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Statement by Shirley Shackleton to Coroner Dorelle Pinch at the Inquest re Brian Peters, June 1, 2007


My husband was convinced he would die young – that’s why I married him. Just before he went to Timor Leste, as it is now called, I asked him, ‘What became of the idea that you would die young?’

‘I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that,’ he replied. ‘I think I was wrong about the time; right about the event.’

This was before he knew he was going to Portuguese Timor. He was haunted by the possibility that if his conviction was right he would be forgotten. Because of the work taking place in this court I don’t think that is going to happen now.  

I want to thank Your Honour for giving me this opportunity. I feel I should take the oath. It’s a matter of credibility. I have always taken great care not to make assertions I could not prove, but a great deal that I have said has been dismissed as fiction.1

Why is truth necessary? Trying to recover from grief is impossible if circumstances about a death are withheld. The mind is a powerful force that cannot be controlled. No matter how terrible the facts are, one’s imagination can make things worse, much worse. This is the first time respect has been shown to the Balibó Five in a court – that is what has been missing, a policy of decency. The Balibó Five did not lose their lives; their lives were ripped away from them. However, through the dedication of many wonderful people, these dead men cast very long shadows.

I want to acknowledge Roger East, the lone, brave Australian reporter who went to Portuguese Timor to discover what had happened in Balibó. He published the first credible accounts of the atrocity. He was brave because he decided to stay and send reports from the mountains in the event of an Indonesian invasion. He was arrested by troops from Battalion 502, an East Java unit under the command of Major Warsito and taken to the Dili wharf on December 8th 1975. He was ordered to turn his back on the guns. He refused and was shot in the face.2  His murder was witnessed by numerous Timorese citizens forced to cheer as 100 of their countrymen and women were murdered. To this date nothing has been done to address Roger’s murder. His bona fide’s were impeccable; he covered the Spanish Civil War, started a newspaper there and reported the war in Vietnam. His death is testament to the fact that no amount of experience or training can protect anyone from being murdered. Murder is a deliberate act and cannot be foreseen by the victim. 

My husband Greg Shackleton was 28 years old when he was killed. On the day our son turned 27 he told me: ‘When I woke up today I thought if I were my dad I’d have one year left to live.’

Greg was academically brilliant. He won a scholarship to study Law but lacking money and support he took odd jobs until he became a cub-reporter at 3AW, a Melbourne radio station. That’s where we met. I was the Publicity Director. Greg’s rise was typically phenomenal – Corbett Shaw, the News Editor promoted him to an A Grade journalist before he turned twenty-one. In those days many 40 year old journalists had not attained that grading.

I had lunch with Greg, Tony and Gary three days before they left for Portuguese Timor. We often met at The Flower in Port Melbourne. They had formed a reliable team who covered dangerous assignments for Channel 7 News. They reported bushfires and disasters at sea etc. The conversation that day was all about avoiding danger if they were sent to Portuguese Timor. Greg had informed the Department of Foreign Affairs in Canberra of his plans. Among other queries he wanted to know where to obtain up-to-date maps. He definitely informed the Department of Foreign Affairs of his intention to travel to Portuguese Timor; I heard him speaking on the phone and, because he knew all the top bureaucrats through his work, he did not deal with a mere secretary.

I didn’t want him to go. He worked full-time at Channel 7 and was studying for his Bachelor of Arts degree at Melbourne University. He wrote the six o’clock news; wrote and read the late news single-handedly and anchored a Sunday evening political discussion program ‘This Week’ at which Prime Minister Whitlam and others like Bob Hawke were regulars. He was to sit his final exam prior to leaving for Columbia University’s Journalism Course in New York and so it wasn’t convenient for him to take that particular assignment. Of course he wanted to go – it was a chance to break the biggest story to hit the South Pacific since World War Two.

Imagine a scenario we are expected to believe where the head of a country warns a journalist of the danger in a particular assignment. My husband would have burst into his commissioning editor’s office with the news that something big was about to happen in Portuguese Timor. ‘I got it from the horse’s mouth!’ If anything like that had happened he would certainly have mentioned it to me and his colleagues. It would have confirmed a pressing need to report on a situation that could have serious consequences for Australia.

