The East Timor Documents

9 June 1966: Consul tells team to quit Timor

Darwin, Wed: A reporter and photographer from WA Newspapers Ltd left Portuguese Timor yesterday on the advice of the Australian consul there after complaints by the :Portuguese authorities.

Tony Thomas 25, of South Perth, and photographer Richie Hann of City Beach, arrived in Darwin this afternoon.

They had completed one week of a planned three week reporting assignment.

The consul, Mr John Colquhoun Denvers, summoned them to his office in Dili, the capital, at 8 o’clock last night after he had a two hour after he had a two-hour audience with the Portuguese governor Col Hose Alberti Correira.

Mr Denvers told them of complaints that Mr Thomas had entered a military barracks in Dili late last week without having obtained permission from military authorities and that he had asked three junior officers for information about Portuguese military strength on the island.


He said that the Portuguese also considered that Mr Thomas had been objectionable in questioning troops about Portuguese politics.

Timor lies 360 miles north of Western Australia and is divided into a Portuguese eastern half and an Indonesian western half.

Mr Denvers said the Portuguese considered the two men’s safety would be endangered if they remained on the island because the sentry at the barracks had been sentenced to five days solitary confinement for having permitted Mr Thomas to enter, and other Portuguese soldiers might take individual action against them.

He said the two men had not been expelled but it was in their interest to fly to Darwin on the aircraft leaving this morning,

The junior officers had sent written reports on their conversations with Mr Thomas to their commanding officer.

Mr Thomas said in Darwin that he had in gestures asked the sentry at the barracks if he could enter. The sentry had allowed him in.


Troops were playing football in a central square, Mr Thomas said. He looked over one wing in full view of the troops for more than five minutes before a soldier asked him politely to leave.

Tourists Minister Barbosa and the Governor had told him he was free to go where he pleased on the island.

The strength of the military garrison was common knowledge on the island and Mr Barbosa who was president of the Portuguese Union National political party, had given him freely the information about the troops.

The European population of the island consisted largely of soldiers, Mr Thomas said. He had talked to them openly about Portuguese affairs. #


10 June, 1966: Timor: The Portuguese and the Indonesians

From Tony Thomas

For once, Dili’s little-used docks are crammed with people. The men wear glossy dark cock plumes in their hair, spit betel nut, and keep and eye on their whimpering pigs, which lie immobile with legs upturned.

The women have tied their black hair back in a bun, fixed with small silver flowres.

All have come to celebrate the 40th anniversary of military rule in Portugal, rule that brought President Salazar to power and has kept him there for 34 years.

Farther round the bay in the shadow of a monumental church, an old Timorese and his wife squat on the rocks and snatch shrimps from the stones as the waves lap in.

They put them in a salmon tin and in an hour or two they have enough for tea.

For me, the scene tied together the heaviest strands in the intricate cloth of Timor.

The natives dance, the loudspeakers play Teresa Brewer, and when the crops fail there are bananas and tangerines to be eaten off the trees.

The Army

The army, small as it is, floods the gritty streets of the capital  with green and khaki and camouflage mottle.  And not far round the bay one can find the dry fruit of centuries of Portuguese sovereignty and neglect – a melancholy vista, melancholy as the blue-gfrey clouds sliding over the mountains that stand like castle walls over Dili and its miniature coastal plain. Where Timorse dig their fields with pointed sticks, the passing parade of military trucks and troop-carriers has no attraction.

Portuguese Timor has a budget of $A3m, raised by taxes and charges,and Lisbon has given $A2m for public works.

Development funds will probably increase steadily over the next six years, but not to anything like the level needed to yank the slothful Timorese economy to its feet.

It is not Timor but Angola and Mozambique that are the jewels in Portugal’s crown of overseas possessions. From them pours the fabulous wealth that lets Portugal carry an overseas army of 140,000 men, and simultaneously provides for great economic plans in the homeland.

Timor would like an oil strike of its own. Peasants on the south coast light their huts with the oil that seeps from the marsh, and the Timor Oil Company, an Australian firm, will soon present to the Portuguese governor the top-secret results of its years of drilling.

