Twelve Things You Need to Know About Timor-Leste

We Australians need to act quickly to understand the new Timor-Leste.

We Australians need to renew our understanding of Timor-Leste. It is a surprising, delightful, deep rooted country. There is a lot that its people can teach us and have to offer. Our governments, of Liberal and Labor persuasion with few exceptions, have based our friendship on gas and petro dollar values and a tinge of paternalism. This is a mistake even from a narrow economic perspective. While Australia is chairing the G20, representing the most developed nations of the world, Timor-Leste is already playing a significant world role as chair of the so-called G7+, 18 conflicted and fragile nations, representing 1.5 billion people. This is taken extremely seriously by Timor-Leste’s leaders whose diplomatic arm during the war years was, and continues to be, remarkable. To move forward in our relationship and in our understanding more quickly it will be necessary for us as individual Australians to move from thinking of “East Timor” to understanding Timor-Leste: a  land with a long, fascinating history, a gestation as a nation and struggles against colonial powers much older than the history of the Australian nation, and with its own timeless local traditions. This is a nation more sophisticated  than just the newly emerged “East Timor” forged from contemporary conflicts emerging through democratic elections involving 98 per cent of the people. 78.5 per cent of East Timorese voted for independence despite threats of extreme violence, economic isolation and extraordinary intimidation. To understand this iron determination of ordinary people it is necessary to get below the surface into the fabric of village life and you wont be able to read about this on Wikipedia or see it on utube. The best way to transform your understanding is to visit and see first hand the charming grass roots of the society and the remarkable progress and change of the last decade. The flight from Darwin is about the same time as from Melbourne to Sydney, you barely have time to drink a cup of tea before you are landing at Dili. In what follows I hope that I can give you some reason to hop on that plane and to spark your intrigue and interest about a place that once visited can never be forgotten.


This article is available free for 24 hours from 26 May 2014 and is previewed exclusively on the Sandy Dann Radio Show, Goolarri Media, Broome on Monday 26 May, 2014.

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