Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Peddle Power, Wind Power - and a thirst for adventure

A few months ago I blogged about Benji Rogers-Wilson, a young Aussie adventurer who is biking and sailing around the world
; a journey which he reckons could take about five years. At that time Benji was in Darwin, North Australia. Now he's peddling his way through SE Asia on route for China and Japan. He has some fantastic tales to tell.. like his recent precarious road trip from Singapore to Bangkok.

Follow this unique journey on his excellent website.. there are some gripping, footloose yarns. There's an important message behind it too.. His aim is to journey using no fuel (other than calories) & emit no greenhouse gasses & he hopes his example will inspire others to think more seriously about living their lives in more sustainable ways.

And I like this quote from his website which sets the tone for his current trip:

"A few years ago while touring in northern Spain a young woman asked me, ‘How do you do it, pull yourself out of your tent each morning and ride all day?’ A curious but not uncommon question to which I replied, ‘How do you do it, pull yourself out of bed each morning and go and work a 9 to 5 job?’ Of course, she may have been perfectly content in her vocation, but for my part, struggling to accept the mediocrity of the rat race and the tyranny of boredom is reason enough to jump on a bicycle and head off into the unknown."

Friday, November 02, 2007

Zorba dance is a smash

The Zorba dance interpretation (pictured) has already attracted 40,000 hits on the internet video web site YouTube

A group of 10 traditional dancers from Northern Australia has a smash hit on YouTube, with their unique interpretation of Zorba the Greek.

They are called the Chooky Dancers, a group of young men and boys from Elcho Island - part of a vast Aboriginal region known as Arnhem Land.

Their Zorba dance has gone around the world, and even been screened in a public square in Greece.

Lionel Djirrimbilpilwuy, who is 19, is the lead dancer who came up with the idea of fusing modern Yolngu dance with the Greek Zorba.

"The crowd just loved it, you know. If it's three o'clock in the morning, if it's two o'clock in the morning, the crowd just loved them," he said.

"They just pick up whatever style or tune they like to pick, you know, as long as it's a fast moving type, up-tempo music style with a lot of rhythm.

"They do it at home, just to keep themselves busy and fit, and main thing is to keep themselves away from boredom."

Click here to see the dance!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Tiwi Bombers blast off

The Bombers celebrate their pre-season victory

After winning the pre-season comp in Darwin, indigenous sensations, The Tiwi Bombers have made a dramtic start to the "real" footy season. After losing their first game, the Bombers have re-couped and won the next two matches.

It all makes for an exciting football..
Watch Bombers action in this great story from ABC News

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Would you donate to see this amazing film documentary go ahead?

(Left: A carving of The Footy Man: traditional Tiwi art with a modern, twist)

(Below: The Tiwi Bombers - talented footballers from a tiny island community)

The Scene: Tropical Northern Australia.
This is the story of a new and sublimely talented Aboriginal football team from a remote island community. The Tiwi Island Bombers (picture above) are breaking new ground by entering the highly competitive Northern Territory Football League for the first time. The documentary follows the team as it strives to win in its first season, revealing not just the players energetic and entertaining brand of footy, but the hopes and dreams of their disadvantaged island community. There is a strong expectation that the Tiwi Bombers will make the finals and intense speculation about whether they can do even better by winning the premiership in their first season.
This documentary takes us inside the lives of some of the Tiwi players, their families, club officials and supporters – revealing the Tiwis as expert hunters of bush tucker and knowledgeable exponents of traditional ceremony. "In a League of Their Own" also explores the challenges to the Tiwi Bomber’s success - a community afflicted by the abuse of alcohol and "ganja", and where the youth suicide rate is one of the highest in Australia. The way this documentary explores the reality of indigenous community life is honest and inspiring.

Suitability for Philanthropic support

The Documentary is called “In a League of Their Own”. It is to be produced soon for Australian television. It carries an inspirational message for young, indigenous people. The Tiwi Bombers may come from a disadvantage community but as this documentary unfolds we see them emerge as role models – striving to reach their full potential and promoting discipline, health and well-being through sport.

As such, the documentary provides a compelling face for socially conscious organisations that support Indigenous Australia moving forward.

The positive messages contained in "In a League of Their Own" are universal. While the documentary tackles complex and difficult aboriginal issues, the football backdrop makes it naturally appealling to a wider, sports-loving audience. This means that many of the important key messages such as health and well-being, zero tolerance for drugs, and controlled drinking are universally accessible.


ZarganaLeading poet and comedian Zargana (pictured), has been released from three weeks in detention and is reported to be well but exhausted. Zargana remains under heavy surveillance and is restricted in his movement and activities, as he has been for many years. PEN - the international organisation that supports writers everywhere - understands that fellow comedian U Par Par Lay was also one of many pro-democracy activists reported to have been arrested in the ongoing government crackdown in Burma and is believed to remain in detention. U Par Par Lay was imprisoned from March 1996 to July 2001 for, among other things, scripting and performing comedies that criticised the Burmese authorities.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Burma: Grave Fears for Zarganar

Zarganar - a great Burmese talent
What has happened to one of Burma's boldest and bravest? I am referring to comedian and poet Maung Thura (popularly known as Zarganar)? He was arrested Burma's military government on 25 September as part of the violent crackdown on pro-democracy activists.

Information from PEN points to his arrest for supporting the monks demonstrating in Burma's capital, Rangoon. Zarganar remains in detention and there are mounting concerns for his well-being and safety.

PEN has long been concerned about freedom of expression in Myanmar. Since the 1988 crackdown on the National League for Democracy (NLD) in which thousands were killed and thousands more arrested, the numbers of detained writers known to PEN has remained largely unchanged.

PEN is currently campaigning for the release of nine writers serving sentences ranging from seven to twenty-one years imprisonment in Myanmar. All are detained for their peaceful opposition activities. They include Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the NLD and writer, who has spent the large part of the past eighteen years in detention.