Not profit but fierce nationalism induces Portugal to cling to its impoverished isolated outpost in a region that has on all sides shed its European overlords.

The 550,000 Timorese are completely and legally citizens of Portugal. The Portuguese see race as no ground for discrimination.When an army wagon passes, a European may be chauffeuring native troops or vice versa.

The Chief of Customs is a full-=blood Timorese, as is a priest who represents the island in the Portuguese National Assembly.

Sitting at dusk on an old waterfront cannon, a young Sergeant told me proudly of his plans to marry a Timorese girl. The typical Portuguese officer crackles through the streets on atiny Japanese motorcycle but a Timorese Sergeant – chief mechanic at the power station- rides a powerful British machine. The examples could continue but they are not the whole story.

On our final climactic day on the island, we drove behind the Consul’s Australian flag to Maubisse across – or rather around – miles of wrinkled corrugated mountains.  Women and children frequently scuttled down the ravines and hid as we passed. And men and boys on their indefatigable treks to market, would hastily upend the hundredweight of firewood on their heads to give us the slow Portuguese salute, a mixture of respect, servility and sometimes fear in their eyes.

“I am a black old man,” the burly Indonesian consul, Dr Sorose, told me one night. “But because I have a car they salute me. On our Western side, the people wave and shout, ‘Merdeka!’ which means freedom.” An American hitchhiker confirmed the story and said the Indonesian natives were getting the confidence to run their own affairs. But poor as the Portuguese native is,  the Indonesian is acknowledged to be poorer.

My own impression was that time would side with the Indonesians. Lacking the extremes of wealth and poverty to the east,  they are already profiting from incorporating into the vast trade complex of the Indonesian archipelago.

Henry Ataupo, native administrator from the capital Kupang, described the town’s university, with several thousand students studying the vital topics of agriculture, veterinary science, economics, public administration and education. But in Dili the Portuguese with misplaced pride  tell how they are sending 30 students a year to Lisbon University (not having one of their own).

Perhaps Mr Ataupa’s claim for 500,000 primary students was a little extravagant but even conservative travellers commend the educational progress there. The Portuguese have begun investing in education too, but from a base of only 25,000 primary students. (The Indonesians [on Timor]  have about five times the general population).

Meanwhile Portuguese administrators, highly qualified men, have few skilled assistants to do their donkey work and their output is leached away in the transition between planning and implementation. Whether the Indonesians will allow the Portuguese to finish their belated program of development. Is another matter.

Red Bombers

The Indonesian Embassy in Dili, perhaps with grim humor, displays photographs of its four-jet  Russian bombers and heavy tanks. The point is not lost on the Portuguese. Asked of their future, they commonly press their fist to their chest and say, “I do not like it here”.

In the 1962 anti-colonial scare they managed to mobilise 20,000 native troops of dubious ability to supplement their front-line force of fewer than 2000 infantrymen. Last August President Sukarno ominously declared support for “the liberation movement” in East Timor. Indonesia’s swing the Right since the attempted coup has given the Portuguese a reprieve.

In future yearse. An excess of Indonesian sympathy for the Portuguese natives {“natives” omitted here, an error due to the Darwin GPO which transmitted the story] might tip the scales. Alternatively dissent among the natives could suffice.

The Portuguese have an unenviable task in developing their lonely island with a gun at their heads. Resourceless, poor in land and skill, and disintegrated by crumpled masses of mountains, the country needs a great deal of capital or a great deal of popular enthusiasm to get anywhere. Both are lacking though Portuguese rule has its admirable aspects.

I heard a story, impossible to confirm, of a tribe’s uprising in the danger year of 1961. It was no coincidence, I was told, that dissenters were eliminated by their traditional enemy tribe soon afterwards, which had obtained Portuguese weapons. Nor was it a coincidence that reinforcements for the Portuguese secret police arrived on the next ship. This apart, the natives seem no more interested in independence, than in the brightly painted ploughs and harrows on display in the festival square. #



Tourists and business men do not have much trouble getting into Indonesian Timor these days, but Djakarta is sensitive about letting journalists in on the heels of the counter-coup against the Communists.

