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Remembering Timor

Summary

This Anzac special follows Sister Susan Connelly's campaign to have East Timor's unique wartime
contribution recognised, with a 'Companion of the Order of Australia'. During WW2 the Timorese
risked their lives to help the Australian Commandos known as "Sparrow Force". They helped to wage
guerrilla war against the Japanese by providing them with food and shelter, carrying their
equipment and supplies. When the Australians were evacuated, tens of thousands of Timorese were
killed by the Japanese in reprisal for their support of the Australians. Compass recorded last
year's Anzac commemorations in East Timor, interviewed the few surviving Timorese who helped the
Australians and followed Sister Susan's campaign all the way to Parliament House in Canberra.

Story

Susan Connelly

When you meet the East Timorese people you really realise what a tremendous debt I, as an
Australian and as a Catholic Australian, owe these people.

Narration

Sister Susan Connelly, a Josephite nun from Sydney's western suburbs, is a regular visitor to
Timor. She's been coming here since 1996.

Susan

Yes, we should look after the most vulnerable and these are the most vulnerable people.

Joan Westblade

Each family will get a package of food like this every month. That depends on how many there are in
the family, if they're any sick ones.

Narration

Sister Susan and Sister Joan Westblade are members of the Mary MacKillop East Timor Mission.

Susan

The future is not in giving people hand outs. The future is giving them the hand up so that they
can help themselves, and that's what of course we're on about at Mary MacKillop.

Narration

While helping the Timorese to build their future, Susan has stumbled upon a little known story
about the past. It's a story that speaks to her about a special relationship between Australians
and this tiny new nation to our north.

Susan

It's not a story you find on our televisions. It's not in our popular newspapers. It's not in our
school curriculums. So you've got thousands upon tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of
Australians who are totally ignorant of this unique relationship.

Narration

The story dates back to 1941, when the 2nd world war spread rapidly into the Pacific. To protect
Darwin from Japanese invasion, a few hundred specially trained Australian commandos were sent 700
kilometres north, to Timor. There it was hoped they would hold back the Japanese, should the enemy
reach this tiny Portuguese colony.

Ernie Chamberlain

The troops they detached to go into Dili were an independent company. And the independent company
was really the first of our first commando companies. They were trained differently. More
strenuously, more specialised than just infantry.

Narration

In the months that followed, many young Timorese joined with Australians to resist the Japanese
when, ultimately, they did invade. It's estimated 40,000 Timorese died as a consequence of the
campaign.

Susan

Now the story of the Timorese support for the Australian soldiers in World War 2 is nothing short
of extraordinary. And I can see some people nodding and smiling and that fills me with great
happiness because if there's one story Australians should know backwards it's this story.

So, we at Mary MacKillop East Timor, we're going to nominate the nation of Timor Leste for a
Companion of the Order of Australia. Now, we're putting a petition forward to Parliament to show
the strength of Australian's support for this idea.

Narration

Sister Susan's petition asks the Australian Government to support her plan to honour East Timor for
its wartime assistance to Australia.

Susan

We've got four months, three and a half months to do this petition. The petition ends on the eighth
of August.

Narration

East Timor was dragged into World War 2, despite being a colony of Portugal, which remained
neutral.

Ernie

The Japanese in their plan did not intend invading Portuguese Timor and they only added it to their
battle plan 5 weeks after the Australians and the Dutch had occupied Portuguese Timor. So we
brought the war to Portuguese Timor.

José Ramos-Horta

East Timor was at that time a Portuguese sovereign territory. The Australians and their allies
against Japan should have respected Portuguese neutrality. Had they done so East Timor would not
have been invaded and tens of thousands of lives would have been spared.

Narration

The Japanese landed only days after Singapore fell in 1942. The Australians took to the hills -
where they found themselves outnumbered and cut off from home.

Ralph Conley

I might tell you at this stage we were uncertain as to where the Japanese were. And these young
people ranging from I suppose 10 to 15 years followed us. We didn't have much baggage, by the way.
I was approached by one fellow however and asked whether he could be my servant. Well, being
Australians, we didn't like the word servant too much. And we didn't really understand what
"criado" meant. But, by sign language and everything else, we decided well might be a good idea.

Narration

These young Timorese helpers or criados were critical to the survival of Australian men in Timor.
Sister Susan has met some of the few who are still alive.

Susan

This old man named Rufino. I go to see him occasionally when I go up there. Not often enough I must
say. But the last time I went to his house he saw me coming and he ran into his house and came out
wearing a green beret that had been given to him on Anzac Day, 2006, with the double reds of Timor,
the insignia of the 2/2nd. And he stood to attention and then saluted. It was like history coming
to meet me.

