Union and Solidarity Choir to tour Timor

Australian Trade Union Choir.

The Australian Union and Solidarity Choir (AUSC), made up of singers from across Australia, are travelling to Timor Leste (East Timor) in August and September take part in Popular Consultation Day celebrations in Dili to spread the joy and friendship of song to Timorese towns and villages.

Popular Consultation Day is marked on August 30 to commemorate that day in 1999 when Timorese people took part in a referendum on independence from Indonesia — in the shadow of worsening violence from the Indonesian military and military-backed militias. Despite a campaign of terror, Timor Leste won its freedom.

In Dili, AUSC will perform with local choirs, artists and dance troupes to forge cultural bonds and friendships. The choir will connect with Dili and Timorese choirs, learn new songs to bring back, lead workshops and intensify contacts with one of Australia’s closest neighbours. 

Over the past two decades, a number of choristers in the group have combined to participate in the Festivale de Coro tour to Cuba (twice), as well as union concerts in New Zealand and Britain.

Many of the singers taking part in the tour have learnt of and joined in the struggles of Timorese in Australia through the inclusion of Timor Leste independence songs into their repertoires. Groups from all over Australia, such as the Canberra Union Voices, Illawarra Union Singers, Newcastle People's Chorus, Melbourne's Victorian Trade Union Choir, Brisbane Combined Unions Choir, Grass Roots of Tasmania and Western Australian Working Voices have all been part of active support for Timor Leste’s independence.

The Timorese community also arranged for the Sydney-based Solidarity Choir to sing at Sydney Town Hall Square for Timorese representative Jose Ramos Horta in the 1990s. The choir has supported book launches and rallies with songs during the decade leading up to the referendum. It continues to sing for aid groups today.

Solidarity members have shared the highs of singing in solidarity with the Timorese people, and the sorrow of the tragedy of violent repression faced by the Timorese. 

The choir is presently making links with groups established by Australian communities to develop sister city relationships giving advantage to Timor and its people in consultation with Abel Guterres, Timor Leste’s ambassador in Australia, and his staff. These groups include Friends of Dili, Friends of Maliana, Friends of Remeixo and Friends of Hato Builico

Current projects include:

  • A songbook to distribute to Timorese students and friends, with lyrics from songs of social justice and reconciliation in English, Tetum, Darug and Pacific languages. Similar songbooks have previously proved a hit on choir tours to non-English speaking countries.
  • Engaging expert Tetum translators in Australia and Dili to ensure the poetry of the song lyrics are captured in this songbook. It is hoped that these sensitive translations will foster cross-connection and closer relations with our Timorese neighbours.

Our visit has the twin aims of boosting tourism with Timor while building bridges to Australia for Timorese culture.

We are hopeful that our friends from progressive politics and social justice advocates may consider contributing to the modest expenses of our trip. Any and all donations would be very welcome.

To learn more or to donate, please contact Fran McIlroy on 0466 287 230, Doug Williamson on 0411 254 512 or visit australianunionchoir.wordpress.com