To download PEN's latest caselist click here.
Click here for more details about PEN's work for Aung San Suu Kyi:

Friday, September 28, 2007

Burma: The Junta's last stand?

Rangoon, Morning—About 10 fire trucks took up positions around Rangoon’s City Hall on Friday morning, and about 12 empty military trucks were positioned at Bandoola Park, according to witnesses. Authorities have also blocked a main road with barbed wire leading to Sule Pagoda. Authorities also positioned security forces at Kandawgyi Park and the Livestock and Fisheries office in Kyeemyindaing Township, witnesses said. According to sources in Rangoon, representatives elected in the 1990 election (nullified by authorities) plan to lead a demonstration march on Friday.

Rangoon, Midday—Demonstrators gathered in front of the Trader Hotel around noon on Friday to start a peaceful march, a source told The Irrawaddy. The demonstration will be lead by politicians elected in the 1990 election that was nullified by the junta. A source said they will try to talk to the soldiers and ask them not to shoot at peaceful demonstrators. A large number of soldiers have been positioned around Sule Pagoda.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Burma's Pressure Cooker

Street tension mounting in Rangoon

Ask yourself: How long could you stand living in a country under iron-fisted military rule, with no democracy and in fear of a violent crackdown at any time?

This is the Pressure cooker that is Burma.. and once again we are seeing - if only a glimpse - what happens when a long-suffering people take to the streets.

A Burmese blogger gives a first hand account at
Ko Htike’s Prosaic Collection

History shows that eventually, regimes like Burma's military junta can't last. People need their dignity and are resilient enough to hold out for basic human rights.

The last time I was in Burma was 2002.. just as the military junta was planning to release Aung San Suu Kyi. They did - for a short while - and I was privileged to be in Rangoon reporting the event for

I also compiled a report for ABC Radio's
The World Today about the quirkiness of reporting in Burma

Cameraman Mark Laban who travelled with me to Burma in 2002

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Old Friends

What happens when you receive an email from a friend from your distant past? Of course You read it and discover all manner of surprises.

When I opened an email from a schoolmate Andy A. I was directed to the most amazing MY Space site. I have to share it with you.. http://www.myspace.com/andyatwill

Andy is one of the most accomplished jazz bass players on the planet. (Back in our school band Andy played guitar and I played bass). He certainly has kicked on!!

Do you like it?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Timor under the Microscope

Comment - Get this Alkatiri: you didn't win
Damien Kingsbury from the Masters of International and Community Development School of International and Political Studies Deakin University, writes for Crikey.com:

The troubles currently gripping East Timor following the appointment of Xanana Gusmao as prime minister reflect many of the reasons the country was plunged into political crisis early last year.
In short, former prime minister Mari Alkatiri does not accept the basic principles of parliamentary democracy. It was this authoritarian tendency that directly led to last year's troubles and him being forced to resign as prime minister.
In the period since East Timor's otherwise successful parliamentary elections, Alkatiri has continued to insist that his party, Fretilin, should lead the new government. This is despite Fretilin being overwhelmingly rejected by more than 70 per cent of the population, seeing its vote cut by around half.
Alkatiri has variously insisted that Fretilin be allowed to form a minority government, that it lead a unity government and that it accept a 'neutral' prime minister.
The basis of these assertions was that, as the 'most voted party', Fretilin had the right to determine the shape of the new government. This was in turn claimed to rest on section of section 106:1 of East Timor's constitution. Section 106:1 of the constitution says that the government will be formed either by what is being translated from Portuguese as the 'most voted party' OR 'an alliance of parties that form a majority in parliament'.
There is some dispute about the translation of the first part of this section from the Portuguese, which seems to allow a minority government. But in any case, Alkatiri has consistently neglected the second part of this section. Despite the clear constitutionality and workability - of a majority coalition government, Alkatiri has claimed it is 'illegal', that he will not recognise it and that Fretilin will withdraw from parliament.
Similarly, former Fretilin minister Arsenio Bano has said that Fretilin's supporters believe the party 'won' the elections. Even if explicit instructions were not given to Fretilin supporters to go on the rampage, Alkatiri's language alone would incite such rampage. Fretilin did not 'win' the elections and was unable to form a coalition.
The alternative CNRT-led coalition is, constitutionally and according to parliamentary precedent, a legitimate government reflecting overwhelming majority support. The international community has, conventionally, congratulated Xanana Gusmao on his appointment as prime minister.
It should now condemn Mari Alkatiri for refusing to play by the rules of the democratic game and, in the process, again pushing his country to the brink.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Running Amok in East Timor - When will it End?

Protesters set fire to buildings in anger at
Xanana Gusmao's appointment as PM

Mobs are once again running amok in East Timor's capital Dili.

This time angry youths -supporters of the ex-ruling party Fretilin party - are protesting the naming of independence hero Xanana Gusmao as prime minister, as the former ruling party leader vows to fight the move in court.

Youths have hurled rocks, set up road blockades and torched buildings in the capital and two other towns, with police and international peacekeepers rushing to keep outbreaks of violence under control.

The incidents came a day after President Jose Ramos-Horta named Gusmao to lead a coalition government -- without the ex-ruling Fretilin party -- which broke a deadlock following inconclusive polls in June. Read more

Xanana Gusmao - Former guerrilla leader who led East Timor to independence
  • Spent six years in Indonesian prison
  • Made first post-independence president
  • Stepped down in early 2007 to run for more hands-on role of PM

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Is it safe to travel to the Indonesian island of Ambon?

Families, once displaced by violence, are returning to their home villages on Indonesia's Ambon Island. Read their story Photo: Kim Johnston/Mercy Corps.

A colleague has come to me with this query:
I am thinking about sailing to the Indonesian island of Ambon as part of the Darwin to Ambon yacht race? Should I go or is it still too dangerous?

