Backtrack to October 18, 1975 – I’m teaching at Elwood High School and living in a share house in Malvern. My house mate is Duncan Ness, an ABC rural reporter. His many journalist friends often drop by– all working for different papers or TV news stations, they live fairly intense lives and enjoy catching up with one another. In late October, 1975, during the tumultuous news period preceding ‘The Dismissal’, they are deeply affected by news of the murders of five journalists and camera men in East Timor on October 16th. Duncan is particularly affected by the death of friend and former coworker, Greg Shackleton. It is never clear cut, from the beginning, what had happened, there has always been a sense that there may have been a withholding of knowledge from the families, of political expedience. Almost five decades have passed during which I’ve followed the work of Shirley Shackleton, wife of Greg, in her struggles to ensure that the truth be told about her husband’s death.
Fast forward to Daylesford in the late 1980’s – There’s a new doctor at one of our local surgeries in Daylesford. His name, Greg Stewart. At times he’s the doctor I see at the clinic. He and his doctor wife are active in the community and I find myself socializing with them. I’m aware that Greg is a brother of Tony Stewart, the 21-years old camera man who died in East Timor with other members of the Balibo 5. We don’t talk about it. In the mid-nineties, working in the town as a social worker, I have professional contact with Greg. One of the few doctors in the region registered as a methadone prescriber, I value the way in which he works so thoughtfully and warmly with the clients with addictions I refer to him. In time, Greg’s sister Annie, a talented professional story teller and actor, moves into town to raise her young children. I know Annie in passing. Like Greg, she doesn’t talk about it.
It's late 2022 as I listen to the interview, completely engaged, resisting the inclination to go back to sleep. Paulie Stewart, Tony, Greg and Annie’s, ‘out there’ younger brother, a member of the wild ‘Painters and Dockers’ band, has just published his memoir ‘All the Rage’. Richard Fidler is expertly drawing him out, allowing Paulie’s humour, life experience, humanity and memories to flow freely.
What would our experience have been like if we were teenagers and an older sibling had allegedly been murdered by the army of a neighbouring nation in politically difficult circumstances, if we, and our families had our ‘personal grief and family crisis foisted upon the main stage as part of a story that has haunted the Australian media for decades’ (Annie Stewart*). Indeed, the Australian War Memorial Website currently states, ‘the details of precisely how or why the Balibo 5 died are still not publicly known’.
I’m so glad that, almost 50 years later, I listened to Paulie’s interview. It has filled in some gaps, helped me better understand the impact on his family - on Paulie as Tony’s 15-year old younger brother, on his parents as they tried to shepherd their children through a traumatic time despite their own grief, and on Greg and Annie.
Thank you, Paulie, for speaking about it.
November 28 2022
*Our Tony – by Annie Stewart https://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2009/08/29/2670632.htm