Free Underground Noise for Timor Lorosa'e

Months ago it was a quiet rumour. If we could continue off the top end of the continent on our northerly trajectory, Earthdream would hit East Timor. What had been a fanciful and often fleeting topic of discussion between fellow travellers huddled around fires on frozen desert nights in May was to become reality when from August to September 2000, Earthdreamers flew from Darwin to Dili to experience the armed carnival that is East Timor one year from their Independence referendum and the ensuing pro-Indonesia militia carnage.

Under the auspices of the Asia Pacific Support Collective (an NGO), around 20 Earthdreamers played a role in assisting the people of New Timor in their efforts to lift the curtain of oppression following Indonesia's 25 year occupation. Despite continuing non-cooperation of UNTAET (the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor), Earthdreamers achieved remarkable success as gauged by the enthusiastic response from the long-suffering people of East Timor. While the UN denied Earthdream both minor logistical needs and permission to transport the core body of performers and recreational aid including toys, 100 guitars and sports equipment donations waiting in Darwin, Earthdream productions supplied the people of Timor Lorosa'e with direct emotional aid.

Working with limited resources (including a small sound system, a couple of acoustic guitars, a djembe, a trumpet and a cow bell), Earthdreamers have networked widely, performing electronic/acoustic circus cabarets in a wide arc around the central region of this proto-nation. From a home base in an outer suburb of the capital, we launched operations throughout Dili, sent a Freak Keeping Mission to the island of Atuaro, flew sorties up the mountains to Aileu, Soiboda and Laklubar, and did shows along the northern coast at Baukau and Manatuto.

Our HQ was a house rented from Angelo - a good mechanic who is, as we discovered, related to Xanana Gusmau - and was a short walk from the beach, an idyllic image which should be immediately corrected with the knowledge that the property was also sited just off the end of the airport's runway. Aircraft were so close you could read manufacturer's fine print on the fuselage of every US Chinook transporting cargo from freight carriers anchored off shore, and almost reach up and touch every UN Hercules flight from Darwin.

In Dili, crews ran a radio show on 88.1 Falintil FM, an audio workshop for a women's singing group, performed shows for students at the Secondary Technical School and members of the Student Solidarity Council, and partyied with and performing for Nigerian and Kenyan Peace Keepers. For me, the Dili highlight remains the gig performed before 10,000 people at the Chinese oval on the night of Saturday August 5, the day after I arrived in Dili with nine other Earthdreamers aboard a Hercules from Darwin.

Hungry for the untold weirdness of Earthdream productions, the curious throng were not disappointed. To the East Timorese, the manipulations of Bishen and Jason from Negusa Negust, along with Matt and Agent 99 behind the decks and Rufus on the laptop was - resorting to an oft-used word I believe justified in this case - 'magic'. I imagine that rarely before have so many been captivated by electronic musicians performing what for many of us would be as visually stimulating as - in the words of Ray Castle - someone "doing the ironing".

Yet, it was the performative accompaniment to the music that really held the crowd. A vaudeville style cabaret/circus show was very well received, a show featuring Ambassador of FUN, Yohan, MCing in Tetum, Tony, Danielle, Gloria and Mathilda clowning and fire-performing. Dozens of rickshaw style stallholders pulled into the paddock. Hundreds and hundreds of kids swept onto the edges of the old cement stage to occupy every vantage. Despite several successful efforts to get a few dancing, most were mesmerized by the spectacle. Walking on stilts and manipulating sparkler sticks, Mathilda was instantly idolised by hundreds of boys, many of whom, as someone pointed out, lit their cigarettes in unison when her exotic persona appeared on stage. In a cloud of smoke, Mathilda was eventually mobbed by young boys, most of whom desired the opportunity to stare a while longer.

FUN Mobile above Dili

After contacting East Timor's beloved Falintil on a scouting mission in the hills south of Dili, a very foreign legion of freaks were invited to the well defended cantonment of Aileu to perform on Sunday August 13. The mountainside ascent saw our white Falcon ute (loaned from the APSC) undergo funky modification - both sides marked FUN in black tape (both mocking the UN and indicating our mission). Free Undergound Noise was inside the cantonment.

Freak Keeping Mission

In Aileu we were greeted by Commander Kaikeri - an unassuming hero who has a remarkable story, one of the very many to be heard in East Timor. During the occupation, the man with the code name Kaikeri had infiltrated the Indonesian Air Force, passing on valuable military information to his people. Only two years ago, he escaped a probable execution following his detection, arrest and torture by the Indonesians. Kaikeri is - to nick a comment made by a senior Clinton administration official about former Indonesian president Suharto - "our kind of guy". Toting a captured Indonesian assault rifle, our sweet natured host showed us to our quarters - the old Portuguese Governor's residence. Surrounded on three sides by Falintil divisions, it is the building President in waiting Xanana Gusmau normally stays when in Aileu - a town re-occupied almost a year ago after the Indonesian withdrawal. The treatment we received was in marked contrast to the way the convoy had been regarded by authorities throughout central Australia.

That night, hundreds of Falintil warriors and civilians writhed in delight to a FUN performance at the covered podium next to Xanana's house. Near sunset, children gathered around the base of the podium and armed guerrillas, including one guy wearing a faded Fitzroy Lions jumper, took up vantage points at the rear. Bishen kicked in the evening with roots/dancehall tracks. As the sun dived, an Arsen-About productions clowning/acrobalance show got the laughter starting, even soliciting a performance from Kaikeri himself. The Broken Strings quartet consisting of MC Yohan, Ben (electric guitar), Jason (bongos) and Shannon (bell) then occupied the podium. Ben belted out Guns 'n Roses 'I used to Love Her' (a sure winner up there), Yohan performed his ode to the UN, 'The Red Tape Blues', followed by 'Walking for Healing and Peace', a song about Kevin Buzzacott's 2000km walk to the Sydney Olympics to the tune of 'Blue Suede Shoes'. Meanwhile, Dann generated waves of hilarity in his efforts at encouraging spectators to dance.

Following Rufus' (who had been fighting off malaria) reproduction of 'He Le Le Le', a Free Xanana - Free East Timor chant layered with electronic samples and a 4/4 beat, and a series of raps from Yohan, Jason and guest rappers, the night was sealed off with show stealing feats from Falintil guerillas introduced to the podium by Kaikeri to perform songs of liberdade. Another senior commander, missing a finger and wearing a balaclava and a dazzling pink nightie - ah the sartorial flamboyance of rank - looked on with pride. Yeah, these were our kind of guys.

Juleto and Angelo (jnr) in the house with Jason

A reinforced contingent, including MC Deanarky with his rap-antics and Fergus with his ball skills, traveled back to Aileu a week later to join the annual Falintil Day celebrations. Passing through two armed check points, dodging UN Hummers, the crew arrived to witness Xanana Gusmau, Jose Ramos-Horta and Bishop Belo amongst other champions of independence before adoring crowds. Amidst a riot of military uniforms and pockets of traditional dancers from Lospalos, Broken Strings were given an opportunity to play a small set - and receive some of that adoration.

A small Earthdream crew remain in East Timor - travelling, performing, teaching English and other voluntary work.

dr g 15/9/00

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