Tag Archives: International Support

Pursuing freedom for West Papua

John Gratton Wilson has taken his message about the plight of the West Papuan people to the world. KATRINA LOVELL reports about his connection to a country he says few people know about.

Every day Warrnambool’s John Gratton Wilson will put on one of the 10 T-shirts in his drawer that contain slogans calling for freedom for West Papua.

Even if it is hidden under his jumper in winter, you can be sure he is probably wearing one.

The message emblazoned on the T-shirt sits right across his chest in a symbolic gesture towards a topic that he holds close to his heart. John is passionate about the issue and he is not afraid to tell anyone who will listen. “Some people call it an obsession,” he said. “I’m a 71-year-old activist.

“Most of the world wouldn’t have a clue where West Papua is.”

John will wear one of those T-Shirts, no matter where in the world he might be.

“I’ll go to other parts of the world to let the Indonesians know that we’re not happy,” he said. “I’ve been to Vanuatu, I’ve been to New Zealand, I’ve been to Washington, been to Prague.

“I go to the Indonesian embassies in those countries, fly the flag and wear the T-shirt.”

He said the T-shirts had attracted many positive reactions from the strangers he will pass by while on his travels, whether that be in Spain or Cuba. “I will often get the thumbs up,” he said.

A flag-rasing ceremony held in Warrnambool on December 1, 2017.

Just three months ago when he was in Prague, he went to the Indonesian Embassy and stood on the footpath outside with his flag and was very vocal about calling for freedom for West Papua. John said he was just wrapping up his flag and getting ready to leave when the police turned up, followed by an intelligence officer a few minutes later.

“They speak Czech and I speak English. There was a bit of argy-bargy that went on – I was supposed to get a permit to demonstrate. Nothing came of it and I walked back home,” he said. John said somebody had to make the world aware of what was going on in West Papua.

In June, while he was visiting his daughter in Canada he took his flag down to the harbour where the cruise ships arrive, and for an hour or so for four days he raised the Morning Star flag on a stick and talked to anyone who would listen.

On his last day, after being told by security to move on, he stopped an elderly couple in their 90s and discovered the man had been a marine stationed in West Papua during World War II. “He said: ‘Bloody glad someone’s working to help the poor buggers we left behind,” John said.

“I mean damn it, these people helped our troops in the Second World War. They were also helping the Americans and the Dutch and the English stave off the Japanese invasion of Australia. They made a significant contribution,”

he said.

This year for the first time the south-west branch of the Australian West Papua Association marched in Warrnambool’s Anzac Day parade in honour of their efforts, and also participated in Rememberance Day.

John, who moved to Warrnambool about two years ago after living in Mortlake for 36 years, has the Morning Star flag permanently flying above his house. “I did the same in Mortlake, and it gets a bit tattered,” he said.

A new flag arrived in the mail late last month just in time to fly on December 1, the anniversary of the day the Dutch declared the country’s independence and its Morning Star Flag was first raised. John said people in West Papua were now not allowed to fly the Morning Star flag in their own country. “If they can’t do it, I’ll do it for them,” he said.

A gathering on the Civic Green on December 1 included a flag-raising ceremony and a choir sang the West Papua national anthem. He said the flag-raising ceremony had been taking place in Warrnambool for about two decades, and the south-west branch of the the Australian West Papua Association has about a dozen members who raise awareness of the plight of the people in West Papua.

John said he had written many letters and emails to Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop, but had never received a reply. He said both major parties had ignored the issue.

Most of the world wouldn’t have a clue where West Papau is.

John Gratton Wilson

The group also raises money from selling T-shirts, badges and book stalls to send to West Papuan refugees who are in camps on the border in Papua New Guinea. The money goes towards helping the refugees with their health and education needs.

John said he only learned about the situation in West Papua after the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami which killed 250,000 people, mainly in Sumatra and Aceh.

“We put our hand in our pocket, we didn’t have a lot of money. I think we gave $400 to the tsunami relief,” he said.

John said an Amnesty International report from about five years ago found that at least 100,000 people had been killed in West Papua since the 1960s. “That’s 40 people a week for 50 years,” he said, although he believes locals put that figure as high as 200 a week and consider it a genocide.

In 2011, John visited West Papua on a bird-watching trip to the Arfak Mountains.

“It was like Kokoda, it was very tough. On the first day of the trip the bird guide went into the bush, grabbed a stick and whittled this stuff on it with his machette, great big bush knife, and then came over to me and put it in front of me. And while he had his hand on it, I grabbed the stick and I said ‘Papua merdeka stick’ and his face lit up. Somebody else knew what was going on in his country,” he said.