The Indonesian Consul in Portuguese Timor, Dr Sorosa, said he would send a telegram to Djakarta requesting a visa for us.

Estimates for how long telegrams would have taken ranged from a week to a month, even assuming a favorable reply. On the other hand a young American simply hitch-hiked to the Indonesian border, waited three hours and was then allowed to tour the whole western island.

There is no doubt that the mass executions in Indonesia spread down to Timor. A small girl described to one traveller how she had seen ten Communists led to a hillside and shot.

“Communists are outside the law,” the Consul told me. This was the only point on which he and the head of the Poruguese political wing, Eduardo Barbosa, seemed to agree.

Dr Sorosa said they had moved outside the umbrella of Indonesia’s Pantjasila – the five principles of belief in God, nationalism, social justice, humanitarianism and sovereignty of the people.

“So they cannot live in Indonesia,” he said.

He criticised the heavy Portuguese spending on their army in Timor. (I calculated soldiers’ salaries alone to equal about two-thirds of the civil budget.) He said that because the Indonesia army – if it wanted to – could sweep over Portuguese Timor like an avalanche, the Portuguese were wasting money keeping even a nominal army there. The money should be developing the country, he said.

When I asked him the size of the Indonesian army in western Timor,  he side-stepped by saying, “We do not depend on an independent military force. The people as a whole defend their country, not only with guns but also with their heads. We are not afraid of someone else – and the Australians are our friends.”


The latest geographic available on Indonesian Timor  was by a Dutchman, Dr F.J. Ormeling, published in 1957. He concluded in a mood of severe pessimism for the island’s agriculture, beset as it was by unchecked population growth.

Over the centuries, he wrote, wars and diseases had kept the population down, but now their burning-off based farming was destroying ground cover and creating fearful erosion. The labor and manure of hordes of introduced cattle went unused and farmers had to spend a quarter of their labour protecting their crops with crude fences.

Only intensive and highly-specialised research could point the way to remedial measures, and he was not optimistic about the defeat of the primary scourges of illiteracy and ignorance.

Whatever the western island lacks today, it is not self-confidence. Talking to Dr Sorosa and three administrators from Kupang, I got the impression that a new national pride was bringing achievements unthinkable when the natives were subjects of Dutch rule.

Take an isolated case, told to me by an Australian business man just returned from Kupang:

The government told the people between Kefamananu and the coast at Wini – 18 mioles – that it needed a truck road to carry exports to ships waiting at the beach.

This was for the good of the nation, the government explained. In two weeks 2000 villagers had built the road of big and little stones.

“The rain will wash it away in the wet,” my informant said. “But never mind, the villagers will build it up again.”

Dr Sorosa knew Dr Ormeling’s thesis but dismissed it with a wave of the hand as out of date.


Education troubles? Mr Ataupa, a senior education administrator told me he was one of the island’s first high school graduates and first teachers. He taught three schools in one building – the first from 7.30am to 1pm; another from 1pm to 5pm and a third till 10pm. This was how they had done the impossible, he said.

But could the island use its thousands of educated people? I asked, an brought an economics lecture down on my head. The more you educated the more needs you created and the more human skills you needed to satisfy them, he said. Social mobility grew, and parents started buying pencils and books as well as essentials., and no-one was content any longer merely to keep himself alive.

The strong central government in Timor could distribute its funds where there was need  – in the same way that the administration in Djakarta planned the economics of the whole Indonesian archipelago.

This enabled Timor to specialise in the cattle trade and gain efficiency in land zoning. About 20,000 cattle were exported to Hong Kong each year -the cattle were now developing the country and not destroying it.

With pride, the four men rattled off annual tonnages of exports: garlic 800 tons, apples 60 tons, copra 12,000 tons, coffee 1000 tons, redwood 24,000 cubic metres; sandalwood 500 tons; betel nut 500 tons, spices 5000lb.

Finally I asked them what they were doing about birth control on their over-poulated half island.

“That we do not need,”Dr Sorosa said. “Indonesia has land enough for 250 million people. Look at West Irian – only 1,250,000 people and it is bigger than Java. West Irian is big enough for 60 million.”

