Dialog Box

History | Human Rights | Social Justice
The Age of Living Dangerously


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The Age of Living Dangerously is a powerful human drama, a cold case investigation and a politically explosive story. Shirley Shackleton (84) travels to Indonesia to visit her husband’s grave. Greg Shackleton was one of five Australian based journalists killed in Balibó, Portuguese Timor whilst reporting on Indonesian military incursions into the small colony in 1975. This is an unsolved mass killing and Shirley has lived for decades not knowing how her husband died or who killed him. But she does know that not long after they were killed the men’s remains were buried in a Jakarta cemetery. She is determined to have Greg’s ashes returned to Australia, having campaigned for years to have his remains repatriated. Her life has been marked by a fierce determination to discover the truth about the deaths, and why Australia and many other countries did not protest over the subsequent genocide in East Timor. Her journey follows in the wake of the decision by the Australian Federal Police to abandon its war crimes investigation into the deaths due to ‘insufficient evidence’. Shirley is sceptical about this claim and is determined to discover the truth about the murders. She wants the doubts and nightmares to end so that she can live the rest of her long life in peace. Shirley leaves Jakarta and travels to Balibó, the small town on the border of Timor Leste and Indonesia where her husband and the other journalists were killed in 1975. In Balibó Shirley may find closure, perhaps the investigation will reveal new evidence about who killed Greg, or how he died. She grieves, and the women in the town grieve with her, and hold a traditional Timorese ceremony to release Greg’s soul and to put an end to Shirley’s mourning. In Timor the ceremony is called a Koremetan, literally untying the black. It marks the end of the mourning period following a person’s death. The Timorese see Greg and Shirley’s story as their own, and they take responsibility for her healing. This is a powerful and moving conclusion to the film, and to this chapter in Shirley’s life. The film is reminiscent of Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence. However, The Age of Living Dangerously, unlike Oppenheimer’s films is about the murder of Australian citizens, and, in the case of East Timor, about the largest genocide per capita in modern history, which happened right on our doorstep. Many believe that the Australian Government at the time covered up the murders, and colluded in the invasion of Timor, to protect its trade interests with Indonesia. Until the truth is told about who murdered these men, why Timor was sacrificed, and why our government has been complicit in and covered up these crimes, our very identity as a decent, fair nation, our very sense of who we are as a people is damaged.

How does the project meet the aims of a philanthropic foundation?

The Balibó Five murders are an unsolved cold case but also a social justice issue that has plagued Australia since 1975. At the heart of this film is a deeply humanistic search for why the journalists were killed, and why Australia covered up the murders and lied about Indonesia’s human rights atrocities in East Timor. Documents show that for 24 years Australia aided and abetted Indonesia during its war with Timor, a war that resulted in the highest genocide per-capita in modern history. We pride ourselves on being a fair, egalitarian society that values justice. These values sit uncomfortably with a government that sacrifices justice for its own citizens and colludes in the illegal invasion of one of our nearest neighbours. This film will present new truths about these issues and lobby for change.  A number of Indonesian soldiers have been publicly named as the killers, but no investigation into the men has been conducted. Witnesses are unreliable or dead, and their accounts contradictory. The alleged killers have never been formally questioned by Australian or UN police and the Indonesian military or government have never been asked to assist in investigating the journalists’ deaths. This is a scandal, a violation of the Indonesian men’s rights, and highlights the need for a rigorous investigation into the murders. The film will present a compelling case that the AFP should re-open the investigation into the Balibó Five murders that it abandoned in 2014 following contentious legal advice from the Attorney General’s Department. It is the Australian public’s right to know why these murders have not been rigorously investigated, why Australia did not formally protest to Indonesia about the killings in 1975, and why the AFP investigation was dropped. One reason is that as far back as the early 1970’s Australia had designs on Timor’s oil. In August 1975 Australia’s ambassador to Indonesia, Richard Woolcott, wrote in a diplomatic cable that Australia would get a much better agreement over oil in the Timor Sea with an Indonesian-controlled East Timor. With tacit Australian support, Indonesia invaded East Timor in December 1975. Today, the issues of oil and gas, maritime boundaries, and justice, still plague Australia’s relations with Timor-Leste. Australia is accused of stealing oil from one of the world’s poorest nations, a theft described by Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart as ‘an act of extraordinary depravity’. The Age of Living Dangerously will raise awareness of these issues and assist in the wider campaign for a fair and just maritime treaty between Australia and Timor Leste. 

This documentary has the power to create social change, promote debate, and to define the kind of society we want to live in; a society where the Australian Government's respect for the human rights of its citizens and our neighbours takes priority over trade and p

Aims & Objectives

What outcomes do you hope to achieve by making this film and how will you measure its impact?

