Independence Day in Paradise Lock the Door!

November 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

All Men are Birds

Dear Strangebirds and Odd Bedfellows

December 1st 2011 is the 50th anniversary of the first declaration of independence by the West Papuan people; when the province was still under the control of the Dutch. Three weeks ago thousands of Papuans gathered for the 3rd Papuan People’s Congress and again proclaimed ‘independence’; this time from Indonesia. As has been the pattern over these last 50 years, the Indonesian security forces answered the people’s voice with violence, arrests, torture and killings.
See footage from the attack on the Papuan People’s Congress – Oct 19th 2011
Many of us know little about the shady goings on inside the giant forested island just to the north of Australia; but we did catch a glimpse of the awful, murderous behaviour of the Indonesian military (TNI) as they butchered, raped and burnt the civilian population of East Timor in 1999.
Despite great changes in Jakarta for democracy, human rights and civilian rule, the TNI are still out of control in far-flung provinces like West Papua and Maluku (Ambon). Only 40% of their military budget is supplied by Jakarta, the rest is grafted from the locals and their land in these remote, resource rich locations.
On December 1, 2011, tens of thousands of West Papuans will be marching and demanding justice, democracy and economic inclusion; undoubtedly the TNI will attack them, beat some, shoot others and torture and imprison many.
If you think we should stand up for our West Papuan brothers and sisters just across the water to the north – then email your state and federal members and demand that representations are made to the Indonesian government demanding ‘no violence against peaceful protesters on Dec 1st’. This violence is predictable, our response shouldn’t be.
Greens Senator Richard Di Natale will be making such a demand in the Australian Federal Senate at some stage over the next few weeks. Contact him if you support this action.
(Sen R. Di Natale)” <>
Four hundred thousand (400,000) West Papuans have been killed by the Indonesian military since the early 1960’s, each one of these was a person – a son or daughter, and deserved their life and liberty – it’s time for the killing to stop! Get involved.

Melanesian creation story

‘Interview#16’ – a new animation drawn from SBiP DVD
Here for the first time is an animation called ‘Interview#16’. It is a combination of all the animation sequences from SBiP entwined in a stand-alone story.  It is the story of Jacob Rumbiak (one of the main characters in SBiP). It shows how Jacob was there in 1961 when West Papuan independence was proclaimed, the ‘Morning Star’ flag raised for the first time and the national anthem sung. It shows samples of Jacob’s remarkable life and journey from child soldier to politician and man of peace. It is particularly resonant at this the 50th anniversary of the 1961 West Papuan declaration of Independence.  It is dedicated to all West Papuans and their celebrations on Dec 1st 2011.

‘Land of the Morning Star’ by David Bridie from ARIA nominated Strangebirds in Paradise CD soundtrack

SBiP NEWS – Serious Animations

Strangebirds in Paradise – A West Papuan Story, is a multi-headed ‘hydra’ of mixed media. One of the mediums we chose to communicate ideas and stories from West Papua was animation. I’ve been enamoured with cartoons since the 1970’s Warner Brothers and Hanna Barbera animations ruled Saturday morning TV with a slapstick fist and funky theme tune.
There is magic and voodoo in the sampled reality of animation, an inexplicable attraction that is neither a true portrait of reality nor completely devoid of it. Animation lives in a fantastical realm of its own, haunting the space between reality and imagination.
We chose animation to portray some of the difficult, violent and disturbing histories portrayed in SBiP. With uber talented artists, Michael Kumnick and Juan Serano we built a series of ‘After-effects animations’ that sample the life of child soldier/political prisoner/exiled West Papuan leader, Jacob Rumbiak. Freed of the constraints of time-travel, access and the prohibitive costs of filming recreations; we travelled back to the 1960’s to meet Jacob as a boy, then as a refugee in the jungle, then a child soldier in the OPM, a political prisoner in the 1980’s and finally an escapee to East Timor and Australia.
From my ‘naive’, pencil storyboards, Michael Kumnick drew beautifully detailed pencil storyboards of the characters and environments. After a couple of face-to-face meetings we ping-ponged updated drawings via email and quickly settled on the fixed visuals and narratives for the ten or so animations.

Finding the animator required viewing dozens of artists’ show reels. I told my producers, Jamie and John; that I’d know the style when I saw it and sure enough, as soon as I watched Juan’s sassy show reel; I knew he was the one. His art has strong key lines, semi-realistic style and strong monochromatic colourings. It offered a certain ‘solemnity’ that was imperative in telling stories with such strong adult themes. I also loved his use of flat, strong, moody colour that brings a weight and intensity to the images. For six months, Juan, his co-animator Joanne Fong and I worked via email to finesse each piece.
The ‘title sequence’ is a good example of why animation is such a wonderful tool for telling serious stories. We wanted something ‘grand’ and punchy to introduce the film and the medium of animation to the viewer. I decided to incorporate the Melanesian myth of the morning star, because it is prophetic and beautiful; and because of it’s deep and intimate cultural imbedded-ness in West Papuan history and culture.
Images of the fisherman on the water and him capturing the morning star, whilst beautiful, will mean little to western audiences, but will directly connect with Papuan and Melanesian audiences and thereby add a deeper, cultural level to the story telling and the film. Likewise, the use of the ‘garuda’ will mean little to Australians but a great deal to Indonesians. It is an excellent way to ingrain subtle but potent cultural attributes, both iconic and narrative.

The music is from David Bridie’s ARIA nominated soundtrack album ‘Strangebirds in Paradise’ available from his Wantok Musik website –

Available at

Here is a review of SBiP written after the recent Amnesty International screening in Auckland NZ and printed in the Pacific Journalism Review.