Rufino Alves Correia

I was a schoolboy at the time. One day, we were running towards our school in Bazartete. Some
soldiers stopped and called out to me "Boy, come here!" One of them asked me "What's your name?
Come and join us" and so I stayed with them for months.

Ernie

I don't believe they actually engaged in combat, ie, fired weapons. Perhaps a few did but they were
far too young. But that's not to dismiss the important support they gave. Because in guerrilla
warfare what's critical is information. On the enemy, on the terrain, on seeking out resources. And
that's where these young, very loyal criados were so important

Ralph

This fellow, a student, quite a wonderful young man, very stocky build, aged 15. His name was
tattooed on his forearms. Santos Juarez da Silva. I said to him once, why would you wish to be with
me? If the Japanese find you they will kill you. He said, if you die, I die.

Narration

Criados, usually young boys, attached themselves to individual soldiers, helping out with local
information, and with life's necessities.

Guilhermino Buru Bara da Silva

I used to carry their things, like their sleeping mats. We always used to eat together. When we
arrived somewhere they always gave us food. We just carried their gear and looked after their
sleeping mats. They never mistreated us. We were never frightened of them. We worked side by side.

Rufino

I washed their clothes, cooked, fetched water.

Ralph

We had no idea where tracks came and went. We had no idea the location of various villages. They
reported to us Japanese movements. They fed us. They tended to us when we had malaria. They were
our life, no doubt about that.

Narration

Though few in number, Australian commandos - with the help of their criados - delayed and weakened
Japanese forces, at least for a time.

Ralph

We occupied thousands of Japanese troops who otherwise would have been used elsewhere. We gave them
merry hell.

Narration

Unable to crush the resistance, the invading Japanese themselves turned to the local population.
Timorese were pitted against one another as the Japanese fought to gain the upper hand.

Ernie

Now much of this support that the Japanese mobilised was of course coerced. But large numbers of
Timorese did support the Japanese, and it eventuated that the Australians who were originally in
the western area of East Timor were gradually driven westward and were forced to withdraw.

Narration

After nearly a year of harassing the Japanese, the besieged commandos were withdrawn from Timor.
But the criados were left behind, even though enemy forces were now close by.

Rufino

At the end, my boss, Tom Nesbitt, took me to the beach where the ship was waiting. And the Military
Policeman said to him "Is he black or white? Black or white? Why are you bringing this child here?"
The policeman said "You can't go beyond this point. He's just a local, a village boy". Tom Nesbitt
said "But he's looked after me for all this time". The policeman said "He'll be alright. Send him
home." You can't let this child on board. He'll have to go home to Bazartete."

Guilhermino

We all felt very sad watching them go. I felt like crying. But we weren't allowed to go with them.
We had to let them go.

Ralph

Dreadfully upset. Like leaving your family. And this lad had been with me through thick and thin.
And I would have no doubt after the evacuation from the beach at Pitano the Japanese caught up with
a lot of these people. With the inevitable result.

Rufino

The soldiers warned the criados "Once you leave the beach, you must keep out of sight". And so I
said "Let's go" but they wanted to stay on the beach. So I said, "if you're not coming with me I'm
going without you". From the beach I set off towards the mountains. From there I heard the
gunshots. The criados, they were all shot. They were all killed.

Ernie

Well, there are many memoirs written by Australian veterans and they describe their anguish at
leaving their criados behind on the beach.

Narration

After the war, haunted by the treatment of the criados, some Australian soldiers returned to Timor.
Paddy Kenneally was one former commando who went in search of his Timorese helpmate. Not finding
his own he befriended another; Rufino. For years Paddy helped Rufino and his family, while
campaigning for recognition for those who survived the Japanese reprisals.

Susan

Paddy was one of the ones who said: the Timorese are the only ones I can't look in the eye. The
only people I can't look in the eye. He said, all we brought to the Timorese was misery. And so he
spent the last years of his life trying to wake people up to the story of East Timor.

Narration

It was at Paddy Kenneally's funeral in early 2009 that Sister Susan made a decision.

Susan

Paddy's gone, so another voice has got to be raised. And so then we decided then that we would get,
we would certainly do our very best to get recognition which would be wonderful.

Narration

After the commandos' withdrawal, Australia pretty well ignored Timor for the rest of the war. But
some specially trained Timorese and a few Australian soldiers were landed in Timor to gather
intelligence.

Susan

Very small groups, sometimes just two Australian soldiers. Now many of these were captured and
tortured and killed by the Japanese and Mr Moses tends the grave of at least one of them.

