An Information Day for ATLAS, (Australia Timor-Leste Advancement Society), which included a most enjoyable dinner, was held on Sunday 27th September at Dooleys Catholic Club Lidcombe. The Board and Committee of ATLAS organised the event, and the 200 people who attended enjoyed with them an afternoon of “Timor Time”.

PatronsPatrons were welcomed with two traditional Timorese dances performed by the Foin Sa’e Timor-Leste Culture Group. The young ones in this group are trained by Leila dos Santos, Julieta Martins-Jong and other parents and helpers in the Timorese community. They looked wonderful in their traditional tais, and they danced beautifully. The first dance was “Suru Boek” which means “Catching Prawns” and the second was a Warrior dance. The group brought a wealth of tradition and culture to the event.

Timorese Dancers

Mr Gerald Kenneally, Chairman of ATLAS, then welcomed some very special guests – the widows of four of the Australian commandos who served on Timor in 1942. They are Betty Devlin, wife of Michael Devlin, Jean English, wife of James English, Maria Hartley, wife of John Hartley, and Yvonne Langley Walsh, wife of Vincent Walsh, and Nora Kenneally, wife of John (Paddy) Kenneally. Gerald presented each widow with a corsage in remembrance of their husbands.

Gerald and Nora KenneallyGerald then outlined the history of ATLAS, a not-for-profit organisation formed over two years ago for the sole purpose of assisting the East Timorese people to life themselves out of poverty through training, education and job creation. ATLAS also honours the 40,000 Timorese who lost their lives in 1942 for protecting the 400 Australian soldiers who were in Timor fighting against a large contingent of Japanese soldiers.

He reminded guests of the promise made to the people of Timor in 1942 from the Australian Government, that “Your friends will not forget you”. Unfortunately that promise was not kept during the dark days of the Indonesian occupation when men like Gerald’s late father Paddy tried to remind the Government and the people of Australia of that promise. Gerald recognised that although Timor-Leste has gained its independence it continues to have its struggles. However this tiny new nation is willing to grow and with help ATLAS can support the Timorese people build a great country for the future.

Sister Joan Westblade LCM was welcomed to the dais and was presented with a certificate declaring that she is an honorary member of ATLAS. Her amazing work in Timor over many years in health education and community support has made her a well-known presence in Timor where she is affectionately known as “Madre Johanna”. Faced with a serious lack of equipment and medications Joan carried medical supplies and equipment into Timor, organized a container to transport a complete operating theatre and ensured that education and training was a priority. Providing food and comfort was a focus of Joan’s work. After the 1999 mayhem she arranged a helicopter for Bishop Belo to travel to Suai to meet with the people and say Mass amidst the ruins. She organized nutrition programs and training using Moringa powder throughout the villages in the Maubara district. Joan introduced dentists and medical professionals into Timor, including Dr Dan Murphy. Not only did she work tirelessly to improve the standard of health but she stood with the people in their struggle for dignity and freedom.

After the main course Dr Kirsty Sword Gusmão OAM addressed the group. She has held positions of high responsibility in her various roles in Timor-Leste and has been instrumental in the betterment of health care for mothers and children and in the championing of mother-tongue education. Dr Sword Gusmão spoke to the guests of the aspirations of families for a better life in Timor and of the advances that this small neighbor of Australia has made.

Dr Kirsty Sword Gusmão

Gerald then spoke of the projects of ATLAS:

  • A water reticulation project has been completed with significant input from local contractors and employees.

  • A farm kitchen was completed by ATLAS with local workers.

  • A dormitory for teenage students attending high school was also completed this year.

  • An ongoing project is the rehabilitation of a kitchen at the Maubara Orphanage.

  • A project with great potential is woodworking where a local Timorese man produces holding crosses and other items for sale here in Sydney and in Timor.

  • ATLAS is also in partnership with a small group of women who sew basic goods like school uniforms.

ATLAS contributes to the local economy through the employment of local Timorese who are gaining skill sets in building in each of these projects. For ATLAS all this is one way of keeping the promise: “Your friends will not forget you.”

Josephine Mitchell RSJ has been instrumental in connecting people, helping them to help others for many years. She has been a mentor and exemplar, always ready to listen and with her enormous intuition able to offer wise counsel and practical advice. Children have been Josephine’s concern for many, many years and she addressed the guests about ATLAS’s work for children through the Maubara orphanage.

After dessert the Raffle was drawn, prizes were distributed and donors were thanked.

The Board and Committee of ATLAS were thrilled with the outcome of the day.

The Board: Chairman Gerald Kenneally, Greg Mills, Paul McGrath and Father Graham McIntyre

Committee: Noreen Nicoara, Janet Borg, Stephen Dillon, Rayella Haines, Josephine Mitchell and Susan Connelly. Like so many groups in Australia, ATLAS members give their time, keen to keep that promise made in the name of Australia,

“Your friends do not forget you”.