Exposé through music of media

Ignorance of West Papua

NICK CHESTERFIELD is editor of West Papua Media.
Strange Birds in Paradise: A West Papuan Story, feature documentary directed by Charlie Hill-Smith. Melbourne: The House of Red Monkey, 2010. 75min. au Soundtrack: artists_strangebirds.htm
As the songman of freedom lies dying from an Indonesian bullet, his spirit spawns a great tree of life, feeding the irrepressible spirit of West Papuan liberation. The Birds of Paradise, for so long held prisoner by the Java warlord demons of destruction, pillage and brutalitysing for life, and fly to freedom.
THIS beautifully illustrated animation sequence epitomises the West Papuan desire for simple survival, an assertion that West Papuan people are the custodians of a true paradise that the Indonesian military mafia has turned into a hell on earth.
Combining one of the oldest musical traditions of Earth, and inspired by the liberation music of West Papua’s executed poet laureate Arnold Ap, the groundbreaking film Strange Birds in Paradise shows the spirit of West Papuan resistance is alive and building, and refusing to accept more than 45 years of brutal occupation by Indonesia. Rarely does a film tell a hidden story of a truly miserable situation with such beauty, and with great sensitivity in attempting to understand all players’ perspectives in this ongoing tragedy.
Australian director Charlie Hill-Smith has woven together many complex threads to create this rich and evocative tapestry clearly showing the ‘mystery of life’ in Papua today.
With innovative storytelling methods unseen in documentaries, Hill-Smith explores differing experiences and perspectives of Indonesia’s colonial occupation of Papua, from everyday people, musicians, artists, academics, freedom fighters, refugees, activists; telling the stories of those who resist and have martyred themselves to protect the survival of one of the oldest, most linguistically diverse cultures, custodians of an earthly paradise.
Strange Birds accurately portrays the hope and occasional disconnectedness of those forgotten in the jungle, and the energy of the new generation. Particularly poignant today, it accurately depicts the losses of that new generation of civil resistance from Papua’s new generation of elite forced to hide in insecure border camps after being hunted like animals. One failing is probably the lack of focus on the rise and transformation of the civil resistance movement inside, but one can read between the lines in the value that is given to the power of songs for freedom.
West Papua is a place that is still off limits to foreign journalists and human rights observers, with Jakarta sharing a dubious honour with Syria and other dictatorships as among a few countries that ban independent verification of abuse. The film was shot undercover in West Papua and Papua New Guinea, with the film crew posing as tourists. Strange Birds shines a bright light on the otherwise ignored experience of West Papuans living a daily death. Capturing the intrinsic language of singing for life that is at the heart of Papuan culture, daily life, resistance and survival, Strange Birds advocates clearly the core message that music can rise above tyranny. An evocative soundtrack written by Arnold Ap, and arranged by Australian music legend David Bridie, with West Papuan singer-activists providing the beautiful Melanesian harmonies, bring to life some of the most important songs Arnold Ap wrote to rally his people to fight for their liberation.
Ap, a pioneering Papuan ethno- musicologist at Cenderawasih Uni- versity, was arrested in 1983 by the Indonesian military for recording traditional West Papuan songs. Together with nonviolent movement founders Jacob Rumbiak and Thomas Waing- gai, Ap helped pioneer a sense of ethnic pride for West Papuan culture that Jakarta wanted destroyed forever. Ap was executed extra judicially in 1984, shortly after he recorded the song ‘Mystery of Life’, which was smuggled out via a prison guard to his wife. According to Ap: ‘I sing to live, singing is a sign of life. If I am not singing it means I am already dead.
‘Strange Birds powerfully documents the power and reverence in which Ap’s music is still held by West Papuan people, as the soundtrack to self-determination. Hill-Smith ex- plains: ‘I believe art is a weapon and culture is life. As long as the West Papuans can sing they will prevail and Arnold Ap will never die.’
Faced with the dilemma of how to counter more than 45 years of willful ignorance of the West Papua issue by the international community, Strange Birds manages to highlight a powerful undercurrent that has maintained people’s identity, and hope, through a genocide that has claimed over 526,000 West Papuan lives since 1962.
Jacob Rumbiak, an exiled West Papuan political diplomat and academic, describes Strange Birds as ‘a diploma for somebody who knows nothing about West Papua’’. Certainly, audiences in Europe, Asia and Australasia have been deeply moved by the film, with many asking the question: ‘Why do the international media ignore this issue?’ Why indeed? One theory is the majority of international media is so embarrassed by its craven, complicit behaviour that to suddenly report it would highlight media weakness. Tyranny must be documented; resistance must be documented too.
West Papua’s history means that any truthful analysis will necessarily examine the crimes of Indonesia’s military and their multinational corporate enablers like Freeport and the timber industry, and also why the West turns a blind eye as a modern day Eldorado is plundered into a wasteland. The vast forests of Papua, protected for millennia by a deep and reverential connection with its inhabitants, are being felled illegally by the military to feed Australia’s obsession for merbau outdoor furniture and flooring, and our insatiable need for palm oil. Wherever the Indonesian military kleptocracy decides to pillage next, the raiders attempt to eliminate any organised resistance by engaging punitive sweeps against civilians.
Hill-Smith, together with producers Jamie Nicolai and John Cherry, has used visually rich animation sequences by Colin Moore, and contemporary wayang kulit shadow puppetry to perfectly illustrate the mercenary dynamics of Indonesian occupation, and the deep motivations from Papuan traditional beliefs to maintain hope and transform survival into freedom.
Interweaving his own personal journey of discovery, Hill-Smith takes the viewer on an epic journey through West Papua’s history, sharing the journey he had as his eyes were opened after blundering into a forgotten warzone. Adopting the persona of Javanese wayang kulit hero Samar, he shares his shock of hearing ‘the guarded whispers of sons, fathers, and brothers murdered’. The fact- checked evidence presented is confronting and sobering, which makes for uncomfortable viewing for those who have enjoyed the fruits of genocide occurring in Papua.
This film particularly juxtaposes the experience of non-political West Papuan farmers, activists, exiles, and refugees, as well as the lives of those who through their beliefs were forced to flee.
Traveling through the Baliem Valley, the film highlights the neglect of Papuan people’s welfare by Indonesia, and the shocking lack of educational resources or medical care. Hill-Smith meets an eight-year-old boy Ruben, deaf, in great pain from an easily preventable ear infection curable by access to simple drugs. With the nearest hospital in Wamena, the Indonesian government refuses to supply basic medical services where they are needed most. It is evident that ordinary people in the Baliem Valley are now too terrified to talk. In the Baliem Valley the brutality of the Indonesian military climaxed in 1981 during an operation known by local Dani tribes people as ‘Wamena Bleeds’. Almost 14,000 people were killed during and air and ground assault on civilians in the Highlands area.
Strange Birds is a travelogue in some ways, but also an examination of the human and historical landscape of West Papua, as vast and undiscovered as the forests daily being destroyed by the bulldozers of the military logging companies. It deftly illustrates Indonesian nationalism as being a political construct to unify all the disparate peoples of a new Javanese empire, a land of impunity for the plunderers, as West Papua is a very long way from Java.
Strange Birds provides a timely reminder that people do not leave their homes, unless they have no other choice; that refugees only flee to survive heinous abuse. The students fleeing from the March 12, 2006 riots conveyed a cri de coeur for the future of the homeland that people must respond to.
During filming, feeling completely helpless in an environment like Skotchiou village on the PNG/West Papua border. we were all so thoroughly moved at the core of our beings by what we witnessed that there were no question of staying silent.
Is this film an honest examination of the situation in Papua? Yes and No. Uncovering a hidden history is never an easy task, but Hill-Smith, through his own experience as an exchange student in Indonesia, has set about understanding Indonesian peoples’ perceptions of the occupation as West Papua. Far more than just talking heads, the story is told with sensitivity and truth.
Hill-Smith cannot be accused of showing one-sidedness, the insistence on showing the Indonesian side of the story with a trait that admittedly was a trifle annoying during production. But the finished product is testament to the wisdom of this approach, in that the extremely honest and candid Indonesian perspective demonstrates clearly that the military is not loved by the people of Indonesia either. As the film demonstrates clearly, no observer can see the reality of Indonesia’s military occupation and condone their behavior.

West Papua Ready to Explode.

October 28, 2011 § 1 Comment

The highest mountains between the Himalayas and the Andes are the snow-topped crags of West Papua (4884m). A gleaming white tropical glacier pokes out of the sweltering green of Asia’s largest rain forests. The second largest island on earth, 15% of all the world’s languages, encyclopedic biodiversity and a new Elderado for our resource hungry world. 

