David Scott: The Accidental Activist

Crimson threads of kinship
The crimson thread began
The accidental activist
East Timorese life giving sacrifice
Inside The Outside - Resistance and Australia Unmasked
Betrayal 1 - 1942 World War 2
Betrayal 2 - 1975 Gough Whitlam
Betrayal 3 - 1999 Security promise broken by the UN Security Council
Betrayal 4 - 1999 Australia withheld its intelligence knowledge
Australian Archives
Manipulation of Australian policy-making


Crimson threads of kinship
It’s difficult to avoid meeting David Scott if one becomes involved with East Timor’s struggle and I met him first in 2000 at the launch of Friends of Suai. David Scott, is a resident of Pt Philip whose family is linked to Timor through crimson threads of kinship David was an Able Seaman on HMAS Arunta only months after the ship risked bombing by the Japanese, in a dramatic and dangerous evacuation of the tired and starving 2/4th Independent Company in January 1943. The stories of that evacuation were still fresh on the lips of the crew when David joined them as an Able Seaman, Anti Aircraft Gunner, a few months later.

The crimson thread began in David's family when it fell to David's father-in-law, William Leggatt, who commanded the 2/40th Battalion sent to defend Kupang and its airstrip in Dutch West Timor, to travel with Colonel van Straaten, from Java to meet with the Governor of Portuguese Timor in December 1941. William Leggatt was following orders that arose from erroneous political decision-making in Australia. Decisions which spawned a trail of blood and tears for the Timorese people who were to become pawns in the affairs of colonialist Australia and Indonesia, and the Japanese as well as their own Portuguese colonial masters. William Leggatt and van Straaten were to deliver a message intended to solicit a request from the Portuguese for Dutch and Australian troops to land and defend Portuguese Timor from an anticipated Japanese attack. An attack which did not come for a further two months, as David's book, (see below), shows, because, for strategic reasons, the Japanese never intended to breach Portugal's neutrality.

David is uniquely situated to tell Australia's story in relation to East Timor's history. Dubbing himself the "Accidental Activist", he says the impetus for writing his book came following his experiences in the ensuing thirty years, after Indonesia invaded and occupied East Timor in 1975 while he was there. He was one of only five foreigners to witness the oath of allegiance by the Cabinet members appointed by the Fretilin Central Committee on November 28th, 1975.

Standing on the verandah of the Governor's house above Dili at the swearing in, he writes how they were "watched by a few hundred women, children and old people: the younger men were at the war front resisting the clandestine Indonesian advance." The young Xanana Gusmao was darting around taking photographs.

David was in East Timor at the request of the Australian Council for Overseas Aid, who was already sending food aid to East Timor following conflict between UDT (United Democratic Timor) and Fretilin that began with a Jakarta inspired coup, in August 1975. David was sent to find out what would happen after Fretiin's declaration of independence.

In David's position it would be difficult to imagine leaving Dili after being there during this seminal and bloody transformation from Portuguese colony, to a brief moment in the sun as an independent nation, after 400 years, without feeling morally bound to do what one could to draw the attention of Australians and the international community to what was happening there. Especially given the fact he knew from the stories he heard on the Arunta, in 1943, of the risks and life giving sacrifices, the Timorese had made for Australians there at that time. He knew well the moral values of his generation and how the abandonment of their East Timorese supporters to the hands of the Japanese when they evacuated and left them there, could well be causing them personal conflict.

This issue of individuals feeling morally bound, while nations do not, is a recurring theme in the story of the relationship between East Timor and Australia. It is this, which led to David becoming an activist for East Timor for the next thirty years.

inside the outside - resistance and Australia unmasked
As a close friend of Jose Ramos-Horta, (now East Timor's Minister for Foreign Affairs,) for thirty years, David began the journey on the outside of East Timor with him, and he has been one of East Timor's staunchest allies in the struggle for independence. His book, which remains untitled at time of writing, is being published by Pluto in 2005.

On returning to Australia he initiated a meeting that led to the forming in Melbourne, of the Australia East Timor Association, on 7th December, 1975. AETA continues to play a critical role in educating the Australian public about what is happening in East Timor from its formation until today.

David's story is different from other books I've read on East Timor, because he has researched the political history of the events that led up to the Indonesian invasion and Australia's role before, during and after the occupation, using Australian Government Documents***, and Japanese Secret Cabinet War Diaries*.As he says in his introduction:

"It is not a pretty picture and as it unfolded to reveal new information, understandings and interpretations, ....the East Timorese people, I discovered, were betrayed, not once, but four times in a person's lifetime. Australia was complicit in all but one of those betrayals".


