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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

our back.

“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,”

he said.

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

certain future.

“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

rehabilitation program.

“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

this year.

He’ll also attend the ANZAC Day Mass in

Brisbane held at St Stephen’s Cathedral, concel-

ebrated by Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge,

at 8am.

If you know a veteran needing help, contact

Veterans Care Association on


Return visit:

Greg and


Murty with


Gary Stone

during their


return to Ti-

mor Leste.

Emotional return:

The villagers of Aidabasalala with Greg Murty, left, and Deacon Gary Stone during a recent Timor Awakening tour of Timor Leste.