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Trip to Timor-Leste, May 2015

Rob Crossing

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Dear Friends of the 2/2

My wife, Chris Longwill, and I went to Timor-Leste for a most amazing week in May 2015. Murray Thornton very kindly acted as our guide, driver, adviser and knower-of-all-things.

A selection of the hundreds of photos that I took can be seen here. Click on a thumbnail and you can then scroll through a slideshow.

We spent a night in Darwin each way. On our first day in Dili (Monday), we met Helen Kenneally, who was visiting TL to receive a medal on behalf of her father, Paddy Kenneally.

While Murray was collecting the hire car, Chris and I visited the Independence Museum and the Xanana Gusmao Reading Room. Murray then drove us to the Dare Memorial and school at Dare. We also went to Remexio, where we saw an amazing religious festival (lots of people dancing and playing drums). Despite the use of feathers and axes, Murray assured us that it was a Catholic festival of some kind.

On Tuesday, we went to Three Spurs and also visited Glano, where we saw a community function that seemed to be getting ready for TL's Independence Day, which was on the following day, Wed 20 May. You can see in the photos a large group of people marching on an oval that seemed to have been partly burnt. We had been told that the East Timorese love ceremonies and long speeches, and that seemed correct, but the really big ceremony was yet to come.

We also visited Jenario Goncalves, the son of Nicolao Goncalves, who was Norm Thornton's creado. We met his wife and children, Jessica and Mateus. Jenario works as a security guard. Although they live near central Dili, quite near the beach, and in a house that has concrete block walls and a metal roof, even their relatively wealthy (by TL standards) existence is very basic by our standards. There were chickens, goats and at least one pig in the yard (which seemed to be a yard shared by several family groups).

On the Wednesday, we got up early and drove to Maliana, where they were holding the county's biggest independence ceremony, attended by the president, Jose Maria de Vasconcelos, also known as Taur Matan Ruak (which is Tetum for "two sharp eyes"). On the way to Maliana, we saw a man walking along the roadside with two small kids. He was holding a dead cat by a string around its neck. Murray explained that this was to be their breakfast - maybe lunch, but you get the idea.

The ceremony at Maliana was huge, with many thousands of people, lots of marching and the speeches were long. It was about 35 degrees and very sticky. At the ceremony, Helen received the medal from the president on Paddy's behalf for his work for the East Timorese people. We were up the front to try to get some photos of Helen, which we did. At the end, we were lucky that the president came our way and kindly posed for some photos with us. After the ceremony, we attended a lunch with all the other medal recipients.

After that, we drove to Balibo, where it had been arranged that we would stay with the aunt of one of the diplomats who had been looking after Helen during the ceremony. We managed to find the house and these people who spoke no English kindly invited us into their home for the night. Although Murray knows some Tetum and a few Portuguese words, were very grateful for Google Translate.

On Thursday we drove to Same and booked into the Manufahi Motel, where we had lunch before heading to Betano, the beach from where the 2/2 was rescued (and where the Voyager ran aground). We then headed backed to the hotel for the night. Although our room had a "bathroom" with a sit-down toilet (luxurious!), as opposed to a squat, the water supply was turned off at random and inconvenient times. This random water supply situation was especially delicate as Chris and I both had mild gastro. At 4am, I had to go and find someone to turn on the water, without either party speaking the other's language. Thankfully, I woke up the right person and I managed to get the water turned on.

On Friday morning we headed to Mt Ramelau and Murray drove us to "The Meadow", two thirds of the way up the mountain. We then set off for the top, with Chris still not quite recovered from the gastro. It was pretty heavy going, as the mountain peaks at almost 3,000m, so the air's a bit thin. 

We saw wild Timor ponies or "kutas" on the mountain. They were quite inquisitive and friendly.

On Friday afternoon we began the long drive back to our Dili motel, arriving about 9.15pm, rather tired and hungry.

Murray kindly took us to the airport the next morning for our flight home.

We were very privileged to have been able to see, first-hand, this incredibly beautiful country - albeit coloured by the awful poverty of the people of Timor-Leste. It was very moving to finally be able to go to some of the locations where the 2/2 operated and to try to imagine the hardships faced by our soldiers and by the locals when the Japanese were there.

Rob Crossing

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