On Tuesday Sept 9 2008, Rob Wesley-Smith suffered serious head injuries in a fall.
This journal, by Rob's brother
Martin, chronicles his recovery and rehabilitation.

to start at the beginning, click here and read up the page ...

left: Wes, February 2008
(photo: Peter Hislop)

if you wish to send a message to Wes, one that might or might not appear on this website,
email Martin Wesley-Smith here

Sept 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 29, 30,
Oct 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31
Nov 1, 2

* Sunday Nov 2 2008:

blog's end

With Wes likely to be discharged from hospital tomorrow, it's time to end this blog. I'll update it only if there are any significant developments. And I'll resist the temptation to change anything in it: its value as a record of the events of the past couple of months, and of the emotions they triggered, would be diminished if it were changed, sanitized, "improved" ...

Looking back it has been quite a journey, from this - when he wasn't expected to survive - to this - when some of us wished his rude good health wasn't quite so rude. All in about seven weeks. No doubt there are thousands of such dramas being enacted at any one time in Australia, each of them highly emotional to those involved. This one has been a moving experience not only to us - his family and friends - but also to others, even enemies, who have admired Wes's dogged determination in his fight for those less fortunate than him. "The most persistent man in the Northern Territory", wrote Murdoch man D. D. McNicoll. "Darwin needs Rob and his views", wrote Howard Young of Kununurra, a regular sparring partner in the NT News. The many testimonials emailed in are of the kind normally reserved for dead people (now that Wes has survived, I will understand if anyone wishes to withdraw their testimonial and have it removed from this site). His recovery is itself a tribute to his toughness and resilience: you can keep a good man down, apparently, but just for a few weeks before he's up and rarin' to go ...

Our thanks to all those who have offered their love and support to Rob and his family, including locals Brian, Ces, Cindy, Jane, Leigh, Lurdes, Maria, Ted, Vaughan and others. Thanks, too, to the fireys and ambos in Nhulunbuy, and the staff of the hospital there; and to the staff of Royal Darwin Hospital - these people, collectively, with dedication, expertise, and machines that go ping!, took in a broken body and a shook-up brain and pushed them out, a few weeks later, almost completely fixed. Some say it's a miracle, and that God has answered their prayers. Others credit good care combined with Rob's sturdy never-give-up, never-say-die attitude to life. Whatever it was, he's now back. Watch out!

Click on the graphic above for Jane Whiteaker's take - Release from Azkaban (284KB) - on Rob's discharge from hospital. She also has the final word ("amazement") in her farewell blog ("I feel I should say good bye to a comforting cyber-friend ... this has been both a frightening and inspirational journey ...").

* Saturday Nov 1 2008:

a bit bland

This morning Rob harvested his giant pumpkin (click on the photo below to see it just after it was picked (colour, 304KB)). Not long after, we had some of it for lunch! It was a bit bland, I thought, but tastier than I had expected. Rob's gonna donate a large chunk of it to the hospital catering unit.

Last night he went to a ceremony at the Darwin Supreme Court where the portraits of the five (so far) Chief Justices of the Northern Territory were officially unveiled (our cousin, Brian Martin, is the current one). Various judges and others there expressed their delight at Rob's apparent good health, with some no doubt relishing the thought that he might appear before them one more time ...

Good morning Martin ... you have not lost your sense of humour in all that's happened.....love the Lord Snowden portrait! What great news too, to know Rob is managing his visits out of Azerbaijan. Now it seems 12/12 is what counts. Go Robbie! Get the job signed and sealed! My love to you all ...

from Kangaroo Valley:

Martin, Peter and Sheila ... Think of you often and hope to see you all back here soon ... appears Rob may be ready to come back here soon for R&R ... Hope so. Noted the Norman Doidge book called The Brain that Changes Itself quoted on your info site ... Have a CD of the ABC shows he was on ... Very interesting. (We) have recently read a book called My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor PhD (a brain scientist). She documents the effects of her own massive stroke and her recovery. It is an amazing story of a 'wounded' brain ... So we got you a copy ... Special hug for you, Sheila ... Time for another brunch/lunch in the not too distant future I hope! Love ...

After lunch tomorrow with various relatives, Rob will go back to hospital for a final check-up and probable discharge.

* Friday Oct 31 2008:

Wes at home

Dear Wes ... Great to see your gradually leaving the hospital behind. Couldn't be further away down here ... but doesn't stop us thinking of you and Martin. Love ...

Yesterday Wes was assessed by Occupational Therapist Kylie Adams to determine his future rehabilitation needs. When the hospital has made its recommendations, he will be able to plan his future. In the meantime he is staying home today and tonight, possibly returning to hospital tomorrow. I suspect that a formal discharge will occur early next week after the return from Alice Springs of Rehab specialist Dr Howard Flavell.

next entry; dates

* Thursday Oct 30 2008:

a president pops in

After weeks of searching, I've finally got myself a copy of a book by Norman Doidge called The Brain that Changes Itself (Scribe). An international best-seller, it was positively reviewed on the ABC a while back and, as a result, immediately sold out. It's about "an astonishing new scientific discovery called neuroplasticity", which allows the brain to "change its own structure and function, even into old age." More from the back cover:

We learn that our thoughts can switch our genes on and off, altering our brain anatomy ... how people of average intelligence can, with brain exercises, improve their cognition and perception, develop muscle strength, or learn to play a musical instrument - simply by imagining doing so.

photo above (this is of family interest only): Rob in 1946, from a family photo album (click on the photo to see a larger version (252KB) showing him with his father Harry and brothers Martin, Peter and Jerry)

later: we had dinner tonight with Rob's and my cousin Brian and his wife Leigh at their home in Darwin. Look right to see who popped in for a pre-dinner drink!