It was interesting to hear Prime Minister Whitlam’s choice of words and to see his body language as he attempted to defame my husband – with a dismissive wave of his hand he minimised the importance of the two interviews conducted by Greg Shackleton. You might have thought Greg was a free-lance journalist: and yet the subjects were extremely important. They covered the budget and the threat to withhold supply. I do not accuse Gough Whitlam of telling falsehoods Your Honour; I can imagine him saying, ‘You know we can’t protect you if anything goes wrong.’  It’s a throw-away line and the answer would have been, ‘Yes.’  Of course Greg knew – are we supposed to believe there was a chance that the government would have sent in the marines?2b

Since 1974 the Channel 7 newsroom had received reports of hit-and-run attacks emanating from across the shared border with Indonesian-occupied Western Timor. The Indonesian president repeatedly denied these reports as baseless allegations. When the appeals increased in urgency imploring Westerners to come and judge the violence for themselves, Greg began to research the history of our closest neighbour. He was impressed by the compassionate help given to Australian troops by the Timorese in World War Two. He thought if an expansionist dictator like General Suharto were to invade ‘the gateway to Australia’ as Portuguese Timor was known in WW2, it was vital that we know about it as soon as possible.

He did not underestimate the danger. He did not need to be warned – even a child could work it out given the circumstances. Neil Davis’s front line reports were widely known and Vietnam vets were publishing memoirs with shocking candour. My concerns were based on the fact that Greg was about to spread his wings and return to America.

He did not entertain preconceived notions about the identity of those responsible for the border attacks - the coup by UDT and APODETI had been ‘spin-doctored’ as a civil war – and still is. He could not know that Indonesia had armed and supported the leaders of that coup.3  The Channel 7 team were in agreement: if the Indonesian military was responsible for the attacks, they would be in danger of arrest. Greg was a very bad asthmatic. He could have died in prison if medication was with-held. He asked me to, ‘Do everything to get us out, sell the house.’

Can anyone actually think a reporter of Greg’s calibre was ignorant of the tenets of the Geneva Convention? He knew it backwards.

They did not expect to be killed by Indonesians. If you think Australia has a good relationship with Indonesia today – ah, well not perhaps at this very moment (after Your Honour’s recent initiation into the ways of Indonesian hyperbole,) nevertheless our friendship is nothing like it was in 1975. Despite the fighting over Borneo in the mid 1960’s Australian bureaucrats from the prime minister down have lauded our friendship. That was Greg’s first mistake. He believed Australian government propaganda. In fact the team were more afraid of being maltreated if they were arrested by dissident Timorese than by professional soldiers.

Josè Ramos-Horta feared that they were underestimating the brutality of the Indonesian military. Again, the Balibò Five re-assured him that they would not be deliberately killed because of their prime minister’s great friendship with General Suharto. This was their second mistake; they trusted Gough Whitlam.

They did not have bedding or proper food. Josè heard them whispering as they lay awake from hunger and cold on the floor of a school. He told me, ‘they were determined to do all they could to publicise the unfolding tragedy – they’d seen the damage done to people’s homes and learned about the indiscriminate killings associated with the attacks.’ Josè saw my husband and his colleagues for what they were, they were just doing their job and having worked as a reporter he appreciated their dedication and professionalism and, they were in the right place at the right time to carry out their job.

I ask you to imagine the situation in Balibò. There was no demarcation line to define the border and it was not manned until after the Indonesian invasion several weeks later on December 7th 1975. Family members lived on either side and people crossed at will. Both sides had forward scouts and Falintil received reports of huge Indonesian troop movements (five battalions were massing along the border in Western Timor.)  Knowing Greg’s determination to expose a situation of such enormous importance to Australia, is it any wonder that when he was asked to send a note to the Falintil commander in Maliana he agreed to do so?  He did not employ a sky writer to advertise for additional troops and ammunition; he sent a discreet note! You can impugn him but I put it to you it would have been a clear breach of his duty to his crew had he not requested reinforcements. What’s the use of a handful soldiers facing 5000 troops without ammunition?

If Falintil had stayed, all five men would have moved back out of the line of fire. If you study the terrain there are many places from which to film. When Falintil withdrew (except for one lone machine gunner covering the retreat) Greg and his colleagues would have breathed a sigh of relief in the belief that they could not be killed accidentally as they were alone in a deserted village.  In the event they would have been killed along with the machine gunner by members of Battalion 744 who came up the back road to Balibò.

