Somehow we made to Timor, though it was doubtful we would! At 6pm the night before we left my passport was not where it ought to have been! I literally stripped the studio in search of it, 3 hours later found it ! So the relief of all we set off at 4.30am next morning. Our plane from Darwin to Dili was turned back to Darwin after 45 minutes in the air because of mechanical problems (no mechanical repairer for the air line in Dili!) so we arrived in Dili 3 hours later than we should have!
Our first trek out of Dili too us to the central region of Timor for Max Stahl’s wedding on top of the highest mountain Ramelau (2,900 metres) and had a few days in the cold, Hatobiliko and Maubisse – very beautiful country. Believe it or not there is an attempt to fix the roads now, and they are vastly improved, not so many chunks of road disappearing into holes in the mountainside! One still has to drive slowly on the road to Hatobiliko though! My children, Harry Ella and I played at the wedding hard work so high up a mountain! There was also traditional music up the top and a lulic ceremony as this a sacred place to the Timorese. It is also the only time I have seen half a bottle of Moet being exploded into space – a Timorese guy who must have seen a few too many Hollywood movies shook up the bottle so the cork would pop really well and most of this expensive champagne was split on the table WHAT A WASTE.
We all made our way to the Poussade in Maubisse for the party at night. It was freezing everyone was tired from the climb up the mountain, but the dancing and partying went on most of the night, we got to bed and slept the sleep of the dead until Harry woke up screaming that there was someone in the room! I told him to stop being ridiculous (But, I hadn’t locked the door!) and got into bed with him to settle him down, his heart was racing. We nearly got to sleep and he screamed out again! So….I turned all the lights on, checked the bathroom , cupboards etc, locked the door and we went back to sleep again. The next morning we heard there had been an intruder in 3 other rooms and a lot more disturbance! .I Harry got around all day with a :”see I told you so expression on his face.
Our next adventure took us to Balido via liquica, (we stopped on the way for a swim at a stunning beach there, Tony and Alfeo (Arte Moris artists) played soccer with some local kids), and a little village an hour out of Balido Manaloon close to the Indonesian border. I had music to record there, so when we finally go to Balibo the first part of our journey (which my timorese helpers assured me was 2 hours from Dili (more than double that distance!!) we got there at 10pm at night and went to bed basically after only eating a salad made with vegies I had bought at the markets before we left. Next day we went to Manaloon, we drove the car to a nearby village and walked an hour for the last bit. It was a little hamlet on a hill really charming traditional village. There was a welcome ceremony for us, they expected us to take part in the beetle nut ceremony, I’ve had it before and really don’t like it, but, Lillie being adventurous stuffed it all in her mouth so I had to follow suit or loose face! You should have seen the kids mouths when they realised how bitter it was!!
There was a lot of fake coughing going on and wads of wet mushy beetle leaves and nuts in palms of hands! Then I suggested we were thirsty and could we have some coconuts (to wash the taste of the beetle nut away!) then the long long wait while the secus decided if they would play for us!! This waiting around is normal for recordings, but I reckon this one was some kind of record, 6 hours later (I regretted not having a book with me! Rule number one when doing this recording, take a good book for the inevitable waits!) we started recordings. By the time we got outside the traditional meeting house to record dances there was a howling gale! But after some tua (local plonk) I persuaded them to sing some worksongs with actions – they slashed a whole field and sung some great stuff, it made all the waiting around worth it! After that they offered to sing the local death song which was wonderful. As I had been told that Rob Connelly was interested in the music I was recording and especially this place I thought well this final song might be really appropriate since the feature film he is doing is about the Balibo Five!
We bade our goodbyes and headed back to the village where the car was content that a good days work was done. It was dusk when we got back and we were looking forward to finally having a decent meal in Balibo but, the car wouldn’t start! Sounded like a fuel blockage since the fuel used in Timor is often dirty this was not an unreasonable diagnosis! Well try as I might we couldn’t get it started, no road maintenance in Timor!!! Inn fact where we were, no phone range, no electricity no other traffic – the road in had been like driving along a dry creek bed! So, we asked if anyone had a motorbike in the village, they didn’t! But someone in a nearby village did, so one of us (Tony volunteered to walk there), around the corner at that moment came the guy with the bike –( this sort of thing happens a lot in Timor!) so Tony went with him to Balibo for help and we waited. Not for long, the chief of the village said that we had probably done bad lulic in Manaloon and that he would do a chant around the car to chase away the bad spirits and then we would be on our way – if I only had his faith! Before knew it, he was going around and round the car carrying a beetle nut container and sprinkling lime powder at the car – our Irish companion Niemh couldn’t believe that he could possibly be doing this for something mechanical, I said if it worked I’d believe anything! After 10 minutes of chanting he told me to start the car and he was crest fallen when it didn’t work!!! (I felt like I was in the midst of the set the gods must be crazy!) The kids were invited into a house to sleep (it was 8pm by now!) and then our chief said…I am not as powerful I will get the chief from the village you were at!! I said please don’t go to any trouble! He insisted, a couple of hours later and he was back saying the big chief said it was a mechanical problem – sanity at the highest level!!!! Shortly after Tony was back with a truck and two mechanics, try as they might it wouldn’t start and we decided to tow it back. A Pajero being towed by a truck with a lot less guts and bald tyres up some dicky slopes and roads! The tow wire snapped lots of times and we all got out to push up hills, etc and eventually on one bad one we abandoned the idea and went back to Balibo (kids and girls and the Timorese guys decided they would keep trying). They got in at 3am and were back there at 8pm next morning, Eventually we got the truck back to Balibo and got a new fuel filter and set off for Dili!