In their hail-fellow-well-met fashion, the Indonesians had stopped their Mercedes Benz in a dark street and spent the hour before midnight giving me the interview. The mosquitos finally broke up the party.  #



Tony Thomas describes the way of life

Eduardo Barbosa, chief of public works in Portuguese Timor, switched off the ABCNews on his shortwave transistor.

“They have executed four ex-ministers in the Congo,” he told me. “This is what happens when you give people independence before they are ready for it.”

He screwed a monocle under his left eyebrow and ran a finger round the open neck of his shirt.

“One time our natives would not work,” he said. “All they wanted was to feast. We made them plant rice. They would have starved without a crop.

“The United Nations said, ‘They are slave labour. You must not do that.’ Now if they want to work they can, if they do not our government will not let them starve. They are better off than the peons of Portugal. The peons who do not work, they die.”

Engineer Barbosa  warmed to his subject, an ever-present one  in an island where a handful of administrators and troops control a native population of more than half a million.

“Last year we went to a village where each house has two acres of gardens. They asked for irrigation.  We spent a lot of money and we gave them ten acres each.  We thought they would grow plenty of food and we would buy their surplus. But they said, ‘We only want water for vegetables. That is all we need to live.”

The government gave the natives schools, hospitals and roads.  They could ride 100km (about 62 miles)  in a bus for 10 cents. But they did not want to work, he said.


I saw swarms of Timorese laboring on new government buildings – mainly army barracks and messes. Across the island, about 15,000 natives are on the government payroll. There are not many other employers in this subsistence-economy country.

One native spent several days outside the governor’s mouldering headquarters, cutting the front lawn with a pocket knife.

Native troops, serving their two years in the army, lounged around the veranda and made gallant but hopeless attempts to get in line  and present arms before official visitors passed the entrance.

The people who really want to get ahead are the Chinese, who, despite their small numbers, control everything from coconut factories down to the ice-block trade, in which native children peddle green and red blocks from Japanese vacuum flasks.

Adolfo, our Chinese maitre-d’hotel, is about 25. He speaks three Chinese and three Timorese dialects and fluent Portuguese, and is rapidly mastering English for the benefit of the 500 tourists a year arriving from Darwin. Late this year he hopes to go to Melbourne for a course in hotel administration.

Chinese shops, all looking rather like the Nedlands Post Office but painted pink, green and yellow, open at 7am and shut at 7pm.  The Chinese own most of the private vehicles and a good proportion of the motorcycles.

But the Timorise in Dili seem to have but one ambition – their daily bread roll – after which labour loses its point. The inland natives, though they work harder, lack a scale of value. Souvenirs they priced high and refused to haggle. But they would sometimes walk ten miles across the mountains to town to sell horsehair brooms for three cents each.­­

Driving through blue misty hills to Maubissa, we met a man and his children walking to market leading a grey Timor pony.  Through an interpreter the man said, “We are going to market to sell our betelnut leaves. It took us two days to collect them, and we will sell them for 54 escudos ($1.80). We will travel two days.

“We sometimes work on our vegetables but when we are free we take our fruit wine, our rain cover, our blanket, some maize and some wild beans to boil, and go to market in Laitaforu and see our family there.”

In Dili the market is a study in timelessness. Hundreds of native families sit cross-legged in the grit, pathetically small offerings of food arranged on brown paper weighted at each corner with a stone. They preside over peanuts in heaps, tomatos in bark punnets, flour in bamboo canisters, green bottles of drinking water, stacks of golden pumpkin, betelnut, tobacco and turnips. The poorest sell the prolific bananas and oranges.

The health service is excellent for such an island, injections and vaccinations totalling nearly 400,000 a year.  The island’s future is likely to be a desperate scramble to cope with the population explosion.

The Portuguese, in this predicament of backwardness,have hopes of a big tourist industry. Even from Perth, the cost of a fortnight’s holiday – air fares and hotel included – need not exceed $400, which is not much more than a similar trip to the Eastern States. When the Portuguese provide a good transport service to the rugged interior, the mountain scenery alone should be a big draw. #

Canberra Times, 16/7/66


Misconceptions corrected

Sir, — Having lived in Portuguese Timor for several years 1 read with interest the

articles on this country by Tony

Thomas (The Canberra Times,

July 6, 13 and 14), I found them

on the whole superficial and in

accurate, and 1 would like to

make a few comments on some

of the points he raises.