The last few years has seen a slow, steady burn of resource extraction, violence and colonialism in West Papua. But a trickle of murders, disappearances, arrests, torture and a wave of mass civil actions have raised the international volume of this previously silent war. 

The torture and murder of potato farmer Yawen Wayeni at Matembu village On August 3, 2009, showed the worst elements of the Indonesian military (TNI) with unequivocal clarity. TNI soldiers taunt Yawen after disemboweling him and sitting around as he slowly dies.

Leaked surveillance reports in 2011 from Indonesian Special Forces (Kopassus) ‘Anatomy of Papuan Separatists’, lays open the repressive strategies of the TNI and the pervasiveness of their spying on and threatening every echelon of West Papuan society at home and abroad. Jacob Rumbiak, a West Papuan exile, now Australian citizen and Executive President of West Papuan National Council; is a major character in Strangebirds in Paradise – A West Papuan Story and one of the ‘targets’ detailed in the Kopassus report 2011. Enjoy the comical lay out of this buffoonish PowerPoint presentation.

An analysis of this report has been done by the West Papua Project, the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Sydney.

Things really heated up in mid September 2011 when thousands of mine workers at McMoran/RioTinto owned Freeport/Grasberg Mine, went on strike. Seemingly not a big deal, but Freeport is Indonesia’s biggest taxpayer, 30 million dollars production per day. So when the miners stopped work to demand pay increases from $US1.50 – $3.00per hour, compared to miners in China and Brazil – $US17.00 and $US15.00 respectively; a lot of rich and powerful people took notice. The strike has continued and striking miners attempting to stop the importing of ‘scab labor’, where beaten, arrested and three men shot dead.

Following a year of large civil protests, where tens of thousands have marched across the province; Oct 19th 2011 saw a seminal gathering. Two hundred language groups from all over West Papua met in the capital Jayapura for the ‘3rd Papuan People’s Congress’. They elected a President and a Prime minister and declared their independence from Indonesia, demanding United Nations monitors be deployed. As the congress wrapped up the security forces moved in, opened fire and arrested hundreds of delegates. Indonesia’s elite anti-terror squad, Densus 88, trained by Australia, was pivotal in the violence. Six bodies have since turned up in sewers and ditches around town, there’ll be more to follow.

Journalists are murdered , farmers are tortured, strikes are broken and politicians are jailed and ever so slowly the world tunes in to this waking nightmare in the modern world.

What part of ‘psychotic, neocolonial ubber-mafia’ doesn’t the Australian government understand? This is not a well-groomed fighting force, the quashers of the Dutch, the saviors of the Indonesian people. This is a self-serving, corporate machine with big fucking guns. Only 1/3rd of the Indonesian military’s budget is paid by Jakarta, the rest is grafted from their own legal and illegal businesses; the perfect brief for a pirate organization and West Papua has become their secret cash cow. The TNI are a long way from home and long way from where anyone can hear you scream; and the long suffering Australian military has been forced by successive Australian governments to train these nasty bastards.

It took video pictures of the infamous Santa Cruz massacre in East Timor for the world to take note and support the East Timorese against the barbarity and collusion of the Indonesian military. The TNI’s modus operandi is now well known and it is time for Australia to wake up and realize this human rights disaster is not going away.

Eye Witness 2011

Australian ex-priest and now West Papuan campaigner, Peter Woods, also appears in Strangebirds in Paradise – A West Papuan Story, and has just returned from a research trip to West Papua where he observed the 3rd Papuan People’s Congress, interviewed many of the Papuan leaders and witnessed the TNI’s violent suppression. This is his most recent newsletter.

Peter Papua Paintings Oct 2011

ARIA AWARDS 2011 In other news, the awesome soundtrack to Strangebirds in Paradise by Aussie music legend David Bridie has just been nominated for an ARIA award, for Best World Music Album 2011. Aria Awards

Check out this beautiful and diverse collection of Melanesian musical brilliance at David Bridie’s Wantok Musik website.

Here’s a review from the Age

Screening News

We are still waiting for SBSTV to announce when they will screen SBiP for the national audience. We hope the constant rumblings from restive West Papua will prompt SBS programmers into getting this most important story front and centre, and preferably soon. Please go to the following SBS site and ask them when it’s screening?

SBiP has also just played at an Amnesty International screening in Auckland New Zealand,

SBiP will also screen on the 29th Oct at the inaugural Barossa Film Festival 2011 held in Tanunda, Barossa Valley, South Australia.

Quest for the West Papuan Penis Gourd#10

In Francis Ford Coppola’s, ‘Apocalypse Now’, a Louisiana saucier confronts a tiger in the Cambodian jungle and is left jabbering, ‘Never get out of the boat.’ As the bony, black fingers of the pig-tusked, warrior poked my luminous pink testicle through a loop of string and squeezed my terrified penis into a dried vegetable; these cautionary words echoed through my spinning head. ‘Never get out of the boat’. Absolutely Goddamn right!

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This type of tourism is a kind of cultural zoo, locals performing for money. None the less, Indonesian immigrants own most economic interests in West Papua and this cultural tourism is one of the few examples of sustained indigenous economy. Sergius laughed, saying, ‘Ini pertama, kamu bule gila’. ‘This is the first time a tourist has joined in, you’re a crazy whitey.’ He was right. I was a long way from home, way out of my depth, out of my trousers and ‘Out of the boat’The next day we walked back into the Baliem Valley, out of the domain of the Dani and back into the sphere of the Indonesians. As we approached the first TNI checkpoint our buoyant giddiness from this magical tribal world began to fall away, replaced by a brooding cloud of reality and uncomfortable questions. I felt deeply conflicted, how could this Javanese culture that I had lived with for so many years, that I had come to love and respect; be guilty of these alleged atrocities? And why the hell didn’t I know anything about it? I had spent fifteen years travelling around Indonesia and had falsely prided myself on knowing the geopolitics of the region. If what we had heard was true, why wasn’t it front-page news in Australia and why weren’t the rest of the world screaming blue murder? The answers to these questions would have to wait until my next adventure in Papua. Welcome to Paradise – Lock the door!

Strangebirds CD Soundtrack & DVD Release

August 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

‘ The album transcends purely musical importance.’

–      the Australian 20/8/11

“Not just a soundtrack, Strange Birds in Paradise stands alone as an album of cultural and political significance, putting West Papua’s extraordinary music talent firmly on the contemporary music map.”                                                                                         

 – David Bridie 2011

Strangebirds in Paradise CD –

Gday Diggers, Dawdlers, Odd balls and Strangebirds, greetings again my friends and welcome back for more potent cure-alls from the medicine cupboard of socio-political documentary making. Lets begin by acknowledging the truth. This is the world of serious documentary – a hapless, listless world of sour and fettered losers fighting and snapping for the crumbs that fall from societies give-a-toss table of sweet fuck-all. Yes if it’s glamour and glory you’re in search of – bugger off and make a cooking show or dance with a has-been, B-grade star with sequined camel-toe. Despite these tawdry realities Strangebirds in Paradsie is rocketing ahead towards a date with destiny and SBS.

