"East Timor is a country of emotionally|
and mentally disturbed people ...
finding refuge only in their beloved Church"
"Slowly, it all came together, a gritty but we think often-beautiful mixture of music, poetry, sound effects,
and snippets of interviews, radio & television reports, and politicians' pronouncements."
Quito (pronounced "kee-toh") was the nick-name of Francisco Baptista Pires, a young East Timor-born Darwin man who suffered from schizophrenia. In 1987 he was shot through the throat by police during a domestic disturbance. Three years later he was found hanging from his pyjama cord in Royal Darwin Hospital.|
We'd both met Quito. He was a friend of our brother Rob, who lives in Darwin. A beautiful boy who became a gentle, sensitive young man, Quito had a passion for music, becoming an accomplished singer/songwriter/guitarist. On hearing of his tragic death, we were struck by the thought that his story had much in common with that of East Timor, and we immediately resolved to create a work that examined the connections.
We went to Darwin and visited the Pires family home, where we looked through Quito's papers, listened to tapes of his music, obtained a videotape of a locally-made television report on his death, and talked to his family and friends. Later we talked to people suffering from schizophrenia, and devoured books on the subject, attempting to appreciate the horrors of this devastating condition. We read about Timorese cosmology, and boned up on the history of this "Isle of Fear". We read an interview with Quito's sister Fatima, who'd stayed behind when the Pires family escaped to Darwin in 1975 - she lost two children while on the run from the Indonesians in the late 70s and a third in hospital in Dili. Then we came across an Internet article by "Allan Dermody", a church man who had just spent a month in East Timor (he had to write under a pseudonym in order to protect his contacts there). He wrote: "East Timor is a country of emotionally and mentally disturbed people ... finding refuge only in their beloved Church". This became the key. This was what brought it all together.
Our piece juxtaposes two stories: that of a loving, much-loved young man haunted by demons, and that of a country which since 1975 must seem to its inhabitants to be presenting the common symptoms of schizophrenia: voices in the head, delusions, shattered logic, mental distress, and invasion by alien forces. Quito's death may be the one point where the stories diverge: East Timor seems to be hanging grimly to life, and may even recover. Quito submitted to the invaders, and is at rest. But it is the repose of the grave, and we can wish no such resolution of the Timor conflict.
A few weeks before the stage production in 1994, Colleen Richman, a 41-year-old mentally-distressed Aboriginal woman, was shot dead by police, in circumstances similar to those Quito's shooting, outside the Hanover Womens' Welfare Centre in St Kilda, Melbourne. Chopping at a wooden seat with a small tomahawk, she apparently required, just to be on the safe side, several bullets (Quito was fortunate: he scored only one). On November 12 1991, thousands of East Timorese mourners attended a funeral in Dili of a young man who had been dragged from a church and killed by Indonesian troops. During the procession to Santa Cruz Cemetery, some carried banners protesting about their deplorable political situation. Such gall required, just to be on the safe side, hundreds of bullets, followed by bayonets.
In our version for radio the two stories merge at the point of Quito's, and his compatriots', shooting. After poring for days through ABC radio archives, producer Andrew McLennan and composer Martin Wesley-Smith were able to use contemporary radio and television reports, and politicians' comments, to help make this clear. These were mixed together with music and lyrics depicting the schizophrenic pressures on both Quito and his country:
Screaming, strident, shrill, discordant voices
In everything, everywhere, in pain, in terror
Raucous, raw, rasping
Cocks in the head,
Better off dead
Nattering, yak yakking, wracking, attacking, nattering, shattering denigrating, deprecating, excoriating, intimidating, expostulating, desecrating, disintegrating, degenerating, dislocating, emasculating, isolating, interrogating, aggravating, regurgitating, ulcerating, remonstrating, fabricating, flagellating, fornicating, mutilating, lacerating, violating, viscerating, devastating, suffocating ...
Although Quito was living in Australia at the time of the Indonesian "annexation" of East Timor, it profoundly affected him in many ways. No wonder, for members of his family who had stayed behind experienced unspeakable horrors. It is conceivable that his schizophrenia was made more severe by the personal traumas that he, like many others, inevitably suffered. He ended up, we believe, one of the indirect casualties of an invasion that caused the death of a third of East Timor's pre-1975 population. Just another number (or, as Quito sang in one of his own songs, "Just another sad story"), but for those who loved him a tragedy that will haunt them for the rest of their lives.|
Putting this version together was an enormous task involving hundreds of hours working in ABC studios. The production team (Martin, Andrew and engineer Phillip Ulman, with music producer Belinda Webster) first of all recorded the Sydney vocal ensemble The Song Company singing the songs from the original production. They interviewed East Timorese people and recorded East Timorese actors reading poems. Andrew managed to record a couple of roosters engaged in a bit of biff (we portray Quito as a fighting cock who, at the end, fights back - to no avail - against the forces of invasion: of his head by voices, of his body by drugs and a police bullet, and of his homeland by troops). Tapes from many sources - including a tape of two of Peter's poems recorded by resistance leader Xanana Gusmão - were cleaned up and edited.
The piece was edited and mixed on a Fairlight MFXII, a digital editing system designed and manufactured in Sydney. This enabled many things to be done that would simply have been too impracticable had the production team been restricted to analog tape recorders - putting sounds in precisely the right place, for example. Slowly, it all came together, a gritty but we think often-beautiful mixture of music, poetry, sound effects, and snippets of interviews, radio & television reports, and politicians' pronouncements.
"Only those with open eyes can see" is a popular saying in East Timor. "But", as we say in Quito, "the dumb can hear the thunder, the deaf can see the rain, the blind can speak and understand, and all can know the pain of a body torn asunder, of a devastated land. None can hope for justice - no-one can be free - while the searing, squealing, squalling wind still blows from over the sea ...". Few of us can tolerate invasion of any sort. Everyone needs a private, secure space - mental and physical. Our hope is that in depicting, radiophonically, the invasions of Quito, we can understand more about them and thus find ways of dealing with them.
In his poem "Kdadalak" ("Streams"), resistance poet Francisco Borja da Costa wrote that streams join together to become a river that defeats whatever stands in its way. The efforts of all those - including the young boy on the cover - who stand up against injustice are streams joining together to become a river of change, both for those suffering from schizophrenia and for East Timor. That is our hope. And that is the hope embedded in Quito:
A painful end, a peaceful new beginning
The ritual chant, the sacrifice, the feast
Will guide me to the mountain
And from its heights I shall command the living
Insubstantial, I shall direct the silent mouths
And bind the speaking mouths one to one
In destruction I shall create
In desolation I shall reach out
In decay I promise fertility
In death I shall revive the sorrowing heart
This piece is in part dedicated to the memory of those who in our lifetime have suffered terminal invasion, particularly the "emotionally and mentally disturbed people" of East Timor, Quito included, who died during and since Dec 7 1975.|
The graphic at the top of the page is of a young boy at Santa Cruz Cemetery, Dili, East Timor, on November 12 1991. Minutes later hundreds of fellow demonstrators were dead - shot by Indonesian troops as they demonstrated for the peace and justice they had never known. The original photo, by Englishman Steve Cox, was transformed by young Sydney photographer Kia Mistilis, using a computer. It was used in the original Quito, an audio-visual music theatre piece which was produced on stage in 1994 by Sydney Metropolitan Opera.
for information about schizophrenia, go to the Schizophrenia Home Page