Bali nightmare on Mick Shann Terrace



In the Canberra suburbs there is a road, an arch cut into the dry brown hills. Mick Shann Terrace was conceived just a few years ago. Some of its homes were finished only six months ago, some are still being built.

Cluster of hands reaching toward shadowThe name follows the tradition of the local council of Casey, which makes a point of naming all roads after public servants who haven't received much fanfare for their work. The buildings are typical of modernised suburbs, flat boxes of bricks cooked by the sun, tanbark lawns whose purpose is defeated by the large inground pools and artificial ponds just a few streets over.

Day by day, home buyers scout out potential wealth and children walk down this arch on their way to school — unaware of who they've attached their names to. Because Mick Shann wasn't just any public official and his legacy lives on in other places. In scars carved into the backs of miraculous survivors. In empty coffins and overflowing graves. In the heart of Jakarta.


They pulled up in the dead of night, engines roaring before their prey. Out of the convoy of trucks stepped men in vibrant green fatigues, dozens. They did not keep their voices down. They did not cover their footsteps. They spread out across the street and they did not knock when they entered.

Screaming rang out of one home, then another, and another, until a chorus could be heard. The men in fatigues marched out with crying residents over their shoulders. Gunshots were heard intermittently, but most arms were used as clubs to push residents into the backs of trucks. In an hour, 250 had been detained on this Bali street. The convoy let out another roar. They took off towards where the beaches turned to cliffs. None would ever have a funeral.

But one house on the street was not visited by men in fatigues this night. The lights were on, and its occupant made no attempt at hiding their presence. Keith 'Mick' Shann watched from his lounge. He made no attempt to stop the abductions. After all, it was only a month before that he'd written a memo back home expressing 'hope that the army act firmly against the PKI [Indonesian Communist Party]'. Why would he stop what he had hoped for?


The massacres of 1960s Indonesia remains one of the bloodiest patches of the history of the 20th century. Following a coup by General Suharto (which itself came off another failed coup attempt by communist insurgents), the military began rounding up all known communists. When the job became too large, they began paying mobs to assist in the campaign. Radios blared warnings of communist uprisings into the hearts of communities, encouraging 'action' against those in the community who may be pinko scum.


"Who knows if the people of Mick Shann Terrace will ever know who their namesake really was?"


They were shot. Marched off cliffs. Forgotten in cells. Buried alive. Made to eat glass. Tied into bags filled with venomous snakes. Beaten. Bludgeoned. Raped. Gouged. Purged.

No accurate toll exists; it's difficult to count all the skeletons in the ocean after all. The most commonly cited number is one million, though some estimates have placed the number as high as thee million. It'll never be known if that's anywhere near correct.

Shann watched this unfold in front of his eyes. He wrote so during his memos as Australian ambassador to Indonesia. The propaganda-shrieking radio networks were Australian owned and run, and Shann ordered them personally to broadcast everything the Indonesian army told him to recite.

Furthermore, Australia was then at war with Indonesia over the Indonesian–Malaysian border of Borneo. Shann spoke with the Indonesian ambassador to Australia and gave the promise that Australian troops would no longer be active on the Borneo border, so long as those freed military resources were used in the campaign to slaughter Communists. After all, you can disappear far more people when you're at war at the same time.

In 2016, an International People's Tribunal at The Hague delivered a verdict on Australia's role in Indonesia, finding the nation guilty of complicity to genocide. Indonesia, along with Australia, is yet to formally recognise the massacres.


Australia won't even recognise the dead, yet we honour the man who helped have them killed. It's a similar tale with all Australian heroes, to tell the truth. No reconciliation, no justice, but praise without note of their 'achievements'. Who knows if the people of Mick Shann Terrace will ever know who their namesake really was? But his 'work' still lingers. And in their ignorance, those residents are a monument to that work.



Bee SpencerBee Spencer is an author from Melbourne. She has spent 24.56 years living on Centrelink and can be read in Overland and Voiceworks.

Topic tags: Bee Spencer, Indonesia, Mick Shann



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Existing comments

You had me until the last paragraph and, in particular, "It's a similar tale with all Australian heroes, to tell the truth." Are you really saying that every person who is considered an Australian hero was complicit in the massacre of innocent people? What kind of sweeping generalisation is that? And no, the residents are not a monument to anything. The street signs are, but the residents are in no way responsible for the name of the street they live in. I'm staggered that ES has allowed such egregiously inaccurate comments.

ErikH | 27 September 2018  

"Evil flourishes...". I took that to be the point of Bee's last paragraph. And sadly I think it is probably true of many of our heroes. We do not want to hear of the shadows across whatever light they brought to the world. And I'm pretty sure that a protest from informed residents might just persuade someone somewhere to think about changing a street name. Thank you Bee for a thought provoking article. I'm pretty sure you won't mind if some of our thoughts are arguments against some of what you are saying.

Margaret | 27 September 2018  

Hi Margaret. I agree that there are some and maybe many "heroes" whose actions were reprehensible. But "all"? No way. As I said, a sweeping generalisation that puts genuine heroes into the same pot as Mick Shann. As for the residents, yes, maybe concerted action would result in a change of name but you can hardly blame them for not knowing Mick Shann's story. I lived in Indonesia for more than 7 years and did a lot of reading around Suharto's takeover, as well as seeing the film "The Act of Killing". This is the first time I have heard about Shann's involvement in the massacres. Unfortunately, Bee has tried to take a high ground but hasn't considered other possible viewpoints. And it has tainted her argument - we aren't talking about the horror of what happened and Australia's (and the USA's complicity in it) but her poor last paragraph.