Yes friends as we wait for the SBSTV broadcast of Strangebirds to be announced (later 2011) we launched the Strangebirds in Paradise DVD and CD Soundtrack at the Northcote Social Club a few weeks ago; and it was totally pumping.

A great line up of musicians was MC-ed by comedic maestro’s Lemo and Greg Fleet, with David Bridie leading the minstrel onslaught. The Black Orchid String Band played a few tunes off the CD Soundtrack – described by Impress Magazine ‘as one of the most important albums of 2011’. The ranting, mad dog of Oz broadsheets, The Australian; also reviewed the Strangebirds CD Soundtrack

‘In Strange Birds in Paradise, the producer-player (David Bridie) turns his attention to the troubled western half of New Guinea. With West Papua’s indigenous inhabitants under the yoke of the Indonesian military and struggling to keep their fecund cultural traditions alive in the face of political oppression, the album transcends purely musical importance.’

– the Australian 20/8/11

Over 200 men, women and lashings of children crammed the Sunday arvo gig. David Bridie was joined by the likes of Vika and Linda Bull, The Red Eyes and the Rumwaropen Sisters for a glorious, audio mix of tribal, Melanesian, rock, pop, electronic and more.  An attending journo from the Sydney Morning Herald said, “It’s the best political issue gig, I’ve ever been to”. And this of course is the point. By using a second string to our bow, namely music, we are reaching more people from different backgrounds and hopefully inspiring them to join in and speak out for West Papua.

The article in the Age , is a classic example of the success of ‘the arts’ as a weapon of social change. A full page, with photo talking about the musical culture of West Papua; and in doing so revealing the socio-political history and creating awareness not through dry political rhetoric, but through the juicy beats of music and art – Turn on, tune in and get active!

Here’s a preview Melbourne Times Weekly wrote up..

Preview: Strange Birds in Paradise

Where: Northcote Social Club, 301 High Street, Northcote. Preview : Stephen A Russell

Filmmaker Charlie Hill-Smith spent years traveling around Indonesia before stumbling across the province of West Papua. “Like most Australians, it was completely off my radar, even with my political understanding of south-east Asia,” he says today.

Engaging with the highland tribes people, Hill-Smith was shocked to discover the terrible stories of life under Indonesian military rule. As he built their trust, Hill-Smith began to hear of abducted children, murdered fathers and whole villages burnt to the ground; stories of torture, rape and human rights abuses. “They started asking why East Timor was getting a referendum, but Australia had forgotten about West Papua?”

According to Hill-Smith, the idea of western countries turning a blind eye to political turmoil in recourse rich hotbeds is nothing new. “West Papua is described as a mountain of gold on a sea of oil,” he says. “Every western resource company is in there, including the big Australians, Rio Tinto and BHP, ripping out timber, oil and gold hand over fist.”

Hill-Smith decided to make a documentary, Strange Birds in Paradise, which has gone on to pick up several awards and launches its soundtrack at the Northcote Social Club this week.

The film features the music of West Papua’s greatest singer-songwriter, Arnold Ap, whose traditionally inspired music became a powerful symbol of resistance. Outlawed by the Indonesian government, Ap was arrested, jailed and later believed to be executed.

“When a regime arrests poets, you know they are pretty desperate,” Hill-Smith says. “You’re not going to stop a popular resistance movement by banning singing.”

Melbourne musician David Bridie worked with West Papuan refugees, helping them re-record Ap’s nationalistic anthems, then forming the soundtrack to Strange Birds.

The album features music from Bridie, Tabura, Airi Ingram, and Black Cab, with the launch MC’d by comedians Lehmo and Greg Fleet. “There will be some great artists playing, mixing West Papuan, European and Australian sounds, and we’re hoping to reach out to a whole bunch of people who don’t know anything about it, who’ll come along and enjoy the music and the culture.”

Hill-Smith hopes the raised awareness will help West Papua’s plight. “It’s fine to stop our cattle going to Indonesia, but we won’t say boo about women and children getting murdered by the Indonesian military. We just kowtow to Jakarta; our priorities are awfully askew.”

Hill-Smith says it’s important not to preach. “You have to have a good time and share the beat to create that interesting third place.”

– or whatever that means.

The gig was awesome and received good press coverage in print

and on radio..

Great music, great people, cool jugs of beer that understand a man’s needs and yearnings and another excellent exercise in West Papuan awareness building. Muchos Gracias to all. To those who haven’t seen or heard the film/music – go online and get into it. &

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Quest for the West Papuan Penis Gourd Ep.9

The journey to create the new Australian feature documentary,  ’Strange Birds in Paradise – A West Papuan Story ‘ (SBiP), began back in 1999 when some old mates convinced me to go hiking in the remote highlands of Papua New Guinea and West Papua (just north of Australia). This is the serialised story of that adventure. In Francis Ford Coppola’s, ‘Apocalypse Now’, a Louisiana saucier confronts a tiger in the Cambodian jungle and is left jabbering, ‘Never get out of the boat.’ As the bony, black fingers of the pig-tusked, warrior poked my luminous pink testicle through a loop of string and squeezed my terrified penis into a dried vegetable; these cautionary words echoed through my spinning head. ‘Never get out of the boat’. Absolutely Goddamn right!                                   
Episode9:  Back inside the main compound I was greeted with hoots and giggles from the women and children. My skinny, white frame and flaming pink nuts, disarming even the most sceptical locals and bringing many to tears of laughter. I danced, sang and laughed with the villagers up and down the mud-floored compound. I stamped and clapped in time; my hideous pink plums bouncing and flopping like some grotesque circus act in a butcher’s shop.
Soon the Chief approached me again, stating, ‘I will catch the pig and you will kill it’. To say I was perturbed is an elephantine understatement. I hadn’t used a bow and arrow since I was nine years old and my subscription to Babes, Boars and Bow Hunter, had long since elapsed. This of course worried me and I suspect scarred the living shit out of the poor Dani blokes forced to hold the wriggling pig. With grit teeth and shaking forearms my first attempt failed to fly, the bowstring completely missing the arrow and raucous laughter filling the compound. Whilst my second attempt didn’t kill the pig outright, it certainly gave the unfortunate animal a nasty scratch.
A group of young men fell on the wounded hog and dispatched it with a knife through the front armpit and into the heart. The ears and tail were immediately cut off and the carcass butchered with knife and axe.  Carrying the pig’s ears and tail the Chief ushered me into the men’s house at the top of the compound. This dark hunting lodge was full of sacred stones, hunting trophies and objects of ancestor worship. The ears and tail were placed amongst the smoky rafters as ‘the land’s proof’ that we were here this day, with these people and for this occasion.
As the Chief rolled string from palm leaves on his thigh he told me a story. He said that in the beginning there was a race between a bird and a snake, to see if we humans would be like birds and live only one life, or be like snakes and live on forever. The race was long and arduous, but the bird eventually won; and so we all must die.
Meanwhile the pig had been gutted, singed of hair and cooked in an underground oven of stone and fire. The whole village sat together in the dirt compound and devoured the juicy pork and steamed green leaves.
To be continued..