Battalion 744 was commanded by Lieutenant-General Mohammad Yunus Yosfiah (a captain at that time.) He describes himself as an orang tempur, a fighting animal.4  He led 100 red beret Kopassandha (secret warfare) troops (now called Kopasses) into Balibó. The operation was part of the wider attack and was a clear breach of the United Nations Charter. Yosfiah’s troops were ordered to remove all badges of rank and other identifying insignia.  Yosfiah was promoted after Balibó and he went on to greater things - he led Battalion 744 when they murdered the commander of the Timorese Resistance Army, Nicolau dos Reis Lobato on Mt. Maubesi in 1978. Yosfiah was promoted after both these actions. In an interview with the magazine Tempo in 1989, he disclosed the fact that his favourite pastime is in playing back a video of the killing of Nicolau Dos Reis Lobato. I often wonder if he filmed our loved ones as they died at Balibó. He was accepted for special training at the United States Special Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth (1997) and at the Royal College of Defence Studies in Britain (1989.)

After I ambushed General Murdani in Dili in 1989, I was approached by the odd Indonesian officer (I had adopted a policy of shouting drinks at the Hotel Turismo in order to glean useful information.)  Many were impressed by my nerve (indeed I was assured without malice that a Timorese woman would have had her neck broken.) On the matter of Balibó, the soldiers I got to know were apologetic and of the opinion that it was a disastrous mistake. One by one, separately, they told me that the secret warfare troops under Murdani did not need orders to kill anyone – it was Murdani’s modus operandi – shoot first and ask questions afterwards, especially unarmed civilians whether they are poor Indonesians, Timorese, West Papuans or Westerners. However, they assured me that they would never have killed five white men without being protected by orders.

Amy Goodman and Alan Nairn were attacked at the Santa Cruz Massacre. Amy told me in New York last year during an interview on her TV program Democracy Now that she was attacked and thrown to the ground and a pistol was put to her head. Alan Nairn in trying to protect her sustained a fractured skull. The Indonesian officer cocked the pistol and asked her if she was an Australian journalist; it was only when she said she was American that he removed the pistol. ‘I was left in no doubt,’ she told me. ‘If I had been Australian I would have died right there.’

I was not informed of the deaths of my husband and his colleagues by my government. I heard a news report on ABC radio. Sometime after the 16th October I received a telegram from Dr. Henry Will, the Australian Consulate doctor in Jakarta informing me that he had been asked to examine what purported to be the remains of the five journalists. The information contained in that telegram made me reel with horror. I was still shocked when I received a telephone call later that day from a man claiming to be from the Department of Foreign Affairs. ‘If you want the bodies brought home,’ he said, ‘you will have to pay and it will cost you at least forty-eight thousand dollars.’ The silence was deafening as I re-read the telegram: ‘The most I can say about the remains is that they are possibly human.’

I asked if they were being brought home in five coffins and was curtly told, ‘No.’ Angry now at this attempt to frighten me, I asked if they were stuffed into one coffin. Again, the answer was ‘no.’ Were they in a suitcase or a shoebox? Having received a negative reply I read out the telegram. Then I made a terrible mistake – I lost my temper. ‘In other words the pilot could bring the so-called remains home in a matchbox in his pocket,’ I said, ‘whatever they’ve got up there isn’t my husband or his colleagues. They were definitely human. You can do whatever the hell you want.’ I believe this was the start of yet another trail of lies including the fiction that I had given my consent for all five bodies to be buried in Jakarta. I must stress this point, I was never asked for my consent, nor was I invited to the bogus funeral arranged by Richard Woolcott. The damage was done; it set family members against me. But I did not know that then. I was asked at a later date if I wanted to send flowers to Jakarta. I declined. I was then asked to write a letter to that effect and sign it. My state of mind can be judged by the fact that I wrote two almost identical letters and posted them separately. I believe now that my signature was used as a further pawn in a plot to separate the families by making it appear that I was making decisions without consulting them.

See how it’s done?

Weak-kneed lily-livered sycophants may think that they rule, but they shoot themselves in the foot. A huge part of the Australian commitment to covering up Indonesia’s genocide in East Timor and for the atrocity at Balibó is ‘trade’.  Two little words at the end of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade turns so-called great men into pig-ignorant money grubbing puppets once removed from horse traders.

Gough Whitlam basked in the title of The Lion of the Left, and yet when the Fretilin political party, having put down the coup in only eleven days introduced a country-wide literacy campaign, Gough Whitlam called them Communists and accused them in this court of hounding UDT out of Timor. UDT had attempted to seize power and in doing so, they committed treason. The leaders were air-lifted by Indonesian helicopters and flown to Western Timor. HOUNDED OUT OF TIMOR? 4b   4c

See how it’s done?