Click on the photo to see a short QuickTime video (464KB) of Nobel laureate and President of Timor-Leste, José Ramos-Horta, presenting Rob last night with a tais (Timorese weaving) from Natarbora.

Co-warriors in the fight for East Timorese self-determination, 1975-1999, both men owe their lives, this year, to the Intensive Care Unit of Royal Darwin Hospital. Rob was delighted that José took the time and trouble to make the visit - as was Sheila: she scored a tais too ...

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* Wednesday Oct 29 2008:

kylie delivers

Occupational Therapist Kylie Adams, from Royal Darwin Hospital, delivered Wes to his home this morning. Tomorrow she's gonna do a detailed cognitive assessment which will help determine the rehabilitation plan that the hospital will recommend. He will spend the night at home tomorrow night, and again on the weekend. After that, if all is well, he will be formally discharged from hospital. Yo!

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* Tuesday Oct 28 2008:

tears of timor

Today marks seven weeks since Wes's accident. He is spending it at his home in Howard Springs.

I've just heard that a radio program called Tears for Timor, which includes interviews with Wes recorded in February or so, will be broadcast on Radio National at 5.05pm on Saturday November 29, repeated at 3.05pm on Friday December 5.

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* Monday Oct 27 2008:

rob's ribs raw

Another home visit was scheduled for today, this time with Occupational Therapist Kylie Adams, but again, for various reasons, it didn't happen ...

Ted saw Rob in hospital and reported that his ribs were giving him grief, presumably from over-doing things yesterday ...

Rehab doctor Howard Flavell, who will be in Alice Springs for the rest of the week, rang tonight to see how the situation was from Sheila's and my point of view. He's hoping that Rob will soon be able to live at home and make regular visits to the hospital as an out-patient - but Rob must improve his PTA scores, which have slipped in the past couple of days (because, I believe, of Rob's refusal to accept that he has a problem combined with the hospital's inability to provide, in a surgical ward, the necessary low-stimulus environment).

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* Sunday Oct 26 2008:


Wes went home for a few hours today to check on his automatic watering system, admire his giant pumpkin, and become re-acquainted with his computer. Once he's emailing again, no-one will be safe.

Click here to see him in his garden today (152KB). And here to see Lord Snowdon's sensitive photographic portrait of him as he rehabilitates (132KB).

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* Saturday Oct 25 2008:


We're planning to bring Wes home to his place at Howard Springs, have lunch with Jane and Ted at their place, and take him back to hospital this afternoon ...

From a friend of Wes's, received during lunch:

Whatever you do at Ted and Jane's house don't let Wes get up on the roof of Ted's land cruiser ...

later: I'm typing this during lunch at Jane's and Ted's, where Wes is holding forth on various topics and generally enjoying himself during a delicious meal. Shortly, after a quick visit to his place, we're gonna take him back to hospital.

A message from Wes:

Thanks everyone, even the dickheads (you know who you are), for your best wishes!

Photo at left - Toast! - by Jane Whiteaker, today (click on it to see a larger (212KB) version, in colour, showing Wes celebrating his survival). See here, also.

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* Friday Oct 24 2008:


Dear Martin, I'm sorry I've just heard about Rob and hope he will soon be able to leave hospital. I must admit I never find hospitals particularly restful, in fact I think the environment itself is stimulating! Please pass on my regards to Shelia and Rob. I hope that you will all be able to return to KV sooner rather than later. Please do not hesitate to call on me if there is anything I can do regarding KV...(animals, mowing ect) Thinking of you all. Cheers ...

Dear Wes, It's me ... from UNE. Bob ... just sent me the news of your accident and miraculous recovery. I am shocked and so sorry to hear of the accident, but as all your friends and family and colleagues have so eloquently put it, you are a tough old bird and I am thankful that you have done so well in your recovery. I know it will be a long, and probably tedious, haul, but know that my thoughts will be with you along the way. (We) both send our best wishes from our home here in Florida.

Wes might make a brief visit home today. Watch this space.

later: He didn't. This was a stuff-up, due to poor communication within the hospital: Occupational Therapist Kylie was ready to drive him to Howard Springs but no-one informed her that the visit was definitely on. We're hoping it will happen tomorrow instead. In addition, Kylie will take him home (I mean, take him to his home) on a formal visit early next week.

Surprisingly, Wes was not particularly upset about the excursion not happening, even though he'd been looking forward to it. He's been cheerful all day, with no trace of the aggression we saw yesterday when he was asked to take a mild sedative.

