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"Mother they made us spill blood" is the haunting line in a
chant amplified to the thousands assembled at the first anniversary of
the Suai Church Massacre in East Timor on September 6, 2000.After a war
is over and the blood has stopped flowing, the suffering and violence
as a direct result of those acts of war continues. The terrible irony
is, that between the people involved in those acts of war, there are crimson
threads of kinship forming which will connect them across national borders
and generations into the future.This site seeks to use the language of
art to explore stories which emerge through friendship between people
in East Timor and Australia.
The site initiative emerged in response to the declaration of a friendship
city initiative in 1999, between Suai and Pt Phillip. We hope it will
grow in collaborative spirit.
Suai is a coastal town in the region called Cova Lima, in the south west
near the western border with West Timor.Suai, East Timor, [Timor Loro
Sa'e), was the site of a massacre at Our Lady of Fatima Church, on September
6, 1999. Three Priests and over 50 people were killed there in a rampage
of violence. This was one act of hundreds, in which thousands of people
were killed by Indonesian military and militia who opposed the successful
vote for independence from Indonesia, in a UN backed referendum on August
30,1999. Trails of tears were being shed on both sides of the Timor Gap,
because many relationships were already well formed which mocked national
borders, politics of oil and geographical boundaries.
In response to the crisis in East Timor my local government: the ' Council
of Pt Phillip', in Melbourne, Australia, formed a group called the Friends
of Suai who have committed themselves to helping to rebuild Suai over
a ten year period (2000 to 2010).St Kilda is a fashionable suburb of Pt
Phillip, in the state of Victoria, in the South East of Australia.
Settled by the British in 1839 the Pt Phillip area's earliest inhabitants
were the Yaluki-millam people, one of five clans of the Bunurong people.
Known as the coastal tribe they were members of the Kulin nation. A melancholic
reminder of the rich indigenous culture of this land can be seen in the
form of the Corroboree Tree, which survived in St Kilda after locals,
protested against it being sacrificed for a freeway. You can see it on
the front page if you look carefully amongst the urban jungle. St Kilda
is a culturally diverse suburb where many refugees from variousnations
have settled. In particular people who sought refuge from theSecond World
War and Nazi Germany.
My family is a mixture of Welsh,Cornish, English, Polish and Scottish
blood and our ancestors settled hereas part of the British colonialist
project, in the mid nineteenth century when Portugal was occupying East
culture of the friendship
Veronica Pereira a senior Timorese woman of Suai, with homes in Darwinand
Suai, tells us of the legend of Ikinbaki, passed down by her ancestors
when Timorese princes came to Australia to gamble and ended up staying
and marrying Aboriginal women. Perhaps this was the beginning of the neighbourhood
Patsy Thatcher an anthropologist with an interest in East Timor since
the fifties, and a resident of St Kilda, tells me six people from Australia
wentto East Timor and began searching for oil in 1896. There were Australiansin
East Timor from that time. Her research involved reading the journalsof
the Australian diggers who fought in East Timor in the Second World War.
These revealed that in 1966 Bishop Goulet of Dili claimed 40,000 Timorese
died in the Second World War, when the Australian government decided to
invade East Timor after Pearl Harbour. This loss of life in East Timor
as a result of our war strategies, is barely mentioned in Australian history
booksor represented in our war memorial monuments.
Graham Pitts another Pt Phillip resident, has ensured this story of friendship
and trust, will not be forgotten through his documenting of Harry Levy's
story, a local Melbourne identity, in the form of the play Tour of Duty.
which has been performed in Timor and Melbourne. Australian men whose
liveswere saved by the East Timorese remember them in personal, if ephemeral
ways in terms of history: by naming their properties or children after
them. The stories of the aftermath of war for the wives of these men are
not mentioned anywhere.
The well known Australian Quarter horse has Timor pony as part of its
breeding. They were brought to Australia by barge from East Timor to far
North Queensland.for this purpose before 1975.
The Man from Snowy River a poem by Banjo Paterson,(b.1864), and first
published in 1961, created a classic tale of moral and physical courage
toevoke his concept of the Australian spirit, around the journey of horse
that is one part Timor pony, which entered the realms of myth in Australiain
the fifties and sixties.
"And one was there, a stripling on a small and weedy beast;He was
something like a racehorse undersized,With a touch of Timor pony - three
parts thoroughbred at least -And such as are by mountain horsemen prized.He
was hard and tough and wiry - just the sort that won't say die-There was
courage in his quick impatient tread
(this excerpt taken from a classic edition 1973 and reprinted
in 1975 and 1976 by Angus & Robertson.)
Hundreds of Australians of varying ethnicity worked with East Timorese
people in Australia and East Timor, and withlike minded people in many
other countries, towards the independence of East Timor, because their
human rights andeconomic security was being aggressively compromised bythe
These friendships increased in number dramatically inDecember 1975, (the
date of the Indonesian Invasion) and again in 1991, following the murder
of hundreds of students at the Santa Cruz Massacre. December 1975 was
thedate David Scott a St Kilda resident founded the Australia EastTimor
Assoication, which became an importanthub for people wanting to support
This influx of people into the struggle was made possibleby a few journalists
such as Portuguese filmmaker MaxStahl who is a national hero in East Timor.