Moses Sousa Pedroso

I feel like he's one of God's creatures. He is like me, and I am like him. It's my obligation to
look after him as his family would.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Dear Father, help us, your children. Let
the Holy Spirit talk to us. The open heart of Jesus which feels our sorrow. Let him rest in Peace,
in eternal joy, close to our dear God. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
Amen.

Susan

Well this is one Australian soldier who died on Timor. In our heart is very special all the
Timorese people who died to help the Australian soldiers. So we thank you. We can never thank you
enough for what you did for us.

Narration

"Your friends do not forget you" Australia told the Timorese after the commandos withdrew. That
message was printed on hundreds of leaflets air-dropped to Timorese villages.

Susan

And then on the back was the promise that the Australians would return to get rid of the Japanese.
Well we didn't. And then we didn't do a lot in 1975 when Indonesia invaded.

Narration

Sister Susan's petition is her way to convince Australians to stand by the wartime pledge. She
wants to acknowledge Timor's help in World War 2 and make amends for Australia's failure to help
Timor later. In 1975, after Portugal left, civil war erupted and Indonesia invaded. What happened
next is documented here at the old Kamarka Prison.

Susan

It's one of the sites around Timor, one of the big sites of terrible suffering here. People were
detained here and their human rights were totally obliterated.

Narration

This exhibition reminds Timorese of their long struggle for independence. But past the displays,
the photographs and the artworks is a grimmer place.

Joan

This is a cell and so many boys would be put in here. And they would fill it up to here with water.
And they could be left here for a week not able to sit down, not able to do any of that.

Gaspar

And they would also give them electricity shock. So the people were detained here, so it was very
horrible.

Susan

The connection between this and the 2nd World War comes very much to me about Australia's
involvement in both. I mean here you have in 1942 and '43 40,000 Timorese dying because the great
majority of them defended Australians. And yet when they were in need in '75, right through to '99
an appeal for help to Australia because of all these human rights violations, we turned a blind eye
and a deaf ear to them.

Narration

Successive Australian Governments accepted Indonesian rule of East Timor, when most other countries
did not.

Susan

This is Australian parliaments playing a game of calculation. What is going to benefit us best. I
mean that's described nowadays as the national interest. But you know you really wonder if letting
your friends down is actually in anybody's national interest. I certainly don't think it is in
Australia's national interest.

Narration

In 1999 Australia did change tack by spearheading an international force that helped to set Timor
on the road to peace, during a traumatic transition to independence.

Warren Snowden

Here we stand today, ten years since the Australians Forces came back as part of the International
Force of East Timor, or Interfet. Interfet embodies not just the Anzac spirit but an international
movement to restore peace, security and confidence in East Timor.

Narration

ANZAC day ceremonies in Timor now remember forces in two conflicts; those who fought in World War 2
and those who later struggled in the long fight for independence. At the opening of a new memorial
to the fallen, Timor's President honours both the Australian commandos and the Timorese criados.
Rufino Alves Correia is a guest of honour.

Ramos-Horta

This memorial provides a symbolic remembrance of those first Aussie diggers and their Timorese
counterparts who fought, outnumbered, but survived during WW2 in some way perhaps in the resistance
against fearful odds they may have inspired our resistance fighters in years to come.

Rufino

That's Paddy Kenneally, and that's me. Paddy Kenneally's dead. I'm this one here.

Susan

It's a story that's not told enough in Australia. Heavens above, I'm only just finding out about it
myself. It's one of the best kept secrets.

Ramos-Horta

It would be the first time it would be given to a country instead of individuals, no?

Susan

Yes. But Britain gave Malta the George Cross during WW2 so why can't we give Timor a big honour
such as this.

Ramos-Horta

Very subversive! They basically rule East Timor. But they rule with grace, with prayers, with their
hearts, wonderful human beings.

Narration

Since returning to Australia, Sister Susan and her team of volunteers have told the story of
Timor's wartime service many more times. Now their petition's to be presented to Parliament, which
will be asked to show its support for Timor to be honoured at last.

Susan

Here they are, all 22,000, nearly 23, so that's pretty good. And more have just come in so that's
great. It's with great pleasure that we give you these. I feel quite emotional at the moment.

So I'm satisfied that we've tapped into something in the Australian psyche that says, we shouldn't
forget. You know, friends don't forget. We should do something about this. Now whether it becomes
just a symbolic thing, I do not know what will happen. But I'm satisfied that we've done our level
best to tell the story and I just hope other people tell the story too.

David Bradbury

Mr Speaker, tonight I present a petition compiled by the Mary Mackillop East Timor Mission based in
St Mary's in my electorate. It contains more than 22,000 signatures from people supporting the
awarding of an Honorary Companion of Australia to the East Timorese people for giving their lives
in helping the Australian troops in 1942.