CHS SBiP Blog#8

July 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

Hola – Strangebirds of a Feather. Owing to Melbourne’s insidious winter and general lack of moral fibre on my Weeties, I’ve had on-line constipation and have been unable to blog for the last few months. But that hibernation is over – Let’s party. Yes folks we ‘re officially launching the SBiP CD Soundtrack and DVD on Aug 14th at Northcote Social Club in Melbourne. A big line up of musical talent and the comedy musings of Greg Fleet and Lemo will punch out your winter blues and trombone the cockles of your cold, cold heart. (All gig details below) PS – don’t forget to read the serialised version of Quest for the West Papuan Penis Gourd (see below)

 ‘SBiP…a wonderful creative space for both hope and despair’  – John Hughes

SBiP News May – July 2011

SBiP on TripleRRR

Multi generational cultural glory was achieved last week when ‘Mystery of Life’, a song from our new SBiP CD soundtrack was played on Melbourne’s TripleRRR-FM. This beautiful song by murdered West Papuan singer/songwriter, Arnold Ap, had never been recorded outside West Papua until we recorded a bunch of Ap songs at David Bridie’s studio in 2009. These Arnold Ap songs are all conquering in Papua, where they are sung from the mountains to the coast. Now this haunting song, that Ap wrote and recorded on a makeshift cassette player in prison and then handed to a prison guard who smuggled it out to his wife only days before being shot; is sung by a new generation of Papuans and appreciated by a whole new culture – us! Viva Triple R, Viva Arnold Ap. (info on CD soundtrack below..)

SBiP Distribution – After finishing cutting SBiP into a TV friendly 52minutes we have sent the revised film to its new homes with SBS TV and Off The Fence (international distributor). We are hoping SBS will screen SBiP later this year and we wait with fettered breath in hope that the film will achieve it’s mission and sell into numerous international TV markets. The yardstick of success for SBiP has always been – to hit a large TV audience both at home and abroad.

Screening#1 Ballarat Regent Theatre – 23 June 6.45pm

Cold Night in Ballarat – Made Glorious Spring by Warm Crowd. Full house, very attentive, vigorous applause. An older demographic-crowd was treated to Jacob Rumbiak (West Papuan political exile) for our 30 minute Q&A session. Questions focused on the present political and human rights situations. People wanted to know about Rio Tinto’s human rights and environmental record in Papua and why the Australian government is so backward in coming forward. Local Christian groups out in force, very motivated to help West Papua and for more screenings in Ballarat.

Screening#2 Nova Cinemas – 1st July 7pm

Home Ground Advantage. The Australia West Papua Association (AWPA) VIC. Put on an excellent event with singing, raffle, food and drinks. The house was full, to overflowing; lots of gorgeous, little Papuan kids running everywhere. Ronnie and Jacob sung ‘Mystery of Life’ – famous song by murdered WP singer/song writer Arnold Ap.  I think this is the first time I have heard this beautiful song sung in English = cultural evolution 101.  As SBiP was crafted in Melbourne, this was a home game, with many friends and WP supporters allowing the film to really preach to the choir.  The film was very well received, not a dry eye in the house. Many people came to see the film for a second time and said, ‘ it gets better every time, and I still cry every time.’ American film maker Juan Ramos said, ‘I’ve never seen a film with more complex narrative threads – that works!

Q&A manned by CHS, Jacob Rumbiak (West Papuan political exile), Peter Woods (ex priest). Once again a very emotional Q&A, Jacob wept while pleading the audience to stand up and help the people of WP. Questions were asked about the UN and why it has not spoken out about WP. There were many audience members who had been involved with East Timor in the 1990’s. CHS – told audience that the experience of East Timor is the best way to try and understand the situation in WP. As always there was not enough time to answer all the questions. Food and drink after screening was great, lots of talking and camaraderie.

SBiP in Arena Magazine – John Hughes

Wonderful Australian filmmaker and cultural guardian John Hughes (Indonesia Calling 2009) has just written an article for left leaning intelligentsia rag – Arena Magazine. The article, titled after a new term used by Melanesians to describe Australia –  ‘Oz-Tak-Lihat’, which translates as ‘Oz Doesn’t See’, in Indonesian; is a sturdy analysis of the lack of support for the story of West Papua by Australian media and government. Hughes states, ‘There are now a number of films available that help in challenging the silence that has characterised Australian politicians public dissimulation in relation to the suffering of the Papuans to our north.’ Hughes goes on to discuss SBiP’s rocky road to completion, where he says, ‘The film was rejected at several stages of development and production by both Australian public broadcasters. This cannot be because the film is not important, well made, imaginative or accurate, as it is all of these and more.’ The article is timely, relevant and well researched – check it out. 

SBiP Radio Australia – Jacob Rumbiak and I did a quick interview with Isabelle Genoux a few weeks ago, give it a listen..


The DVD is now available and a must see for all modern Aussies who think they know about our region and the forces that shape it. Get on board and stand up for the rights of our neighbours just over the Arafura Sea by buying SBiP DVD and getting informed. Then get off the footy couch and join the Australia West Papua Association AWPA.

SBiP CD Soundtrack – Buy it now

Yes Music-Lovers, this kick-arse soundtrack is now available. For all those strange birds in Melbourne, we’re having a CD and DVD launch in Sun 14th August 2011. Come and join the stellar line up of talent.

Here’s the press release..


A West Papuan Soundtrack

“Music can rise above tyranny”

“Art is a weapon and culture is life, as long as they can sing they will prevail.”

–        Film-maker Charlie Hill-Smith on the plight of the West Papuans

 in their fight for independence from Indonesia

On Sunday August 14 from 1-5pm, the soundtrack and DVD to the powerful and award winning political feature documentary Strange Birds in Paradise

will be launched at The Northcote Social Club.

The afternoon of music will include performances from Tabura (featuring Leah, Petra and Rosa Rumwaropen), David Bridie, Airi Ingram, Phil Wales, Black Cab, El Witeri (The Red Eyes), and MC’s Lehmo and Greg Fleet. These and other performers yet to be announced join a distinguished line up of Melanesian performers, showing their support for the freedom movement in West Papua – an issue that garners less international attention than that given to the fate of Indonesian livestock.

While the Indonesian army continues to dominate the indigenous inhabitants of West Papua, the making of this album saw five West Papuan musicians and singers gather in Melbourne to record the outlawed folk songs of West Papuan freedom fighter and musician Arnold Ap with Australian musician and film composer David Bridie.

In Strange Birds in Paradise, David Bridie interweaves his original score with the songs of Ap, carried by the remarkable voices of West Papuan performers Hein Arumisore, Jacob Rumbiak and Gillius Kogoya, and features musical collaborations with Airi Ingram and Phil Wales. These artists will also come together for the launch, joined onstage by West Papuan musicians Ronny Kareni, Frederick Yawandare, Adrianus Birif, Anselmus Pisakai and led by West Papuan leader Jacob Rumbiak.

The launch will celebrate and recognise of the work of Arnold Ap, as well as political hero Kelly Kwalik – both assassinated for bringing controversial folk songs to the people of West Papua and the world. The day will shed light on the rich musical history intrinsic to West Papuan culture, simultaneously raising awareness of the struggle faced by West Papuans, our closest neighbours, and the atrocities occurring daily in a political climate of greed, corruption and genocide.

