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Image from ‘Last of the Bloodsports’ by Ted McDonnell

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Ted McDonnell
Ted McDonnell describes himself as a ‘journalist who takes pictures in an attempt to tell a visual story’. He’s done just that with his latest Photo Essay, ‘Last of the Bloodsports’, a series of photographs taken of a cock fight in Dili, East Timor. The story these images tell is both violent and beautiful. An apt reflection of where this newly independent country stands, like the roosters, East Timor is trying to take flight, but with each jump they take they have been cut down by the brutality of their own internal conflicts. It’s a waiting game: waiting for the fight to begin or waiting for their luck to turn so they can finally take home a win. With the Presidential elections ending peacefully on Monday  perhaps this wait is over.
Ted has thirty years of experience working as a journalist, photojournalist and media adviser. For the last ten years he’s worked in-and-out of East Timor. Some of his work includes documenting the rebuilding of East Timor by publishing the ebook, ‘The Road to Recovery’ which features over 150 of his photographs as well as interviewing Ramos Horta just after he announced he would contest the 2012 Presidential elections. The goal of his work is to deliver stories & images from a ‘different point of view’, so let’s hear his views and some of the stories he’s picked up during his time working in East Timor.Enter Ted.
Question: Why did you first got to East Timor and why have you kept coming back over the last ten years?Ted: I have been fascinated and concerned about East Timor since the Indonesian invasion in 1975 – I was 16. I feel ashamed our Prime Minister of the day Gough Whitlam gave tacit approval to the Indonesians to invade and murder around 200,000 people. That blood remains on the hands of the Indonesians and the Australian government of the day. To this day I apologise for my country and its lack of action in 1975.
Question: Have you had to do anything differently when interviewing or taking a picture of an East Timorese person compared to people you’ve worked with in other countries?Ted: Language is a great barrier, but you know I’ve always got by from the beautiful nature of the Timorese. They are such gracious and helpful people. They love having their picture taken and as I walk the streets of Dili I am always hearing children yelling ‘Malai, malai’ wanting their picture taken. I also love showing the children their pictures as they often have never seen a photograph of themselves.

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Image from ‘The Children of the Dominican Orphanage’ by Ted McDonnell

Question: Do you have any advice for media people who’d like to work as a journalist or a photojournalist in East Timor? Ted: There are many promising journalist and photographers in East Timor. I press is relatively free, however, I say to them don’t be influenced by the pressure of politicians write and photograph freely. I would very much like one day to teach journalism in East Timor.I’d love to lecture in East Timor.

Question: You interviewed Ramos Horta just after he announced he’d contest the Presidential elections- what were your impressions?

Ted: Ramos Horta is truly a world leader and a great man. I wish we had politicians like Ramos Horta in Australia. I have never interviewed anyone who has had the presence and stature of this great man. He has given most of his life to his country. When I interviewed him for The Australian I gained the impression that he ran to create peace rather than to win. That is the measure of such a wonderful man!It would be nice to have someone like that as a friend as you know you will always have his loyalty hence his dedication to his countrymen.

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Image of Jose Ramos Horta by Ted McDonnell
Question: Since your interview with Ramos Horta he was knocked out in the first round of the Presidential elections.  Does this outcome surprise you? Ted: No. As I previously said, I think he ran to keep the peace for the people of East Timor. His influence is very spiritual and great over the people. He stands above all politicians in East Timor.
Question: Tell us about why you decided to do your most recent Photo Essay, ‘Last of the Bloodsports’ on cock fights?Ted: It was a fascinating project and reminded very much of Ernest Hemingway and his passion for both bullfighting and cockerel fighting. Yes, its sad to watch the chooks get killed, and young boys suddenly lose their pets, but we in the western world do far worse things to animals… We cannot judge other people!
Question: Any horror stories or most memorable moments in East Timor?Ted: At the chook fights I did have a chap yelling out: ‘Australian get out of our country, stop stealing our resources’. This went on for two hours! But we had a brief chat in the end, which ended amicably 🙂

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Image from ‘Last of the Bloodsports’ by Ted McDonnell

Question: Where do you go/what do you do when you are not working in East Timor?Ted: There are a lot of good restaurants around Dili and the beach. I love a red wine and fish and there is always lovely people to meet and have diner with. It’s just a marvellous place… Question: Have your views changed from travelling and working in East Timor?

Ted: The more I go to East Timor the more I love the place and the people. I am disturbed by the corruption and nepotism. I do not see proper work on infrastructure and roads, which should be now progressing, given the amount of money spent by the current government.

But I do see the East Timorese as a happy and peaceful people.


Thanks to Ted for letting us use some of his photographs for this post, they are SO beautiful. Would you like to see some more of his work?

Well you can buy Ted’s ebook, ‘The Road to Recovery’ and feel good about it too because all proceeds are donated to the Dominica Orphanage in Dili. The Dominica Orphanage has more than 70 children and the Nun’s manage the place on just $38,000 a year. A worthwhile cause to support indeed.

Would you like to be interviewed for our blog? Got an interesting story about Timor-Leste you’d like to share? Well what are you waiting for… email us or leave a comment below!