Vale James Dunn

A Brief Memoir of some of the invaluable Sydney Solidarity work by James Dunn on behalf of East Timor liberation struggle.

On behalf of the Australia East Timor Association (Sydney) I would like to add our condolences to James Dunn’s family over his recent passing. 

As part of the student movement back in 1977 I was involved in attempting to promote The Dunn Report related to his extensive interviews with East Timorese refugees in Portugal.

James Dunn was Head of Research in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library at the time. There was no guarantee the damning report on the effects of the 7 December 1975 Indonesian military invasion would be made public by the Fraser Liberal Government.

The Report was leaked to the Melbourne Age newspaper where it received front page coverage and stirred the national solidarity movement into action. Albeit not enough pressure was generated to shift Government policy away from first ‘de facto‘ (1976) and then ‘de jure‘ (1978-79) recognition of the Indonesian takeover of East Timor.

Letter to the Editor of the Canberra Times by Jim Dunne Wed 25 July 1984

On October 16th 1995, Peter Cronau as Director of the of Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ)  at the Uni of Technology Sydney organised a Seminar to launch a booklet written by James Dunn entitled “The Balibo Incident in Perspective” (known as ‘The Black Book’). Speakers at this seminar were Paul Stewart, Shirley Shackleton, Keith Suter (ICJ) and Peter Cronau himself. A prepared statement was read out, written by James Dunn who was travelling en route to London for a similar launch there simultaneously.

James Dunn’s book on the subject of the Indonesian invasion appeared in 1983 as one of the first book on the post 1975 events. Called ” Timor: A People Betrayed” (Jackaranda Press)  it exposed chronologically the whole sorry saga of East Timor. It was re-released (through ABC Books) in late 1996 under an expanded, updated and revised edition, again as ‘Timor: A People Betrayed‘ but with a new cover showing a photo of a Falintil fighter with a guitar in his hands.

Jacaranda Press 1983

At short notice, AETA Sydney liaised with James Dunn’s wife in Canberra, and with him directly overseas, to organize the inaugural launch of this definitive work at the Lansdowne Hotel in Chippendale Sydney on the crucial media-sensitive anniversary date of December 7th 1996. James was overseas in the USA, Portugal and elsewhere for the two months prior performing lobbying on behalf of the East Timor cause. He arrived back in Sydney hours before and professionally attended to all the media interviews.

Graffiti on Parliament House Canberra refelcting Australia’s shameful treatment of the Timorese people. Photo: Gareth Smith

Some one hundred activists and media gathered in a crowded reception area to hear the late Professor George Aditjondro, the late Tom Uren M.P., the (now retired) Senator Vicki Bourne from The Democrats, the co- leader of the East Timor Relief Association/Pacific CNRT Office Ines Almeida and others give glowing testimonies over this most valuable written contribution to the ongoing liberation struggle.

Prior to the launch the Sydney Solidarity Choir sang Timorese songs and Peter Hicks, the now Tasmanian-based folk singer performed his ‘Streets of Dili‘. There was a benefit concert following the launch, involving a Filipino touring traditional band ‘Tribu’, Australian Blues legend Jim Conway, Timorese performers and others downstairs in the main bar of the Lansdowne Hotel.

The speeches and some of the benefit concert performers were captured on video by the documentary film crew of Fabio Cavadini and Mandy King. A copy of these DVDs were duplicated and donated to the Max Stahl Film Archive in Dili in 2001 and again in 2005 by myself on behalf of AETA.
Shortly after the December 7th 1996 launch, a second book launch was organised in the NSW Parliament where both Peter Cronau and the then Convenor of AETA, late Dr Andrew McNaughtan, and the co-Head of ETRA/CNRT  Agio Pereira all spoke.

In 2007 James Dunn was one of the 66 odd witnesses to make a submission to the Coroner’s Inquest into the whereabouts of the ‘Balibo Five’ journalists at the Coroner’s Court in Camperdown, Sydney.

On the 21st February 2013, James Dunn presented the ‘8th Annual Memorial Lecture for the late Dr Andrew McNaughtan’ at Gleebooks, in their Glebe shop in Sydney, where he launch the book “The Politics of Timor Leste’, co-edited by Melbourne academics Damien Kingsbury and Michael Leach.

José RamosHorta and Alexander Downer confirm the Timor Gap treaty. It came into force on February 23, 2007 with the exchange of notes in Dili, East Timor. Australia was a huge beneficiary of this agreement taking the lion’s share of gas and oil. In the background are John Howard (then PM) and Mari Alkatiri (then President of East Timor).

A testimonial dinner for James Dunn’s 85th year was held opposite at a South American restaurant following the book launch. Here a number of journalists like Hamish McDonald and others gave extended insights into James Dunn’s overarching contribution to the Timor struggle and the global human rights cause over many decades.

This event was filmed on behalf of AETA by post-graduate Timorese media student Abilio de Fonseco. All enquiries about copies of this DVD should be directed to Abilio de Fonseco himself.

Note: These are just some of the events that come immediately to mind when the name James Dunn comes up. Of course he attended many other public events and Sydney and Canberra and elsewhere that I am aware of.

His passing will not be forgotten by myself or the other activists of AETA who used his words and books to further our small involvement in the struggle for self-determination and justice of the Timor Leste people.

Jefferson Lee
Sydney, 4/02/20.

The author of this eulogy has asked me to include the following:

James Dunn was very generous with his time in person and on the phone. No inquiry as to history or query as to facts was to trivial for him to dismiss out of hand. He was also brilliant with timely contributed articles and letters in the media to correct the continuous misrepresentations of the Timorese reality by either pro-Indonesian military opportunists or the misinformed hacks following the DFAT drip line of argument.”

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