Richard Woolcott prides himself on his pronunciation of bahasa Indonesia. In this court he could not pronounce the name of the Timorese island of Atauro. He called it Arturo. When it came to the big confidence trick of burying the remains of his countrymen, he did not even possess the wit to use five coffins! He agreed to bury what was left of Brian Peter’s, Greg Shackleton, Tony Stewart, Malcolm Rennie and Greg Cunningham in a foreign country whose military appeared to be implicated in the deceased’s murders. How bizarre! If the Indonesian attack team was innocent how did the ‘remains’ get into Indonesian hands? Why did they go to Jakarta? Darwin is much closer. The coffin must be weighed down with stones - a fine way for the Australian Ambassador to show respect to his own dead countrymen.

I state here that I support Brian’s family in their determination to have the contents exhumed and brought home to Australia for a decent burial. That’s what has been missing for 32 years: a policy of decency.  

With help from Hamish McDonald I spoke to Dr. Henry Will many years after the fact. He did not send me the telegram, he said, ‘Whoever did send it knew precisely what I wrote in my report.’ I would like to take this opportunity to thank the unknown male or female, Australian or Indonesian who sent me that telegram.

It is easy to establish the motives of a dictator, for if you seize a country’s assets – oil, marble, minerals, gold, sandalwood, timber, copra, coffee, ponies (they were either eaten by the invading army or sold throughout Indonesia) and if you steal the entire contents of houses and sell them, the profit margin is 100%.  Oh yes, the sacking of Dili happened twice; in 2000 and in 1975 – doors, windows, cutlery, crockery, food, children’s toys, sinks, light-bulbs, electrical goods and furniture were loaded onto the ships that had brought the Indonesian troops in.5 

German puppets burn the Jews; Jewish puppets did not choose.

Puppet vultures eat the dead; puppet corpses they are fed.

Puppet winds and puppet waves; puppet sailors in their graves.

Puppet flowers, puppet stems; puppet time dismantles them.

Puppet me and puppet you; puppet German puppet Jew.

Puppet presidents command, puppet troops to burn the land.

Puppet fire and puppet flames feed on all the puppet names.

Puppet lovers in their bliss turn away from all of this.

Puppet leader shakes his head; takes his puppet wife to bed.

Puppet night comes down to play the after-act to puppet day.

Leonard Cohen

They had to die. The manoeuvres on the 16th October were designed to be deniable. Demagogues and dictators conspired to cover-up the huge, pre-invasion terror attack. It was that simple - they had to die or they would have spoiled the puppet’s game.

Every attempt has been made to belittle the Balibó Five and Greg Shackleton: he was young, inexperienced and even the crude Australian flag he drew on the side of the house in Balibó to bolster all their spirits was spin-doctored to make him appear stupid. The Seven team passed a three man ABC team withdrawing from Balibó – this is frequently held-up as evidence that the ABC crew were wise to withdraw. They came to offer their condolences to me. They said had not wanted to withdraw, but as their insurance had run out they were forced to leave on orders.

See how it’s done?

The Portuguese reporter Adelino Gomes told me when we were on the Lusitania together, that he had invited them to Maliana for lunch and to have a bath or a swim, but the Seven team had already stayed beyond their original time, they were keen to make their final report and leave. Adelino agreed to send incriminating film to Australia from Maliana of Indonesian warships operating on the wrong side of the border. Full marks to both teams and to Adelino because when that film was shown on Australian TV it blew the plot wide open, or should have if our government officials had not been compromised by their supine acceptance of lies emanating from Indonesia, no matter how corrupt. Adelino had intended to return to Balibó the following day; it is to his disgust that he is also held up as having been wise to have withdrawn.

Even their clothes were used to discredit them. One publicity seeking wretch sought to denigrate what Brian Peters wore in a Darwin pub - what I would identify as army surplus was eagerly reported as: ‘Brian Peter’s wore an army uniform.’ I can tell you that Greg’s team declined to be armed (of course) and he wore his safari jacket for filmed reports. I am so pleased you screened Greg’s last report – you must understand what a professional he was. He had the courage to tell the Timorese the truth when they asked what Australia would do for them. ‘Australia will not send troops,’ he said, ‘that would be impossible, but they can report this fighting at the United Nations.’ Remember when he was describing how the elderly gentlemen spoke about the terrible damage to their homes?  In response to their plight Greg had a catch in his throat – this evidence of compassion from one human being to another was used to cast Greg as a Communist sympathiser.

