This is the forty third anniversary of the death of the Balibo Five in Portuguese East Timor – can it have been that long ago?
Here is an excerpt from my book ‘Archipelago – A Journey Across Indonesia’.
On October 16 1975, APODETI and UDT militias backed by Indonesian Special Forces crossed the border from Indonesian West Timor for an attack on the town of Maliana. The Fretilin forces were able to hold their ground where the terrain was an advantage but Maliana quickly fell to the invading forces. A tragic outcome of this invasion was the killing by Indonesia Special Forces of five Australian-based television newsmen, Malcolm Rennie and Brian Peters of Channel 9, Greg Shackleton, Gary Cunningham and Tony Stewart of Channel 7, who had filmed the Indonesian advance from the ramparts of the historic Portuguese fort in the town of Balibo. Their bodies together with the film of Indonesian participation in the invasion were burnt.
Nearly a month later in Jakarta the remains of the newsmen were buried in a common grave in a ceremony attended by the Australian Ambassador, Embassy staff and Jakarta based journalists. At the funeral service Ambassador Woolcott stated “These five Australian newsmen were regrettably and tragically killed. No one could have expected it. We do not even now have legal proof or complete evidence of their deaths but all available evidence points to their being killed on October 15 or 16. Journalists are like soldiers. They take risks in the pursuit of their profession, in the pursuit of truth”. A wreath laid on behalf of the bereaved relatives read ‘They stayed because they saw the search for truth and the need to report at first hand as a necessary task’. I visited the gravesite in Kebayoran Lama to pay homage to these men before I left Jakarta. I thought it would be difficult to find the gravesite but as soon as I mentioned ‘Australian journalists’ the caretaker knew exactly what I was looking for and took me directly to their grave. The gravestone tells its own story as it reads – ‘No words can explain this pointless death in Balibo’.