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Sister of Balibo Five journalist returns to Timor Leste

ABC News - September 26, 2013

Lily Partland – Anne Stewart's world changed in 1975 when her brother Tony was killed – along with four other Australian-based journalists – by Indonesian troops as they invaded East Timor.

She visited the developing country and in particular the town of Balibo for the first time 10 years ago, and has just returned from her second visit. "I've got to say it's a pretty emotional ride for me when I go back, because you think that's where we lost our dear brother."

The purpose of Anne's first visit to Balibo was to attend the reopening of Balibo House – where the Balibo Five sheltered and painted a flag on the wall – as a community learning centre.

"It was such a moving experience, you almost felt like the spirits of the boys could now lay at rest, because so many people came. They'd walked for four days because everybody loves Xanana [Gusmao] and he was there with Steve Bracks."

Trust takes on major project

This time, the Balibo House Trust – established by the Victorian Government in 2002 – opened the Fort House, which will be developed as accommodation, a restaurant and a heritage centre.

"If you know a bit of the history of East Timor you know that up on the Portuguese fort that's where the boys saw the Indonesian navy massing off the shore, so it's a pretty significant spot.

"But it was crumbling and falling down and the Balibo House Trust commissioned some architects to do it up again and I believe they employed local people from Balibo to do it up and it looks beautiful."

Anne says the project is ambitious and is not sure the demand is there from tourists.

"It's a long drive [to Balibo] and the roads are shocking, and the people of Balibo are so poor that you wonder whether it's really going to work. But there's a lot of people behind it now and people bringing more money into it."

She says up to 15 locals will be employed as part of the development and says it's important to include the people of Balibo in the process. "It will take a real talent to make sure that the people think it's still their own. But if it's accommodation for white people they might think it's lost to them."

Anne says it's important to remember everyone who died during the conflict with Indonesia. "When those six white boys died, 200,000 Timorese were killed. So it's nice to honour them but we wouldn't like our story to be the dominant one."

Slowly getting better

She says while Timor Leste is still an impoverished developing country, things are getting better. "There's been a lot more interest in education, because for most people education is the way out."

Anne says her all her siblings have a connection to Timor and are doing what they can to help.

"I'm on a committee Libraries for Timor Leste, my brother Paul is always up there with different projects, my brother Greg's a doctor and goes up and works there regularly, and my sister's involved in the environment and corporate speak. "So we all try to do our things in our own way."