Peter Job and Hamish McDonald – In later years he wore a hat for all seasons, whether it was the bitter cold of a Canberra winter or the tropical heat of Dili: a cap of checked tweed.
James Dunn, who died on January 31 at the age of 92, was similarly unruffled by heated attacks and official freezes when, as an isolated official, he stood up against Australia's foreign policy establishment over its endorsement of Indonesia's invasion and annexation of East Timor.
During his 16 years from 1970 as director of the foreign affairs group in the Legislative Research Service of the Federal Parliamentary Library, Dunn was instrumental in bringing the plight of the Timorese under the Indonesian occupation to the attention of the world.
Born in Bundaberg in a family of six children, Dunn's humanitarian outlook was shaped by national service in the Australian Army, which provided most of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan.
The Australians were assigned the southwestern end of Honshu, an area including Hiroshima, and Dunn was later to describe witnessing "children, hundreds of them, dying from atomic radiation".
Dunn was a soldier who stuck to his guns. The Australian command liked to send troops up to Tokyo periodically to take a turn mounting guard on the imperial palace, partly to remind General Douglas MacArthur the occupation was not entirely an American show.
One night Dunn was standing sentry at a palace gate, when a car approached and tooted to be let in. The driver was unable to give the night's password. Dunn pointed his rifle, bayonet fixed, and ordered him to get out. It was Crown Prince Akihito, the future emperor.
Back in civvies, Dunn gained an honours degree in political science and Russian at Melbourne University. Then followed years in the Defence Department as an intelligence analyst focused on Indonesia, whose language and history he studied at the Australian National University.
In 1962, he transferred to the diplomatic service to become consul in Dili, the capital of what was then Portuguese Timor. The almost three years he spent there gave him a lifetime of empathy and engagement with its people.
Postings to Paris and Moscow followed, but his time in Timor was to become important. In Dili, he had been asked by a Portuguese colonel if Australia would support a military coup to overthrow the Salazar-Caetano fascist regime. Canberra said no. But in April 1974, the same officer was a leader of the revolt in Lisbon that overthrew the regime and began Portugal's hasty exit from its colonies.
Dunn, by then in the parliamentary library, was part of a Department of Foreign Affairs team sent to the territory in June 1974. His report broke with Foreign Affairs orthodoxy: he argued independence was viable, disparaged those who thought integration with Indonesian inevitable and suggested Australia and Indonesia should jointly help the birth of a new state, if that was what the Timorese wanted. It fell on "unresponsive ears," Dunn said later. Canberra effectively stood aside for Indonesia to invade over the closing months of 1975.
It was during the early years of occupation that Dunn arguably made his strongest contribution. Information was trickling out, via elements of the Catholic church, smuggled letters and a clandestine radio link established by activists near Darwin.
Dunn went to Portugal to interview Timorese who had managed to escape. His report in February 1977 detailed accounts, largely verified since, of severe human rights abuses, including massacres, sexual violence, deliberately induced famine and other abuses. It concluded that claims from Catholic sources of 100,000 deaths in a half-million population were credible.
In early 1977 Dunn took his report to Britain, France, Sweden, Portugal, the Netherlands and the United States. Australia's embassies were ordered to discredit him, claiming his account of atrocities was "highly exaggerated" and based on "hearsay and second-hand evidence" and that a "thorough study" failed to verify them.His report did inspire strong questioning of the Fraser Government from backbenchers: Labor's Tom Uren, Ken Fry, Gordon McIntosh and Arthur Gietzelt, and the Liberals' Alan Missen, Michael Hogmann and Neville Bonner. At the Canberra Times, editor Ian Matthews and writer Bruce Juddery also bucked the general media acceptance of the government line. Dunn testified at the United Nations and other international bodies. In 1983, he published his book, East Timor: A People Betrayed.
The Suharto government in Jakarta was meanwhile puzzled why Dunn had not been sacked. Not having direct authority over parliamentary staff, Australian officials tried undermining him with a whispering campaign. But an attempt to transfer Dunn from his library research position failed, after then opposition leader Bill Hayden and MPs from both sides rallied to defend him.
After retiring in 1986, Dunn continued his research and advocacy about Timor. Then the atmospherics changed with 1991 massacre at Dili's Santa Cruz cemetery, Suharto's weakening grip, the end of the Cold War and the lessening of concern about communism, and the rise of support for independence even among Timor's Indonesian-educated youngsters.
Dunn returned to East Timor during the independence vote in 1999, remaining during the militia violence until evacuation. He returned shortly after the Australian-led intervention to work as an adviser to the interim UN mission. He wrote columns for The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and the Illawarra Mercury.
In 2001 Canberra finally reversed itself by investing him with the Order of Australia; this was followed by medals from Portugal and the new government of Timor-Leste.
Dunn is survived by his wife Wendy and his sons Ian, Murray and Chris. Another son, Brian, died in 2011.
Speaking for Timor-Leste's government, minister of state Agio Pereira said Dunn would be remembered with great affection, admiration and respect. "In this moment of sadness, we mourn his death, but we celebrate his contribution," Pereira said.
– James Stanley Dunn: January 6, 1928-January 31, 2020.