292 Minute from Curtin to Feakes

Canberra, 24 October 1975

CONFIDENTIAL

Portuguese Timor: Australian Television Teams

Mr Starey yesterday spoke with Mr Gomes, leader of the Portuguese television team which came out of Timor several days ago after having been at Balibo:

  1. Gomes and his team left the Australians at Balibo a matter of hours before the attack on the town. He tried to talk them into leaving but they said that they were war reporters and were thus going to report the war. The few FRETILIN survivors later told Gomes in Dili that they had seen the Australians in the Balibo fortress just before the fighting (after Gomes had left). They too had urged them to go, but they had decided to stay.
  2. Though he has no proof, Gomes is convinced that the Australians are all dead. He finds it very difficult to believe the Indonesian!UDT/APODETI accounts of their deaths.1
  3. In the first place, he cannot understand why they would have been in the house where they are reported to have been found. The Australians had decided to put signs and flags on the house as an 'act ofbravado'-to make sure the Indonesians were aware that they had been in Balibo; not as a means of protection. They were in fact living in another house in a different part of the town. The house where the signs were placed was near the edge of the town where the Indonesians were expected to mount their attack (and in fact did so); it was thus where the action was expected, but it was somewhat hidden and thus a poor vantage point. Gomes would have chosen almost any other place as a press (or military) vantage point. The house was a fair distance from the fort and it was unlikely that the Australians would have headed off for the house (where they were in any event not staying)-in a dangerous area-at the last moment.
  4. Gomes thus does not believe that the Australians were killed in the house where their bodies are said to have been found. He 'guesses' that the bodies were taken there after the flags and signs were found.
  5. Gomes also 'wonders' why the Indonesians did not publicly report the deaths until 'five days later'.
  6. Sarey did not ask Gomes whether the house was a FRETILIN strong-point, as suggested by UDT/APODETI. Gomes had visited the house and would presumably have commented to Starey if it had been a strong-point. But perhaps it was taken over by the FRETILIN soldiers after Gomes left.)2
  7. Gomes has film of the house and of the Australians at Balibo. He would be willing to make this available if it is needed. He could be contacted through the Foreign Ministry in Lisbon.
  8. Starey commented that Gomes is a very 'sharp' journalist, fluent in English. He was disappointed that he could not see the Minister but accepted the reasons without any fuss.

[NAA: A1838, 3038/10/12/4, i]