22 May 2010

In praise of living history

Alex Frew McMillan From: The Australian May 22, 2010 12:00AM Timor - THE mother of East Timor's President, Jose Ramos Horta, remembers evacuating the Timorese capital city, Dili, with the 2/2 Independent Company of the Australian Army. Perched high in the hills, at the war memorial at Dare, she recalls how the Timorese scaled those same tracks on foot so many years back, knowing the Japanese were coming, and scared of what they might do.

"I liked Captain Laidlaw," she says in Portuguese, recalling a famously bearded bear of a man. He was later promoted to major and commanding officer of what's affectionately known as the "second second".

The President's mother is in her 90s, but her story is not unusual. Anyone of a certain age in East Timor will tell you about the Sparrow Force, and how that brave band of Australian commandos took on the Japanese in World War II.

With East Timor finally in a period of relative peace, it's possible to tread in the steps of Sparrow Force. Exploring the country offers up beautiful mountains, red earth set against a bright blue sky, and some wonderful hiking.

Following the path of the Sparrow Force also gives a fascinating window into the country's history and the only troops who did not yield in the face of the Japanese invasion. "They alone did not surrender," Winston Churchill remarked of them.

The most interesting sites relating to the Sparrow Force are south of the capital, where the Australians retreated into the hills that rise up almost 3000m. Read more...

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