Some people do protest songs.
I draw comics.
I drew East
Timor Funnies in 1996. When some of the Melbourne cartoonist folks
got together for one of our frequent 24 hour 'draw or die' sessions, I
knew no one else would attempt such an off-beat subject.
Small press comics often
have an involuted sensibility that seems to largely result in hipster lifestyle
critiques. I thought it would be good to have that same sarcasm and scrutiny
focused on something else for a change, something with a little more substance.
And I did it fast to force myself to do it.
Fellow scribbler Angelo
Madrid kicked in the back cover, and the rest was inked on the tram over
to the Asia-Pacific
Anti-Militarism conference, where I hijacked a photocopier and premiered
it. There it sold with other activist works by locals Q-Ray
and Athonk. The response
was overwhelmingly positive. I sold it in comics shops, record stores,
and at a few protests. It was republished in 1997 by Melbourne University's
student paper Farrago.
Now it's 1999 and Dili is
burning. I'm staying up late again, hastily preparing the web version of
my comic. I still don't have the time to do a proper discussion of the
issue; some things never change. The internet is good for an immediate
response, but its quicksilver reflection of events is virtual, ephemeral
-- and this problem has been simmering for years. But here’s my own little
effort to point you in the direction of doing something.
I became acquainted with
the issue as a grad student of Southeast Asian Studies at Melbourne's Monash
Timor seemed obscure and remote when viewed from my home in the United
States, but it's right next door to Australia. There were frequent protests
and demonstrations regarding the issue during my time in Oz, some photos
of which you can see here.
Australia has had friendly
relations with Timor in the past - during World War II the Timorese helped
Australian troops, and took heavy losses when the island was occupied
by the Japanese.
Indonesians invaded this
former Portugese colony in 1975, with tacit
approval from Australia and the USA. Australia became the only Western
country to recognize the invasion as legit - and promptly inked an agreement
with the conquerors to divide the spoils from the oil-rich Timor
That's what it's about,
East Timor is rich in oil and
other natural resources. And the major businesses in East Timor coincidentally
happen to be owned by the families of the military leaders running
Since the invasion, the
Timorese have suffered under repressive policies
that are likened to genocide - the highest number of deaths proportional
to population in an ethnic group since World War II. And it's been done
with American weapons, while its neighbor Australia
averted its gaze.
Not only have the two countries done their best to ignore this issue, they've
actually done joint exercises with the Indonesian
armed forces. The only voices of dissent have been the occasional activist
Indonesia’s government has
been run by a military strongman, Suharto,
for decades in an atmosphere of corruption
that is the dictionary definition of 'nepotism'.
When the recent Asian
economic crisis galvanized the reformasi
movement, he stepped aside for a crony, (the US-educated BJ Habibie), who
called for an East Timorese independence vote as one of a few grudging
concessions to the groundswell of opposition.
By now you all know the
composed of thugs linked
to the Indonesian armed forces have looted and destroyed all the infrastructure
they can. The East Timorese that haven't been outright massacred have been
herded to West
Timor. There they'll face further assaults by the military and militias,
and ultimately dispersed
throughout the archipelago, destroyed as a people and culture. Why? It's
a message to other
troublesome provinces like Aceh
and West Papua.
Try to break free, and you'll get the same treatment. A newly independent
country is seen by the powers that be as destabilizing to the current
In a way, there's some similarity
the attack was planned to happen fast, before international public pressure
would cause the UN to respond. And in both cases governments had wind of
it, and did
nothing. Unlike Europe, NATO
isn't going to bomb Jakarta.
Now a peacekeeping force
has landed. Problem's solved, right?
Hardly. There's a tremendous
need for aid of all kinds - basically rebuilding
the entire country. East Timorese are still being killed in large
numbers in their West Timor camps. It's not about just East Timor anymore,
it's the Timor crisis.
You've seen my little effort
here, maybe you can pitch in too. Click on these links if you want to demonstrate,
harass your local representative or employ your
artistic talents.(And even if you're lazy I've got
a page for the Armchair Activist.) We
need to pressure the Indonesian government, we need to send aid, we need
to call for a war crimes tribunal, we need to extend the peacekeeping mandate
to the whole island of Timor.
Hope I've made you laugh
a little. But mostly, I hope I've made you think.
News & Analysis
The mainstream media has
ignored this issue for years, which is one reason to vary your media diet.
Nowadays, most Australian newspapers like The
Age, and The
Australian, and the Sydney
Morning Herald have East Timor Archives. The Australian (public) Broadcasting
Corporation also has an extensive Timor
news site . For immediate updates, try the email lists reg.timor,
For Timor analysis you might try a quick look
at Mother Jones, the
huge resources of ZNet,
or Green Left Weekly's Timor
Other resources worth a look are the BBC's
site and the growing number of documentaries.
East Timor Groups
International Federation for East Timor site has lots of news and info.
The Stateside branch of this umbrella group is East
Timor Action Network, which maintains a regularly updated site with
lots of activist information.
For Australians, Action
in Solidarity with East Timor has been one of the focal points.
There’s also a site set up specifically for actions and breaking news,
freetimor.com. If you are
looking for some background information on the whole crisis, try the East
Timor Human Rights Centre, East
Timor Relief Association, or the multilingual resources on the Portugese
student Timornet site.
Thanks to the charming and talented Barbara Kerr
for web hosting and all around technical support.
See her own efforts at