Background: Ambon is both an island and a city, and is the main centre in the eastern province of the Moluccas, (once known as
the Spice Islands). It was once a easy-going tranquil place off the beaten track - but was well known to sailors - particularly those who competed in the annual Darwin to Ambon yacht race. In 1999 violence broke out.. Ambon became another of Indonesia's flashpoints after the fall of President Suharto, when law and order disintegrated across the archipelago. (You can read about this in my book RUNNING AMOK). Once peaceful Christian and Muslim communities were turned against each other.. and the violence escalated into a bloody civil war which claimed at least 6,000 lives up until 2003. Many parts of Ambon have been destroyed - I have witnessed the fighting, arson and looting and seen the terrible trauma left by those who have been tortured or mutilated.

Suffice to say the Darwin to Ambon Yacht race was halted - but crews are once again ready to sail. So has the violence stopped? Is it safe to travel to Ambon for a yacht race, or even fly in as a tourist?

Generally, calm has returned. However there ARE sporadic acts of violence that should be noted:
  • On May 2 this year a grenade exploded as worshippers were gathering outside Ambon's
    Al-Fatah Grand Mosque in preparation for morning prayers. There were no injuries.
  • A grenade exploded on April 25 at a bus station, followed the same day by a grenade which was hurled at a house. Six people were injured in the earlier attack. April 25 was the 56thKedaulatan Maluku or FKM. This group is not widely supported.. but it could be growing in strength. anniversary of the founding of a Christian separatist group, the Moluccas Sovereign Front - the Front
The bottom line in considering whether to visit Ambon at this time is that overall the situation is much calmer, however take every travel precaution - don't do anything you wouldn't do at home (travel in seedy neighborhoods, wander alone at night - particularly in central Ambon city, or go partying in loud tourist groups). If you do go - enjoy the wonderful sail!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Travel Adventure - World Journeys that really inspire

Sometime we hear inspiring and adventurous tales. On December 10, 2006 Benji Rodgers-Wilson set off from Federation Square in Melbourne, Australia to embark on a solo expedition to circumnavigate the world by bicycle and sail.

Green Focus

One objective of his journey is to highlight the damage mankind is doing to our fragile planet & to raise awareness of the responsibility we all have to protect it. His aim is to journey using no fuel (other than calories) & emit no greenhouse gasses & he hopes his example will inspire others to think more seriously about living their lives in more sustainable ways.

Benji is currently in Darwin... and says he's always keen to meet the locals ("what better way to learn about the places I visit", he says).

By following his website you'll discover all sorts of wonderful info and stories.

I heard Benji on ABC Radio Darwin today (105.7 FM) and I found him to be a really inspiring bloke. He's headed for Japan on route for Europe, but as he noted during his radio interview.. his travel plans could easily change. Ah the wonders of footloose travel!! On the subject of travel for travels sake it's worth checking out this site too: Vagabonding.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Stars cause a stir at a Darwin cafe - Nicole Kidman, Keith Urban, David Wenham

Nicole Kidman and husband Keith Urban in Darwin

Movie star fever has certainly hit Northern Australia's capital Darwin this week. The famous Roma Bar Cafe managed to elbow its way centre stage as two of Australia's biggest stars (and their spouses) sat down for a hearty TOP END breakfast. ABC News managed to turn the stars meal into a front page story.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Hugh Jackman hits Darwin

Nicole Kidman has been joined by co-star Hugh Jackman as filming of Baz Luhrman's epic "Australia" continues in Australia's northern capital Darwin.

The burly Aussie star has been sighted as shooting continues at Darwin's Stokes Hill Wharf. (see ABC news)

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Nicole in Darwin - A Helping Hand Gone Wrong!

Darwin, Australia's northern capital, is on Hollywood watch as shooting for Baz Luhrmann's multi-million dollar epic Australia gets under way.
Hundreds of locals have been trying to get close to Darwin's wharf to catch a glimpse of actress Nicole Kidman and some of them certainly did see her in an embarrassing moment.
Darwin's local newspaper, the NT News caught the moment with the paparazzi shot of the day: an Outback helping hand gone wrong.
Nicole Kidman is starring in the outback adventure "Australia" together with Hugh Jackman and a cast of top-name Australian stars.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Foreign Correspondents on display

The Northern Territory Library in Darwin is hosting an inspiring exhibition showcasing the work of ABC Foreign Correspondents during the past seven decades. The exhibition is open for the next two months, so if you are passing through Australia's TOP END, don't miss it. There are some great photos, anecdotes, and memorabilia reflecting correspondent's experiences - sometimes precarious - reporting from around the world.

There's also an online version of this exhibition. What do you think?

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Movie stars, models, yachts and corporate highflyers

The "Aussie Angel" ... Kristy Hinze. Could this person be reason at least one of two superyachts are parked in Darwin Harbour?

Thanks to all those bloggers helping me to solve the mystery connection between the two superyachts - the Athena and the Octopus - newly arrived in Darwin Harbour just as filming is about to start on Baz Luhrman's epic "Australia". The movie features two of Hollywood's hottest Aussies, Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman.

Now.. the Athena (see yesterday's blog) is owned by American billionaire Jim Clark.. and here's the breakthrough to my mystery former Sydney model Kristy Hinze - once dubbed by the US press as the "Aussie Angel" is his girlfriend. Last year she was at the centre of Jim Clark's $US125 million divorce.

Kristy Hinze is also the granddaughter of the late Russ Hinze - Queensland's original "minister for everything". And of course she has a few film credits to her name. (The Extras 2005), and SNAP!! WOW!!, now I get it she must be here for "Australia".. perhaps alongside Nicole, Hugh, and other Aussies like Peter Wenham, David Gulpilil etc.