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* Thursday Oct 23 2008:

hilda's funeral

I'll post news as soon as I can after Wes's release from and return to "jail". In the meantime, get this: we've been chasing a refund of the price of a Darwin-to-Sydney return ticket that he had booked on Jet Star for Oct 2. A statement from the hospital was needed, which was fair enough, and the booking was cancelled. I enquired yesterday of the travel agent through which the booking was made and was told that in cases such as this Qantas takes 10-12 weeks (usually 12) to refund the money. Nice little earner! That's three months of interest in addition to the tickets sold to family members going back and forth ...

later: Wes loved going to the funeral today. He saw lots of old friends, introducing them to Mum and me. He told them that he'd been a bit crook for a week or so after Ted pushed him off the roof of his Land Cruiser (joke) but that he's been perfectly OK since then, only staying in hospital because the doctors have been keeping him there against his will in order to protect their jobs (no joke). After the service he said he was tired and was happy to go back to hospital.

right: Wes, today, at the funeral of Hilda Muir
photo by Ted Whiteaker (click on it for a larger version in colour (148KB))

When his escort team (Sheila, Ted and I) arrived at the hospital this morning, Wes was cranky about his driver's licence being suspended (it's mandatory for the hospital to alert motor vehicle authorities if there's even the slightest suspicion that a patient's capacity to drive has been deleteriously affected). He got dressed in the clothes we'd taken in for him but objected furiously to having to swallow a mild sedative that a nurse was proffering (the implication, he claimed, was that if he didn't take the pill then he would behave inappropriately at the funeral, which he thought was a bloody insult). Things were getting ugly, especially when the nurse announced that if he didn't take it then the leave would be cancelled. Security personnel, sensing a problem, started hovering nearby. Suddenly, to our great relief, he swallowed the pill and off we went.

Now that Wes is "coming out of PTA", the plan is for him to take, progressively, more and more leave till in a week or so he can be formally discharged. At that point, after a detailed assessment, a rehabilitation plan will be drawn up which he might, or might not, choose to follow. No-one can say for certain as yet what the nature or degree of any "cognitive deficits" might be. But the hospital believes, based on past experience, that there will almost certainly be some. Despite Wes himself believing he's perfectly OK, they could be severe.

Royal Darwin Hospital went out on a limb today in allowing Wes to attend Hilda Muir's funeral. Sheila and I are grateful, and pay tribute, to all involved, particularly Drs Flavell and Watson. They have put extra time, effort and resources - extra care - into a difficult patient who, so far, has rewarded them by threatening legal action for infringement - so he claims, ludicrously - of his rights.

Hi Wes, I pray you are slowly feeling better. I understand your body will take some time to recover. Everyone on the Darwin Dili Committee sends their greetings ... Take care and I pray it is not too long before you are up and about. Regards ...

Hi Rob, and Martin, I have just ploughed through your blog and am unbelievable happy to read how well you have recovered. What a journey, Rob! We can't have 2 of our great Timor supporters from Darwin disappear on us just like that! I would very much like to come and visit you ... but am not sure if you will be still in Ward 2B, at home or on the plane to Sydney. Pls let me know. I'll be there. Much love ...

Less than a week after Bill Leak fell from a balcony and banged his head, he's out of his coma and able to talk to friends - great news!

Bill came off the sedatives yesterday and is in pretty good shape apparently - quite lucid and recognises everyone ... Will be in intensive for another two days then in a ward with one nurse to every four patients ...

for more information about ill Bill, click here

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* Wednesday Oct 22 2008:

the prisoner of azerbaijan

This morning a conference of relevant RDH health workers will make recommendations regarding Wes's immediate future.

hi Martin, thanks so much for your message - just read the blog of Rob's accident and recovery ... Sounds very traumatic and slow ... how are you coping? Please send Rob my love and best wishes - I had no idea you were going through this ...

Martin, I have just heard about the accident and found your website via Google. I was absolutely staggered at the news. I have passed the news onto other people from Wes's Armidale era. Could you please pass on our best wishes to Wes for a speedy recovery.
I will be largely out of email contact for a few weeks, just off to our farm for the wheat harvest. So far we have no email there, but I am trying to organise some sort of mobile email.
We will try to catch up with Wes when this is possible (and desirable), perhaps Kangaroo Valley or Sydney.
Regards ...

"please take heed of the medicos and be patient ..."

Dear Wes, I returned from Darwin only yesterday to learn ... that you had received a "setback". (We) were hoping to see you in Darwin and in spite of my many phone calls during our stay, had no answer. I assumed that you were on one of your missions so left it at that. If only I had known your predicament ... I'm glad to read about your progress. As you know I am a diabetic and when my blood glucose level is too low my mind plays tricks on me and my thoughts become unreal (though they seem realistic at the time) and I do things that later I am embarrassed about. Please take heed of the medicos and be patient. They will help. I want to see you as the Wes of old, clear headed and rational. Best wishes for a full recovery ...

"take care and try to be patient with your healing ..."

