Former Northern Star journalist Roger East
Former Northern Star journalist Roger East

Journalist's story finally told

THE STORY of Roger East, the 'forgotten man of the Balibo saga' and one-time Northern Star journalist, is finally being told in the newly-released film, Balibo.

Most people know the story of the five Australian-based journalists who were killed at Balibo in East Timor on October 16, 1975, but until now very little was known about East.

Robert Connelly's film, which stars Anthony LaPaglia as East, sheds new light on the man who was murdered in East Timor in 1975 whilst investigating the deaths of the Balibo Five.

East was in his 50s when he went to Timor as a seasoned journalist, but it was on regional newspapers like The Northern Star that he cut his teeth.

After serving with the Navy in the 1940s, he started a cadetship at Dubbo's paper, The Liberal.

Soon after he moved to The Northern Star.

Most Star journalists from that era are now deceased, but former Northern Star photographer Darcy McFadden has memories of travelling to South Grafton with East on a food supply train to cover the 1954 floods.

“He raced around and got a few stories and I took the photos. He was a nice bloke to work with,” he said.

East's sister Glenise, who lives in Sydney, this month told the ABC that during his time at The Northern Star, East showed an interest in racial inequality.

“There was an Aboriginal nurse qualified to nurses' entrance, but she wasn't allowed because of her race, she was not allowed to do her nursing training. Roger wrote about that,” she said.

After The Star, East travelled abroad and worked for English newspapers around the world.

By 1975, he was living in Darwin and working as a public relations officer.

When he heard of the deaths of the five Australian newsmen, he decided to travel to Timor to investigate.

At the same time, he was meeting with the then young Fretlin rebel and now East Timorese president Jose Ramos Horta to set up a Timorese news service.

Less than two months after arriving in East Timor, he was shot dead in Dili, but not before he had managed to publish for the first time eyewitness accounts of the deaths of the Balibo Five.

The men were shot during a military incursion in Balibo by Indonesian troops.

Page MP Janelle Saffin, who worked as senior policy advisor to Jose Ramos Horta from 2004 to 2007, attended the premiere of Balibo in Melbourne last month at the invitation of the East Timorese President.

“It's a great movie - and how will I put it - chilling and sobering, but an important story to tell,” she said.

Ms Saffin said Balibo producer John Maynard had brought her the Balibo script before it went into production, and she had advised Mr Ramos Horta that it would be a good thing to go ahead with.

Ms Saffin said Mr Ramos Horta had often talked with her about Roger East, and his determination to report to the rest of the world what was really happening in East Timor.

Filmmaker Robert Connolly told ABC radio he hopes Balibo will help bring East's work to the attention of the Australian public.

“He was the first person to write a piece ... which said that witnesses had shown that the Balibo Five were executed on November 10, 1975, and a coronial inquest made that finding 32 years later. That is an amazing achievement for Roger East,” Mr Connolly said.

Balibo opened in cinemas nationally this week and is expected to screen locally in the near future.

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