He refers to “military rule” in

Timor, and states that Salazar

has maintained power in Portu

gal through military rule. It

should be pointed out that

Salazar is a civilian, that all

the members of his Cabinet ex

cept those concerned with de

fence are also civilians, and

that Portugal has been under

civilian rule sinc^e 1928.

He refers to Angola and Moz

ambique as the “jewels in Portu

gal’s crown of overseas provin

ces”. from which the “fabulous

wealth” for Portugal’s overseas

army of “140,000” men flows,

and which provides for “great

economic plans in the home


Mr Thomas clearly has his

facts and his figures wrong, and

his notion of Portuguese

economy is some centuries out

of date, as is his style of writing.

At present Portugal is putting

far more money into the devel

opment of its overseas provin

ces than it is getting back from

them, at considerable sacrifice to

the economic development of

continental Portugal. As to the

140,000 men, according to all

the figures I have seen the

maximum number could not ex

ceed 80.000 at the very most.

Mr Thomas refers to the “dry

fruit of centuries of Portuguese

sovereignty and neglect”. He

apparently forgets that the capi

tal of Dili, as well as most of

the bridges and roads in the

country, were completely de

stroyed by Allied bombing raids

during the Japanese occupation

of Timor for the defence of

Australia. It is said that only

one building was left standing in

Dili. The Portuguese have had

to start their reconstruction and

redevelopment of the island

from scratch.

He refers to the poor economy

of the country, but he does not

mention the development of rice

cultivation at Manatuto; the agri

cultural research station at

Betano, the import of cattle

from Australia for (the experi

mental cattle station at Lospalos,

or the large coffee plantations at

Ermcra and Fatu Bessi.

He states that Timor func

tions as an “open gaol for crimi

nals .” This description is

apparently a rather misleading

reference to a small “prison” in

Taibesse, whose inmates are

mainly from Macau, and who

were free to come and go as

they pleased. These people were

employed in agriculture or in

skilled trades such as carpentry

and basket work, for which they

were paid at the normal rates.

The system seemed to me to

work very well.

Mr Thomas implies that

Timor lives under fear of the

Portuguese secret police. This

is untrue. I heard of no case

of interference from the PIDE

while I was there, and the

Portuguese always spoke quite

freely among themselves. I sus

pect that they would be more

wary of being misreportcd by

foreign journalists than being

overheard by PiDE.

Mr Thomas refers to an un

confirmed report of an uprising

in Timor in 1961. Having trav

elled extensively in Timor at

this time, camping in isolated

areas among the Timorese, I

can assure Mr Thomas that

there was no tribal uprising dur

ing this period.

I hope these commcnts may

remove some of the misconcep

tions about Portuguese Timor

which Mr Thomas’ reporting

may have left with your readers.





Canberra Times, Letters to the editor, 29/7/1966

Portuguese neglect

Sir, — Carlos dc Lemos (The

Canberra Times, July 16) de

scribes my articles on Portuguese

Timor as superficial and factually inaccur

ate. To deal briefly with his

objections to my estimate of the

size of the Portuguese Army and

the importance of Angola and

Mozambique to the Portuguese

economy — my information was

from a Portuguese source in

Timor, in as good a position to

know as Mr de Lemos.

I am aware that the World

War must have set back devel

opment on the island consider

ably. “Centuries” of Portuguese

neglect are apparent in the low

level of literacy among the na

tive population and the lack of

skilled labour, for which the

war cannot be blamed. Even to

day, metropolitan Portugal’s aid

to Timor works out at only S4

per head per year, compared

with about S33 per head Austra

lian aid to New Guinea.

I described the island’s econ

omy as poor because of its com

plete lack of local industry and

agricultural equipment. Isolated

farm projects and even big cof

fee plantations do not alter the

subsistence nature of the econ


My implication that Timor

lived in fear of the Portuguese

secrct police was backed by evi

dence which I did not publish

for fear of incriminating my

sources. My mention of an un

confirmed native uprising in

1961 likewise came from a good


An extract from The Times,

London.’ in August. 1963, on

metropolitan Portugal might he

relevant to two points at issue:

“The attitude lends to be that

whoever is not a declared Sala

zarist must be a Communist.