Hello Rob, I was shocked and sad to hear of your accident (only heard yesterday) and am so pleased you are recovering slowly but well. The website ... is a fantastic way to keep up with you and I will keep updated through it until I go to Timor Leste. Not knowing anything about recent events I was hoping to catch up with you on my way through Darwin ... What's important is that you keep on getting better and my thoughts will be with you as you do that. Take care and try to be patient with your healing ... hospital is a terrible bore for someone like you I know but it will be worth it! Lots of love and best wishes ...

later: At this morning's conference - attended by a dozen or so people all eager that Wes should be allowed some home leave, particularly so that he could attend the Hilda Muir funeral tomorrow - he was sullen, resentful and combative. With everything he said (including, repeatedly, that he was the Prisoner of Azerbaijan) he demonstrated why he should not be allowed out of hospital. I was silently screaming at him to shut up and be co-operative, in his own interests, but to no avail. The final decision has not been made as yet - might not be made till the morning - but it's hard to see how the hospital will allow him to venture out into what will be a high-stimulus environment. But if it doesn't, Wes warns that "there will be blood on the floor" ...

right: Wes, today, with me and Mum,
disconsolate after this morning's meeting
photo by Ted Whiteaker
(click on it for a larger version in colour (252KB))

later still: I've just heard from Dr Watson that the decision has been made: Wes will be going to the funeral tomorrow. He has agreed to go with Sheila, Ted and me and to return to hospital with us after three hours max. We hope for the best!

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* Tuesday Oct 21 2008:

fine line

In a case like Wes's, a hospital has to tread the fine line between failing to perform its duty of care and unreasonably restricting a patient's civil liberties. Inevitably, despite its best intentions, it will occasionally stray too far on one side or the other. A "hospital" is actually "people": people like you and me, ordinary people, fallible people who have to make the best judgement they can, sometimes in difficult circumstances. I'm trying to make this point to Wes, who thinks that hospital workers' decisions are made in order for them to keep their jobs. Nothing could be further from the truth, of course: they would love to get him out of there so that his bed could be used by someone else ....

As may be obvious, I found Wes to be excessively cocky today. As far as he's concerned, tomorrow's meeting has already concluded that he is 100% fit and that he'll be back home for dinner. If it turns out to be otherwise then the staff are only protecting their jobs. Despite the RDH staff having saved his life, and facilitated the rapid progress of his recovery, he thinks they don't know what they're doing. As always, he thinks that he knows best - because, somehow, he knows that he thinks best. The old Wes! Whereas in the past he has often, in my experience, been right, this time his addled brain is up against the training, experience and judgement of health care professionals dedicated above all else to his welfare. His blind insistence on following his own path could result in his current "cognitive deficits" becoming permanent.

Have just read your latest blog entries ... After looking at the latest photo of Rob, it is hard to believe he is still so far from recovered ... In all matters to do with discipline, which is what is required at the moment, of Rob as well as his panorama of visitors, your best friend is likely to be that tough nurse you seem to be objecting to and complaining about. Find the sweetest amongst you, probably but not necessarily male, and get her back on side. She's a health worker, and is legitimately pissed off with all matters retarding Rob's progress ...

Good advice, I'm sure, but I for one ain't sweet enough ... Anyway, I think that the situation has moved on (we're having a conference tomorrow morning at which it will be decided if Wes is to be allowed, under certain circumstances and conditions, to leave hospital).

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* Monday Oct 20 2008:

howard springs

Today I delivered my letter about Wes's situation to Dr Howard Flavell, from the Rehabilitation Ward of Royal Darwin Hospital. He gave a very sympathetic ear to the points in the letter, then visited Wes and tested him extensively, pronouncing that he was delighted with the progress Wes has made (there are still, however, some significant "cognitive deficits"). He will organize, for Wednesday morning, another conference of all interested parties, including Wes himself. No promises, but there's a chance that Wes will be allowed to attend, with Sheila and me, the funeral on Thursday of prominent local indentity Hilda Muir, whom he knew. This is good news!

left: a mug shot (Wes's mug, today)
click on the photo to see Wes, in colour, holding it (316KB)
photo: Ted Whiteaker

Dear Rob, Adding to the avalanche of love and best wishes that arrives daily to you at this time, I send our concern, best wishes and love. In the ups and downs of your days as I read them on the website, I'm utterly grateful to know that you're getting better and moving more towards your usual self ... From England Darwin feels very far away and the daily news is so appreciated ... Keeping you in mind and sending best love and friendship ...

I have just heard that a friend of mine - cartoonist Bill Leak - fell off a balcony last Friday night and is in Intensive Care at Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney with serious head injuries. Needless to say, I know some of what lies ahead for his family. I wish them all, and Bill, great strength.

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* Sunday Oct 19 2008:


Wes was more relaxed today, but still asking why he's being kept in there against his will. This afternoon he complained about a nurse aggressively accusing him of being selfish (to do, apparently, with yesterday's "escape attempt") - if true, this is appalling behaviour by a health-care professional, who should be "frequently reassur(ing) the patient that they are in a safe place and being looked after". I suspect it was the same nurse who, when I asked her yesterday what we can do to discourage Wes from doing a runner, said "No problem, we'll section him!" When I asked what that meant, she said "We'll force him back into the hospital - we have the power to do that." In other words, we won't try to understand and address his concerns - it's far simpler and easier to use physical violence instead. This woman needs to understand that she is there for the patients, not vice-versa.

I have written a letter which addresses my - and Rob's - concerns about the situation. I will deliver it tomorrow.

