Peacekeepers in East Timor: Expressions - Commemoration through art

Peacekeepers in East Timor: Expressions - Commemoration through art cover

A printable activity sheet to help develop students' understanding of wartime through artwork. Wendy Sharpe, an Official Australian War Artist, painted this scene in 2000. She has depicted two Australian soldiers with East Timorese children. The Australians were in East Timor as part of the International Force East Timor, or INTERFET. The personnel with INTERFET were working to bring stability to East Timor after it gained independence from Indonesia. Use the background information and inquiry questions to encourage student research and learning in relation to Australians serving as peacekeepers.

Series: Expressions - Commemoration through Art
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East Timor was colonised by the Portuguese in 1702. In November 1975, the government of East Timor declared independence. The Indonesian government launched an invasion of East Timor in December that year. The United Nations (UN) called for Indonesia to withdraw its troops. The Indonesian occupation continued for more than 20 years. There were some benefits for the East Timorese people, such as roads and healthcare. But crops and property were destroyed and people died, as groups for and against independence fought each other. The UN eventually supervised a referendum in East Timor in August 1999. The referendum allowed the people to vote on their own future.

The voting process was supported by Australian civilian police and military liaison officers. The majority of East Timorese people voted for independence. Militia groups supporting the Indonesian occupation looted and burned houses. They also threatened and killed civilians. A peacekeeping force authorised by the UN was sent to East Timor. The force was known as the International Force East Timor, or INTERFET. It had around 11,000 members. Just over half were Australian personnel. The INTERFET personnel worked hard to bring stability to East Timor. They also set about gaining the trust of the local people. This was important for INTERFET when it was trying to restore peace without the use of force. The last Indonesian troops left East Timor in October 1999. INTERFET was disbanded in February 2000. Peacekeeping operations were taken over by the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET).

East Timor achieved its independence in May 2002.

Wendy Sharpe was an Official Australian War Artist with INTERFET in East Timor. She was attached to the Army History Unit in Dili, East Timor’s capital city. Her artworks recorded the work of Australian peacekeepers and East Timorese people.

Painting of 5 children looking at a book held by a soldier. Another soldier standing next to him.

Soldier handing out school materials to children, near Suai Wendy Sharpe, 2000 Gouache on paper, 39.6 x 55.3 cm AWM ART91162

Soldier handing out school materials to children, near Suai depicts Australian INTERFET personnel with East Timorese children. Wendy Sharpe was fascinated by the children of East Timor. She often drew them as they lived amongst the disruption as East Timor gained independence.

Inquiry questions

  1. Look carefully at the painting and describe what you see. Include all the details of the painting, even if you think they might not be significant. Keep in mind what you don’t see in the painting, as often things left out can be as important as things that are visible.
  2. Is the painting a primary or secondary source of historical information? What does the painting tell us about INTERFET activities in East Timor? What does it tell us about the children receiving the school materials?
  3. Wendy Sharpe has depicted the Australian peacekeepers and the East Timorese children in the same loose sketch manner. How does that influence the way you look at the painting? Why might Wendy Sharpe have chosen to depict the peacekeepers and the children in this way?
  4. The INTERFET personnel wanted to gain the trust of the East Timorese people. Wendy Sharpe’s artwork shows one way that this might be done. How else might the Australian peacekeepers have gained the trust of the local people? Why was this important? You might like to look at Keeping the Peace for more information.
  5. Imagine you are a reporter in East Timor with INTERFET. You have been with the Australian peacekeepers since they arrived in the country. You’ve seen them trying to bring calm and order back to East Timor. You’ve seen the challenges they have faced as they have worked with the local population. Write an article for publication in an Australian newspaper, describing what you have witnessed. Try to give readers an idea of the situation in East Timor and the efforts made by the Australian peacekeepers. You might like to refer to the following resources on the Anzac Portal to help you with your article:

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