The following is a direct excerpt from the manuscript of David's book describing in synoptic form the four betrayals:

"The first betrayal was in the Second World War. Australia proposed that Portuguese neutrality be breached and with Dutch troops carried out this policy. This act that thrust Japan into an occupation it had never intended** and the people of East Timor into four years of misery and the loss of 40,000 lives during the Japanese occupation. Australian historians have omitted this from our history to date.

The second betrayal was in 1975. Prime Minister Gough Whitlam declared his support for the integration of East Timor with Indonesia before it was even President Suharto's intention.

The criticism of Whitlam is not that necessarily he could have prevented the invasion. It is that he made no serious attempt to do so when he had stipulated peaceful means and self-determination as the conditions of his support for integration.

Resolute action by Mr Whitlam on at least three occasions could only have been supported by the UN, USA, UK, western democracies and newly independent third world nations and would have averted the invasion.

The third betrayal was perhaps the most distressing and unconscionable. The people of East Timor were guaranteed security for the 1999 referendum on integration or independence by no less than the Security Council of the United Nations. Then they were abandoned to the Indonesian Army and its vicious militias.

After the orgy of destruction, John Howard, the Prime Minister of Australia, sensed the long term and widespread popular support among Australians for action in East Timor and offered Australian troops and leadership of the UN force. It was a high-risk decision. If General Peter Cosgrove had not handled the situation as sensitively as he did, these events could have resulted in loss of life for many Australian soldiers and the outbreak of hostilities between Australia and Indonesian forces. At last, it seemed Australia had made amends for its role in the earlier betrayals.

But there was a fourth betrayal and it was again by Australia. The Australian Government concealed its knowledge of the intentions and the plans of the Indonesian Army and its mercenary militia to terrorise East Timorese voters into supporting integration and to destroy the embryonic nation if the people voted for independence. This knowledge could have been used to avert the actions of the Indonesian Army not suppressed in order to deny its role and whitewash General Wiranto."

David continues: "The conflict between Australia's need to maintain on the one hand good relations with Indonesia and accept the humiliations this required, and on the other the protection of the people of East Timor from further suffering was resolved, as it always has been, in favour of the appeasement of Indonesia.

Australia withheld its intelligence knowledge. Much of East Timor was destroyed and more than 250,000 people were forced in to West Timor. Jakarta had again cleverly exploited the inexplicable fear that has dominated Australia's relationship with Indonesia for so many years."

August 2004: A fifth betrayal is currently being perpetrated by the Howard Government as they have manipulated their position to deny the East Timorese an opportunity to make a claim in the International Court of Justice for the oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea which are closer to East Timor than Australia. See www.timorseajustice.org and click BETRAYAL on the friends banner for a video download which explains the issue, and a video which shows the protests in Dili recently.

The Australian archives - 1974/75
The Australian 'Documents' *** "reveal the texture and the text of official decision-making on East Timor by the Government, or rather by Mr Whitlam, his Policy executor, Richard Woolcott and a small group of other officials. They confirm popular perceptions of Australia's complicity ." He argues "that Australian and some US documents support the view that the invasion could have been avoided. Resolute Australian leadership would have been supported by the US, UN western democracies and Third World nations. The role of Australian Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, his motives and the influences on him are considered." And David comes to the view "they compromised Australian relations with Indonesia for the following 25 years".

Manipulation of Australian policy making 1974/75
David is clearly horrified by what he finds : "The manipulation of Australian policy-making in 1974/75 shows how governments deceive and obfuscate people at the expense of their democratic right to know what is being decided on their behalf. It is a cautionary tale for the present times when 'war against terrorism' justifies 'pre-emptive strikes', 'regime change',. 'perception management' and a subtle, pervasive erosion of fundamental rights that makes thoughtful people reach for George Orwell's 1984. Freedom is never so much under threat as when it is being defended as Australian Prime Minister Ben Chifley, declared".

*David acknowledges Henry Frei of Tsukaba University in Japan who set aside other work to study the 'Japanese Secret Cabinet War Diaries' and wrote 'Japan's Reluctant Decision to Invade Portuguese Timor' published in Australian Historical Studies, (Number 107,October 1996) According to David, this research was overlooked or ignored by Australian historians who have written about the war in the Pacific.

**Japan's Reluctant Decision to Occupy Portuguese Timor' in Australian historical Studies, Number 107, October 1996.

***Documents on Australian Foreign Policy Australia and the Indonesian Incorporation of Portuguese Timor 1974-76 Dept. of Foreign Affairs & Trade. Melbourne University Press 2000