Hi Martin, Wes' personality precludes his acceptance of advice with which he does not agree; If the medical staff do not have his confidence in their prognosis, it probably would be better for him to be treated as an outpatient and go home as you suggest. Please pass on my best wishes for his full recovery. Regards ...

Hi Martin, I just read the latest news about Wes on your blog. Given his over-stimulation I wont try to phone him again until i hear that he is better.
Can't you get the nurses/hospital to stop visitors? It seems very slack that they are letting them in. Not all Wes's friends will be reading your blog.
wrt JRH not contacting Wes. JRH is a conceited man who is only interested in influential people and attractive women (its a common malady!). It is not right that he has not sent a message to Wes but I long ago gave up expecting the old Timorese leaders to have any concern/respect for Darwin activists. There are many other Timorese who love Wes and are praying for his recovery. Up yours to Horta.
i send my very best wishes to you and Sheila and for Wes's speedy recovery ...

Hi Martin, I actually visited Rob last Sunday and listened to him for a while ... Rob has had a most unusual & nasty accident; but he always did march to the beat of a different drum.
There's always hope for the future, and although he feels frustrated at his situation, I am praying for the miracle of healing that he surely needs ...
Cheers ...

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* Saturday Oct 18 2008:

Wes still in PTA

I have a brochure on Post-Traumatic Amnesia, the condition from which Rob still suffers. It says:

"The duration of PTA provides an indication of the severity of the injury and is one of the best predictors of the ultimate level of recovery and outcome."

Rob's PTA has already lasted longer than is usual in situations like this. It's crucial, therefore, that we do everything possible to assist him to move out of this phase! I mean, is this not bloody obvious?! Well-meaning friends, however, are still visiting at all hours, and the hospital still lets them, ignoring its own advice stating that the number of visitors must be reduced to a minimum (see Management of Patients in PTA below).

Rob scored 11/12 in his PTA test yesterday, but I'm told that this morning he's down in the foyer, walking around, refusing to go back to the ward, and being massively over-stimulated, perhaps as a result of the over-stimulation he's getting from having too many visitors staying for too long. It's likely that his next score will be somewhat less than 11, that the duration of his PTA will stretch even longer, and that the "ultimate level of (his) recovery and outcome" will therefore be lowered. This is serious stuff. We're talking about brain damage here, and potential "significant impairments" from which he might never recover. I implore all of Rob's Darwin friends to call me and book a visitor's slot rather than simply going to the hospital and walking in!

later: Rob did his test at about 5pm today, having calmed down a bit since this morning's excitement. He scored 11/12 again.

Dear Martin, I've been following Rob's progress on the website, and feeling so much for you and Sheila. It must be very tough on all of you ... if there is anything at all I can do, please let me know ... Love to all of you ...

Can't believe the shit that raineth down from heaven - am equally moved and appalled in waves by what I read - the blog should become a book and a film with Rob as narrator/ voice over ... Yep, you have to turn it into a film and write the music. Rob's story hits you in the stomach ...

Ted'n'Jane visited Wes this morning. Jane sent this text message from the hospital:

Wes a real mix of lucid(ity) and embellishments during my brief visit. He is in his room though, and although reluctant, could be jollied out of most negative raves.

This is Ted's report:

Wes was certainly off centre today. He was back in his room on the bed and was not happy about his return to the ward from his escape attempt. He looked tired and withdrawn, and kept going over the sequence of events of the morning.

Apparently he resisted efforts to stop him from catching a bus, and assistance had to be called for before he capitulated with the promise of seeing the doctor for some answers. He is mighty peeved that they're treating him as they are, which will be naturally exacerbated if the doctor turns out to be an empty promise. Jane came in and jollied him out of it for a while, but he ended up back where he had started from.

A PCA (a young lady barely past adolescence) was sitting with him watching some crap soapie on the TV when I first entered the room. Wes was in a state of morose distraction, and became a little more focused when I turned the TV off. The PCA had a terrible cough and Wes himself commented on how terrible it was to be in the same room with someone coughing all over him when he's supposed to be convalescing - more ammo for the stoush with the doctor ...

I am staggered by the lack of observance of the hospital rules displayed so prominently on the walls of Wes's room. Friends should be more discerning, and the hospital should have some consistent handover process so the staff are at least informed about such matters when they attend for duty.

I look forward to seeing Wes on a more even keel ...

later: Sheila and I saw him this afternoon. No doctor had turned up by the time we left, prompting an angry accusation from Rob that he was being lied to. He asked what was the point of his being kept in hospital against his will when he could be at his home. Taking the hospital's side, I started talking about the need for a quiet environment - but I quickly realized that home would be far quieter than a room in a surgical ward with a TV tuned by coughing PCAs to crap soapies. I talked about reducing the number of visitors to a minimum - but I realized that we can do that more effectively at home. I was running out of points to make, so I asked a nurse for help: "What is the hospital doing for Rob that his family can't do a well or better at home?" She couldn't answer.

Guideline 7 of Management of Patients in PTA says "do not engage in arguments with the patient" - but as long as Wes is locked up against his will, without rational reasons presented by the hospital, there will be arguments. Guaranteed. Wes is an intelligent bloke who will listen to and respond to a rational point of view, even in his current supposedly-irrational state. But he will not accept what he believes to be arbitrary loss of liberty for no convincing reason. I'm going to push for Rob to go home, with trips back to the hospital every day, as an out-patient, for PTA tests. I expect the hospital to say that its duty of care will forbid this, but what value a duty that ensures sub-standard care?