Jim Clark - owner of the most wonderful yacht I've ever seen visiting Darwin Harbour - is the founder of Netscape, mega-wealthy, and about 36 years older than Kristy Hinze.

Last August Hinze was spotted cruising the South Pacific aboard Clark's $100 million superyacht Athena, taking in the sights of French Polynesia with stops at Tahiti, Bora Bora and Rangiroa. No doubt she felt right at home in the master suite, which features a huge marble bath atop a pedestal.

Hinze has been living in New York for years and was signed to the Ford Models agency there.

So what about the Octopus?? What is it doing in Darwin Harbour?? Can any sleuths join me unravelling this puzzle.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman and Darwin's mystery yachts.

The Athena anchored in Darwin Harbour.

Can anyone tell me the connection between two of Hollywood's hottest Aussie stars Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, and their impending arrival in Darwin, capital of Australia's Northern Territory, for filming of Baz Luhrmann's "Australia", and two of the world's most luxurious yachts now anchored in Darwin Harbour? The yachts I'm talking about are the Octopus - measuring almost 130 metres long - the world's fifth largest super yacht. It's owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the fifth richest man in the world.
The yacht has three helicopters on board and is valued at more than U.S. $200m.
Diners at Darwin's Stokes Hill Wharf can gaze in envy at the huge yacht, while a little further offshore, the world's largest privately owned sailing yacht is anchored not far from where rusty old illegal fishing boats are kept.
The striking Athena is owned by another software developer Jim Clark.
It has three 60 metres masts and is about 90 metres long.

Meanwhile, filming for "Australia" will start at Darwin's Stokes Hill Wharf on July 3 to 5, when Kidman is shot arriving in Australia from England in a Qantas flying boat. The big old wharf will feature prominently in the movie. Nicole Kidman is playing an English woman who comes to Australia inheriting a big property, falling in love with a stockman by the name of Hugh Jackman. Filming in Darwin will resume on July 10 and 11, after the real life working wharf is made to look as it would have a couple of hours after the bombing of Darwin (a real life event that occurred in 1942).
So what's the connection between the yachts and the arrival in Darwin of our beloved movie stars Nicole and Hugh?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Book launch: Singapore, Indonesia, East Timor and Australia


Here's an amazingly original anthology just launched! It's called TERRA - a unique publication for the Austronesian region. Where? I haven't heard of that before!

The work is in English and Bahasa Indonesia - representing the best of prose and poetry from 40-plus-strong list of writers includes some of the leading literary lights from Australia, Indonesia, East Timor and Singapore. Edited by Sandra Thibodeaux and Sitok Srengenge, with Chief Translator Kadek Krishna Adidharma. Check out more and make your order by contacting the
NT Writers Centre.

Here's what some of Austronesia's leaders are saying about Terra:

...the powerful works in this collection speak to me with force and passion of matters of huge individual and political relevance to our region: freedom, belonging, fear, insecurity, identity.
Kirsty Sword Gusmao, Timor-Leste

Edgy and vibrant, TERRA...gives us insigts into the multiple aspects of "Territory": possession, dispossession, racial, religious and environmental conflict, personal spaces, love, fear and hope.
Mike Ladd, Australia

Proof that post-20th century world literature is a movement from margin to margin...not something that spreads out from the centre.
Nirwan Dewanto, Indonesia

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Nuclear Protest, Nuclear Dump in Northern Australia

APEC energy officials meeting in Northern Australia have stepped from the air-conditioned conference room inside Darwin's Parliament House to the elevated balcony to spy this unusual sight. It's a giant inflatable nuclear power stack erected by protesters who don't want a nuclear power industry in Northern Australia. Currently there is one uranium mine - the Ranger Uranium mine - which operates on a lease inside the World Heritage listed Kakadu National Park and there is pressure on traditional aboriginal owners - the Mirrar people - to agree to a second mine closeby at Jabiluka. The Mirrar's senior custodian, Yvonne Margarula, has for years strongly opposed Jabiluka's development, often explaining that uranium mining at Ranger had upturned aboriginal people's lives, brought access to alcohol and created arguments - mostly about money.

There's another nuclear issue brewing in Northern Australia. Aboriginal elders living on a remote Northern Territory community have agreed to accept $12 million for allowing Australia's first nuclear waste dump to be built on their land.
Under the deal, Canberra would take the land for up to 200 years to store nuclear waste. Up to 150 truckloads of radioactive material would be driven thousands of kilometres from Lucas Heights in Sydney and Woomera in South Australia to the site. Suspend your judgement about what this could all mean and click here for taste of what this same issue has produced elsewhere.

... And back to the APEC meeting in Darwin for one moment. Greenpeace is questioning why no renewable energy representatives were on a key panel at the meeting. Other protesters used the opportunity of visiting nations to voice their anger at human rights abuses in Indonesia's West Papua. The flag on display (right) is "The Morning Star" - the independence flag of the Free Papua Movement.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Portrait of an average Indigenous Australian

This week, Australians are celebrating the 40th anniversary of a national referendum that allowed Aborigines to be counted as members of the Australian population. It seems incredible now, but before that vote, Australia's indigenous people weren't counted as people, they came under the Flora and Fauna Act.
So what's it like 40 years on?
Crikey has compiled a revealing snapshot of Aboriginal life today. It's a grim view of untimely death, marginalisation and stunted opportunity.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Aborigines will help "fat" teens survive on TV

Hunters like this boy will help teenagers survive in Northern Australia's Arnhemland.

