Returned seasonal workers and small business in Timor-Leste: reasons for hope
By Michael Rose The hamlet of Marabia is a cluster of modest homes and kiosks on the winding road from Dili to Dare. It’s the sort of place that is easy to miss, but in two important ways it has been pivotal in Timor-Leste’s struggle for self-determination and dignity.
On 10 June 1980 FALINTIL, the Timorese guerrilla army, attacked an Indonesian television tower there. One and a half years earlier, at the end of 1978, the resistance had lost its last territory on the slopes of Mount Matebian. The Indonesian State wanted the world to believe the issue of Timor-Leste’s sovereignty was settled. The attack was intended to show that it was not. Dozens died, but the point was made and never forgotten.
In the language of Timorese politics the question of national development is typically portrayed as a continuation of this struggle, and frequently borrows from its imagery.
What is clear is that when it comes to the economic life of Timorese communities, remittances are critical. As of 2019 they are the largest source of income for Timor-Leste, after oil and aid, before coffee. But unlike oil it is not a finite resource. And also unlike oil, the wages made by Timorese workers abroad water the grassroots directly. The Australian Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP) stands out among the various options for Timorese looking abroad, by allowing them to remain closely connected to home. People typically spend six months in Australia, and return year after year.
In 2019, just down the rough track from the memorial and past the Catholic capela, a group of returned seasonal workers are continuing the struggle. Pooling money earned in Australia, they have started a small commercial chicken farm.
The people behind the farm call themselves the ‘Timor …read more