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* Friday Oct 17 2008:

dutch colleen

Dear Rob, sorry to hear you had a fall, hope this finds you much improved, I look forward to catching up in Darwin on your advice, my best regards ...

Dear Martin: Please convey my very best wishes for a full recovery to Rob. I hope he is restored to a better-than-ever shape. Best regards ...

left: Wes, yesterday, with José Gusmao; photo by Ted (click on it for a larger version in colour (276KB))

Ted reports:

"Wes was much the same today. Carola, the Dutch colleen, says he got 11 out of 12 on the PTA scale this morning. He knows this test is crucial and seems to be bending his mind towards mastering the correct responses; eg he tries to have the newspaper handy for confirmation of the date.

"He has taken his shoes off - apparently Carola was taking him downstairs for some outside time this morning and the Sister on the reception desk noticed as they went past and sent them back, telling Wes that he was known to be at risk of absconding. This admonition seems to have been (reluctantly) accepted by Wes for the time being, so he's relaxing a little."

Sheila and I saw him in the afternoon. He was a bit down, and more determined than ever to escape from hospital. I am still not convinced that he will try, but it's a worry that he's still talking about it ...

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* Thursday Oct 16 2008:

gleam of determined pig-headedness

The ward doctor (Dr Watson, who has a boyfriend called Moriarty - I kid you not) reminded me today that sometimes it's two steps forwards, three back: Wes's PTA score has been getting worse, not better. He was combative today, which didn't help, and he went off again about it being a stupid test that he can't be bothered wasting his time answering. I pointed out that it might be a stupid test but that he's looking pretty stupid apparently not being able to answer it. This, I'll admit, if forced to, did not help the situation. But he became far more compliant when the aforesaid Dr Watson arrived. I think he might try hard in tomorrow's test in order to please her.

Ted wrote, today:

"Wes had his possessions all packed up in plastic bags and was waiting for you to visit so he could get some cash for a taxi - he had that gleam of determined pig-headedness often seen of yore, and the Welsh colleen in attendance said she had a hard hour and a half this morning talking him out of walking out.

"I wonder how far he will get. There seems little point in fretting about the possibility - if he's gonna do it, he will. It will make for an interesting story.

"Other than that, he was in good spirits and still exhibiting yesterday's lucidity."

Wes, ready to do a runner

click on the photo for a larger, full-colour version

photo: Ted Whiteaker

left: Lo-Res Wes, a couple of days ago, looking worryingly like José Ramos-Horta

Incidentally, I wrote earlier about JR-H's failure to send Wes a get-well message (see here). He still has not done so.

click on the photo (by Martin, taken from video) for a larger version in colour (276KB)

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* Wednesday Oct 15 2008:

giant step

When Sheila and I arrived at the hospital yesterday morning, Wes and his Personal Care Assistant (Eva, an Indonesian woman from West Timor) were in the foyer, waiting for us. He took us up to his room, got into bed, asked Eva to make us a cup of tea, and chatted amiably. If he couldn't remember something then instead of going off on a long flight of fancy designed to disguise the fact, as he has done previously, he asked for the information and listened carefully. It seemed like a giant step forwards! When it was time for us to go he took us down in the lift and said farewell in the foyer.

Vaughan saw him in the afternoon, and had much the same experience.

Dear Wes, By the time this card reaches you we trust that you have greatly improved and that this continues. We're sure that the love of your family and many friends and hospital staff will see you up and about soon ...

later: Wes was positive again today - about the same as yesterday. No news on further results of his PTA test.

Ted wrote: "it was nice to have a conversation with Wes in such a lucid state today"

next entry; dates

* Tuesday Oct 14 2008:

good spirits

Yesterday Wes was in good spirits, although he reiterated his desire to get out of hospital as soon as possible. He told me, again, that he refuses to do the Occupational Therapist-administered PTA test that, if he scores 12 out of 12 on three consecutive days, will allow him to move into more active rehabilitation. But a ward doctor told me that he did do it yesterday and scored 8/12, which showed a significant improvement over the past week. [later: he did it again this morning and scored 10/12 - yo!]

A recent psychiatric assessment concluded that there will be long-term "significant impairment", but at this stage it's hard to see what that might be.

I have been following your blog with great concern - we can only hope that the old Rob will emerge. These things take time and his is a remarkable brain so in its currently unbalanced state all the more likely to be a challenge to everyone around him. I do hope Sheila is coping with what must be the most enormous stress.

Sheila is coping pretty well. She's pretty stoic, our Mum, and has had to deal with a lot over her 92 years, especially to do with Rob (various adventures, including arrest on gun-running charges in 1976, arrest and deportation from East Timor in the late 90s, and staring down thugs in T-L as he attempted to distribute rice after the Indonesians left in 1999). She wants to be here, Rob needs her here, and she will stay as long as she is able (the heat notwithstanding).