Merdeka means Papua freedom, and the stick forms part of John’s collection of West Papuan items which also includes a whole shelf in his book case filled with books, DVDs and CDs.

John is also passionate about conservation and sustainabilty, and while he has an electric car it is also a chance to drive home his message about West Papua. The number plate reads: “WPAPUA”.

He has only been to West Papua once. “I don’t imagine they would let me in again,” he said, admitting that he didn’t expect to get a visa when he went in 2011 after he’d written so many letters to the embassy.

His passion for the West Papuan people increased after his visit, and fighting stage four prostate cancer that has metastisised and spread to the lymph sytem and bones hasn’t dampened his enthusiam.

John Gratton Wilson flies the Morning Star flag out the front of his Warrnambool home. Picture: Rob Gunstone

John Gratton Wilson flies the Morning Star flag out the front of his Warrnambool home. Picture: Rob Gunstone

“Sooner or later it’s going to catch up with me. I just keep on. You can’t give up on these people.”

He said the United Nations was the only one who could fix the situation in West Papua after it gave the approval for Indonesia to take over the region in 1963 .

“For the locals it’s all been going down hill ever since,” he said. “It’s right on our door step. West Papua is closer to Queensland than we are to Melbourne. Apart from Papua New Guinea it’s our nearest neighbour and we look the other way.”

John Gratton Wilson flies the Morning Star flag out the front of his Warrnambool home. Picture: Rob GunstoneHe said the country was rich in both copper and gold and was home to the world’s largest gold mine and third largest copper mine.

John said he has been heartened by the growing support for self-determination for the indigenous rightful owners of the land. He said while he was also concerned about the injustices towards other indigenous populations around the world, his focus was on West Papua because it is Australia’s closest neighbour.

Source: http://www.standard.net.au/

Pursuing freedom for West Papua was originally published on PAPUAPost.com


West Papua diplomatic cause advances in Brussels

A coalition of Pacific Island nations has called on the African, Caribbean and Pacific group of states to back West Papuan self-determination.

Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Nauru, Palau and the Marshall Islands gave a joint statement at the group’s Council of Ministers in Brussels.

Johnny Blades has been following developments.



JOHNNY BLADES: In Brussels the other day, this  African, Caribbean and Pacific bloc heard from a Vanuatu government MP who was representing this Pacific coalition of seven countries which also is a network of NGO, civil society and church groups as well, who are saying that the world community has to act now on human rights abuses in Papua, but specifically to push Indonesia to have a legitimate self-determination process for the West Papuans, because questions about the legitimacy of the self-determination process by which Papua was incorporated into Indonesia back in the 1960s, questions over that are really gaining momentum at the moment. This follows on from the Coalition’s two recent representations at the UN level on Papua: that is, last September at the UN General Assembly, and then in March at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

BEN ROBINSON-DRAWBRIDGE: So how did the other countries in this group react to this call from their Pacific members?

JB: The Caribbean and African countries were signalling strong support for this, to have a resolution urging a proper self-determination process for the Papuans. But the Papua New Guinea ambassador at the meeting in Brussels spoke out against it. He actually said that the group shouldn;t push too hard at this. He suggested that a fact-finding mission to Papua is necessary for the African, Caribbean and Pacific group to conduct first in order to get a clearer picture of the situation. Remember PNG of course is right next door to West Papua and its proximity to this huge Asian country is a point of great sensitivity.

BRD: Have other Pacific groups like the Melanesian Spearhead Group or even the Pacific Forum, have they made similar representations on West Papua?

JB: They have attempted to, really. This issue has been brought up at both of those bodies many years ago, and particularly for the Melanesian Spearhead Group it was a huge issue because Melanesians in these countries feel strongly about West Papuan self-determination. It’s just that their leadership have not been able to find a unified position on it. And for instance since Indonesia has come in to the MSG as an observer and now an associate member, this issue has not advanced. So they haven’t been able to take it up at UN or ACP levels. And it’s much the same with the Forum: there’s not a unified stance on it. So the group of seven Pacific countries here who took up the issue in Brussels have really just thought ‘we’ll go ahead and do what we have to on our own’ because the Forum and the MSG, they seem to be saying, have failed on the West Papua issue.

BRD: Do any of the other countries in this (ACP) group, do they have significant political clout to be able to make a difference on this issue?

JB: They aren’t powerhouses on the world stage, most of these countries. But I think if there was to be this bloc of 79 countries suddenly taking it up at the UN General Assembly, that is significant in itself, and it would really add to the international pressure on Jakarta to maybe look for a new kind of solution to this simmering discontent in Papua.

West Papua diplomatic cause advances in Brussels was originally published on PAPUAPost.com