Subject: SunHerald: Hope moves in at Balibo

Sunday Herald Sun (Melbourne, Australia)

November 2, 2003 Sunday

Hope moves in at Balibo

Paul Stewart in Balibo

MUM did not want to go to East Timor.

It was 28 years since her son, my brother Tony, was murdered there, and she couldn't see the point.

Tony was one of five journalists killed by invading Indonesian troops in 1975 while covering events in East Timor.

Finally, she agreed to make the trek, when I, with sisters, Annie and Jan and brother Greg, decided to travel to the newly independent country with a group of more than 20 relatives of the journalists.

We went to the tiny hamlet of Balibo to celebrate the opening of "The Balibo Flag House", one of the sites where the journalists met their end.

Thanks to World Vision, the Victorian Government, and Multiplex the house has been given a new lease of life as a community centre with a creche, a library, a computer and sewing centre and a sports equipment facility.

Emotions ran high as relatives of the journalists addressed a crowd that included more than 2000 local people, East Timor President Xanana Gusmao, Foreign Minister Dr Jose Ramos Horta, Victorian Premier Steve Bracks, Melbourne Roman Catholic Bishop Hilton Deakin and Bentleigh Labor MLA Rob Hudson.

Particularly moving was the reading of a letter sent from Balibo by cameraman Gary Cunningham to his sister, Anne, acknowledging her approaching birthday. He never made it home for the celebration.

Long-time East Timor activist Shirley Shackleton read a letter from the family of Roger East, a sixth Australian journalist killed by Indonesian forces in 1975.

Mr Bracks agreed to buy and refurbish the old house after visiting East Timor in 2001.

He started the day's proceedings with President Gusmao, both dressed in traditional Timorese clothing, listening to local musicians.

Dr Ramos Horta praised Mr Bracks and said he welcomed the day he would return as Australia's Prime Minister.

"Bring more money, we will need it," he joked.

Mr Hudson thanked the many individuals and organisations who donated time, materials, and services.

The families were united in their praise of Mr Hudson, who was the driving force behind the project.

"It was great to finally work at last with an Australian politician who showed compassion for us families, and who attempted to address this issue, which has gone unremarked for 28 years," my mum, June Stewart, said.

"I have been moved to tears by the love and sympathy of the local Timorese, especially the children.

"I am now really glad I came, because the love and compassion of the village people for us fellow sufferers was overwhelming.

"They have so little, and this wonderful new complex in Balibo, dedicated to our loved ones, will enable them to use facilities that they never had access to before."

Evan Shackleton, son of slain journalist Greg Shackleton, said the Australian troops who helped rebuild the house had sent a message to the families that they hoped their efforts would help address our loss.

The Balibo House will be run by World Vision for two years, with the help of the East Timorese people. Tourists are encouraged to visit.

If you would like to donate to the Balibo Project, call World Vision on 13 32 40.

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