Ward 2B has promised to be more vigilant in implementing its own rules re visitors.

left: Wes, yesterday

Click on the photo for a larger, full-colour version (252KB).

photo: Ted Whiteaker

next entry; dates

* Monday Oct 13 2008:

camp site

There was no noticeable change in Wes's condition when I saw him yesterday, although Ted said that he talked about the camp site they stayed at on the way to Nhulunbuy - it must be a good thing that he can remember something so close to the time of the accident.

Dear Rob, Thanks to (the blog) we are in touch with your return to health after your unfortunate accident. This is to wish you a full recovery and all the best to your mother and brother. Glad you survived - it sounds like it was touch and go. Maybe this horrible accident will awaken Darwin people to the wonderful work you have done for the East Timorese for so long. All the best from AETA ...

Dearest Wes, We're sending a few trinkets and all our love and healing wishes to you, to let you know we're thinking about you all the time, waiting for news, and eager to know what's up. Looking forward to a chance to laugh together again, cry over your close call and cherish our friendship. So get well soon. Love ...

Last night I inadvertently came across an email from which the following is an extract:

Went to see Wes this evening [Ed: Saturday evening, I think]. He is much, much better. He repeats a few things over and over but that's how his daily life has been reduced too. He whispered to me "to get a bag, pack my things and take me out from here ... Don't tell Mum and Martin." Obviously I told Martin just in case Wes's plotting a revolution.
He'll recover the old bugger. If not all, it will be 98% in my assessment. Pretty good chances.

1. We're desperately trying to provide a low-stimulus environment for Wes, which is why there are strict rules about visitors, visiting hours etc - rules that the hospital itself seemingly breaks. I will discuss this with hospital staff today.
2. This person did not, in fact, tell me about Wes's latest plans to sneak out from hospital.
3. No-one can as yet predict the extent of Wes's recovery, not even brain-injury specialists. A figure of 98% - plucked out of the air - may be wildly optimistic, giving people false expectations.

Wes's stated intention to escape from hospital remains a real worry. While physically he's in good shape, despite the broken ribs, he is clearly not well enough mentally to be able to cope outside hospital (he still has virtually no short-term memory), and he needs rehabilitation that only experts can give.

If you are planning to pay Wes a visit, please call me so that you can be booked in, and please take note of the points made in the management statement below.

next entry; dates

* Sunday Oct 12 2008:

or something like that

Hello Martin, We'd like to be included in the many people sending messages of encouragement and love to Wes in this difficult time. He's always been such a notable figure during our 30 years in Darwin - and he has a wonderful garden and house as well. We sincerely hope that he will get back to both his home and his full health as soon as possible. Thank you for the Wes blog - it gets a daily visit at this household ...

For long periods of time yesterday, Wes seemed perfectly normal. I even found myself wondering, at times, if there was anything wrong with him - but then he would say something that gave the game away, like "I went to Maningrida yesterday", which he didn't. We often hear the phrase "or something like that", which he says when he realises that what he's been saying has strayed from what's believable. Ted tells me that yesterday morning Wes stopped at one point and said "Or is this another flight of fancy?", another indication that he's at least aware that all is not well. But all in all, there seemed to be a distinct improvement from the day before. This morning, however, he rang up to say, again, that he's leaving hospital today and going home. I'm seeing him this afternoon, by which time he might have accepted that it's better for him to stay in hospital, at least until he no longer has post-traumatic amnesia or has simply forgotten that he wants to leave.

next entry; dates

* Saturday Oct 11 2008:

post-traumatic amnesia management

A sign on Wes's wall, headed Management of Patients in Post-Traumatic Amnesia (PTA):
1. keep environment as quiet as possible
2. reduce number of visitors to a minimum
3. as few staff in room at once as possible
4. allow patient to rest frequently during day
5. reduce stimulus such as television and bright light
6. do not bombard the patient with questions
7. do not engage in arguments with the patient - they are not able to rationalise in this state
8. frequently reassure the patient that they are in a safe place and being looked after
9. in conversations orientate the patient to person, place and time e.g. talk about the date, the patient's family, being in Darwin Hospital, current events etc

to Oct 18

Dear Rob, I don't know whether you welcome letters, or whether you've had too many to cope with, but (we) want you to know that we think of you every day, and hope that you can start to feel much better very soon. I thought of you on your birthday, but decided that next year will be a more appropriate occasion to say "happy" birthday than this. Martin's constant reports and updates via his blog have been invaluable to those of us who are a distance away. It's so good to have up to the minute progress reports and, to some extent, go through some of the ups and downs with you all. The photos of you indicate that you are now back to your handsome self [Ed: that's gilding the lily a bit much], and I hope that means that a lot of the pain has eased - I can't imagine what 9 broken ribs would be like, and I know that wasn't all!! ... Please give my love to Sheila and Martin, Rob, and know that in time things will settle down and become clear and you will be able to enjoy life again. Lots and lots of love ...