ErikH | 27 September 2018  

That's an illuminating article Bee and your expose is to be commended. From reading that, Shann was obviously a puppet in the hands of Soharto, and we all know what Soharto did in Timor backed by his so called "army" and militias prior to scorched earth. Estimates say 200,000 men and boys disappeared. We had visiting priests back then from Soybada to Coomera and they said anyone who went to mass was followed and then often disappeared off the face of the earth. The army in Dili ran prostitution, drugs and alcohol. And life was cheap. However this remark "It's a similar tale with all Australian heroes, to tell the truth. No reconciliation, no justice, but praise without note of their 'achievements'. Eg Monash stopped the British officers shooting the diggers in the back on the Western Front if they wouldnt go over the top. Perhaps you could apply that remark to Churchill but not willy nilly to all Australian heroes. It doesnt make sense.

Frank Armstrong | 27 September 2018  

Thank you Bee Spencer for reminding us of the shocking bloodbath that occurred in Indonesian in 1965 when the CIA assisted the Indonesian military (TNI) to overthrow Sukarno and install General Suharto as dictator. You also have reminded us that key Australians public servants such as Sir Keith Shan were also involved. In the late 1970s, Shan spoke at an Australian Institute of International Affairs (AIIA) SA meeting at Adelaide Uni. He had previously made some public statements about the deaths of the Balibo 5 at the hands of the TNI and blamed them for their own deaths. He did not see fit to criticise the TNI for illegally entering another country or for its murderous activities. His talk was about the history of the British Empire and was, of course, was very flattering in his comments. He also spoke about his role in the decolonisation process in Zimbabwe. The chair of the meeting was the AIIA SA secretary of the day, Dr Bob Catley, who had only just before rejected his left wing politics . He later became the MHR for Adelaide for the right of the ALP for one term. After Shan's speech, Catley declared that there would be no questions which was a great disappointment to those of us members of the then Campaign for an Independent East Timor SA (CIET SA) who were there to assail him with questions re East Timor and Indonesia. But the day was saved by a senior member of the CIET SA Committee, and elderly who politely stood up and praised Sir Keith for his speech and declared how tragic it was that the same process of peaceful decolonisation that occurred in Zimbabwe had not occurred in East Timor as well. This led to there being questions and answers after all. I got to debate with Shan afterwards. At first he was happy to talk with me, but things got a little more interesting when he stated that the Balibo 5 deserved to die because they were wearing FRETILIN uniforms. AT that stage not many realised that the TNI officer in charge of the murders ordered that the bodies be placed in the uniforms and photographed them in the hope of using it as a justification for their murder. A more senior TNI officer later did not think this was a good idea and ordered the uniforms to be removed from the bodies. Shan had to have had inside knowledge to be aware of this and was not pleased with me when I made this point to him! Bee is correct that it raises questions about the dubious role that some of our public servants and political leaders have played internationally. Richard Woolcott, another former Australian ambassador to Indonesia, was happy to be an apologist for the TNI when it invaded East Timor. In addition, all the Australian PMs and foreign ministers during that illegal and brutal 24 year occupation were happy to cooperate with the TNI - the largest force for terrorism in our region. These facts should make Australians who believe in peace, social justice and human rights in the region to rebouble their efforts to demand an independent, non-aligned Australian republic that is dedicated to these values. Needless to say, if I shift to Canberra, I will not buy a house in Mick Shan Terrace!

Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 28 September 2018  

The Australian Government had us in fear of communists and Indonesians at that time, so ordinary Australians didn't care about what was happening in Indonesia.

Joanna Skinner | 28 September 2018  

An interesting perspective but I'm not sure how much weight to give to it. I would have like to see less imagery and its assertions backed by references and sources.

John Murphy | 29 September 2018  

Immense Thanks, Bee Spencer and Eureka Street for a beautifully crafted piece, topped off with the kind of rhetorical flourish that has caught the attention of the easily outraged. I was but a boy in India at the time, yet well recall the protests of the non-aligned nations at what was clearly a US-inspired pogrom. Human rights are precious, whether they relate to communists or not, and Australia will pay for this in terms of the continued atrocities of the Indonesian government in West Papua.

Dr Michael Furtado | 04 October 2018  

EricH, you are being too literal. The writer didn't say that all heroes are murderers. Referring to military "heroes" he said that we accept their marvellous deeds without question. That is true. When confronted with murders alleged of Australian soldiers, John Howard said "These are AUSTRALIAN soliders. They cannot be wrong." Michael Furtado, the lives of Papuans are entirely expendable. We can "pay" with their lives until the country is overrun by Indonesia. No, wait a minute - that has already happened. And we as a country are obligated by treaty to say nothing about the Papuans' destruction and expropriation. But you're right - rewriting history doesn't work in the long run.

Pat Mahony | 12 January 2019  

Also, EricH, munuments are just inanimate objects, which may signify something more than what is intended. In this case, they unwittingly signify, by referencing one of Australia's many apologists for mass murder in 1965-6, our customary craven cowardly conduct vis a vis Indonesian military adventurism.

Pat Mahony | 12 January 2019  

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