Next day (Thursday) was running around getting organised to catch the boat to Oecussi. The kids were reluctant to get on the road again, especially as they had memories of the boat from before, me too and it was a rocky long trip (old trip was 16 hours). We were in for a pleasant surprise, the trip was smooth 11 hours, and a new boat, the Germans had donated it. We arrived, still unable to contact Richard Dashbach the priest in Kutet to warn him we were coming! We started walking to Caritas HQ to beg a ride up the mountain, I forgot what a hike it was, we had a lot of gear – sleeping bags, mats, presents, instruments! An American working for the UN picked us up and took us to Topu Honis in Mahata and they gave us breakfast and then we set off for caritas to see if we could get a ride. Kutet is a four hour walk up the mountain or an hour and half drive. Our friends in Caritas remembered us from last time and were pleased to take us up. We said could we please get a ride back on the following Tuesday, they smiled and said no worries!) We went up the mountain through Baki and the market on the river and arrived in Kutet in time for lunch to the astonishment of all at Topu Honis – orphanage in Kutet. The priest Richard Dashbach was amazed that I carried out my promise to come back in July with the kids, he was also truly delighted to see us! He told us we arrived on a perfect day, they had just killed 2 pigs and a cow for 3 weddings about to take place in Kutet and everybody on the mountain was coming. 2 brides and 1 groom were ex orphans from Topu Honis.
The evening was a great wedding feast, music and dancing, the traditional Bsoot, and Portuguese dance music. Late at night they persuaded me to dance the traditional Bsoot so the brass bells were tied to my feet, they were heavy several kilos each! So I and danced the bsoot with the locals it was great fun, I even drank the local brew , tua….normally I don’t like palm wine, but Kutet Tua is amazingly good, kutet also boasts beautiful spring water it is one of the few places in Timor where you can drink the water out of the taps. They should really bottle it and sell it as the local spring water! We had 4 lovely restful days at Topu Honis.
Richard (the priest) gave some great accounts of their times during 1999 and a tour of some of their hiding holes and places they staged battles). Kutet staged an the only armed resistance to the Indonesians in 1999, they are so isolated they hadn’t heard that the Timorese were told not to bear arms against the militia and Indonesians, and they were determined not to be slaughtered as defenceless civilians. They did a battle largely of bluff, fake but noisey bamboo canons, machetes tied to poles bows and arrows, word went down the mountain that there was a priest with an army on top of the mountain and they were armed and dangerous! Hardly any civilians were killed as a consequence in Kutet. On our second last night in Kutet, we presented a slide show of photos we had taken of them in 2006 and then this trip, lots of laughs!
Then we showed photos of Australia, New Zealand and Harry and I did an impromptu concert of gypsy music! On the morning we were to leave it was decided that I would walk to the bottom with Richard and a couple of other Timorese and caritas truck would as planned get Harry and Lillie and the gear. Topu Honis is buzzing from 4.00am and I was up having breakfast, the kids were up – all very excited and any barriers that had existed at the beginning of our stay were completely gone now! It was just breaking dawn when we set off down the mountain. The ground was gravely, not great soil, very dry and hard to walk on without slipping. Some precipices I was impressed the Timorese were both barefoot, their feet must be so tough! We malae were in good footwear and still struggling not to loose our grip on the ground! About an hour into the walk there appeared suddenly a fast flowing stream, from no-where, apparently under the mountain is a spring and the water is incredibly pure, everyone drinks it on the mountain and it certainly didn’t make us sick. They really ought to tap it! Lots of beetle nut palms lovely rainforest, the mountain is full of little microclimates.
By the time we made it to the bottom the stream was completely gone into the ground and the vegetation was dry again! People stopped us all the way down to chat to the priest, not just because he is the priest,rather they see him as a hero who saved them from being obliterated by the Indonesian army!
