Subject: Age: Cleansing ritual for Balibo house

The Age September 6, 2003

Cleansing ritual for Balibo house

By Jill Jolliffe Darwin

Traditional leaders along East Timor's border yesterday converged on the village of Balibo where five television reporters were killed in 1975 for a cleansing ceremony in a house that sheltered them.

The action followed an initiative by Victorian Premier Steve Bracks to create a memorial to the five men by rebuilding the house as a community centre.

Greg Shackleton, Gary Cunningham and Tony Stewart, of Channel Seven, and Brian Peters and Malcolm Rennie, of Channel Nine, were killed in October 1975 as they filmed Indonesian troops attacking the town.

The house was bought from the Timorese owner last year by the Balibo House Trust, set up by the Premier's office with members of the Balibo five families. It is not where the reporters died, but where they slept in the days before the attack, painting an Australian flag on the wall in the hope it would protect them.

The Nine and Seven networks are contributing to the project, which is being managed by World Vision Australia.

"The house has been burnt twice, in 1975, and in the 1999 violence. Before reconstruction begins, the local people wanted a cleansing ceremony to rid it of bad spirits," World Vision representative Antonio Goncalves said in Dili.

Bentleigh MP and trust chairman Rob Hudson said the Government "felt there should be some kind of memorial to the journalists, and the families were very keen. They've been treated poorly through the years. It gives recognition of their loss and serves the Balibo community." Families from England and Australia will travel to Timor for the opening next month.

Sue Coffey, of World Vision's Melbourne office, said the organisation would work with the Balibo community for at least two years after the centre opens.

"It will provide a much-needed space for community administration, as well as theatre and sporting groups," she said.

She said priority would be given to literacy and vocational training classes, child care, and services for unemployed young people. The centre will include a library and creche. Local staff will be trained to manage it.

An unfinished UN police investigation into the Balibo killings begun in 2000 named former Indonesian minister Yunus Yosfiah as the special forces commander responsible. It stalled last year after Indonesian officials said they would not co-operate.

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