Memories of East Timor flood back as navy woman returns
BUNDABERG RSL sub-branch secretary Dannielle Brearley began a nine-day tour of East Timor yesterday, where she served as part of peacekeeping operations 20 years ago.
She is among six Queensland RSL members, but the only navy representative, to attend the International Force East Timor commemoration, after completing an application process.
Ms Brearley was 20 when she served a two-month stint on the HMAS Newcastle at the end of 1999, with much of that time offering support to build a hospital, and remote village schools.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said Australia was on the front-lines when it came to supporting East Timor's transition to independence, through INTERFET, following the violence that struck after the post-independence ballot in 1999.
She has not been back since, at least until now, and she looks forward to seeing what has changed, and longs to take new photographs to show the comparisons.
"I have got photos of the hospital that was part burnt down, part destroyed, and it was the birthing suite so there were women's beds with the birthing stirrups," she said.
"There was blood stained walls, it was a horrific experience.
"I've got all these photos of smiling beautiful children, they were oblivious to what had been going on in the middle of the night. Guerillas came along and killed their family, that sort of thing."
The experience taught her to appreciate the privileges she enjoyed in Australia.
"We have everything, we've got technology, we've got food, we're not getting attacked," she said.
"For whatever reason these people, they live on the edge, waiting, knowing they can never just live, if that makes sense.
"They are excited to just have a shopping centre and a proper plaza.
"The little things we take for granted and go and do every Sunday morning, that's their highlight, that's their bread and butter."
Ms Brearley said she had the chance to see the country as a different person who also had changed in that time, and it would likely be the last time she would return to East Timor.
"It's something I think would probably change me all over again like it did 20 years ago," she said.
She looked forward to seeing General Peter Cosgrove again, who was also on the line-up for a friendly soccer match against Timor.
"He was a big part," Ms Brearley said.
"He was out there on the field and being a part of it, and wasn't just an officer stuck at base camp just giving directions.
"He was a part of the action."