Opponents say its "voyeuristic television designed to humiliate fat people" - a BBC reality television show which will showcase the hunting prowess of 10 overweight young Britons let loose in the Northern Territory. What do you think?
The British teenagers will have to spear wallabies, trap lizards and skin snakes when they go hunting with Aborigines in Arnhemland as part of the series "Fat Kids Can't Hunt".
Drawing on 40,000 years of knowledge, Aborigines will teach 10 overweight young Britons how to survive on bush tucker in the series Fat Teens Can't Hunt.
The participants will have to swap burgers, chips and pizzas for lizards, mangrove worms and charred kangaroo. If they fail to find food in the wild, they will go hungry.
The programme, due to start filming in the Northern Territory in August, will feature five boys and five girls, aged 16 to 19. The six one-hour episodes are expected to be screened later this year or early next year.
The series is based on an earlier programme, Fat Men Can't Hunt, in which eight obese adults were sent to live with Bushmen in Namibia.
Between them they lost 106 lbs after being forced to live on nuts and berries and having to kill a pair of porcupines with spears.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Fourth Estate

As you would know the term Fourth Estate refers to the press, both in its explicit capacity of advocacy and in its implicit ability to frame political issues. The term goes back at least to Thomas Carlyle in the first half of the 19th century.

Novelist Jeffrey Archer in his work The Fourth Estate made this observation: "In May 1789, Louis XVI summoned to Versailles a full meeting of the 'Estate General'. The First Estate consisted of three hundred nobles. The Second Estate, three hundred clergy. The Third Estate, six hundred commoners. Some years later, after the French Revolution, Edmund Burke, looking up at the Press Gallery of the House of Commons, said, 'Yonder sits the Fourth Estate, and they are more important than them all.'" How true.

On this theme, add typewriters, guitar, bass and drums and you have Darwin's 4thEstate which provides a very interesting twist.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

East Timor Violence Flares

Today, the day that Jose Ramos-Horta was officially declared East Timor's president, fresh outbreaks of violence were reported in the capital, Dili.
Four homes were burned to the ground as rival gangs clashed in renewed unrest that officials say is unrelated to last week's presidential election.
The UN's spokeswoman Allison Cooper says it's a sign of a resurgence in clashes between gangs.
"We don't believe it was related to the election, although UN police are investigating," Cooper told AFP.
One resident says some of the gang members were carrying guns as they battled in Bairro Pite area, although no injuries were reported.
"They attacked this morning at 10:00 am. They took over the area and burned houses until police came. Some of them were carrying automatic weapons," the resident told AFP, declining to give his name.
The violence today flared just hours before the court of appeal officially declared the results of last week's landmark election.
Ramos-Horta won 69 percent of the vote in the election in a landslide victory many East Timorese hope will bring peace and heal deep divisions after last year's unrest. He'll be sworn in on Sunday.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

All peaceful after Horta wins East Timor Presidency.. well almost.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Jose Ramos-Horta has easily won the vote in East Timor's election after the counting of all ballots.
The election for president was the first since East Timor gained independence in 2002 after a bloody separation from neighbouring Indonesia three years earlier. Ramos-Horta will formally take office on May 20, succeeding former guerrilla leader Xanana Gusmao.
A National Election Commission spokeswoman has confirmed Ramos-Horta won 69 pct of the vote and his rival Francisco 'Lu-Olo' Guterres 31 pct.
The election was conducted peacefully.. well almost. Three men were today arrested for destroying the homes of Jose Ramos Horta's supporters.
Police say two houses were burned down and six others badly damaged in the villages in the Viqueque district, according to the local newspaper, Suara Timor Lorosae.
"Two houses owned by fishermen Elio and Hendrikus was burned on May 10," Inspector Jose de Carvalho is quoted as saying.. adding both were supporters of Ramos-Horta and that the arsonists were upset at the election result.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

East Timor: Horta claims big lead after peaceful vote


Above: AFP snaps East Timorese President Xanana Gusmao waiting in a queue to vote along with others at a polling station in Dili. East Timor's election for president was peaceful - bolstering hopes that months of deadly political turmoil could be near an end. Gusmao will stand aside for a new president, but he will make a tilt for the prime ministership.

East Timor presidential candidate Jose Ramos-Horta says he's secured a large lead over his rival as vote counting continues following this week's run-off election.
"I am still awaiting official results because they are still being counted, but I could get 70-80 percent," Ramos-Horta told reporters in the capital Dili. "In most of the districts, in all the western districts, I think I am winning."
East Timor held a peaceful presidential election on Wednesday, but Ramos-Horta a Nobel laureate - is alleging vote tampering in some districts that are strongholds of his rival, ruling Fretilin party president Francisco "Lu-Olo" Guterres.
"In Los Palos, Suai, observers and polling staff found many boxes with pre-perforated ballot papers for Lu-Olo, so there were strong attempts at manipulation," he says. Ramos-Horta repeated his call for the United Nations to stage the parliamentary poll in June, as the local body, the Timorese Technical Secretariat for Election Administration (STAE), was not up to the task.

More from Australia's ABC News

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

East Timor Vote for Hope

(.. but there's confusion.. : read ABC News Online)

