Morley great-grandmother journeys to East Timor to volunteer on election day

Morley great-grandmother Colleen Thornton-Ward first volunteered as an international observer in 1999 when East Timor voted for independence. She will be returning to East Timor to serve the role once again from May 8 to 14. She previously volunteered in orphanages and villages. Picture: Andrew Ritchie www.communitypix.com.au   d482254
Morley great-grandmother Colleen Thornton-Ward first volunteered as an international observer in 1999 when East Timor voted for independence. She will be returning to East Timor to serve the role once again from May 8 to 14. She previously volunteered in orphanages and villages. Picture: Andrew Ritchie www.communitypix.com.au d482254

GIVING back to East Timor citizens during the election period is how a Morley great-grandmother repays a “debt of honour” on behalf of her late father.

Colleen Thornton-Ward’s father, who passed away in 1983, was a 2/2nd Commando in East Timor during World War II.

He was able to return safely with the help of his Timorese creado (helper) Nicolau Gonsalves, who later died when the Indonesians invaded East Timor.

After seeing an advertisement in an Indonesian/Australian-produced magazine, Ms Thornton-Ward (66) served as a volunteer international observer in 1999 when East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia.

She and her brother Murray are part of the 2/2 Commando Association of Australia, which consists of fellow families and supports Timorese friends and families.

They will be volunteering again on election day on May 12.

Ms Thornton-Ward, who works at North Metropolitan MLC Alannah MacTiernan’s office, said nothing compared to the “dangerous times” of 1999, where she and Murray could only leave Timor on a plane with journalists.

“(We are) repaying a debt of honour,” she said.

“You are based where they vote and it is making sure that there is nothing happening, no one is being intimidated and everyone can go and vote freely and fairly.

“Because there are so many illiterate people, they get to put their finger in ink and they come out – it was all just a heart-warming experience to see these people come out that were willing to vote.

“Nothing has ever been like 1999, you had M16s (rifles) and machetes – anything could have happened to them because nearby, there was a church with 2000 IDPs (internally displaced persons) in it.

“One journalist stood up and said ‘this was the plane of shame’ because there were still flames below you.”

She said her family were still in contact with Mr Gonsalves’ children.

“If it had not been for Nicolau, I wouldn’t be here,” she said.

“If it hadn’t been for the Timorese, we wouldn’t be here because they helped the Australians stay alive.”

For more information, visit https://doublereds.org.au/

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