BALIBO – an exposé

I just got back from seeing a wonderfully gritty and authentic film Balibo. It is an Australian-made film about the true story of five journalists who were murdered during the invasion of East Timor in 1975.  The film stars Anthony LaPaglia who plays Roger East an Australian journalist murdered by Indonesian soldiers during this time.  To quote from the official Balibo website, the movie is about five Australian-based journalists that go missing as Indonesia prepares to invade the tiny nation of East Timor.  Four weeks later, veteran foreign correspondent Roger East is lured to East Timor by José Ramos-Horta to tell the story of his country and investigate the fate of the missing men.  As East’s determination to uncover the truth grows, the threat of invasion intensifies and an unlikely friendship develops between the last foreign correspondent in East Timor and the man who will, one day, become President.  Balibo is a political thriller that tells the true story of crimes that have been covered up for more than 30 years.

I was extremely moved by the film and found it very emotional, thought-provoking and direct.  I will admit I did not know much about the early history and plight of East Timor but I was aware of the five Australian journalists killed there.  What was interesting to find out was that the rest of the world including, the Gough Whitlam-led Australian government, basically did not give a shit about East Timor at the time and especially for the five missing Australian journalists.  Hot on the heels of the Vietnam War, the world turned a blind eye to East Timor and was a nation left to fend for its self.

Defying the official Indonesian government line that the journalists died in crossfire, the film depicts in vivid, graphic detail how they were murdered by the Indonesian forces to prevent their news footage from getting out.  For me, the film roused a variety of emotions including anger, shame, sorrow, guilt, betrayal and pride. The journalists sought to seek the truth and to uncover the terrible crimes that were being committed during the invasion of East Timor.  What also resonated with me most was one of the final scenes just before Roger East was coldly executed in front of hundreds of witnesses, where he says two simple words – “I’m Australian”.  Already this scene has been deeply embedded in my mind.

In 1995, almost 20 years to the day since his execution, the Australian Government ordered Roger East’s death to be investigated as part of an inquiry by Tom Sherman into the killing of the Balibo Five.

Take a look at some footage from the film of actor Damon Gameau who recreates Balibo Five journalist Greg Shackleton’s famous last report in which he shares the bewilderment of the Timorese about why Australia is not helping them.

Now take a look at the real footage.

“The journalists are martyrs for East Timor and I believe they are East Timorese as well.”2


2 Manuel da Silva, Balibo inquest, 2007.

~ by Shae on September 13, 2009.

2 Responses to “BALIBO – an exposé”

  1. It’s great to see you talking about this issue that has for so long been ignored by so many.

  2. […] some classical music, traditional rock and roll, movies that are deep and make you think such as Balibo (how many of you have heard  of it? I had to see it on my own) and the Stoning of Soraya M, […]

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