BAUCAU, East Timor, May 9, 2007 (AFP) - From just after dawn they began to queue, waiting patiently in the early light for polling stations to open. At first they numbered about 60, but they kept coming, and within an hour had swelled to several hundred at this primary school in East Timor's second city.
"If you want your country to be run by a person you trust, you have to vote," said Fransisca Belo as she joined the line for what is the tiny nation's first election since independence five years ago. Cancio Fernandes Quintao, a financial administrator at the local hospital, agreed. "Everyone should vote as the country needs a leader who loves and understands his people."
The queues at the school pointed to a good turnout, and observers said they were hopeful it would mirror the numbers at last month's round of voting.
"This is our right," said George Lopes Belo, 29, who was first in line. "We hope that the next president, whoever that is, can take East Timor out of the crisis, the conflict." Belo, who lives nearby, arrived about 30 minutes before the polls opened at the school in Bahu area of the city, east of the capital Dili. Unable to find steady work for several years, he said he hoped the new president would create jobs for the thousands of unemployed in this nation of just one million people.
"For the moment, everything is going well. I think the people need democracy, people need and want peace and they want reconciliation, and this is the way to solve the crisis," EU observer chief Javier Pomes Ruiz said. The quiet chatting among the voters in the rising heat was disrupted by the arrival of presidential candidate Jose Ramos-Horta and his large entourage. There were no cheers of welcome for the Nobel laureate, who spent about 20 minutes in the queue before delegating the duty to one of his minders. Voters looked on as Ramos-Horta, the current prime minister, disappeared to the terrace of a nearby house for a cold soft drink. "I'm totally relaxed, whatever the outcome, I will win," he told reporters. He returned in time, and held up his finger dipped in red ink after voting to warm applause from the crowd. Quintao said the Bahu area was a stronghold for the ruling Fretilin party whose candidate Francisco Guterres is challenging Ramos-Horta in the election to succeed the popular and charismatic Xanana Gusmao. "But it is quite alright for him to vote here. We do not have any animosity towards him or any other East Timorese politicians," Quintao said.
In Dili, voters were peacefully making their way to polling stations as police and Australian-led peacekeepers patrolled the streets. The election is being held amid tight security after violence erupted last year between factions of the military that degenerated into deadly gang clashes. More than 30,000 people remain displaced in Dili fearful to return home.
An election observer, Julio Tomas from the University of Peace of Timor Leste, said it appeared voter turnout in the capital was lower than the first round. "But I am convinced that the election is proceeding in a just way and with no manipulation ... because of the presence of international and national observers," he said.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

East Timor's Balibo Five Mystery Remains

The author, outside the "Balibo House" in Balibo, East Timor. In 1975, this is where the so-called Balibo Five spent their last night before Balibo was attacked by Indonesian soldiers. The House is now a museum dedicated to the memory of the five Australian-based newsmen.

This just in from the AFP:
May 8th - Sydney Former Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam on Tuesday appeared at a coroner's inquest into the death of an Australian journalist killed with four colleagues in East Timor 32 years ago.

The 90-year-old former leader of the centre-left Labor Party, who held office from 1972-75, testified for three hours at the inquest into the death of cameraman Brian Peters at the East Timor border town of Balibo in October 1975.

Officials maintain the so-called "Balibo Five" were killed in crossfire during a skirmish ahead of Indonesia's invasion of East Timor but their families insist they were murdered and there was a cover-up by Canberra and Jakarta.

Whitlam denied he had prior intelligence warning the journalists would be targeted by the Indonesian military in Balibo, Australian Associated Press reported. He said he learned about the men's deaths on October 21 -- five days after they were killed -- and had not seen diplomatic cables sent before that date suggesting they had been executed by the Indonesian military.

Asked whether anyone told him the five journalists had been killed in the orders of the Indonesian military, Whitlam replied: "No." Whitlam said he had twice warned a member of the group, cameraman Greg Shackleton, not to travel to East Timor because there was nothing his government could do to protect them there. "I warned him the Australian government had no way of protecting him or his colleagues," Whitlam told the court. "I assumed Greg Shackleton would have taken notice of my warnings. I assumed he would have warned his colleagues." "It would have been very irresponsible if he didn't, then he would be culpable."

Deputy coroner Dorelle Pinch warned lawyers at the inquest on Monday that they could not question Whitlam about any potential cover-up of the men's deaths because the issue went beyond the parameters of her inquiry. Outside the court, Shackleton's widow, Shirley, described Whitlam's evidence as "bizarre" and said it had little value because the former prime minister claimed he could not remember vital details. Shirley Shackleton, who has led a decades-long campaign to find the truth behind her husband's death, also dismissed Whitlam's statement that he warned her partner about travel to East Timor. "He is totally despicable," she told reporters. "Dead men can't tell stories, so it's left to their poor old wives to do it for them."

Monday, May 07, 2007

Urge for Calm Before East Timor Vote

ISF troops around 50 metres away from a Presidential rally in Ainaro.
Glenn Campbell, The Age

As leaders urge their supporters to remain peaceful, there are fears that if East Timor's ruling party Fretilin loses this week's presidential election, street violence could follow.
The UN mission in the tiny state urged voters to accept the result of Wednesday's runoff which many East Timorese hope will help stabilise the impoverished nation beset by violence and regional rivalry. It's the first presidential poll since East Timor gained independence in 2002, amid concerns of unrest.
Election observers have expressed concern that supporters of the ruling Fretilin party could trigger violence if their candidate, Francisco "Lu-Olo" Guterres, loses.
Guterres faces Nobel laureate and current prime minister Jose Ramos-Horta in the runoff being held because neither candidate won a majority in the first-round polls last month.
Asked if the UN mission was concerned violence would erupt once the result was declared, spokeswoman Allison Cooper said: "We would urge all people in East Timor to remain calm and peaceful -- so far this has been a free and fair process."
Ramos-Horta, who shared the Nobel peace prize in 1996 for championing East Timor's cause under Indonesian occupation, is favoured to win after five of the six losing candidates in the April 9 poll urged their supporters to back him.
Campaigning for the election has been peaceful, amid tight security provided by thousands of UN and local police, backed by international peacekeeping troops, deployed in the wake of unrest last year.
Meanwhile, Australian-led peacekeeping troops have rejected Fretilin accusations that they were deliberately intimidating party supporters and disrupting its campaign rallies.
Fretilin officials have written to the troops' commander, Brigadier Mal Rerden, complaining about the intimidation, which they suggested was done in support of Ramos-Horta.
A spokesman for the peacekeepers, known as the International Stabilisation Force, said all of their East Timor operations were done to "ensure a safe and secure election."
More on East Timor's presidential vote in "The Age"

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Travel with a Twist

Ken Haley - travel writer extraordinaire - has set off on another great adventure. It made me green with envy when he emailed me from St Petersburg to tell me he had just bought a ticket to Petrozavodsk - one of the early legs of his epic journey that will take him to the Arctic Circle, across, up, down and right through Europe.

