he did it.

Joao is the last witness known to have conversed with East on the night before the invasion. On that night, Roger ordered his dinner.

JOAO PEREIRA CALADO: Rice and fried noodles.

Joao says Roger took a phone call from a Fretilin leader and then went and packed his bags. Oblivious to any controversy it may cause, Joao sticks to his story that Roger emerged to eat his dinner in soldiers' khaki and with grenades at his side.

JOAO PEREIRA CALADO (Translation): Grenades were hanging. here and here. Two grenades.

Anyone that knew Roger believes it would be totally out of character for him to be armed but it was hardly an ordinary situation. For what it is worth, I believe Joao gives a totally honest account of that evening, even if it is a scenario almost too Hollywood to be pulled off in a film.

REPORTER: That's quite a visual image.

ANTHONY LAPAGLIA: If I could confirm that, I would love to walk out of there with like Rambo, ready to go! I just to think that it's funny thinking of Roger East as Rambo taking on the Indonesians, you know.

Roger left the Turismo with his bags packed at sunset on the 6th December shouting "See ya later" to Joao. It is a complete mystery where he goes next. After he drove away from the hotel there are no other witnesses to East's whereabouts until he is seen being dragged bleeding onto the wharf after the Indonesians invaded the next day.

JOAO PEREIRA CALADO (Translation): That's the reason. When I saw Roger on screen, I felt sad deep inside. Why did this happen to Roger. He was strong, and then suddenly that happened to him. No good.

FILM SOUNDTRACK: Watch out. Take a step right away. "This is Roger East, reporting from Dili, East Timor. The Indonesian Army has today invaded Dili."

The film largely speculates about how and where East was captured. If there is any chance of prosecuting East's murderers there are still many blanks to be filled in. Local journalist Jose Belo believes he may know what happened to East in those critical hours.

JOSE BELO: Now, we are right in front of this park, in front of the Hotel Timor.

Jose believes Roger may have been captured in an apartment near this park with members of the Bonaparte family - Rosa Bonaparte or Rosa Muki, as she was known, and her brother were prominent Fretilin members and both were killed during the initial invasion. Belo believes East went to their apartment when he left the Turismo.

JOSE BELO: Some people say they were killed here and some say they were taken from here into the wharf.

When he walked out of his hotel on the evening of the 6th, there would have been few options for Roger East.

FILM SOUNTRACK: The Indonesian Army killed them.

His main contact in Dili had been Ramos-Horta but on 4 December, Horta had left East Timor to lobby at the UN.

FILM SOUNDTRACK: I want justice for those five young men.

PRESIDENT RAMOS-HORTA: Roger East was totally oblivious to danger. He was a seasoned journalist, he was not young - he was in his 50s. So he had been all over the world so there was no way that he was naïve. He was just very committed, very motivated and leaving was not at all a consideration for him.

Roger had few other contacts in Dili but Joao remembers two who often came, particularly in the final days - Rosa and Bernadino Bonaparte.

JOAO PEREIRA CALADO (Translation): They came here. They'd sit talking over there with roger. Bonaparte's sister came as well.

Rosa was a member of the Fretilin Central Committee, as was Bernadino or Goinxet, which was his code name, who worked closely with Ramos-Horta.

PRESIDENT RAMOS-HORTA: Because Goinxet Bonaparte was working with me in Fretilin as one of the media person.

JOAO PEREIRA CALADO (Translation): The brother and all of them came here to talk with Roger.

REPORTER: So he was very close to him? So he might be right, Joao?

MAN: I don't know.

In a crisis it would make sense for Roger to head to the home of his best contact in town - Bernadino from the media unit. It would seem it was an unfortunate address to head to, known to house Fretilin leaders and marked out by the Indonesians for attack.

JULIO ALVARO (Translation): In the group were Bernardino Gonchet, Borges Da Costa, Rosa Muki and others.

Julio Alvaro was a Fretilin military commander in Dili when the Indonesians attacked on 7 December.

JULIO ALVARO (Translation): That's the house, over there.

He believes Roger was captured at this apartment block home to Rosa and Bernadino as well as other members of the Fretilin Central Committee. It was the Indonesians' first target as they swept in Dili at dawn.

JULIO ALVARO (Translation): This house. They lived there. There were no shops here before. The people who were here on the 7th of December, at the time of the invasion, were the very first to be taken. None of them survived. All gone.

Julio was captured and imprisoned by the Indonesians for three years. His long-term cell mate, now dead, was the sole survivor of the group captured here.

JULIO ALVARO (Translation): Jorge Tomas Carapinha.

And Carapinha gave him the account of Roger and the others being captured here, dragged to a nearby park opposite the wharf where other witnesses take up the story. Jose and Julio may have discovered one more critical piece of the Roger East puzzle but there is much more to be found. Even 34 years later, there will still be witnesses in the towns and villages of East Timor holding vital details about Roger's death. Those stories may come out now - no thanks to any Australian police or officials, or journalists for that matter. But shaken out perhaps by a travelling movie show.

Reporter/Camera MARK DAVIS





Translations/Subtitling FILOMENA OLIVEIRA

Original Music composed by VICKI HANSEN

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