Remembering Australia's Balibo Five

Five Australian journalists were sent to investigate Indonesia’s unauthorised invasion of the then colony of Portuguese Timor in 1975. They never returned.

“I still have dark days about Timor and more than the occasional nightmare. It never goes away and I resign myself to the fact that it will always be with me." ABC journalist Tony Maniaty, the lone survivor of the Balibo murders, told Nine News.

It was the 16th of October, 1975 , Greg Shackleton, Malcolm Rennie, Gary Cunningham and Tony Stewart were staying in the village of Balibo to report on the apparent invasion of Indonesian soldiers.

The area which was known to be quite dangerous was in the midst of Timorese militant and Indonesian force invasion. Shackleton hung two Aussie flags from the windows of the corner store they were staying in, in an effort to inform Indonesian forces that they were non-combative.

Unfortunately, Indonesian forces were aware of the Aussie journalists trying to report the invasion, something which the Indonesian government had been trying to cover-up.

Then early on the 16th of October, Indonesian forces approached the Portuguese Fort. The five journalists fled the scene attempting to find safety at their corner shop, which came to be known as the “flag house.” Before they could get inside, they were gunned down in cold blood.

At the time, both the Australian government and the Indonesian government denied knowledge of what happened to the Balibo five. Even now, the Indonesian government has not claimed any responsibility for the deaths of the journalists nor the hundreds of Timorese murdered during the Indonesian invasion.

However, there were Australians who remained unconvinced, Roger East, a journalist based in Darwin flew over to Dili to unearth the truth. East was caught in an impending full scale invasion and when Indonesian forces invaded on December 8th, he was captured and executed on Dili Wharf with hundreds of others.

From the 1970's until 1999, Indonesia was responsible for the death of over 130,000 people, around a quarter of Timor-Leste’s whole population.

The issue has remained a hot point between Australia and Indonesia.

In remembrance of the Balibo Five, Australian media organisations created the “Australian New Correspondents Memorial Award” a fund to send a young budding Australian journalist  to study at Columbia University Journalism School.  The “flag house” was renovated to become a community centre and supports a local kindergarten.

Related Articles

Discuss this article

Newsletter

Never miss a Nat Geo moment

Your email address
Submit