East Timor: lest we forget

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East Timor: lest we forget

Remembrance Day
By Graham Pitts
Sidetrack Studio Theatre, 142 Addison Rd, Marrickville, Sydney
Tuesday to Saturday, 8pm
Until November 28
Tickets $12/$9 concession
Phone 9560 1255 for bookings

By Tuntuni Bhattacharyya

Remembrance Day begins with an Australian World War II veteran lying in a hospital bed, with dengue fever. The veteran, played by Gary Baxter, in his delirium thinks he is back in East Timor where he served during the war.

In his vision, his nurse (Craig Ball) becomes the man who saved his life, the East Timorese guide called Maubere or mountain man.

The play skilfully portrays the complex relationship between the soldier, Owen Jeffrey, and Maubere, who cooks, builds fires, clears paths through jungles and eventually carries the Australian soldier to safety.

Remembrance Day doesn't romanticise the relationship between the two men, but gives a sometimes painful portrayal of the Australian's patronising and colonial attitude towards Maubere. Owen comes to love and respect, but ultimately betray, his friend.

The Australian troops are ordered to return to Australia and refuse to evacuate the East Timorese who helped them. Maubere, who assumes he will come to Australia with his friend, sleeps exhausted on the beach as Owen quietly boards the ship to go home.

It is this ultimate betrayal that haunts Owen for the rest of his life and leads him back to Timor in 1992 to see if he can find his friend.

As Owen drifts back into delirium, he recalls his 1992 meeting with a priest in Timor who tells him that Maubere, his wife and two children have been killed by Indonesian Kopassus troops, who forced them to dig their own graves.

Throughout the play, Owen's sense of his betrayal of Maubere is paralleled by the Australian government's betrayal of the East Timorese people. Skilfully shown through projected video images, successive Australian prime ministers are shown shaking hands with Suharto. Gough Whitlam is shown in the United Nations General Assembly arguing for discussion of East Timor to be replaced by "more important" issues.

Starkly contrasted with this are slides showing the Dili massacre and lines of corpses.

The duplicity of the Australian government and its keenness to maintain business ties with the Indonesian dictatorship at the expense of East Timorese lives are made plain in Remembrance Day.

This is a play not to be missed, especially as the Dili massacre is commemorated and the ALP attempts to con people with a new cosmetically improved policy on East Timor. As the title suggests, let's not forget the Australian government's treatment of East Timor.

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