Of the CD, Bridie says “Not just a soundtrack, Strange Birds in Paradise stands alone as an album of cultural and political significance, putting West Papua’s extraordinary music talent firmly on the contemporary music map, in the Pacific region and beyond. There are a lot of political refugees from West Papua living in Australia, and this launch is for them as much as it is for those residing in West Papua.”

Strange Birds in Paradise is an album which engages with the unique music of West Papua and champions a community who will fight to keep their cultural traditions alive in the face of extreme political oppression and widespread genocide.

What: When: Where: Tickets: Contact:


Strange Birds in Paradise Album Launch (alongside official DVD release) August 14, 1-5pm Northcote Social Club $18 Presale / $22 on Door            ($15 Concession available at door only – no presale) Penney & Logan PR

Carolyn Logan/ / 0400 441025 Tilly Morris / /0418582812 /

Quest for the West Papuan Penis Gourd Ep.8

The journey to create the new Australian feature documentary,  ’Strange Birds in Paradise – A West Papuan Story ‘ (SBiP), began back in 1999 when some old mates convinced me to go hiking in the remote highlands of Papua New Guinea and West Papua (just north of Australia). This is the serialised story of that adventure.
In Francis Ford Coppola’s, ‘Apocalypse Now’, a Louisiana saucier confronts a tiger in the Cambodian jungle and is left jabbering, ‘Never get out of the boat.’ As the bony, black fingers of the pig-tusked, warrior poked my luminous pink testicle through a loop of string and squeezed my terrified penis into a dried vegetable; these cautionary words echoed through my spinning head. ‘Never get out of the boat’. Absolutely Goddamn right!
Episode8:  Pigs are everything in the Papuan highlands; up here it is pig grease that makes the cultural wheels go round. If you want to get married, you need pigs. If you want to build a house, you need pigs. If you want to plant a garden, have a child or go to war, you definitely need pigs. They are the number one trade good and status symbol; they live in people’s houses and are the primary source of protein. Owning a brace of big pigs is as manly and kudos rich as an Aussie bloke owing a Holden V8 Ute.
The boys and I now stood inside the wood and mud compound. In front of us and slightly up hill stood the entire village, grouped together and singing softly; their exquisite three part harmonies echoing like bird song. Again the Chief rushed at us with menacing taunts of his bow and arrow, all the while booming his incongruous, ‘Wa, wa, wa’. We later learned that this apparently threatening display is designed to scare away any evil spirits that may accompany visitors.
We were surrounded by singing men, women and children, and before I could blink an old woman had her head between my legs and had hoisted me up onto her shoulders. I was completely freaking out, not knowing that honoured guests are carried by the women and suspecting I was being taken to husband by this stout old crone. The eerie singing rose and fell as we were whisked away into a smaller adjoining compound. ‘The Chief wants to give you a horim’, said Sergius. ‘How kind’, I replied awaiting the generous gift. ‘No, he wants you to wear the horim, now’, he grinned. It was right about now that I wondered what I was getting myself into. ‘Clothes off’, commanded an old warrior with a beard full of spider’s web. ‘All of them?’ I limply asked. ‘Semua – everything’, he decreed. So in front of a gaggle of giggling highlanders I sheepishly dropped my strides and stood naked in the chilly morning air.
Like backstage on Broadway, I was set upon by enthusiastic dressers. They painted me with river mud, dressed me in armbands, kauri shell breastplate and an enormous feathered collar and headdress. The boys laughed hysterically as the old warrior wrestled my glowing pink plums through loops of string and forced my recalcitrant pecker into the wooden husk of the horim. In a flash I was ready to go, looking like the bastard prodigy of Peter Allen and Quetzalcoatl.
To be continued…

CHS SBiP Blog #7 Strangebirds in the Editing Suite

April 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

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Hola, my loco feathered friends and welcome into the shadowy, nether world of the edit suite. Yes we are cutting a television version of ‘Strangebirds in Paradise’ (SBiP) to satisfy the cravings and limits of free-to-air TV. The feature length (75 minute) was designed for the international film festival circuit, allowing SBiP to build a reputation amongst erudite, international audiences. But now it’s time for the main game, the reason we made this film in the first place – to hit a million ordinary people – right where they live; through the god-king technology of television.

SBSTV – the rampaging Minotaur of multi-cultural Oz has agreed to screen our little movie, but only in a one-hour format (52minutes); so we have begun the painful task of recutting. This 52-minute edit will also be heading off to Europe and the USA as we attempt to entertain the western world by opening their eyes to the secrets and colours of West Papua and Indonesia.

At first I was dreading this editing process, having already bled onto the cutting-room floor during the first editing ordeal with Andrew Brinsmead and Mark Atkin (2009) – when we cut 100 hours of material down to a heavily pregnant 75minutes. The very thought of revisiting this ungainly digital beast sent me into a cold sweat of involuntary gaging and ‘bronzing up’.

However, back under the warm wing of my loving producers’, Jamie Nicolai and John Cherry; I regained confidence, hit the shower block and threw myself headlong into the edit with Deb Agars. For those ‘au fait’ with the narrative of SBiP; you’ll agree it is a very busy film. An unofficial, undergraduate crash-course in South East Asian history and geo-politics – crammed with a shoehorn into a ‘bursting-at the seams’ 75minutes of drama. But what to cut? How to slim down this cultural porker without losing its heart and soul? How do you cut 23 minutes from a 75-minute feature film and not throw the baby out with the bath water?

It was decided that the central narrative was ‘my personal journey’ from Oz – thru Indonesia – into West Papua; and the stories of Donny Roem (young West Papuan musician & refugee) and Jacob Rumbiak (Papuan leader in exile) – supplied the most important secondary narrative strings. The focus on music as a central theme has been somewhat decreased and the heavily detailed history sections have been thinned and amended.

Losing some of the history has hopefully not ‘dumbed down’ the film in any manner, but has certainly streamlined the story, hopefully making it a better film for TV audiences to easily consume. The loss of the Arnold Ap story (murdered West Papuan musician) is a great shame; as this is a little known tale of great cultural importance to West Papuans; and we were very motivated to hold up his memory to the world.

To my immense surprise and unbridled delight Deb and I cut this obstreperous monster of light and sound down to size in quick time and with relative ease. Apart from the ‘Arnold Ap’ section we have not removed any major topic from the feature, but have whittled down each topic without losing continuity. With final touches from maestro Mark Atkin (editor), audio-guru Mik Levage (sound mix) and Tim Egan (colour-grade) we should have a kick arse TV hour ready in a few weeks time. Wish us luck and get ready for an hour of TV that’ll knock ya socks off and have ya repeatedly smashing ya head against the idiot box and singing hallelujah to SBS in 25 different languages. Viva my most excellent crew, viva SBS and Viva the people of West Papua!!


The DVD is now available and a must see for all modern Aussies who care about human dignity and human rights. This is the single most important human rights story in our region of the world and its time for all of us to get up to speed. So grab a few copies and give them to friends and family. Check out the 3 mini films, animations and music clips on the DVD Extras and help spread the word to all your brethren.

