Subject: CliffMorrisTimorCmdo/Activist dies
Date: Thu, 08 Oct 1998 21:05:31 +0930
From: Rob Wesley-Smith <email@example.com> Organization: Australians for a Free East Timor (AFFET) /Troppo Rural Consulting
This is posted as some people said it was a somewhat moving human touch, so please read about 'one of the few'. Wes
CLIFF MORRIS - HERO
Cliff Morris' death on Monday 5th October leaves me with a great sense of loss, and also regret that I didn't manage to visit him in recent years due to the curse of distance, though we did share a long chat recently by phone.
We shared a serious adventure in Darwin mainly in 1976. Cliff had an adult life-long interest in the valiant people of East Timor to our near north, since 1942 in fact. I have had that interest since 1974.
After the Japanese invasion of SE Asia in World War 2, Australia decided to preempt Japan occupying the then Portuguese (East) Timor by putting Australian commandos there. Their purpose was to establish links with the people to resist Japanese forces, but also to use the people and commandos as 'bait' to distract Japanese forces which might otherwise attack Australia - pretty unfair on the Timorese, really, but then, as Gareth Evans said in relation to the East Timorese many years later as Australia stole their oil, 'the world's a pretty unfair place'.
The commandos had to be a tough and independent breed, stubborn coots with initiative, skills, determination, brains and a hate of humbug - oh, I find myself describing Cliff Morris!
Cliff spent time out bush in the NT learning to live off the land and to get around and survive in harsh conditions, something few could do today. Then he went to East Timor with the 2nd/4th Independent Company of Commandos, probably from 24th Sep 1942 to 9th January 1943. There he learnt Tetun language amazingly quickly, and this became a lifelong interest. He subsequently published a dictionary, a phrase book, and a book of East Timor stories in Tetun and English, all pioneering efforts, all refecting his inimitable style.
The Indonesian full scale invasion of East Timor took place on 7th December 1975. In 1976 Cliff was a dairy farmer, and I an agricultural scientist. We both got involved with efforts to take medical supplies, some communications stuff and some food to the East Timorese, who had by then lost 100,000 people and were denied any outside assistance whatever, including medical supplies, not only by the invading Indonesians, but by the Fraser government of freedom-loving Australia. Community Aid Abroad chaired by David Scott took a courageous decision to directly try to assist, as two other touted efforts by the Trade Unions and Catholic Church had come to nothing. I hope David can get his account of these times into print. I mentioned such matters and Cliff in my chapter in 'Free East Timor' ed Aubrey, Vintage 1998.
Cliff volunteered again to help because of his fierce desire to repay his debt to the East Timorese for saving his life in WW2, ultimately at the cost of their own, and because his knowledge of Tetun language and of East Timor itself could be useful. His qualities were displayed to the max, in lots of ways, which will have to await another time and place to recount.
But I will mention that when we were arrested on 16th Sep 1996 at Australian Navy gunpoint, Cliff insisted on trying to defuse nerves by telling them we were on a humanitarian mission to East Timor, which later made it difficult to defend the charges of being on a humanitarian mission, which is a crime apparently. However Cliff's speech in court profoundly moved the magistrate, who although feeling compelled by pressures to find us guilty, said we were heroes, imposed no discernible penalty, and retired soon after.
Cliff later came to Darwin to research traditional stories for his book. He encountered the mystifying ways and suspicions of many Timorese refugees living here, but was not deterred, only hindered. In Melbourne he supported Timorese with the Restaurant, in which even I had the pleasure of Christmas 'cups of tea' from the teapot, but which tasted amazingly like a nice Port wine, for which I was not allowed to pay.
Others will have to reflect on his other phases, like a new family, illness and now his passing, but I feel he was one of a breed, an exception, who like a handful of others such as Paddy Kenneally and Gordon Hart, have kept the fires burning for East Timor. I hope he has a treasured memory in his family, and to Jill and others my sympathy, and a treasured place in the East Timorese country and memory. Adieu, Cliff.
only contacts I have are his own house: 41, Cashmere Cresc Frankston Victoria Australia. Sister: Jill Wilson Ph +61 3 9431 0625
Rob Wesley-Smith PhFx +61 8 8983 2113