East Timor

The Portuguese were very domineering as far as the native population was concerned, and they tried to be with us. Of course it didn't always work, but if you wanted to see them they would keep you waiting hours and hours. At that time I was discussing going into a sawmill business in Timor with a man named Dino who had a very good sawmilling business - beautiful red timber which some called Rosewood. I thought I would spend a couple of weeks around there and have a look as I had some doubts. I felt that if it’d been really good and secure he would’ve had a partner long ago and wouldn’t have to come to me. But having a small ship I could have brought that timber over here quite easily and taken goods back. I tentatively ordered a couple of portable forest sawmills so the timber could be carted out easier. To cart logs out was a different thing as they had no big tractors to haul them out - so I thought take the sawmill to them; cut the timber there and then you can handle it. I think we had about two and a half weeks there and sometimes when he was talking to these people I thought all was not well. On the surface it appeared that they took orders but when I got the chance to speak with some who could talk a bit of English I found out they hated this Portuguese fellow. When I said to him that some day the people were going to blow up and revolt, he said “No - We’ve got them like that” and he screwed this thumb on the table.

In 1975 we were right in the middle of it as I had taken over Kerry Packer and his journalists, Brian Peters and some others. Brian slept in the cabin with me; Johnny Chadderton was Captain in the book because I didn’t want to go - I could see we were on a sticky wicket and I didn’t want to get involved in anything that was going to give me trouble. The Portuguese wouldn’t give us a permit and didn’t want us to take over the hospital crew and Kerry Packer, so we went without clearance. Packer offered us $1,000 a day for the nine days it was going to take.

We pulled into Dili with Johnny on the wheel and I’m on the binoculars looking there. I could see about two hundred Fretlin men with rifles and two machine guns on top of the fort building. I thought, “Jeez, this is nice, isn’t it?” and so the best thing we could do was wave to them, and I said to Johnny, “You go down - send a man down below and get two sheets and some green paint, and paint a green cross on them and put one on the bow and one at the mast”. So he went straight down to the paint locker with the two sheets. but I didn’t see them anymore until we were getting quite close to the wharf, and here they’ve got two sheets up but with a red cross on them - but one is St. George’s cross and one is the normal square cross - so that’s how the bubble came to stir up the Red Cross committee. We got about a quarter mile from the wharf and out came Frank Favaro, who owned an Hotel there (against my advise because I could see trouble building), in a small speed boat to see what was going on. We had a bit of a talk and he went to the wharf and told the Fretlin people there that we had medical supplies and a Doctor on board offering to help. So we pulled in beside the wharf without a shot being fired.

After the Doctor went ashore, I looked up a Chinese man there called George Jong who spoke very good English. We found a little white car which was out of fuel, but we got her going on outboard petrol - she smoked a bit but that was all right. Then we got the doctor delivered and a lot of medical supplies. Then on board came the journalists and they had bundles of jungle green clothing under their arms. Two or three shirts each and trousers each and those button up boots. I was shocked when I saw what they were doing and I immediately said to Brian, “Look you put that on, you become a target. Immediately you are a combatant in any country in the world”. “Oh”, he said, “Everybody’s doing it”, and I said, “Every bastard’s getting shot too”. I wouldn’t allow them on the ship with that clothing. If Fretlin had’ve come on board and seen that clothing on the ship, we’d have been a gonner. Finally they went ashore and got dressed in the wharf shed where there was about 1,000 tons of coffee all going rotten We went ashore about two hours afterwards and later saw them later up the street to the Rossenti Hotel with a civilian who was rather big and may have been Kerry Packer, but back on we couldn’t see their faces. That was the last I saw of the journalists before they were shot. I was very sorry because Brian was a very nice guy.

We drove up to the hospital after picking up Bill Partridge, from the old police headquarters, who was the representative for Austcare. We picked him up and then went up to the Hospital where we worked for while with Doctor Whitehall, just doing odd jobs that we were given. George was anethetist while he was there

The fighting in town was haphazard and very disorganised. At one stage they were trying to lob motar shells over the wharf buildings and onto us. They didn’t seem to understand angling that mortar and they ended up dropping a bloody great hole through Perkins big dumb barge, and it went down. Earlier they had asked me to get my engineer to show them how to use the mortar; but I had convinced them that we didn’t know.

Another time when we were in a little white car, a jeep tearing down the road past us; it ignored us and went down the road. And about thirty girls and a few men with them, running in the timber and down the side; and the people on the bitumen with the guns, shooting at them. Photographs like that would have been worthwhile having. There would have still be propaganda in it, because they would have said they were Indonesian troops, or they were U.D.T. or something like that. They would have denied being Fretlin. But they were Fretlin troops, we knew. They all wore clothing that they'd pinched out of the Portuguese Army store. The floor was strewn thick with trousers and shirts they'd picked out of the shelves and tried them on and they were too big or too small - throw them on the floor. Good quality clothing all going to waste - thousands of shirts from the Portuguese Army. Boots - I always regret that I didn't have a pair of those lace-up boots, what great things in the bush, really comfortable. Broad-toed they were, with one sided slope, like the American boot. There were many things there.

We spent a couple more days there. During this time we went with Frank Favaro to look at his plane. They’d shot through the main plane with the bullet passing right through. We had a look at it together and most of the holes could be patched up, but the main spar had also been hit. But he drilled some holes and put a plate over it before he flew back to Australia some days later. Kerry Packer had had talks with the Bishop and there were quite a few people that had to get out of it. We loaded these people and took them to Atauro Island about twenty miles out of Dili. This island had an airstrip and they were flown from there. Coming back to Dili, from that island, it was about nine or ten at night and everything was in darkness - even the lighthouse was out. But we knew the place very well as we had been there dozens of times and thus could come in in the dark. But there were a lot of ships that weren’t there when we went out - the Indonesian Navy had arrived with about seven or eight ships all anchored outside the reef. Johnny went to sail right through them and into the harbour when someone put a spotlight on us - a big spotlight. Johnny roared at one of our blokes to switch our search light on and give them a dose of their own medicine. I said, “Jeez, don’t do that” and had a real job to stop him before they put a burst of gunfire down and did the lot of us in. So anyhow we got over that and sailed in to tie up at the wharf.

The next day I was invited to go to dinner with the Taiwanese Consul; he wanted to talk to me. His idea was that there were so many young women there, he would like to get them out of the place. It was dangerous, which was pretty right too! He wanted me to sign a list in his book. But I stalled and said that I couldn’t commit myself without discussing it with my partner. There must have been someone there with a big ear because the next morning as I was having a shave there was pounding on my cabin door. I opened the door and there’s two blokes at the door and two further back with tommy guns. They informed me that I was wanted at the big army camp about six miles out of Dili. On the way out they were driving like madmen. Presently they came up behind a big truck when all of a sudden there was a boy run over on his bike and another one hurt. A couple of others took of into the bush while people sitting in the back of the truck were shooting at them. While they were throwing the two boys in the back of the truck we got past waving the Fretlin salute.

When we got to the compound, they marched me into the Commander. he looked like a fellow I knew, but with a beard. I kept looking at him, and he’s thumping the table and going on and roaring “You will not take any young women from here”. I said, “Who said I will take young women, I’ve not agreed to take any women, I can guarantee that.” He said, “Well that is the report we have”, and I said, “Well the report’s false.” All of a sudden he talked to the Portuguese people who saluted and went out. He jumped up immediately, shook hands with me and said, “I have to do this Sid, I have to have some semblance of authority.” This was the man I had known quite well and rather a good type of fellow - half Portuguese and half Timorese. Then he reached behind and pulled out three filthy looking large glasses which he filled to the brim and had a drink to Fretlin. I said then, “If anybody wanted something in the line of a rebellion it was here, but you people have gone off a bit half cocked, you should have had assistance from somewhere”, and talked, you know, quite good. After that he sent me back to my ship, but warned me to be careful, “Those girls must stop here, they are wanted for work.” “What work?” “Well, we have a finance minister, and we have a finance department, but we have no finance and we have 20,000 soldiers. How do you think they are going to be paid?”

After I got back to the ship Johnny went ashore - he was going to get meat. He went deer shooting of all things when there was a damn war on. Anyway, he was away that night before returning with a load of venison. Johnny told me that he had been invited to a party. Its true, there was a party - a lot of grog to drink and all that, and a lot of sing-songing going on. But it was given by Fretlin. And they were burying one girl - somebody said two, but John only saw one - with her hands tied behind her back. And they had about twenty shovels there, and they had all the villagers there, and they used to give them a shovel - and she had to shovel a shovel full of dirt in on top of their friend. See, nobody publishes this kind of stuff. It was too red hot for the consul; he would have nothing to do with it. But it was right. John saw it, and snatched a rifle off a soldier, and they immediately turned on him, but he ran like a rabbit. And he never knew what went with the Timorese that was with him, that took him there. He never knew whether that bloke got shot or not. See, that's very sticky stuff isn't it? But you wouldn't be able to prove who buried her. But people would be there that could tell you that happened. That was in that little village that's on the eastern side of Dili, about a mile out of Dili near a little bridge - a little bridge about forty feet wide, and the village is on this side.

