A History of Exploitation: A Common Enemy (Part One)

by Meg Rodaughan, Jaadwa-Jardwadjali

Timor Leste is situated 610 kilometers northwest of the Larrakeyah nation, with a gas pipe from the Timor Sea ashore not far from Wadeye community to the west. We are Timor Leste’s closest neighbors. But the murderous Australian government’s history when it comes to Timor Leste is anything but friendly or neighborly.


Australia sent troops over to East Timor when Japanese forces invaded.

Unaccustomed to the rugged and harsh terrain of the Timorese jungle, the small Australian deployment struggled, with many of them close to starvation and lacking equipment as basic as a radio. The Timorese assisted as porters, providing shelter in their villages, they supplied food and water and medical assistance, some took up arms to fight aside Australian soldiers and assisted setting up ambushes for the Australians. Most importantly, the Timorese provided vital support in providing Australian soldiers with intelligence on the movements of the Japanese, with whole villages acting as the Australians’ eyes and ears.

Without the aid of the Timorese, the Australian soldiers would have perished, either at the hands of the Japanese or the inability to survive the Timorese jungle.

The Timorese paid an immense price for the providing assistance to the allied forces. The Japanese massacred villages and executed anyone suspect of providing intelligence or support. From 1942, Australian forces were withdrawn, but their Timorese helpers were left behind to face the Japanese alone. It is estimated that between 40,000 to 60,000 Timorese people died.  

1972- 1974  

By 1970, Indonesia was Australia’s biggest aid recipient, regardless of the fact that only five years prior, Suharto led a coup and brutal genocide that saw 500,000 to 1 million Indonesian people killed.

Former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam visited Jakarta in 1973 to meet with Suharto which resulted in Australia increasing military aid to Indonesia four fold, stating that Suharto had brought peace and development to Indonesia and had restored “the principles of harmony and justice, democracy and freedom”. In other words, they had opened up the Indonesian-Australia economic relations through mass blood shed.

Gough advised Suharto that Independent East Timor would be an “unviable state” and declassified evidence demonstrates that during this meeting in Jakarta, Australia encouraged an otherwise undecided Suharto government that Portuguese Timor should become part of Indonesia. For the domestic audience in Australia, he cautioned that the incorporation into Indonesia should appear to be a natural process arising from the wishes of the people. This support was all that Suharto needed, essentially a green light had been given that sealed the fate of the 200,000 people that died in the Independence war of East Timor.

1975- The Invasion

On the 28th of November 1975, after several years of political opposition of the colonial rule of Portugal, East Timor declared independence after centuries and the Portuguese withdrew. On the 7th of December 1975, a day meant to mark the birth of a republic, Indonesia militarily invaded Timor. The Australian Government had forewarning of Indonesia’s plans, yet did nothing to assist the impoverished nation, an hour and a half north of Darwin.  

The Australian Government excused the violent re-colonisation of East Timor and deliberately mislead the Australian public. The Australian Government raised no concerns over what was unfolding on their doorstep, even when their own citizens were being killed (Balibo 5 journalists).

The oppressive Indonesian occupation lasted for 27 years and was backed by both Australia and the United States of America. East Timor’s Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation report detailed the multiple large scale massacres of Timorese people, concluded that Jakarta made a conscious decision to use starvation against the civilian population, ascertained the deaths of at least 100,000 and as many as 200,000 out of a population of about 650,000, and found that arbitrary detention, torture, rape and sexual slavery, deportations and public executions were routine.

The Timorese Resistance and Independence Struggle

The Timorese have always resisted colonialism in all its different forms. The Timorese resistance was strong; it was largely waged guerilla style and low budget. A coordinated network of people joined to form a clandestine resistance with a three tier strategy; the information/support clandestine, the armed forces, and the international diplomacy.  Australia refused to recognize the sovereignty of the Timorese and their struggle for freedom, declining to receive Timorese delegates who visited Australia seeking humanitarian support for occupied Timor Leste.

The Santa Cruz massacre on the 12th November 1991 was Indonesian forces’ most visible act of violence against East Timorese protesters. In front of international journalists, they opened fire on a crowd amassed in the Santa Cruz cemetery, in what appeared to be an organized attack.

The video evidence of the massacre was smuggled into Australia. Australian authorities strip-searched the journalists, apparently after being tipped-off by Indonesian officials, looking to seize the tapes; fortunately they were hidden by a fellow journalist from Holland. Footage from the massacre caused international outcry, finally bringing East Timor some much needed global attention.

The Timorese continued to wage a war of independence that was largely ignored by the West. By 1998 the Timorese resistance reached a point where they could organize above ground and a public swell for democracy meant that the new President of Indonesia announced a commitment to a self-determination referendum in 1998.

Again, Australia’s government aided the Indonesian genocide by refusing to send over military aid and withdrawing legal observers that would oversee a peaceful referendum. What ensued was a final fierce assault to crush the independence movement of the Timorese, whereby the Indonesian military attempted to prevent the ballot from taking place and to make the margin for independence as narrow as possible by reigning terror on the Timorese citizens.  Several hundred people were killed and as many as 60,000 people were displaced prior to the ballot.

Despite this terror, 98% of people who registered to vote did so, making the dangerous trip from their mountainous retreats to making it to the ballot stations and resulting in the 78% majority vote in favor of Independence.

The announcement of the independence result in 1999 triggered another campaign of violence and destruction of greater intensity where at least 1,200 people were killed, half the Timorese population displaced and over 70% of the infrastructure destroyed. INTERFET (International Force for East Timor) landed on 20 September 1999 after a stubborn reluctance of the Australian Government and after desperate pleas for crisis intervention from the people of Timor. By the time INTERFET arrived, most of the Indonesian troops had withdrawn.  

INTERFET have been criticized greatly for their passiveness towards the Indonesian military, allowing them to withdraw at their own pace with limited intervention, not stopping the forced deportation of Timorese and the disorganized nature of the provision of food aid to hungry refugees.

It has also been described by many activists of Timor and by Timorese themselves, that this was a way for Australia to infiltrate independent Timor and influence economic policy and secure the oil; a beginning to Australian and United Nations neocolonialism in Timor Leste.

Timor finally gained independence in 2002, yet the Australian government’s exploitation of our closest neighbor continues.

Hand off Timors Oil- International week of action

Melbourne: 24 March – 12:30pm, 55 Colins St outside the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Adelaide: 21 March – 12:30pm outside Parliament House

Sydney: 23 March – 12:30pm at three meeting spots: Archibald Fountain at Hyde Park, Greenwood Plaza North Sydney, DFAT offices at Angel Place in the CBD

Canberra: Details TBC

Dili: 22 and 23 March outside the Australian EmbassTIMOR artworky

Jakarta: 24 March outside the Australian Embassy

Manila:22 March outside Australian Embassy at Makati, Metro Manila

Viva Timor-Leste!

Viva the Maubere People!

Down with Australia’s Occupation of the Timor Sea!

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