Subject: ABC: Cattle to Timor

The Timor twist on coals to Newcastle » ABC Darwin Online 

[This is the print version of story <>]

The Timor twist on coals to Newcastle

Reporter: Fiona Churchman Presenter: Julia Christensen Thursday, 16 October 2003

An unlikely stockman has been stationed at the Santavan cattle yards near Berry Springs, 50 kilometres south of Darwin for the past couple of weeks.

Long time East Timor activist Rob Wesley-Smith has taken on the job of quietening a group of Brahman from the Territory bush before they are shipped overseas.

The cattle have been paid for by East Timorese supporters in New Zealand and are being donated to three different villages.

The inspiration for the project followed the New Zealand army's involvement in helping East Timor during the unrest that gripped the country in 1999.

"You have to remember in 99 the militia killed or stole about half the livestock in East Timor so particularly at that stage their thoughts would have been that their herds were much smaller," says Rob.

"This project has taken a long time to materialise because they've had to raise an awful lot of money, they've spent two years fundraising in New Zealand."

Rob's involvement came when the New Zealanders asked him to find a stockman to quieten the cattle and take them to East Timor.

Rob volunteered himself without realising the full implications of this.

"What I didn't realise at the time was they would be straight from the Territory bush and they would need three weeks or more of quarantine here.

"My own assessment was they would have to be trained to lead if possible, before going to Timor, that hasn't happened but I have managed to tie halters on all of them so at least they know about that," says Rob.

About 50 cattle are being sent to East Timor, including three bulls weighing about 450 kilograms each.

Rob says the possible impact of the project shouldn't be underestimated.

"They have the potential to start a new breed of very tropically adapted beef in Timor," he says.

And the project has also affected the unlikely stockman himself, who has become quite attached to the cattle, and even admits serenading them with his Euphonium.

"Yes I have and getting a bit of comment from surrounding farmers, but they are pretty used to that now.

"I was playing them Aloha today because some of the sacred places actually have the same names as in Hawaii and I thought well it's only a couple of days before they are loaded on Saturday.

"Usually I play silly things like Grandfather's Clock and the only thing I can play without music is Midnight in Moscow and I played that all around Timor last year and it's become a bit of a soap story," he says. I wonder if the music will stay with the cattle as they begin their new life in East Timor?

Hear Rob Wesley-Smith tell the story of the cattle to Fiona Churchman

Back to October menu

World Leaders Contact List
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu