Across the globe:
Leading, linking, learning

Boyle - East Timor

Russell Boyle, Australia

This paper was written in 1999.

Mr Russell Boyle is an education consultant, writer, speaker, commentator, conference presenter and professional development facilitator.


High on the mountain peaks of Timor
The grass grows
And warms the fractured bones
Of a fighter who fell

Down on the grassy plains of Timor
A flower shows
And beautifies the bones
Of a fighter who fell

This is the hopeful life that grows
From life's release
The life that every woman knows
Who calls for peace
With every waking breath
But not the peace of death

Throughout the peaks and plains of Timor
The life-blood flows
And animates the bones
Of the fighters who fell.

Xanana Gusmao


Despite the threats and intimidation from pro-Indonesian militias and their backers, 98% of registered East Timorese voters bravely cast their votes in the August 30 1999 independence ballot. 78% of them voted in favour of independence. The full extent of the bloodshed and crime against humanity that followed the ballot is yet to be revealed, but United Nations officials estimate that 75% of the East Timor population has been displaced, and InterFET commander, Major-General Peter Cosgrove, believes that large numbers of East Timorese have been killed.

Negative Parent Reaction
In his September 17 1999 newsletter to parents, Braemar College (Australia) principal, Philip Grutzner, said:

'it seems the lessons from the events of Nazi Germany, Cambodia, Rwanda and the Balkans have not been learned’.

Soon after the chaos, murder and wanton destruction of infrastructure in East Timor, Philip received a letter from a parent requesting that her daughter not attend Indonesian classes, in protest against the atrocities committed against the Timorese. Whilst welcoming her letter and sharing her shock about the atrocities, Philip disagreed about the withdrawal from Indonesian classes:

'Let us suppose we ban the teaching of Indonesian. We would have to add Chinese to the list, after all the situation in Tibet and the Tiananmen Square massacre were deplorable. The Second World War counts out German, Japanese and Italian. I guess Russian is in the same category. French is out due to nuclear testing in the South Pacific.'

What Would We Teach?
History, pondered Philip, would have to go, as there would be

'no point in teaching US history, after all the treatment of native Americans and its foreign policy are debatable. For similar reasons, Australian history is out due to our treatment of the Aboriginal people. Chemistry, Physics and Science are out because Science has given us more problems than solutions. If we can ignore drug cheats, Physical Education is okay. What about Religious Education? Perhaps not, after all, our students should not know about Northern Ireland, the Middle East or the Balkans. So what is left? Facts, rather than values. Knowledge, rather than wisdom’.

Discussion With Students Important
Philip Grutzner continued:

'I am sure the wider Braemar College community is horrified by the events in East Timor’,  ‘Over the past few weeks much time has been spent in our Indonesian classes talking about the atrocities, and importantly, how every Australian can make a difference. As a result of these discussions, the students have decided to write to the Australian Government, the Indonesian and United States embassies and the United Nations. Students volunteered to set up an information booth for last night's parent teacher night at which information was available and food was sold to raise money. The proceeds will go to the East Timor Relief Association and to refugees.

'I am hopeful that an understanding of Indonesian culture, history and politics has helped explain the situation, but never, I hope, to excuse it’.

See the benefits that ICP can have on your school!

Become a member today