Canvassing election ephemera in the Pacific – part 2

Canvassing election ephemera in the Pacific – part 2
18 December 2012

As mentioned in last week’s blog posting from Vera Dunn, the support of election observers was really important this year for our collecting activities from Timor-Leste (East Timor) as well as from Papua New Guinea. The Library’s East Timor ephemera collection is already quite extensive, and includes material from all presidential and parliamentary elections held since independence in 2002. Although some items have been collected during acquisitions trips to Timor, a very large component has been donated by academics and visitors to Timor. This year I decided to actively enlist the assistance of election observers as well: the presidential elections in March, the presidential run-off elections in April, and the parliamentary elections in July were all overseen by volunteer observers from all over the world, including a very high number of Australians (approximately 140!). I contacted the Australia Timor-Leste Friendship Network, which helped co-ordinate the Australian observer mission, as well as various Timor email lists and individual volunteers, to introduce the collection and request assistance in obtaining more material. East Timor- based officials such as Augusto Pereira (local program officer for the Australian Electoral Commission) and Karen Kelleher of the United Nations Development Programme, were also generous with their time and resources, donating not only books and pamphlets but also electronic versions of posters and resources from current and previous elections. Many individual Australian observers sent items to the Library, predominantly posters, candidate/party flyers, and voter education material, but also ephemera such as t-shirts, caps and mugs, including some colourful material with more than a hint of Che Guevara from the PST (Socialist Party of Timor).

2 mugs

East timor election ephemra

Particularly helpful were Professor Damien Kingsbury and Rae Kingsbury, who were also moved to donate election material they had collected in previous years and to share the stories connected with them. These included items from the 1999 autonomy/independence referendum and its violent aftermath, such as a pro-Indonesia propaganda T-shirt, and a bandana from the 'Young Warriors' pro-independence underground group. One item donated is a seemingly nondescript cardboard poster. Damien tells its story: “It says 'polling station number 1' in a few languages, and was appended to the front wall of the polling station at Ritabou … which was surrounded by militia by late morning. The ballot boxes were evacuated around midday and by 2pm the polling station had been burned to the ground. This sign, and the ballot papers, were all that were saved …” As we have shown, the collection of election material from Pacific countries requires many different approaches to the more traditional methods of acquisition as we know it in Australia. Without the dedicated assistance of Australian election observers, academics and interested individuals, several of whom became enthusiastic collectors for the National Library, such a successful outcome would not have been achieved for either country. The Library would like to thank all donors involved for their efforts and would welcome hearing about possible future donations of Pacific election material.