I was having lunch at Favaro’s house when a Chinese came along and suggested we take some young girls. They must have gone to the Consul or somebody and decided that they would take out children and pregnant women. When I got back there were about three hundred Chinese men on the ship - no women at all - they’d invaded the ship and got on. Anyhow, I went out and saw the Fretlin people and said, “Look, it’s up to you to get them off, you let them on.” “No we didn’t let them on. They came through the gate, but we didn’t stop them.” The sergeant spoke fairly good English and he got his troops to clear the boat. Then I went down the engine room and looked in all the likely places but only found one more; a Chinese man in a suit - very well dressed. Then the girls and pregnant women started crushing on the gate. There would’ve been two thousand people quite likely, and they couldn't hold them so I went away and got a piece of rope and put a bowline in it around the gate so we could control the gate opening to about eighteen inches. I was thinking a lot of women would get hurt. After about two hours we had about two hundred on board when I decided we had enough. I tried to get them to go down the freezer hold. I explained that there would be no hatch and that we could switch on fans, but they wouldn’t and all stayed on deck. I was going around with a Portuguese girl, that could speak a bit of English, collecting passports from those who had them. We came across a the Chinese man who we had tossed ashore, but now he was dressed like any grubby old man from a village, claiming he didn’t have a passport. I got Murray, one of our seamen, to search the suitcase I had seen next to the Chinaman while I took him into my cabin. His passport was for Mr Cheng a biscuit manufacturer from Shanghai. When we got to Darwin I handed all the passports to Les Liveris and told him that there was something funny about about Mr Cheng who had denied having a passport and had stampeded to get on the ship. But Les cleared him and let him go. Sometime later the same fellow was deported for being the head of some revolutionary turn-out.

I felt really bad about one girl. A Chinese girl who was quite tall. I said to the guard on the gate, “Yes, let her come as she speaks English and she’ll help me with this mob.” He couldn’t understand ‘this mob’, of course, and wouldn’t let her through the gate. So I told her to put on some pantalooni (shorts) and swim around the other side of the boat. About half an hour later I hear a hell of a commotion and there’s about a dozen fellows looking over the wharf shooting into the water. I felt responsible for her death.

We were the last ship out of Dili. On the way to Darwin our radar went wrong and we had to set out to sea a bit further to avoid the reefs. We reduced speed a bit too and relied on echo soundings and dead-reckoning from the chart - of course it was raining! During this, Johnny came to me and said there's a woman down on the well deck in great pain. She was rolling about and, like the other women, was sick and spewing all over the place. We went down with a torch to have a look, and she was a young girl about eighteen or nineteen who couldn’t talk English but was clearly about to give birth. Johnny pulled her dress up and her pants were all soaking wet. I had my stainless steel knife, which I always carried on a lanyard, and slit her pants and felt in there. That finished Johnny - he’s a great lady fan, but Oh it finished him. Anyhow, I could feel the baby’s head and reckoned it would be another half hour. I went back and got a bit of gear - some fishing line, half a glass of whiskey which I used to sterilise the line, and a small knife out of the medicine cabinet. The baby started to come and I eased her out onto a cloth. I had a couple of towels there and some hot water in a bowl. When the baby came we tied the cord with the fishing line. I offered the left over whiskey to Johnny but he wouldn’t touch it so I had it. We made a bed using a small rubber dingy in the bosun’s locker so the mother could lay down in comfort. I tried the mother for milk but no milk. Two and four hours later still no milk but we had to feed the kid something, so we got some distilled water out of the battery room and some glucose. Then I went back to the stern deck where I’d seen a young girl nursing a child. I went up with a glass and mimed getting some milk - she put her hand over her face thinking I wanted to get it. But there was an old lady there in black baggy trousers who had heard that we needed some milk for the newborn, so she went and milked half a glass. We mixed it with the glucose and distilled water and fed the baby with an eyedropper. The baby was about three weeks premature. Several years later I was sent a photo of that child.

It took about a day and half to get back to Darwin. Nobody paid us to bring those people. The old Chinese woman who had helped get the milk wanted to do something for us and made me four shirts. She’s the only one that said thank you. Two of the girls got jobs in Woolworths and would always hail me and have a talk. The people in Jape Arcade treat us very well if we want anything as many of their relatives came over with me.

Kerry Packer didn’t like it when we took on the refugees. He said, “I employed you to work for me, not to work for some of these people.” We had a few hard words about this, and I said, “that doesn’t matter, you agreed to pay us $1,000 a day for nine days and I’ll sue you for it if you don’t pay it.” “You do that Sid, I will employ the best QC’s in the place, and you will be paying them; and we’ll have it is Sydney.” he had paid us $6,000 already and I knew how much chance I’d have. But he had a rubber dingy on board with an outboard motor which he never got back, despite his requests later. (Johnny Chadderton states that he met Kerry Packer some years later and asked for the balance of the money owed; to which Packer’s immediate response was “where’s my rubber ducky!”)

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