Paulie Stewart’s autobiography All the Rage nails it. He explains how the death of his brother Tony Stewart – one of the five Australian journalists killed by the Indonesians in Balibo in October 1975 – changed his life. The actions of the Australian government on both sides of politics after the deaths of the “Balibo Five” were appalling. They lied, obfuscated and withheld information from the journalists’ families.
The significance of this event was brought home to me in 1998. I was in the hills in Timor with Falintil guerillas, who were still being hunted by the Indonesian army. I was introduced to an old Falintil fighter who told me that he had witnessed Indonesian troops murder the five journalists.
I returned to Dili and casually mentioned the conversation to activist Dr Andrew McNaughton. His response was, “You have to publish this.” He patiently explained how important this testimony was. The murders occurred when the Australian government signalled clearly to the Indonesians that an invasion of Timor-Leste would cause no reprisals. The government lied about the Balibo Five and also about the death of journalist Roger East, who was killed in the invasion, as they would later lie about the thousands of East Timorese killed in the conflict and its aftermath. McNaughton convinced me to write the story and it was published in The Sydney Morning Herald.
Stewart carried the death of his brother heavily. It is a constant in this book and has resulted in his lifelong commitment to the cause of East Timorese independence. All the Rage follows Stewart’s time as lead singer of Melbourne band Painters and Dockers as he documents how ordinary people from Melbourne, Darwin and Sydney tried to right the wrong of the invasion of Timor-Leste. Stewart did that with music.
He describes a Melbourne that was depressed, defiant and angry about inequality, and that expressed itself through the pub rock that defined the mood at the time. It was a period of recession, unemployment and hopelessness. The Painters and Dockers song “You’re Going Home in the Back of a Divvy Van” comes to mind.
The final sections talk about Stewart’s work in Timor-Leste, achieved despite the physical hardships associated with a failed liver and a transplant. All the Rage is a testament to Stewart’s brother but also to human rights activists such as Shirley Shackleton, the wife of Greg Shackleton, who was also killed in Balibo. Shirley died last weekend. She would have liked this book.
Melbourne Books, 272pp, $39.95
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on January 21, 2023 as "All the Rage, Paulie Stewart".
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