Glyn Palmer (left) East Timor in 1975
Australian father and son Glyn and Scotty Palmer travelled to Timor-Leste together to take part in the 20th anniversary celebrations of the International Force East Timor (INTERFET) in September 2019. For both men it was a trip down memory lane, having visited at important moments in the young nation’s history.
When Glyn Palmer first arrived in what was then East Timor for six weeks in 1975, the enormous challenges facing the country were making news headlines. He had responded to the International Red Cross’s call for volunteers to support the East Timor Health Service.
Mr Palmer was one of three nurses in a team that included two surgeons, an anaesthetist, a general practitioner, a medical director and an administrator. He recalls the initial need at the hospital in Dili and how the Portuguese had insisted that their personnel return home, leaving the service to the Timorese-trained workforce. Glyn went on to co-found the Timor Hearts Fund, a volunteer group that treats Timorese with rheumatic heart disease.
Glyn’s son Scotty was five when his dad helped in the region and he remembers looking at Glyn’s film slides.
Decades later, Scotty is a colonel in the Australian Defence Force and in 1999 played a significant role in INTERFET.
Scotty Palmer in East Timor in 1999
Being part of the multinational peacekeeping taskforce that assisted the fledgling nation felt surreal for Scotty. The country where his father had volunteered back in 1975 had changed dramatically.
‘Dili was in chaos,’ he says. He remembers plenty of smoke plumes and empty homes and businesses as people had fled to the safety of the hills. The streets were deserted and the busiest places were the port and airport.
‘There was no running water, limited power and it was reminiscent of an old Western movie as initially things appeared a little lawless,’ he explains. ‘I arrived on 20 September and worked through to 3 December.’
The days were demanding but also rewarding, according to Scotty.
Deployed back to East Timor in October 2001, Scotty welcomed the positive developments between his tours, observing reconstructed homes, rice in the paddy fields and animals grazing.
‘It boils down to seeing a country destroyed, then rebirthed as a proud independent nation with the basics in place,’ he said. ‘That is why we played our role, and to see this unfold was amazing.’
Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel Darren Chester attended the 20th anniversary celebrations in Timor-Leste.
Minister Chester with Glyn and Scotty Palmer
‘It was my pleasure to meet Glyn and Scotty during the celebrations,’ he says. ‘As a family, they are proud to have been involved in the Australian Volunteers Program and to have book-ended a significant period of change to one of Australia’s closest neighbours. Thank you for your service.’