St Kilda remembers Balibo Five on 40th anniversary

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A slain ‘Son of St Kilda’ was honoured earlier this year at a tree planting ceremony at St Kilda Botanical Gardens on the 40th anniversary of the deaths of the Balibo Five.

The council planted a tree in the memory of Tony Stewart, the 21-year-old sound recordist killed with four other journalists who were filing reports for Australian media outlets about Indonesian incursions before the 1975 invasion of Portuguese Timor (now the Democratic Republic of Timor Leste). A sixth reporter, Australian Roger East was executed by Indonesian troops after travelling to East Timor to investigate their deaths.

Mayor Amanda Stevens said the Stewart family, which asked the council to mark the anniversary by providing a tree had called St Kilda home for three generations.

“This peaceful retreat is the perfect setting to reflect on the bravery of this young man, and his journalistic colleagues, who sacrificed their lives to tell this important story,” she said.

Tony’s sister, Anne Stewart said the tree was an important symbol to the family. “Our grandfather was a driver on the Scenic Railway at Luna Park, our parents were married, lived and danced in St Kilda and the five Stewart siblings went to school in the area,” she said.

“Tony was a true ‘Son of St Kilda’ and it means a lot to have our brother acknowledged where he grew up.”

Paul Stewart said his brother would have loved the idea of the tree planting. “It’s fantastic, the whole family including the new generation can visit it. It’s also an important reminder of what happened 40 years ago. People have been talking about that tragedy for 40 years and will still be talking about it 40 years in the future.”

Mr Stewart, a veteran musician who formed the Dili All Stars band to highlight the plight of the Timorese people, encouraged Australians to assist them through initiatives including the local Friends of Suai/Covalima group.

In 2000, Port Phillip was the first Australian local government to sign a statement of friendship with East Timor and facilitates Friends of Suai’s efforts to provide both financial aid and community connections to the coastal town. A recent fund-raising effort by Rotary and the Port Phillip community means 2000 Suai Secondary School students now have toilets and running water.

A Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance scholarship for young East Timorese journalists to receive training in Australia was also announced at the ceremony.

Background: The Balibo Five are Tony Stewart, Greg Shackleton, Gary Cunningham, Malcolm Rennie and Brian Peters. All aged under 30, they were reporting for Australian media outlets and based in the border town of Balibo. In 2007, an Australian coroner found the Balibo Five were executed as they tried to surrender to Indonesian forces. Indonesia maintains they were killed by crossfire between local Fretilin and its forces.


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