Across the Timor Sea: City Beach resident builds bonds with East Timorese village through memory of uncle


Jan Roberts with a picture of her uncle Norman Nicolay, who inspired her to start the Across the Timor Sea scholarship. Picture: Andrew Ritchie www.communitypix.com.au d472742
Jan Roberts with a picture of her uncle Norman Nicolay, who inspired her to start the Across the Timor Sea scholarship. Picture: Andrew Ritchie www.communitypix.com.au d472742

CITY Beach resident Jan Roberts and her ties to a tiny East Timor village will be bonded further with work on a new preschool to begin this year.

Ms Roberts has been visiting Ailalec annually since 2010 after her uncle revealed he had been based there as a 25-year-old during World War II.

It was one of the rare instances where Norman Nicolay talked about his experience of war.

Up until that point, he had continued to uphold the notion that “loose lips sink ships”.

Like many Australians during WWII, Mr Nicolay formed a friendship with a local boy.

The locals were known as “criados”, or helpers, and were critical to the survival of Australians.

“As far as uncle Norman was concerned, they were friends. Domingos (Barretto) was like a little brother,” Ms Roberts said.

“The bond was very close.”

Ms Roberts travelled to East Timor seven years ago, successfully tracking down Mr Barretto.

On her return to Australia, Mr Nicolay took his niece’s hand and said: “Mission accomplished. Well done”.

Soon after her return to Australia, Ms Roberts received a call informing her Mr Barretto had died.

Just two months later, aged 95, her “uncle Norm” also passed away.

“My uncle died two months after (Domingos) died but both with the knowledge that their friendship stood the test of time,” Ms Roberts said.

Keen to honour the friendship forged 70 year prior, Ms Roberts established the Baretto-Nicolay scholarship.

It offers a pathway each year for a boy and girl from the local school to attend a boarding school.

And now, after securing a grant, she hopes work will start this year on a new preschool for the Ailalec village and be open in 2018.

The Rotary Club of Scarborough will host a quiz night at the Belmont Sports and Recreation Club on October 13.

Funds raised will help continue the annual scholarship and transport donations to the village.

For information visit www.acrossthetimorsea.com or phone 0468 328 585.

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