Date of Submission



The relationship between Australia and East Timor (Timor-Leste) from 1941 to 1999 is analysed in this dissertation. It focuses on the Australian-Japanese conflict in East Timor in World War II, the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975, the Indonesian occupation of East Timor (1975-1999), and the Timorese independence process culminating in 1999. Various studies have explained the history of the Australian relationship with East Timor by examining the political forces that influenced the events. This dissertation applies the Christian anthropology of René Girard's mimetic theory to interpret those forces and provide a new historical and theological interpretation of the relationship. The dissertation shows that East Timor occupied the place of the scapegoated victim during the events discussed. It argues that there were particular crises - addressed by scapegoating East Timor - which arose from the Australian government’s desire to ensure "security" through alliances with larger powers. Through this policy position, the well-being of the Timorese people was actively ignored in the pursuit of Australian safety and protection. In World War II the threat of the Japanese thrust southward impelled an Australian invasion of the then Portuguese Timor. Australia later complied with the Indonesian invasion Timor in 1975 and upheld the consequent 24-year occupation as part of a strategy to retain a positive relationship with Indonesia, and thus fortify Australian security. The relationship is analysed by using René Girard's mimetic theory. As a theologically-informed anthropology, mimetic theory culminates in an explanation of human society and relationships interpreted through Christ's life, death and resurrection. Three aspects of the theory are applied to the Australian-Timorese relationship: the scapegoat, texts of persecution, and conversion. Girard presents certain features of the scapegoat process applicable to this study: the existence of a social crisis; a crime which is believed to have caused the crisis; an entity (the victim) which is arbitrarily accused of the crime and which displays certain criteria common to scapegoats; and finally, the violence done to the victim that restores harmony and peace. In Girard's analysis, human stories or myths invariably contain some or all of these features in order to justify scapegoating violence. Girard claims that modern-day attempts to obscure the victimisation of the powerless perform the same functions as myths and he describes them as "texts of persecution". Official Australian documentary records of historical links with East Timor are demonstrated in the dissertation to be texts of persecution that evade responsibility for the Australian policies which contributed to the violence done to the Timorese people. In Girard's view, scapegoating as a completely effective basis for human culture has been undermined as a result of the biblical tradition, particularly the Christ-event. The Bible shows that the victim is not guilty of bringing threat to the group, but rather is innocent. In particular, Christ's identification with victims and his own death and resurrection reversed the efficacy of the scapegoating structure by demonstrating that it is a lie. Scapegoating victims is therefore a fundamentally unstable means of attaining social harmony. Girard describes the recognition of the lie of scapegoating as a "conversion". The conversion towards the victim East Timor which occurred in Australia in the late 1990s is argued in the dissertation as a moment of national recognition of the innocence of the victim. It resulted from the inspiring resistance of the Timorese to their oppression and culminated in overwhelming Australian support for Timorese claims to independence. The dissertation shows that claimed Australian traits (such as fairness and independence) did not characterise official Australian policies during the historical periods discussed. Instead, it was the courageous resistance of the Timorese people that exemplified prized Australian values. The dissertation thus allows considerations of fear, suffering, nonviolence, forgiveness and conversion to form a different yet comprehensive analysis of the relationship.

Document Type


Access Rights

Open Access


364 pages

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Faculty of Theology and Philosophy

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