I can't tell you exactly what's the aim of Ken's latest travels - you'l have to read his book to find out!! In the meantime, Ken is this month's featured writer in "Writers Interview" on my website.

Author Profile: Ken Haley
Ken Haley is one of Australia’s most widely travelled authors. To date he has visited 109 countries, 57 of these on his own two feet, and 52 in a wheelchair. He became a paraplegic in 1991, but as far as Ken is concerned the only difference this has made is that he now observes the world from a sitting position. A journalist by profession, Ken has a unique story to tell in his first book "Emails from the Edge" - in which with great humour, and not a hint of sentimentality, he lays bare his darkest times, when he plunged over the precipice into madness, and reveals the wanderlust that led him to the heart of the world�s hot spots.

Read a complete interview with Ken Haley in "Writers Interview" on my website.

Here's a taste:

How did you get started writing?

As a child, all I seemed to need was the alphabet. One was supplied in bubs' class, and it's served me perfectly well ever since. But I feel the urge to scrawl -
literally to make my mark - has been so strong that if they hadn't supplied the alphabet I might have just scribbled the same nonsense in a code of my own device.
As an adult, I'm lucky that
newspapers nurtured my early efforts long enough for me to work out what it was I was trying to do.

What do you consider your first "break" as a writer?

When a small country newspaper in western Victoria hired an insistent 20-year-old, sight unseen. As a book writer, when a small independent publisher in western Melbourne offered to take up the manuscript of Emails from the Edge and turn it into a book, despite the fact that - when it came to non-journalistic writing - I was an unknown quantity.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Extreme Adventures become Classics

Looking for an adventure book to take you right out of your comfort zone? National Geographic compiled a list of the very best adventure books of all time and its worth a look. The list is from 2004 but most of these titles are timeless classics- like the Journals of Captain Cook, and perhaps the most influencial mountaineering book of all time, Maurice Herzog's tale of altitude and frost bite - Annapurna.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

East Timor drowns in language soup

This story comes from Reuters journalist Ahmad Pathoni. It highlights of one of many challenges facing East Timor:

Outgoing President Xanana Gusmao is one who understands the difficulty of the East Timor's language dilemna. He favours Portuguese - but speaks Bahasa and English.

Dili, East Timor - Portuguese is one of the two official languages in East Timor, but you can hardly hear it spoken in the streets of the young nation.

The tiny country was a Portuguese colony for more than three centuries, but only an estimated 5% of its one million people now speak the European language.

After Lisbon cut the territory free, East Timor was occupied by neighboring Indonesia for 24 years before gaining full independence in 2002.

Under Indonesian rule, Portuguese was suppressed and speakers of the language now mostly come from the political elite or are older people educated in the colonial era.

Despite government attempts to push the use of Portuguese as an official language, Indonesian remains the main language of instruction in secondary schools and universities, along with native Tetum, the other national language.
Many of East Timor's leaders left for exile in Portugal or its colonies before or soon after the territory was invaded by Indonesian forces and many of them do not speak Indonesian.

They consider Portuguese to be the language of resistance.

But the government's decision to enshrine Portuguese in the Constitution is criticized by some, who see it as short-sighted.

They say many young people educated under Indonesian rule have been denied state jobs because they lack Portuguese skills.

"This is the biggest type of discrimination practiced by the government," said Suzanna Cardoso, a Timorese journalist.

"The government does not recognize the contribution of those educated under the Indonesian system to the struggle for independence," she told Reuters.

Cardoso said English would be more useful for East Timor.

"Why do we have to use Portuguese? Portuguese-speaking countries are poor and they are far from us," she said.

Jumble of languages
Tetum is used in daily interaction but some experts say it is mainly a spoken language and has to be developed further for wider usage.

But the issue is sensitive and a Cabinet minister has been criticised for only speaking Portuguese and never using Tetum in public.

Signboards at government offices are written in Portuguese, although for most Timorese it remains a foreign language they don't understand.

Newspapers run articles in Tetum and Indonesian side-by-side. Indonesian TV soap operas are also hugely popular.

"I don't know any Portuguese. I'd rather learn English than Portuguese," said Ano Pereira, a driver and high school graduate.

The language issue was raised by some of the eight candidates contesting April 9 presidential elections, with one promising to ditch Portuguese if he won the presidency.

News conferences during the elections were held in four languages -- English, Tetum, Portuguese and Indonesian -- adding to the difficulty of coordinating the fairly chaotic polls.

No candidate in the election won a big enough majority to win outright and a run-off is expected to be held next month.

At the National University of East Timor, teachers give lectures and students write their theses in Indonesian.
"Most of our textbooks are in Indonesian and most lecturers don't speak Portuguese," management student Julio Rangel said as he sat at the hallway of a white-painted campus building, a Catholic seminary during colonial times.

A report released by the United Nations Development Programme in 2002 said 82% of East Timor's one million populations spoke Tetum, while 43% could speak Indonesian.

Only 5% spoke Portuguese.

The government, dominated by the Fretilin party that spearheaded the struggle against Indonesian rule, has brought in teachers mostly from Portugal to teach in elementary schools.

However, there are concerns that once pupils finish elementary education, they will have to enroll at a secondary school where teachers don't speak Portuguese.

"This is going to be a big problem. These students don't speak Indonesian and their teachers don't know Portuguese," said Julio Thomas Pinto, who teaches at two universities in the East Timor capital Dili.

The head of East Timor's National Institute of Linguistics, Dr Geoffrey Hull, defends the adoption of Portuguese as a national language.

"Anyone with the slightest familiarity with East Timor's history knows that the Portuguese language has long been central to the national identity," he said on the institute's website.

"East Timor needs both Tetum and Portuguese to be fully itself," he said.

