Indonesian troops at the house in which the Balibo Five sheltered before being killed (Image: AAP/National Archives of Australia)

Today marks 45 years since five Australian journalists were murdered in East Timor. Reporter Greg Shackleton, sound recordist Tony Stewart and cameraman Cary Cunningham worked for Channel 7. Reporter Malcolm Rennie and cameraman Brian Peters worked for Channel 9. They were all in their 20s. The two crews arrived in Timor separately but linked up at the small village of Balibo near the western border with Indonesia.

In October 1975 the Indonesian military was conducting a terror campaign against Portuguese Timor, as it was then called. Its aim was to capture small enclaves just inside East Timor, mount small offensive actions from them, and make the Timorese position untenable.

Its actions would generate atrocities that could be falsely attributed to pro-independence East Timorese forces. Indonesia would then be able to portray its invasion as merely restoring order. It regarded the presence of any foreign journalist as a “hurdle to be got over”, as the British ambassador to Indonesia reported, because “the only limitation on clandestine activity now appears to be its exposure”.