Max witnessedthe massacre and before being arrested by the Indonesianmilitary
secreted his video tapes in a gravestone where it wascollected by friends
and smuggled out of the country fordistribution to the international media.
this story more thanany other is credited with turning the tide of the
internationalcommunity because it confirmed all of the rumours whichhad
been coming from the country for years.
The story behind the success of the struggle is long andcomplex, it is
told in many books, and is a story which belongsto the East Timorese.
The journey of the friendship between East Timor and Australiacontinues
and this site seeks to document some of it, to keepthe story alive, and
to provide an opportunity for a grass rootspoint of distribution for our
stories. This intro has been writtenwholly by me, after two years of work,
with the blessing of East Timorese and Australian friends with whom I
have consulted,and it is one of the early steps towards a cross cultural
How the friendships evolve in the light of the latest eventsof history
we have still to tell. How we recover from the traumaon both sides of
the Gap we still have to tell.
What form will the 'help' from Australia take, how will it be received,
and what impact might it have upon the East Timoreseculture and people?
Will it be yet another form of colonialism? The intent is that we follow
these stories for ten years beginningin 2000.
We will be jumping in and 'getting our hands dirty' in the AID game tooWe
are already experiencing just how difficult it can be transferring skills
and resources across economic, cultural and power differences.
If you want to get involved send us an email. The Crimson Threads
website is constantly growing and we (always) need help in the real world.
Culture of Trauma
"Suai is filled with blood, where it spills on every place people's
dignity is being stepped around like dust people's humility is like the
.the Indonesian military and the militia make the people
of East Timor like the mosquitoes and flies, they are already dead, but
still there is no respect" these lines are a literal translation
from 'The Tragedi do Suai', a re-enactment of the massacre performed at
the first anniversary and partially seen in thevideo the circle of stones.
Eighteen months after the post ballot violence in 1999, I made a video:
'the circle of stones', expressing the sense of loss and injustice I observed
at the first anniversary of the massacre in Suai in September 2000. I
was there because I had gone to Suai to make friends, to learn about the
culture and to facilitate the setting up of a multimedia arts node. It
was the first step towards this project, to open a dialogue with people
in the community of Suai. On my way I met Veronica Pereira and her story
of the healing powerof culture made a strong impression upon me.
When I returned home to St Kilda, in November 2000 I decided thatthe first
work should be around the issue of grief, loss and recovery.These themes
are strongly represented then in this October 2002 versionof the site
and were the subject of the first video.
By the time the video was made the second anniversary was comingaround
so I helped organize an event at the St Kilda Town Hallwhich we also titled
'the circle of stones' and invited people in thePt Phillip community and
old friends of East Timor to join in forminga circle of stones as an act
of healing, and to show people in Suaiwe are sharing their burden, which
is a collective loss, and whichrequires justice to find closure.
Trauma will continue to be an issue in East Timor and among manyAustralians
who have been on their journey with them. Traumatised people first and
foremost require security from fear,shelter, food and water. The UN and
Aid agencies are doing their bestto provide this in East Timor. The friendship
city programs are focusing on practical issues of education, health, economics,
infrastructure and so on. The security forces and East Timor's new army
and police are focusing on security. The next thing which traumatized
people need is recognition, justiceand reconciliation. It is hoped that
this site will contribute in a small way towards personalizing the atrocities
of the past, by bearing witness and making visible to an international
audience, the complexity of the struggle still being undertaken on both
sides of the friendship. As Veronica woveinto one of her tais, the traditional
cloth of East Timor..'escrata continua''the struggle continues'.
How do we help?
The Tragedi do Suai' is a call for justice. Every family in East Timor
has lost one or more family members in the struggle for independence,
it is a newnation of deeply traumatized people. Australia owes East Timor
a debt. Supporting the call for justice helps and this can be done simply
by helpingto keep the memory of the atrocities alive as this site does.It
is a deeply complicated task to help even one person in the same culture.
It is difficult for traumatized people to recover their trust inothers.
You can help by getting involved with a local government initiative or
bringing to bear the resources of your own friends and family or club
in fundraising. Money is the simple side of the equation, turning it into
help requires dedicated expertise.
Donations can be sent to the Friends of Suai, St Kilda Town Hall,Carlisle
Street, St Kilda 3182. If you want to fund this project send yourDonation
to the Friends of Suai and mark it for the 'Suai Media Arts Project.'If
you want to be involved as an artist/storyteller, or form a link, email
us at this site. There is a link to the Friends of Suai page on this site.
Suai Media Arts Node
The Suai Media Arts Project aims to transfer skills and resources inMultimedia
production to Suai for the development of a Suai Media Arts Node. The
first initiative was to base my video on the re-enactment of the Suai
Massacre and combine it in the circle of stones video.
Thank you to the Council of Pt Phillip Thank you to local business sponsors,
especially Mike Reed Productions for help with the circle of stones videoThanks
to Katie and John: interactive design students of the Victorian University
of Technology and their lecturers especially Sue McCauley.Thankyou to
Lee and the Asia Pacific Support Collective and Timor Aid Thankyou to
my family for the rest.