Herald-Sun 1996 - “As a portfolio, East Timor is the
cemetery of Australian principle.”
One of the books that put pressure on Canberra to initiate policy change -
Vintage 1998. Several copies of the book were smuggled into Dili.
Little Anonymous & the Great Old Forest is a rewrite of an earlier undertaking — what's the story there?
I printed a private edition some years back called, The Village of Miracle. There was no library code or what not.
There were watercolours in each chapter?
Yes — a part of the plot. Took a year and a half just to source the watercolours from every corner of the globe.
I wanted to see what I could do with full colour artwork and graphic design and remain ecofriendly.
Can I get a copy of this private edition?
No. After I sent copies to the artists and a few around the traps there weren’t any left.
What does a book like that cost?
Come on, how much?
Two hundred and fifty bucks.
Yeah, each copy.
Heavens, Jim, do you have the mad scientist gene?
Yeah, well, with one thing and another I'm afraid I dropped the ball with some critically important dynamics. Subsequently there are
some GPS flaws throughout the narrative.
Grammar, punctuation and syntax.
What happened then?
Lots of soul-searching and back to the drawing board. Three years and three editorial reviews from Laurel Cohn — the new narrative
arrived. No watercolours this time — instead, Keira has to explain them in her diary entries.
And a new title.
Yes. I wanted a title that reflected the child prodigy's role, which has expanded somewhat. And something that also reflected the backdrop
to why the story is here in the first place — how critically important forests and biodiversity are in this time of climate change. Little
Anonymous & the Great Old Forest does just that.
What else changed?
Heaps. A new beginning, a new end, a six-metre skip full of deletions and a narrative that's leaner and meaner. And a more even spread of
protagonist scope. Can't let dad have all the fun. Big Sister and Little Sister share in all the dramatic developments with their father. In
fact, it could be said that both daughters raise hell in their own unique ways and dad's the one catching up ... until the past ... oops, no
That's quite a story in itself. And are you happy with the result?
Couldn't be happier. It's at a whole new level and Laurel's role was instrumental in getting me there.
You have a significant background as a human rights activist and your work in those years was quite substantial — East Timor, Tibet,
West Papua — endorsements from His Holiness the Dali Lama, Bishop Desmond Tutu, rubbing shoulders with Noam Chomsky in the
book Free East Timor. Then an invitation to address the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, not to mention being condemned in
our very own Parliament House.
And praised in the same parliament, I might add — not that I need any praise for siding with people whose freedom has been wrenched
I remember — I think it was 1996, Canberra — that plane above the ANZAC Day march with the East Timor banner “broken promises,
friendship abandoned”. I believe the then foreign affairs minister Kim Beazley had the pilot arrested and involved federal police.
Lead in to the ABC news that evening. Yes, the extraordinary things that ordinary people have to do when those who are supposed to
represent us are in bed with a psychopathic serial killer, as Jose Ramos Horta once referred to Suharto.
And on the ground, the diggers?
All on board. No one supported the government’s repugnant and morally bankrupt policies. In fact, I’ll go as far to say that in an era
where good people around the globe are talking about a World Commons, those treacherous policies with the Timor Gap oil focus, can
only be viewed as felonious acts that contributed to the dire straits of the victims of genocide in East Timor. A 25-year contribution to the
death of a nation.
You weren’t afraid to sling the mud, were you?
Thanks to a 44-gallon drum full of villains, there was a lot of mud to sling.
Starting with Gough Whitlam. I believe you had a couple of run-ins? In a radio interview with Phillip Adams you described the former
prime minister as Pontius Pilate, having washed his hands of the Balibo Five and entire population of East Timor.
Yes, hard to believe how anyone could be so manifestly purblind on the life and death of our citizens and the East Timorese. But Canberra
had a cast of thousands supporting him.
You stood for the Australian Democrats against Gareth Evans in the 1996 federal election.
The media was helpful on the issue.
So what are you — activist or novelist?
I retired from hands-on activism quite some time ago. Burnt out to the max. Always wanted to get back to my roots — creativity — and
there's no reason why the two cannot be married in a soulful way.
I just have to quote one of your characters here — "there is no escaping who you are meant to be".
Jim Aubrey. I expect we'll be hearing more about Little Anonymous & the Great Old Forest very soon.
Thank you, Sofia.
Performing and addressing American
audiences on the UN’s human rights failures in
Tibet and West Papua during 2003
TOP (left to right): Assorted media; The Bendigo Advertiser 22 June 2002; The Age 15 June 1998
BOTTOM: Congratulating Jose Ramos Horta on Nobel Peace Prize 1996; At London’s BBC Radio 5 with Amandio Gomes 1998;
Reflecting with Xanana Gusmao at Melbourne Trades Hall 1999
Interview with Sofia
Jim Aubrey, you have just finished a manuscript for a literary fiction novel with the intriguing title, Little Anonymous & the Great Old
Forest. What's it about?
That's a big statement - care to elaborate.
Okay. It's about who we are as a people and who we should be. About where we are now, where we are going and what we should do to
get there. The journey and that fork in the road and the direction we take. Those with vested interests wanting the same path, even
blocking the way — those with altruistic interests at heart taking the untravelled path. The journey is full of peril and the stakes are high.
I take it you mean the environment and many battles over the years between conservationists and governments and industry or more
pertinently greenies and rednecks?
Yes. The famous one way back being the movement against the construction of the Franklin Dam in the late 1970s and '80s. The one
right now being that damn coal mine. But there are a thousand other protest movements not so famous that have also shaped the
national ethos on environment and I think one of the most important has been the battle — the thousand battles — to save old growth
forests from destruction.
It is fiction, isn't it?
Yes, it is. And the fiction landscape, if you'll forgive the pun, is a just and fit place to validate these battles and their unsung heroes. And
it's no soapbox at the Domain.
I don't use a megaphone. My characters have full and complex lives and have, like in real life, opinions and bias and crusades. The
author's role is to transcend the obvious and to avoid cardboard cut-outs. In Little Anonymous & the Great Old Forest, both
protagonists and antagonists are the bona fide three-course meal characters, not lightweight chocolate eclairs.
And one of your heroes is twelve years old?
Yes. Keira O'Faolain is a child prodigy and in normal circumstances the art world would be at her feet, but life has dealt her a cruel blow
and she believes there is no recovery from her loss and the guilt and grief that compound this loss.
She's also gifted in another way — prone to premonitions, isn't she?
Keira sees this as a curse. Can't say why — no spoilers, right.
You've employed a number of mediums in plot development — there's even several newspaper articles — why's that?
I wanted a story that was more than one long narrative. So, I added the newspaper articles, a few poems and Keira's diary entries at the
end of each chapter — all of them being critical parts of the plot.
I was particularly moved by the flashback and surreal scenes. How did you ever imagine these?
The story has been a work of patience over twelve years. Somewhere along the way I found the characters living in me. My reflections in
the development of certain scenes were their reflections. Hard to explain, and I hope it doesn't sound pretentious, but it was like their
voices were guiding me.