 CD Soundtrack –

The amazing music from SBiP (AFI nominated – Best Sound Documentary 2010) was composed by David Bridie of ‘My Friend the Chocolate Cake’ & ‘Not Drowning Waving’ – fame. David composed tailored sound-scapes for specific characters in the film. He wrote and recorded an energetic contemporary tune for my personal journey, a brooding track for the West Papuans and a menacing electro-track for the Indonesian Army (TNI). Combined with traditional Papuan songs and Melbourne-recorded tunes by murdered West Papuan musician Arnold Ap; they create a wonderful, eclectic mix of stirring, contemporary world music. Following great praise and constant requests for copies of the soundtrack, David has re-mixed and will release and CD soundtrack of SBiP through his record label, Wontok Records. This striking album will be released in late July at a musical event in Melbourne, Australia – watch this space for details = very exciting. The DVD (now available from has 7 songs from the film with film clips, so jump online and grad a copy.

Quest for the West Papuan Penis Gourd Ep.7

The journey to create the new Australian feature documentary,  ’Strange Birds in Paradise – A West Papuan Story ‘ (SBiP), began back in 1999 when some old mates convinced me to go hiking in the remote highlands of Papua New Guinea and West Papua (just north of Australia). This is the serialised story of that adventure.

In Francis Ford Coppola’s, ‘Apocalypse Now’, a Louisiana saucier confronts a tiger in the Cambodian jungle and is left jabbering, ‘Never get out of the boat.’ As the bony, black fingers of the pig-tusked, warrior poked my luminous pink testicle through a loop of string and squeezed my terrified penis into a dried vegetable; these cautionary words echoed through my spinning head. ‘Never get out of the boat’. Absolutely Goddamn right!

Episode7:  By day six we had hiked deep into Dani lands, far from the last Indonesian Army (TNI) outpost. After a cruel days hiking up and down calf-burning mountains we collapsed in a village visitor’s hut and recuperated with sweet black tea and noodles. With out warning the door burst open and in strode a tiny warrior covered in black pig fat and built like a power lifter. His impressive headdress of long bird of paradise plumes only eclipsed by his metre long penis gourd topped with a spiralling pig’s tail.

His terrifying frown switched to a radiant grin and he bellowed ‘Selamat datang, Wa, wa, wa – Welcome!’ This was the Chief, elected by his piers and exuding energy. He greeted us warmly and described with pride, his village, his people and their valiant history in inter tribal war.  He took care to explain that his people didn’t indulge in such pagan nonsense now that they’d been saved by Jesus. We chatted for a few hours and discussed our interest in the horim. He grinned madly, sweeping his imposing horim to one side and bellowing that, ‘ Tomorrow would be a day we would never forget’. Why would you doubt him?

We awoke to a misty morning in a green valley of vegetable gardens. Fingers of sunlight cut through the treetops and lit a massive granite escarpment to the west. With eggs, noodles and tea under the belt we accompanied a local man down the dirt track towards the village compound.  As we entered a grassy clearing a hooting scream assailed us. A fully decked out warrior with spears was screaming at us from atop a purpose built lookout tower of sticks and vines.

Suddenly the Chief appeared from the tall grass leading twenty warriors in full costume and battle cry. They rushed at us screaming and thrashing at us with their spears and quickly ushered us towards the compound chanting, ‘Wa, wa, wa’. ‘Welcome, welcome, welcome’. As the Chief escorted me over a stepped style through a mud archway into the earthen compound he proclaimed that if we purchased a pig, he would show us something we would never forget.

To be continued…

Strangebirds in Adelaide Blog #6

March 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

Salute and Grog-speed dearest and strangest Birds.

Digital light, sitar and didge with a whiff of face paint and petrol – Adelaide crams festivals of music, film, arts and muscle cars into one pregnant month – a riotous, ritualistic expulsion to purge a year of quiet sedation and urbane introspections in the city of churches and shallow graves.

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Adelaide Film Festival As Strangebirds in Paradise (SBiP) marches into the twilight of its festival life (15 international festivals), we gathered in Adelaide for two screenings amongst a delectable array of quality offerings and a weighty sample of culturally paralysing pop flotsam. Whilst technically infuriating, with awful picture and sound quality in the Palace cinemas Rundle St.; the screenings did their job – enlightening and outraging the audiences.

Canadian filmmaker and worldly character Peter Wintonick, ably led the two emotional Q&A sessions .

Questions ranged from, “Who owns Freeport?”, to “..should the TNI be indicted for war crimes? To, ‘why is there such a gender imbalance in SBiP? ‘SBiP is an important piece of informational art.’ Peter Wintonick,

Audience members included legendary Australian doco man Bob Connelly (Rats in the Ranks’, ‘Black Harvest’, ‘First Contact’) and leftist media-intelligentsia-kingpin, Bob Ellis; plus an array of my old mates and family. Obviously having my 80 year old aunts exposed to a close-up of my hideous wedding tackle – projected on the big screen – is a regret and a scaring experience they’ll take to the grave.

Thoughts on the Fest. The big news of the Adelaide film fest is SAFC and Adelaide film fest funded feature doco, “Shut up little man”, a thoroughly entertaining exploration-tation of an American analogue audio-verite viral-recording of two arguing, old drunks.  Well crafted and rich in retro iconography, it is an hilarious and tragic celebration of exploitative, sadistic voyeurism and I suspect, the next rung in the “Shut up Little Man” ladder to Broadway.

Whist I enjoyed the film greatly and the elephantine interiors of the beautiful Piccadilly Cinema, I noted the tiny, candle lit woodshed in which SBiP made its two appearances, mused painfully on our societies and the film festivals’ priorities and placated myself in the truth that ‘Pop is King and Nero is on the fiddle’.

With favourable reviews to fill our wings the ‘Strangebirds’ Murder’ lifts off from Adelaide and beautiful South Australia, – great to be home with friends and family and flagons of quaffable claret.

Strangebirds News SBiP TV Deal! Yes folks we finally have a TV deal. The great mixed voice of the nation, the colossus of multi-cultural Australia, the mighty SBS. Thankyou SBS for seeing the relevance of SBiP, and for having the stomach and fortitude to take on a very difficult film with serious and dangerous political themes. SBiP may play on SBS at any time from August 1st, I dare say it’s programming will be dictated by the perceived relevance of the topic of West Papua to SBS’ perceived audience – so send them an email and ask to see it in primetime.

SBiP DVD The DVD eagle has landed and is feasting on the sacrificial goat of juicy DVD extras. Check out and grab a copy of the new DVD. We have put a lot of effort into producing a DVD that gives you plenty of extra Strangebirds’ gold; in this case – an EP of Papuan music and stacks of extra footage from inside West Papua, plus a 4 minute animated story using the compiled animation from the film. Spread the word to all your people and help get the message out.  – everybody needs to know the truth about West Papua and SBiP is one way to get it.  SBiP is a completely independently financed feature film and we need DVD sales through to recoup our significant investment, so tell all your mates.

