Balibo film shows suffering of Timorese27th July 2008, 9:16 WST
Australian Paul Stewart was just 15 when Indonesian soldiers murdered
his cameraman brother in East Timor.
More than 30 years later, he hopes a new film about the Balibo Five
killings will be as much about the suffering of East Timorese during
Indonesia’s 1975 invasion as it is about the newsmen who died.
Stewart is in East Timor’s capital, Dili, working as an adviser during
the filming of Balibo, the movie, starring Anthony LaPaglia.
LaPaglia plays the role of Roger East, who was killed in East Timor in
December 1975 while trying to uncover the truth about the deaths of
five Australian-based newsmen, including Tony Stewart, in the town of
Balibo two months earlier.
No one has ever been tried over East’s death but witnesses have said he
was shot after being captured by Indonesian troops.
Few in Australia would be unfamiliar with the Balibo case.
Just last year a high-profile coronial inquest in Sydney found the
newsmen were deliberately killed by Indonesian forces to stop them from
covering up Jakarta’s invasion of East Timor.
But Paul Stewart wonders if Australians have a true sense of the horror
East Timorese experienced during the invasion.
For him, that story is as important as the loss of East, and his
Channel Seven cameraman brother alongside newsmen Brian Peters, Greg
Shackleton, Gary Cunningham and Malcolm Rennie.
He said the legacy of the Balibo Five was their determination to inform
the world of what went on in East Timor more than three decades ago.
Indeed, the last piece of footage shot by the group captures the
journalist Shackleton explaining how he will forever remember the
plight of the Timorese. Very soon after, he was dead.
“Their story is everybody’s story because they set it up like that,”
Stewart said of the slain newsmen.
Part of the film is presented through the eyes of a young Timorese girl
who witnessed East’s death.
Stewart says it’s vital for the grieving process of Timorese for that
perspective to be told.
“I don’t think they acknowledge their own losses well,” says Stewart,
who after his brother’s death became an activist fighting for the
independence East Timor now enjoys.
“I’d get taken to demonstrations and I’d meet Timorese mob and they
would say ‘Paulie, mate, we are so sorry about your brother,’ and I’d
say ‘did you lose anyone?’ and they’d say ‘oh, yeah, 10 members of my
“This is a bigger picture than just my brother.”
Balibo director John Maynard expects the film will be controversial
because it graphically depicts the atrocities perpetrated by Indonesian
forces, and highlights the role the Australian and US governments
played in sanctioning the Indonesian invasion.
“But we are not inventing anything, it is a matter of record now what
happened to the Balibo Five and it is a matter of record what happened
to Roger East.”
Despite the Australian inquest that found the Balibo Five were killed
to stop them exposing Jakarta’s invasion, Indonesia maintains they were
accidentally killed in crossfire.
Jakarta recently stressed that it wants the film to include Indonesia’s
point of view.
Filming began in East Timor last week.