This film has three core aims. 

 1. The War Crimes Investigation: The film and its outreach campaign aim to have the Australian Government re-open the AFP war-crimes investigation into the Balibó Five murders. The Australian Government still supports the official Indonesian position that the men were killed in crossfire, and in 2014 the Attorney General’s Department advised the AFP to drop a war crimes investigation into the murders citing ‘insufficient evidence’. The impact of this objective will be measured by the success of the campaign in having the investigation re-opened, but also by the increased awareness it creates of the issue through the film’s outreach campaign and media coverage. 

 2. Timor’s Oil & Maritime Boundaries: In 2002, shortly before Timor-Leste assumed nationhood following 24-years of an illegal Indonesian occupation, Australia controversially exempted itself from key parts of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. This means that Australia does not recognise the International Court of Justice or the UN's International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea as arbiters of maritime boundary disputes. This exemption has allowed Australia to ignore the rule of law and Timor’s requests to negotiate a fair maritime boundary. These requests arose following the revelation that in 2004 the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) planted covert listening devices in the cabinet office of East Timor, with the purpose of gathering information related to the negotiations of the Timor Sea Treaty, which governs the sharing of energy resources between Australia and East Timor. An impact campaign would work with existing groups to convince Australia to recognise the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and negotiate fair maritime boundaries with Timor Leste. Impact will be measured by the campaign’s success in contributing to Australia agreeing to negotiate a fair maritime boundary with Timor Leste. 

 3. Civic Education Program: Australia, Timor Leste & Indonesia.The film would screen throughout Australia to communities that have a direct interest in the Balibó story, Timor Leste and its history, and human rights. In Timor Leste the film would be shown on national television, in the cinema, and would tour the country as part of Dili Film Works’ Travelling Film Festival. These screenings, often in remote villages, will be an important outcome for the film. They are critical to building a national identity for one of the world’s newest nations. A nation is built on its common stories and Timor has many, but few published in any form. The Age of Living Dangerously tells a story that has touched the lives of all Timorese and will help create a national awareness of the country’s history.In Indonesia screenings and civic education campaigns would contribute to an understanding of the country’s history, essential for democratic reform.


What is your education and outreach strategy?

The education and outreach strategy is designed to realise the film’s three key outcomes. These relate to the war crimes investigation, the maritime boundaries dispute, and the civic education programs in Australia, Timor Leste and Indonesia. The film will also be made available to organisations and individuals involved in these issues as part of a broader movement for social change.

The outreach strategy involves film screenings, television broadcasts, a website, online streaming, and DVD distribution. The film has interest from an Australian educational distributor, Ronin Films, from Leap Frog Films for its Cinema on Demand platform, and an international sales agent, TVF.

In Timor Leste Dili Film Works will distribute the film, organise a cinema release, and tour the film around the country. The film will screen on television in Timor Leste. Dili Film Works will also co-ordinate screenings in Indonesia, as it has with other films.

In Australia there is a large and varied community with a strong interest in the story of the Balibó Five and the invasion of Portuguese Timor in 1975. There is a great awareness of these events and it has grown over the years, particularly as Australia’s role in the rebuilding of East Timor has been so significant. Thousands of Australian police, military, volunteers, advisors and businesspeople have worked in Timor. Many of these people made the pilgrimage to Balibó to visit the house where the men were killed. This community grows larger when the many issues relating to East Timor, Indonesia, foreign affairs, and regional politics are included. There are dozens of East Timor friendship cities throughout Australia, many human rights organizations, schools, and community groups that will be interested in the documentary.

Screenings will be organised in these communities, both in the major cities and in rural areas. Workshops, lectures, and Q&A sessions based around the film and the issues it is targeting will be organised.

The cinema release in Australia will have two models based on the release of the Dili Film Works production Beatriz’s War, East Timor’s first feature film, which played to full houses during its limited theatrical release. The first model would be a series of event screenings or seasons in all capital cities. This is a conventional cinema release. The second model for the cinema release will target communities around Australia that have a strong interest in East Timor. These are the many sister cities, the Australian Defence Force, rotary clubs, human right’s organizations, schools and universities, and Timorese communities. These screenings would be organized through Leap Frog Films and its Cinema on Demand Tugg Platform.

The FairTrade Films & Dili Film Works websites will provide a study guide for the film that can be used in schools and universities, in Australia and Timor Leste. The film will also screen at film festivals in Australia and internationally.
Luigi Acquisto & Lurdes Pires
Bety Reis & Stella Zammataro
Total budget
90 Minutes