The Catholic Leader, April 21, 2019
Humans of the Church
By Mark Bowling
A CATHOLIC veteran has found a
renewed joy for life, after returning
to a Timorese village where he was
caught in a gun battle with enemy
militia 19 years ago.
It has taken former Corporal Greg Murty many
years to come to grips with the incident, and
which has caused him great distress and trauma.
He lives with his family in the Brisbane south-
side suburb of Parkinson.
“Being a young and proud soldier… I went to
their country thinking I was making a difference,
but returned to Australia with the feeling of a
heavy heart and feeling defeated,” Mr Murty said
of his deployment to East Timor soon after the
country’s vote for independence, and a violent
“I was very naïve… I was unaware of their
struggle for independence nor their struggle under
the hands of the Japanese in World War Two.”
Corporal Murty celebrated his 24th birthday
soon after arriving in East Timor in April 2000, as
a member of the international peacekeeping force
sent to stabilise the country.
He found the fledgling nation in chaos – hun-
dreds of thousands of people had been herded
across the border and were being held in refugee
camps in West Timor, by violent militias bank-
rolled by the departing Indonesian forces.
Corporal Murty was a member of a platoon sent
to patrol and protect the remote and rugged border
He recalls working hard to win the trust of the
local village people, particularly in Aidabasalala
where he was stationed most of the time.
“They (the East Timorese villagers) were stand-
offish at first, but once they realised you meant no
harm they were very interactive, building shades
and shower areas for us out of local materials,”
Mr Murty said.
“I took any opportunity to mix with the locals,
even going to their school behind our patrol base
and interacting with the children, teaching them
English, songs, with their teachers permission.”
Several months into his mission, just after mid-
night on June 21, Mr Murty was at the end of a
watch shift at his village patrol base when his unit
was ambushed by armed militiamen.
“Their intent was to kill all Australian soldiers,”
he said, recalling an initial grenade explosion, and
then the chatter of automatic weapons firing.
“I got on the radio to headquarters immediately
and told them we were under attack and needed
“At that stage we were on our own. We thought
they (the militia) were inside the wire.
“I really didn’t expect to survive that night.”
Mr Murty said the battle “felt like an eternity”
even though the battle probably lasted only a few
However, the short encounter left a lasting
impression on a young soldier, who suddenly had
been betrayed by the villagers he had come to
know, and even his own army comrades.
“After that night I had so many thoughts, why
didn’t the locals inform us? “ Mr Murty said.
“And, why did the militia try to kill us when we
are here trying to help the Timorese people?
The “icing on the cake”, according to Mr
Murty, was that Australian army reinforcements
were supposed to arrive in ten minutes, after he
had phoned for help.
“They ended up taking 45 minutes to get to us.
At that time we would have been dead if we’d
been waiting for them,” he said.
“I felt unsupported. All alone, as if nobody had
“It was only five days before I came home to
Australia and I honestly didn’t think I was going
to survive those five days.”
On the morning after the militia attack Mr
Visit helps bring light to the darkness
Murty visited a church to pray, accompanied by
an army padre.
He said the feeling of betrayal lingered.
And there were other questions on his mind.
“Why weren’t we injured or even killed?” he
said. “What’s God’s plan for me?”
At that testing time, Mr Murty phoned his
fiancée (now his wife Belinda), confided his fears,
and surprisingly, asked her to marry him.
“She said yes,” he said.
Back in Australia, Mr Murty said he considered
“going AWOL”, refusing to go back to Timor.
“But I thought, I don’t want to look like a cow-
ard, so I’ll go back and do my job,” he said.
Back in Aidabasalada, and at his lowest mind-
set, Mr Murty said the children “kept me going
and gave me hope”.
“I would walk out of the patrol base with
another soldier and teach the children English,”
Mr Murty admits it had taken many years to
come to grips with his deployment in Timor.
He and Belinda have three children Ryan, 15,
Shaun,13, and Gemma, 8.
The breakthrough came in February this year,
when he joined a Timor Awakening tour, led by
Veterans Care Association, Deacon Gary Stone
and his son Mick Stone, both former army offic-
“I was given the opportunity to return to Aida-
basalala, after 19 years,” Mr Murty said.
“The moment I arrived I had extreme anxiety
and stress. My emotions were high.
“My heart was pounding. I had a very strong
feeling of fight or flight.
“I was extremely fortunate to have my wife
Belinda by my side and she could sense my emo-
tions and held my hand tight as we walked into a
shower of praise and welcome from the locals.”
Mr Murty said his first impression of the village
was that it had not changed much – maybe a coat
of paint on the school.
“The school kids came and sang to us their
Timor Leste national anthem and their veterans
song. I looked at the children before me and not
only were they all singing beautifully, but they
were all wearing a school uniform,” he said.
It dawned on Mr Murty that indeed quite a
lot had changed – these children had a national
anthem, school uniforms, and, most importantly, a
“I finally get it. I see what we (Australians)
have done,” he said.
“I have actually helped. I have actually made a
difference. I finally feel proud.”
Mr Murty said the feelings of betrayal and
mistrust that he had harboured for so many years
suddenly disappeared, replaced by forgiveness.
“The Timorese have been through so much
themselves. How can I not forgive them?” he said.
Mr Murty spent time walking through the vil-
lage, inspecting shrapnel marks left in some of the
walls from gunfire, and meeting people, including
a teacher who still remembered his visits to the
He said he was thankful to share his emotional
return to Aidabasalala with his wife, Belinda.
“I hope this allows me to be kind to myself
and work on what actually matters in life and that
is family,” he said.
“I was once in darkness with this event. But
now I am coming into the light.”
Following the visit to Aidabasalala, the Timor
Awakening veterans attended Mass and Holy
Communion in nearby Balibo, the border town
where five Australian newsmen were captured
and killed by Indonesian soldiers in 1975.
More than 250 veterans and partners have now
received healing through the Timor Awakening
“Like Greg and Belinda they all experience our
holistic health education and experiences tailored
to nurture the body, mind, soul, and relationships
and are offered life coaching for a future full of
hope,” Deacon Stone said.
This Anzac Day, Mr Murty will march for
the first time in Brisbane alongside his Timor
Awakening mates and a contingent of Timorese
veterans who had hosted his experience earlier
He’ll also attend the ANZAC Day Mass in
Brisbane held at St Stephen’s Cathedral, concel-
ebrated by Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge,
If you know a veteran needing help, contact
Veterans Care Association onsupport@veteran- scare.com.au
return to Ti-
The villagers of Aidabasalala with Greg Murty, left, and Deacon Gary Stone during a recent Timor Awakening tour of Timor Leste.