New Tit-Bits – new micro animation on youtube

Future Screenings & Events SBiP is now off to Europe to screen in the London/Australian film festival in May. Aussie music legend, David Bridie is presently putting the icing on a CD soundtrack of the SBiP and will release it through his Wantok Musik label. Stay tuned for details of this most excellent collection of eclectic tunes at

Quest for the West Papuan Penis Gourd Ep.6

The journey to create the new Australian feature documentary,  ’Strange Birds in Paradise – A West Papuan Story ‘ (SBiP), began back in 1999 when some old mates convinced me to go hiking in the remote highlands of Papua New Guinea and West Papua (just north of Australia). This is the serialised story of that adventure.

After almost fifty years of Indonesian colonisation, these remote mountain people speak Bahasa Indonesia, the national language of the Republic of Indonesia; and after spending a year as a teenage exchange student in Java, I too speak this Malay based linga-franca of South east Asia. A little language changes everything. Suddenly you can peer a little deeper below the surface, you can express your appreciation, ask why life is as it is and most importantly, share a joke. On the third day I quizzed our elderly walking companion, Carro, as to why he had come on this, at times gruelling hike. He chuckled quietly to himself and with a wry grin said that he had thirteen wives at home and just needed to get out of the house.

Our guide Sergius spoke six languages and was fast becoming a friend. As we walked he joked constantly about our hi-tech hiking gear. Why did we wear $400 (a years salary) Gortex hiking boots, while he strode over mountains in a pair of second hand, pink thongs? Sergius laughed hysterically at his own gags and then suddenly his beaming toothy grin would slam shut, his heavily muscled brow frowning over his dark eyes. ‘Kamu belajar politic? ‘Do you study politics?’ he asked. ‘Do you know what is happening in East Timor? Do you have any news from Jakarta?’

This was the first hint that something was wrong. Sergius said that people were under pressure to conform. ‘The Indonesians say that we should wear clothes, they say we should not wear the horim (penis gourd)’, he lamented, ‘But the old people don’t want to wear clothes, they say, ‘Tidak – No!’’

Slowly it became known that I spoke Indonesian and that we were trustworthy sorts, and so on the fourth night and for every night following, our visitor’s hut became a forum for conversation. After evening meal, our hut would fill up with old men and women, young warriors and mothers and the questions would begin. ‘Is East Timor really having a referendum on independence from Indonesia?’ Is Australia sending troops to support a U.N. referendum?’ ‘What is President Habibie saying?’ Why is Australia, America and the rest of the world ignoring West Papua?’

In hushed tones people began to tell us stories. Whispers of missing husbands, murdered brothers, raped wives and villages burnt to the ground. I translated some of the horror stories for the boys and we began to feel that something was very, very wrong. These awful stories were not one-offs, for it seemed that every second person had a tale of violence or dispossession. Over the next few days the penny finally dropped, we weren’t hiking through a Neolithic tourist wonderland, but were blundering around in an undeclared warzone.

to be continued…

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Strangebirds in South Australia

February 7, 2011 § Leave a comment


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Strange Birds in Paradise


Yes my dearest Strangebirds I am flocking  home to Adelaide, South Australia for a few big weeks of films, festivals and shallow graves. When consummate international-weirdo and Musi hater, Salman Rushide (author of ‘Satanic Verses’ and ‘L.Ron Hubbard – ya Fat, Sci-Fi Hack’); describes your home town as ‘strange‘, you know you’re living in the twighlight zone. Just because Salman doesn’t understand that South Australia’s sandy soils means you’d be crazy not to dig shallow graves; doesn’t mean we shouldn’t embrace the driest state in the driest inhabited continent (dry as a dead dingo’s donger one day, perfect the next). As a born and bred Barossa Valley/Adelaide Croweater, I’m wrapped to be home in South Australia and excited to be finally screening SBiP to my brethren.

The film will have two screenings in the Adelaide International Film Festival – on the 27thFeb and 3rd March at the Palace. I’ll be at both doing Q&A, so come along and toss some thorny ones at me, the stickier, the better. Book tickets here as it’s bound to sell out –

Keep track of SBiP on our Facebook site – and website –

SBiP News Slung in canvas under balmy skies, the Deckchair Cinema in the hot tropic of Darwin is an Australian cinematic icon that you all should experience. This time of year it’s a tad damp up north so the Darwin Film Society’s – ‘Flix in the Wet’, moves the Deckchair Cinema out of the torrential down pours and into the Mitchell St. cinema.

Strange Birds in Paradise (SBiP) screened to an enthusiastic audience in a town that understands Australia’s regional geo-politics better than most. Strong connections to East Timor created during that nations fight for independence in the 1990’s have created an educated and engaged minority who lapped up the film and dived into a vigorous Q&A session.

With Robin Osborne, author of seminal text ‘Indonesia’s Secret War’(1985), on board for the Q&A; we ploughed through a boisterous hour of inquisition into Indonesian, American and Aussie political intrigue. Osborne’s enlightening book was one the first entries into this little know topic and has influenced academics, politicians and laymen ever since. During East Timor’s 1999 U.N. Referendum, ‘Indonesia’s Secret War’ was photocopied and handed around enemas to U.N. employees to recall the lies and deception perpetrated by Jakarta during West Papua’s 1969 U.N. Referendum; where only 1026 hand picked Papuans were threatened with having their tongues cut out if they voted for independence. Yes the U.N. may rip off your book but Big kudos to you Mr. Osborne –  a very important book.

SBiP screens again in Darwin (Birch, Carroll & Coylle Cinemas) on Feb 13th 2011

Check out these taste testers from our up coming SBiP DVD – March 2011

Strange Birds – Bathtime – Outtake 4

Quest for the West Papuan Penis Gourd – Episode 5

The journey to create the new Australian feature documentary,  ’Strange Birds in Paradise – A West Papuan Story ‘ (SBiP), began back in 1999 when some old mates convinced me to go hiking in the remote highlands of Papua New Guinea and West Papua (just north of Australia). This is the serialised story of that adventure.

On a sticky mud track we left the river and hiked up and out of the main valley, our chests heaving and calves burning as the first merciless hill fell behind. Hill after hill we followed well-trodden walking trails that interconnect the highlands like earthen arteries; valley-to-valley, village-to-village. We were soon amongst immaculately kept farming gardens. Rows of onions, fields of strawberries, contoured lines of potato, ginger, cabbage and garlic. These Neolithic farmers are considered to be the oldest farming culture on the planet, part of an ancient migration wave at least 30,000 years old and still planting.

The next few days were like a time machine.  Twenty first centaury westerners in Gortex, hiking amongst naked, Neolithic farmers. A surreal dream where black men wearing spider’s webs in their hair to ward off ghosts share instant packet soup with white men in lycra skivvies and wrap around sunglasses.  A totally natural world; where wood and stone have not been superseded by tin and plastic. Where bare feet walk earthen tracks and each village of grass houses and wooden walled compounds melds into the natural world, like mushrooms in the grass.

So we hiked in blissful, tourist ignorance, drinking in the awe-inspiring views of mountains, ravines and raging rivers and savouring the intermit dealings with local families as we shared their food and stayed in their grass-roofed visitors huts. If this tribal empire was surprising, then the fact that this acutely foreign culture and I share a common tongue; completely blew our digital age, dominant culture, free market minds. To be continued…