Stunning photographs from East Timor


East Timor 1942-1992: A Retrospective Photographic Exhibition
Curated by Oliver Strewe and Jenny Groves
Bondi Pavilion Gallery, Bondi Beach
10 a.m. to 5 p.m. until March 6
Reviewed by Jill Hickson

This wonderful display, presented by Community Aid Abroad, documents the history of East Timor through the use of graphic photos. It includes photographs by the British documentary film maker Max Stahl, photos from the Australian War Memorial showing Australia's involvement in the region during World War II and a number of anonymous photos which have been smuggled out of East Timor since Indonesia's invasion in 1975.

Most of the photos are black and white except for the Dili 1991 series. This depicts the terrible events that took place on November 12. They were taken by Max Stahl and Steve Cox, who were both in East Timor during the massacre. Stahl's video footage was buried and later smuggled out of East Timor and shown on Yorkshire TV, outraging the world.

The series contains a photo by Steve Cox of "A young boy in front of a banner". The boy, quite young, represents the continuous regeneration of the Timorese struggle and points to the fact that the Indonesians have failed to win the "hearts and minds" campaign of the last 15 years. The boy stands in front of the banner of Xanana Gusmao, his arms outstretched; with one hand he makes a fist with the other a victory sign. The boy is said to have been one of the first killed in the Santa Cruz cemetery.

Events of history unfold as you view the exhibition. The photos by Elaine Briere, a Canadian photographer who visited in 1974, show the haunting beauty of the island and the people who live there.

Mel Sylvester, a British journalist covering the momentous events of 1975, travelled with the Fretilin soldiers, and as you look at the sequence of her photos they become increasingly militarised, reflecting the gravity of the situation as the Indonesian invasion took place.

A series of photos from the mid-'70s to 1990 were smuggled out; the photographers have to remain anonymous. These include several of Xanana with Fretilin soldiers eating dinner in the mountains. There are photos of guerilla hide-outs, some of them documented with their particular stories. There are also photographs depicting torture, mutilation and other abuses carried out by the Indonesian government. Since 1975 at least 100,000 Timorese have died directly as a result of military actions and as many as 200,000 have been killed by disease and famine.

It was only in 1990 that East Timor was opened up to outsiders. One of the first photographers to arrive was Jenny Groves, who recorded the protests of young students at the time of the visit of the US ambassador. She also documented the police reaction to the protest.

The contrasting photos of the island's beauty and the ugliness of war are a moving picture of recent history. This is an exhibition that should not be missed.

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