Think Dili, not Darwin

The banner above features Tom Nisbet, Rufino Alves Correia, Evaristo, and Geoff Laidlaw. Rufino and Evaristo were among the many Timorese who assisted Australian soldiers like Tom and Geoff in Portuguese Timor in 1942. Rufino allowed me to photocopy the photo when I visited him in 2009. Susan Connelly

Think Dili, not Darwin – Japan had no intention of invading Australia.

On 19 February 1942 Darwin was bombed in the first raid of 64 attacks by the Japanese air force. The bombing was designed to disable the infrastructure to prevent it being used against the Japanese push south. Japan had no intention of invading Australia. On the same day, Portuguese Timor was bombed and invaded, and the Japanese stayed there for 4 years. Richard Gregory has illustrated this situation superbly. Click here.

Remembering Darwin and …
On a warm Thursday morning, on 19 February 1942, two forces of Japanese bombers swept over the Arafura Sea to drop bombs on Darwin…When Australians remember the bombing of Darwin – which they should – as a shocking and potentially portentous event in Australia’s history, they might also consider the sufferings of the people of Timor, and Australia’s part in it.
Peter Stanley – Pearls and Irritations -21 February 2021   Pdf found here. 

The Bombing of Dili

On the same day that Darwin was bombed – 19 February 1942 – Dili in Portuguese Timor was also bombed, and the territory was invaded. It is high time Australians remembered with sorrow the terrible loss of Timorese lives during World War 11. Tens of thousands died as a direct result of helping our Australian soldiers. See graphic here.

There was a rally outside Linda Reynolds’ Office in Perth on Friday 19th February 2020. The Defence Minister was chosen because of the WWII connection. Here’s an image of the event.   And here’s the advertisement in the newspaper.

Anzac Day 2017: Exhibit honours Timorese boys who risked their lives for Australian commandos
James Dexter from the WA Museum talks about the “criados” in Timor Leste in WWII.
Emma Wynne – ABC Radio Perth – 24 April 2017

UNSW’s Diplomacy Training Program (DTP) hosted the “Timor was Invaded!” Webinar on 16 February 2022.  It is available here.

Professor David Dixon and Patrick Earle from the DTP arranged for the hosting and Clare Sidoti organised the smooth running of the event. Susan Connelly was the moderator.

Many people registered, indicating the high level of interest in this matter. Those who registered were from Australia, Timor-Leste, Indonesia, United States, Japan and elsewhere.

Feedback included the statement that it was “the best webinar I have attended”.

It is captivating to hear from Professor Peter Stanley, former principal historian at the War Memorial, whose many books include “Invading Australia: Japan and the Battle for Australia 1942. Available here .

We also heard from Paul Cleary, the author of  The Men Who Came Out of the Ground” a gripping account of the Timor Campaign. It is available from Hachette.

Kirsty Sword, former First Lady of Timor-Leste speaks about efforts to remember WWII in Timor as well as the needs of Timor today. She founded The Alola Foundation,  which is contributing to the social advancements of Timorese women and children through advocacy, economic empowerment, education and literacy, and maternal and child health.

It is compelling to hear from Ana Maria Ferreira, whose family was displaced continually during the Japanese occupation, and who were brought to Bob’s Farm (near Port Stephens) only to be turned away from Australia because of the White Australia policy.

Gregório Rosa spoke of his father, Salustiano Rosa, who was one of the young Timorese who assisted the Australian men. How difficult it was for those Timorese, having to juggle their lives between two warring nations on their soil.

After all, Timor was a colony of Portugal at the time, which was a neutral nation in WWII.

Edward Willis is the President of the 2/2 Commando Association and speaks of the Association’s long support of the Timorese. The Double Reds website for which he is responsible is a goldmine of information.

Major Michael Stone (Ret.) was an InterFET soldier, an adviser to José Ramos-Horta and he learned the Tetun language within weeks of his arrival in Timor in 1999. Michael is the founder and program director of Timor Awakening, which serves veterans and their families, with a focus on the relationship between Australians and the Timorese people.

Finally we hear from Dr José Ramos-Horta, past President and Prime Minister of Timor-Leste, who founded the DTP in 1989 with Emeritus Professor Garth Nettheim. Dr Ramos-Horta speaks of his dear mother, Dona Natalina and her memory of the Australian soldiers. He ends his talk with a plea for the ending of the prosecution of Bernard Collaery, who he describes as fighting in a different trench to those in WWII, but nevertheless fighting against destructive powers.

The Webinar is now available on the DTP’s YouTube channel


A most moving event occurred on Saturday 19th February 2022 at the Anzac Memorial, Hyde Park, Sydney.

It was organised by the Australian Commandos Association NSW, including the vice-president Barry Grant and David Lynch, who was MC. Together with the Timorese Community people gathered to remember the 40,000+ Timorese who died as a result of their assistance to our Australian men.

Yvonne Langley-Walsh, the widow of Vincent Walsh of the 2/2 Commandos, worked tirelessly with the Association to present this fine event and in her speech paid homage to the care and loyalty generously given by the Timorese to the Australians.

A Wreath of Friendship was cast onto the Pool of Remembrance by Yoorooka Moran and Caylan Hillers-Oliveira, a First Nations child and a Timorese child, followed by wreath-laying, the Ode, the Last Post, and Reveille.

Sisters Josephine Mitchell and Susan Connelly shared the opening and closing prayers.

The Consul-General, His Excellency Luciano da Conceição, spoke of his work with the NSW Education Department to work towards inclusion of the Australia/Timor-Leste relationship in the school curriculum.

Gerald Kenneally, son of Paddy Kenneally of the 2/2nd spoke of the debt of honour which Australians feel, the deep disappointment in the actions of governments, and the future righting of wrongs.

Participants shared food and danced a Timorese tebe and memorabilia was available to view.

Dr Ros Dunlop, long-time Timor supporter, played Martin Wesley Smith’s Tekee Tokee Tomak


Remembering Darwin … and Timor, February 1942 by Peter Stanley

Australians quick to forget terrible wartime price paid by Timorese saviours by Susan Connelly