This site brings together the publications of Dr. Sara Niner about people & politics in Timor-Leste.

08 January, 2010

Sara's Speech Melbourne Book Launch 10 Dec 2009

Thanks Terry for launching the book and I have to thank Terry for all the support she has offered the Alola Foundation over the years.

When I started writing this book last century, as an idea for a PhD at Latrobe Uni in 1997 , I didn’t (and probably not many others did either) imagine that the new nation of Timor-Leste was actually only a few years into the future.

When I started writing this book Xanana was an imprisoned resistance leader and my motivation as a young and probably naive political activist was to bring further attention to the unjustness of Xanana’s and Timor’s situation. The journey that this book took me on was right to the centre of the UN negotiations over the ballot held in 1999 which took place in Jakarta between UN representatives, the remnants of the Suharto regime and a re-newed Timorese resistance, called CNRT. It was at this time I did the major interviews with Xanana in his prison house in Jakarta, and sat in on meetings with various visitors—one a typically rude Alexander Downer, telling Xanana all this business really had to be sorted out by Christmas as he really needed to take a holiday with his family. After 1999 wound up in its heartbreaking way I took off to Dili in 2000 to work for CNRT and in Xanana’s Office and observe the tortuous process of re-building a national community out of what remained after all the destruction.

These are the great historical and political events that got in the way of this book being published.

But there are other reasons why it took so long to publish this book and why it is such a relief to be here tonight launching it.

I underestimated the demands of a PhD, we also published another book along the way—the collection of Xanana’s writings in 2000, I had a child and my own natural inclinations toward procrastination didn’t help—I think this book has almost cured me of that.

The PhD, and the associated publications, were intended to be a by-product of my political activism but the demands of real research and analysis and writing took over and against my will I appear to have become an academic (I think—I’m still not sure about that).

So what this book started out as, a simple hagiography, it could not remain and it has changed me to. I have become a more critical and accurate observer and this book will now probably not please anyone in politics in Timor today.

Yet I believe it is a fair and accurate historical account (as much as it is possible at this time so soon after the events) by an independent outside observer, although with great empathy for my subject.

I hope this book will serve rather to elevate the differing political perspectives drawn in it to a less-fraught and academic level.

My great fear is that it will only serve to reinforce political divisions there as so much Australian analysis about Timorese politics has done.

Yet what I hope most (as I always have) is that this book remembers, and reminds outsiders, of the intolerable events that the Timorese people have had to face alone and endure over a very long period of time, its especially important to remember that today on HRD. This book is not just a history of Xanana and the Timorese resistance but a history of the human rights abuses in Timor by the Suharto regime many of whom have not yet been called to account and the shocking absence of assistance to the Timorese from their neighbours and internationally. I hope also it reminds us of the absence of a full acknowledgement of women in Timor's struggle.

Also after spending so much time with Timorese people what I believe has been added (that I could never have imagined at the beginning) is a reflection on what such events do to people and how these effects makes what the Timorese have had to do since 1999 so very difficult and the outbreaks of violence there so understandable. Mostly I hope this book increases awareness about those traumatic effects and makes readers empathise with the difficulties faced by those in Timor today.

There are loads of people to thank but I think I have done that in a whole 2 pages of acknowledgements in the book and I can’t read it all out---so heartfelt thanks to you all turning up here tonight to celebrate the end of this very long journey with me.

Viva Xanana!
Viva Timor-Leste!


  1. Hi Sara, wish I was there but I'm huddled in 6 ft of snow, kind of.


  2. Congrats on a job well done!! Cant wait to read the book!