At the bottom we went to Caritas HQ to make sure they had gone to Kutet to get the kids, they didn’t even remember us asking them!! Normal stuff in Timor! All vehicles were out in villages except those with mechanical problems, I panicked! The boat only goes to Dili twice a week! I met Chris Walsh the CEO for Caritas who had just got back to Oecussi from Bali that morning and he arranged for someone to go back up the mountain with me with a truck! By the time we got up the top the kids had basically given up on us! We were hours later than the truck had promised and starving! A large number of Topu Honis kids waved goodbye and several other piled into the truck for the trip back down!
We went straight to the boat got tickets and assumed we would leave pretty soon afterwards the tide was up, (Oecussi has a shallow landing for the boat so they only come in High Tide), but the boat took its time coming in, so by the time it came in the tide was so high that many of the vehicles and motor bikes could not be driven on to the boat. UN police, Boat people, other police all deliberated with what to do for another hour (10 of the Topu Honis kids were coming with us on the Boat to Dili and we were all part of a crush waiting to get on the boat). After an hour I had had enough, we had goats lying down on our feet, chickens crowing and pooing all over the place, every animal – and human making a far old din,a total circus! Timorese are not great with water more than 6 inches deep! I decided to just wade across, several others had the same ideas, and all the kids followed suit. Nothing the officials did could stop us! I was soaking wet, deposited gear and kids (none of the Topu Honis kids had tickets for the boat and we got them all on board soaking wet.
Some three hours later we set sail for Dili! As with the trip across we slept outside under the stars, all the Topu Honis kids with us, it was a real adventure for us all especially all the kids! We arrived in Dili at 5am and went to our friend Marie Clare who has a house in front of the president’s. A real first world home in third world Dili!
The next day I went to the cultural ministry to record the rare instrument the “Ailos” from Suai Loro originally and now almost extinct! I learnt it is played as a set of 4 different pitches with a player on each part – like a marimba with one person per note! There are two male dancers to accompany the musicians.
The last few days were spent teaching those wanting lessons, trying to organise the on-going needs of the music school and attempt another trip to Liquica to record. In the process of all this I managed to get rather sick with a cold, so I was half hearted about going to Liquica again, and was ambivalent as to whether a recording happened or not. On the Saturday afternoon I met Max Stahl and his family at the beach for a bit of down time and swim, not really up to my usual energy levels, was nice to watch the fading sun over the bay. Our beach space was invaded by a troop of westerners looking rather out of place for the beach! After a bit we got talking to them, they were the film crew for the feature film “Balibo Five” that had just started its shoot. I was introduced to Robert Connelly the director, who said “Ros Dunlop, I have been told about you and your music, I have been intending to contact you with regard to the music you have that could be suitable for the film….I mentioned our recent trip to Balibo….such is the way things work in Timor.
I got a phone call that night to say Liquica would be on next morning be up early! So, feeling rather lousy I drove to Liquica with a couple of “scouts” from the Audiovisual archive. We waited around for a good hour for the musicians and I fell asleep precariously balanced on a small ledge on a meeting house, I was feeling worse each minute all I could think of was getting back to bed! Eventually the musicians straggled up to the meeting house, guitars, violins, I was too sick to be disappointed that we had made the effort for portugese style music. But with them was an instrument and player “Au” a long bamboo instrument rather like a digerido. The combination was actually terrific! So it was worth the effort. I had never seen or heard this instrument before. Afterwards I kept probing to see if there were any local songs or other instruments. Eventually an old man said I play fuis but they are in my home, we volunteered to drive him home, hoping to loose some of the crowd and also the noise (the onlookers to all recordings always make it difficult to get good clear recordings!!) We went up a track that seemed to vanish into scrub, there was no more road going up this mountain. He told us we were at his house, but I couldn’t even see a house! We got out of the car and who should greet us but Manuel Pereira the lakado player who is now our head of traditional music!!I had been trying to make contact with him for 3 weeks! I couldn’t believe it! Amazingly I had the phone, and a sim card and charge for him and hadn’t taken it out of the car, so we spent the afternoon teaching him to use the phone! We also recorded a lovely bass fui. Manuel promised to take charge of the music of Liquica for the next time I visited. He said he would be in Dili a couple of days later, I asked how he travelled there, he said by bicycle! It is about 1 ½ hours by Car! No wonder he looks so fit, he is a grandfather! I am looking forward to something truly unique musically speaking in the next trip! We had lunch at a local restaurant and made our way back to Dili.
That night I took 50 people (mostly Timorese) out for dinner, Arte Moris students, Tony’s family (Tony is our art student living with us in Sydney) and other good friends. We had a cheap but great meal on the beach for just a few dollars a head! Somehow we made it back on the plane next day with no misadventures and set down in Sydney to a nippy 8º and all wished we were back in Timor again!