They planned to wear their Channel 7 t-shirts even though they looked a bit ‘lairy.’ They were bright yellow. Greg always wore very short shorts - you couldn’t possibly mistake him for a soldier.

The arrival of the second team in Balibó should not have made any difference if they had been intercepted by professional troops.

Why did they stay? Never underestimate the intense rivalry between the heads of news departments. If the Channel Seven team had retreated and left the other team to get the scoop, John Maher the head of Channel Seven News would have sacked them.

Greg’s notebook was eventually returned to me – it had been tampered with. Many pages were missing. In the Straits Times last weekend, John McBeth alleged that people who read the diaries of some of the journalists at the Jakarta Embassy in 1976 were struck by their naivety. There was nothing in Greg’s diary that would give anyone a clue to what he was like - naive or as wise as Solomon, I am requesting assistance to locate these diaries if any of them are his. I don’t want to pry into the other men’s thoughts, but if they are available to the inquest I would like to read them please.   

I am incandescent with rage over the harm done to the relatives and especially to the children by both the murderers and the liars. My mother-in-law committed suicide. In Shonny’s case it was not the original murder that destroyed her; it was the lies told by successive Australian government officials. Her death exposes the heart-breaking results of their policy-without-decency.

As for the present Monty Pythonesque goings-on being a diplomatic crisis, they are nothing of the sort. The leaders of our two countries know the score; they say publicly what they think absolves them from responsibility.

Your Honour, it is a salutary experience for us all to witness Mr. Downer’s reaction to your graceful invitation to Mr. Sutiyoso as a possible eye-witness to the Balibó atrocity. Could anything be more revealing? ‘Don’t worry about Balibó would be bad enough.’ ‘Don’t worry about the Balibó Inquest impugns the validity of this court. How shameful that our own government is eager to subvert our justice system. In allowing Your Honour’s integrity and the integrity of the Australian policeman to be impugned, our rulers betray something dreadful: they have more in common with the rulers of Indonesia than they have with decent Australian people. The photograph in the Sydney Morning Herald (30th May) is a perfect example of the fake smiles of diplomacy – a group of poor, hapless Indonesians point to a bottle of wine as if it is solid gold – another Monty Python moment. After 32 years of blood and lies; Australian government officials have learned nothing.6

You know Your Honour; the past 32 years could make a sane person doubt their sanity.

As for the organised spontaneous demonstration in Jakarta yesterday (30/5/07), those people are poor and since they are paid to demonstrate we humbly encourage them to take every opportunity to continue these life-saving activities.

Perhaps you realise that Sutiyoso is next in line to be President of Indonesia.  Gee whiz, he and his colleagues: Yosfiah and Kris de Silva will have to watch out; or they’ll end up being poisoned like José Martins and Munir. 

 Shirley Shackleton.

1I was permitted to take the oath.

2 This is public knowledge in Timor Leste. I interviewed several witnesses in Timor in 1989 and in Australia and my findings were verified by John Pilger’s investigation during the Indonesian occupation for his documentary, ‘Death of a Nation.’

2b  In earlier statements Mr. Whitlam claimed that he had warned Greg Shackleton as they ‘passed each other in a corridor at Channel Seven.’

3Plans for the conquest of Portuguese Timor started long before Balibó. The coup was masterminded by ABRI and used by Indonesia as an excuse to claim the right to seize control of the former Portuguese colony.

4Sydney Morning Herald October 18th 1997. David Jenkins.

4b  Gough Whitlam may well feel guilty about his dismissal of the rights of the Balibo 5. I will not comment, but he will never be forgiven for going uninvited to the United Nations and demanding that the matter of East Timor be dropped from the U.N. agenda at a time when it was public knowledge that genocide was being forced upon innocent Timorese.

4c   Whitlam’s use of Indonesian propaganda: ‘UDT was hounded out of Portuguese Timor’ must be challenged. When the UDT coup failed, innocent members fled the country. They were ignorant of their leaders’ attempt to seize power. Even today, some believe the propaganda that Fretilin was responsible. Their new leaders have UDT relatives and so the truth is  ignored today.      

5In 1975 buildings were left intact because Indonesian military moguls intended to ‘acquire’ them by fair means or foul. When the TNI were forced out, as well as repeating the original sacking, toilets was blown up and 98% of buildings were stripped of plumbing pipes, roofing etc. Electrical wires were torn from the walls of every room before buildings were sprayed with high octane petrol and set alight.

6 It was the Australian government’s craven silence over Balibó and the obsession with secrecy and that started all the lies to be told in the first place.

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