Arrests of men and women on

suspicion of subversion continue

at an accelerated pace. Many

professional men and women

whose liberal thinking brings

them under suspicion have been

arrested. This is an uneasy coun

try, where citizens cannot close

their front doors and know they

are safe …

Plans for the economic future

are based entirely on the sup

position that Portugal will re

tain its African territories and

be able to continue to exploit

their riches …”

The forced withdrawal of all

40 Opposition candidates from

the election in November, 1965,

indicates there has been little

change in Salazar’s dictatorial

Government at home and abroad.




Canberra Times – Letters

To The Editor 2/8/1966

Timor by comparison

Sir, — Tony Thomas (The

Canberra Times, July 29) is ap

parently unable to answer the

points which I made, and con

sequently shifts bis argument to

other grounds.

With regard to the size of the

Portuguese Army, the point .at

issue is not the reliability of

Mr Thomas’ source, but the

facts. Official figures prove that

Mr Thomas is incorrect in his


Mr Thomas makes compari

sons between Portuguese expen

diture in Timor and Australian

aid to New Guinea. It should be

pointed out that the natural re

sources and the political situa

tions in these two countries are

quite different.

If Mr Thomas would like to

make comparisons, however, the

problems of Timor could per

haps be seen in better perspec

tive if they were compared with

those of the Northern Territory

of Australia, which bears a

closer political parallel to the

situation in Timor.

Mr Thomas refers to Portu

guese “neglect” as illustrated by

the illiteracy and lack of skilled

workers in Timor. It could be

pointed out that it was only in

1950 that the Australian Gov

ernment made any provision for

the education of Aborigines in

the Northern Territory. At pre

sent there are no secondary

schools on aboriginal settle

ments or reserves, and few if

any aboriginal children attend

other secondary schools in the

Territory. There are no skilled

aboriginal workers, and no

Aborigines receiving full – time

training in any field. There is

only one Aborigine who could

be said to be employed in a

responsible position in the Ter



In comparison, there are a.

great many Timorese with sec

ondary school education, and

many Timorese hold responsible

positions in all the Government

departments and services in

‘Timor. Special training schemes

in various skilled occupations

have been instituted. Everywhere

in Timor you will meet Timor

ese workers as trained nurses,

clerks, typists, mechanics, bank

assistants, and civil servants. A

Timorese priest was for many

years the Deputy (MP) for

Timor in the National Assembly

in Lisbon.

It is true that the economy of

the Timorese is largely a subsis

tence economy. Jn comparison,

the economy of the Aborigines

is non-existent. They live on

hand-outs of food, clothing and

tobacco from the Government.

Because they are dependent on

these hand-outs, their residence

is restricted to the settlements

and reserves, where their move

ments and mode of life are re

gulated by the Government. The

Timorese, poor as many of them

Are, are not dependent on hand

outs, and are free to live where

Ihey will, and to cultivate their

own land or to seek employ


I would like to emphasise that

this comparison is not intended

as a criticism of Australia. I

have every sympathy for the

Australian Government in the

tremendous task it faces, and in

the efforts it is making for the

advancement of the Aborigines.

But  at the same time I feel that

Australian criticism of Portu

guese Timor should be viewed

with reference to the same sort

of difficulties and the same prob

lems that Australia itself faces

in a similar situation, and the

achievements of the Portuguese

should be evaluated against the

achievements of the Australians.

One could also point out that

Australia is, a much richer

country than Portugal, and its

aboriginal population is far

smaller than the non-European

population of the Portuguese

overseas provinces.

Finally, Mr Thomas’ reference

to The Times article on condi

tions in Portugal suggests that:

he went to Timor not lo observe

the conditions as they were  but

to confirm his own preconceived

notions of the conditions he ex

pected lo find. I myself find it

rather difficult to believe that a

non-Portuguese speaking person

could reliably evaluate his

sources of information and the

conditions in Timor in one short






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