But Silvino Pinto Cabral, an economics lecturer at the national university, is not convinced.

"This policy of imposing a foreign language will not work. I doubt that in 50 years the government will be able to make the whole nation proficient in Portuguese," he said.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Protest in Indonesia's Papua

Papua's remarkable highland peaks. Below the mist is the Grasberg mine carved out of the mountains. This is the traditional lands of the Amungme people.
According to legend these mountains are the sacred home of their ancestral grandmother who guards the balance of nature. Freeport has been accused of disturbing this natural balance.

In an unprecedented action, thousands of workers from a giant US-run mine in Indonesia's remote Papua province have staged a protest demanding better wages and welfare.

The workers come from the Grasberg gold and copper mine high up in the mountainous interior (see photo above). They demonstrated outside the Indonesian headquarters of Freeport-McMoRan, which is in the lowlands about 70 kilometres downstream from the minesite. News reports say the protest was peaceful , but the thousands of demonstrators were flanked by Indonesian police at all times.

The workers have been gathering in Timika from surrounding villages and towns demanding to speak with a Freeport executive in the US via teleconference.
Critics accuse Freeport of not giving enough to the people of
Papua in return for the mine. They allege the mine causes pollution and that the military's protection of the site leads to human rights abuses.
The firm has disputed the claims.
A Freeport spokesman told the
AFP News Agency that in the past decade the company had almost quadrupled its Papuan employment, from some 800 in 1996 to the current 3,000 workers.

Freeport runs its Grasberg mine under a 30-year contract with the Indonesian government that began in 1992. The company owns 91 percent of PT Freeport Indonesia, with the rest in government hands.

Members of the Amungme people who live downstream from the Freeport mine project. In 2000 I reported on a mine spill which wiped out part of the Amungme village of Banti. You can read about this story and the struggles of Papua's people in my book Running Amok

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Phil O'Brien - Out of the scrub and onto the page

Northern Australia is producing some unique writers - and Phil certainly is unique.
He's the first featured "Writers Interview"
on my website.

Here's a taste:

Phil O’Brien spent his early years on Tempe Downs Station 250 km’s southwest of Alice Springs, in the red heart of Australia. Decades on, and several hundred adventures later Phil still roams the outback living a uniquely nomadic life, it’s a life full of challenges, panorama’s and camaraderie…and it’s a journey that has taken him to places and put him in situations that most other Australians living amongst the security of the suburbs ever get to experience...

The Interview:

How did you get started?

It was all pretty fluky how I got into writing, or maybe it was fate I’m not sure. I was at a party half cut sharing yarns as you do, jamming as much Victoria Bitter down my throat as I could, when this bloke came up and reckoned if I could somehow document all those stories in print people might really enjoy the read.

His name was David Harris, a professional writer and he really encouraged me. It was such a ‘way out’ proposition to start with, but once I chewed on it for a while I thought… why not?

For Phil's story and full interview click here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Elections, headlines and fishing jackets

So the people of East Timor have once again gone to the vote. Although it's likely there will be no clear winner in this presidential poll, the real story is perhaps that despite the precarious conditions, voting was peaceful.

One keen ET observer, Rob Wesley Smith reckons the media - and he singles out the ABC - have been obsessed with cheap headlines suggesting violence is the order of the day. This didn't eventuate, so he has written his own instructive sample of how a short radio news report should be written:

"Despite many fears and street gang violence over the last year, the election period has been remarkably violence free, save for some small incidents of rival political factions throwing stones. These incidents and suggested intimidation at times is regrettable, but under the existing circumstances of East Timor's history, gross poverty, gross lack of education and literacy, generalised hunger, lack of media in remote areas, and a short official electioneering period during the end of the Wet season when remote access is difficult, most seasoned observers have been pleased and optimistic of a generally free and fair election today Monday."

Meanwhile another keen observer Dili-gence has this pithy insight into the election scene in East Timor's capital:

"Dili is crawling with international election monitors (ie scrutineers, observers), many wearing fishing jackets. The award for the most stylish fishing jacket goes to the EU team, followed by Japan and the UNDP jacket in last place."

Monitoring elections in East Timor has a rugged history. The photo (at left) shows former Australian deputy Prime Minister, Tim Fischer and the author, preparing for a 'live' ABC TV news interview on the day of East Timor's independence vote in August 1999. Tim was leading Australia's election monitoring team, and he was fuming. He had just visited a polling station in the volatile town of Liquisa, only to witness an Australian 60 minutes TV crew asking would-be voters (including militiamen) how they were going to vote. The incident nearly caused a riot. You can read about this day - and the tumultuous days that followed - in my book Running Amok.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Xanana's big announcement

(Backtrack to 1999. Xanana Gusmao and the author. Gusmao had just been released from gaol in Jakarta.. but was still being held under house arrest in Jakarta. I had just conducted an interview with the East Timorese leader.)

East Timor's politics has suddenly got very interesting indeed with President Xanana Gusmao announcing he's ready to become the troubled country's prime minister, after he ceases to be head of state.

Gusmao will not seek re-election in
East Timor's presidential election on April 9th - instead he intends to join a newly formed political party after the vote.

"By becoming prime minister, there will be hope for change for the people. I will seek to improve everything," he has told AFP. During many past interviews, Gusmao has confided he has no stomach for leadership and would rather be a pumpkin farmer.

East Timor's current premier, Jose Ramos-Horta, is the favourite to win the presidential election. After that, a legislative poll is supposed to follow, but a date for it has yet to be set.

As a guerilla leader, Gusmao fought Indonesia's 24-year occupation of East Timor
and enjoys hero status amongst his people.

Ramos-Horta spent the entire Indonesian occupation in exile as leader of the country's independence movement and won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work.

The two men could end up swapping their current jobs if elections go their way.

But expect fierce campaigning from East Timor's biggest political party, Fretilin, and regrettably expect more violence.