A cousin of ours, Terry Wesley-Smith, who lives in Canberra, is coming to Darwin today and will see Wes tomorrow.

next entry; dates

* Friday Oct 10 2008:


I had a phone call from Wes this morning telling me to bring his car in 'cos he was going home. I said no, you're not ready to do that, and you haven't been discharged from hospital. He said he would walk home, then. I drove to the hospital, expecting a confrontation, but a couple of PCAs (Personal Care Assistants) had taken him for quite a long walk around the ward with the result that he got tired, went back to bed, and apparently forgot about driving home. While I was with him, however, he said he would be going home tomorrow. Despite all this he seemed better today than he was yesterday: more lucid, slightly less confused. But no closer to passing the PTA test (he told me he could pass it easily, but it would be a waste of his time and he can't be bothered).

next entry; dates

* Thursday Oct 9 2008:


At this morning's conference it was confirmed that Wes is still suffering from Post-Traumatic Amnesia. The longer a patient has PTA, the more serious, as a general rule, the cognitive problems down the track, so it's imperative to get him out of this phase as soon as possible. He needs a low-stimulus environment (see Management of Patients in Post-Traumatic Amnesia above). Thus the hospital is instituting a restricted-visitor regime, with two visitors (no little kids) for just half an hour in the morning and two more visitors for just half an hour in the afternoon. Only then will his condition be able to improve.

If you are in Darwin and wish to visit, please understand that [a] you might not be allowed in, and [b] if so, this will be purely to keep Wes from getting too much stimulus. See the schedule above. If you wish to book a slot, please call the hospital on 8922 8888 then ask for Ward 2B (I think that's right ... it's 2B or not 2B - no, 2B it is).

Dr Howard Flavell (rehab doctor) said that although Wes is still disoriented, and has been for longer than usual in cases like this, his mental state will probably improve. The presence of family members is, he believes, essential to this. When Wes passes a particular test, which he must do with a score of 12 out of 12 on three consecutive days, he will have a psychiatric assessment. Then, if all is OK, if the hospital is convinced he will be safe if discharged, and if he agrees, they will look at transferring him to facilities in the Shoalhaven area of NSW, near his family (provided the system there has room for him and they think they can do anything for him). This, if it happens at all, will be weeks, even months, away.

Wes enjoys sitting up in bed holding court. A reduction in the number of visitors and the time they can stay is going to be difficult for him.

On the surface he appears to be completely normal: he's friendly, smiles a lot, cracks jokes and talks non-stop. But his short-term memory is hardly functioning (although he now remembers, having been told many times, that he fell off the roof of a Land Cruiser), he still shows signs of paranoia, and he often goes off into flights of fantasy that make no sense at all. He has invited us all to a party he's having this weekend at his mythical other block - the one where he grows his cycads. Xanana and Kirsty are coming, and we're all gonna have a good time. He has resumed talking about leaving the hospital and going home ...

Wes, you've given my brother and I a mountain of great childhood memories (like the time you dared me to eat a whole Timorese chilli for $10 - thanks mate, what a mistake that was). Those of us who know you as a danger magnet eventually work out that you're also truly indestructible. Wishing you all the best with your recovery and a belated Happy Birthday too!

We arrived in Darwin today and our friends here had telephoned me to tell me about your accident which made me very sad to hear that it had been such a horrendous event. We are very pleased to hear that you are on the mend, and it would be great to catch up ... Thinking of you and sending you best wishes.

Dear Martin, You won't know me but I have known Wes for quite some time - particularly when he helped us in preparing part of the Kenbi Land Claim which involves land across the harbour from Darwin. I have only just heard the news about his accident and hope that you can convey my best wishes and hope for a speedy recovery ... Best wishes ...

I talked to Wes last week, he was firing. I told him it was still as hard as ever to get a word in edgeways! However when I mention the blow on his head he reckoned someone probably Ilana was having me on, that maybe he had just fallen out of bed. However it was very satisfying to talk to him after the worries of the preceding weeks. I'm sure you a all relieved that he is making headway (ha ha).

This email, which I've only just found, came in a while back:

Hi Martin, This is Santi, a timorese who met Wes your brother Feb this year and i was staying at his wonderfull place and with his great hospitality which I felt previlage to get know this great man who has longstanding support to our struggle and was absolutely part of our history and stood for bringing our dreams for indepence become true. Wes, your continuation support and contribution to the development for justice and peace in Timor-Leste still a long way, my prayer and best wishes for full recover of your health. I hope too see you and listen again to your unwriten history of your movement. With lots of love and prayer ...

next entry; dates

* Wednesday Oct 8 2008:

patron saint

Dear Rob, I hope you make a full recovery soon. You are Australia's patron saint for civil liberties. What you have done to advance the cause of aboriginal land rights, the East Timorese and conservation to name a few cannot be adequately described in words. Our PM on your recovery should appoint you as Australia's ambassodor to the UN for Human Rights. Get well soon Wes the world needs you ...

Dear Rob, The things people do to get our attention! I'm so relieved to see in Martin's blog that you are looking so much better, and improving rapidly by the sound of things. Several people emailed us to let us know about your accident but we've been out of communication for a month, sailing between Makassar and Batam in Indonesia ... I hope you get out of there soon, but not before you're ready. You've got to give yourself plenty of time to recover, and not argue with the doctors too much. I know what you're like! Take it easy, one day at a time. You've fought everyone else's battles for years, but now it's time to let people help you fight your own, okay? Take it easy old friend ...

Sheila and I are going to have a conference tomorrow with various hospital personnel (doctors, social workers etc) to discuss the next stage of Wes's treatment. Watch this space ....

next entry; dates

* Tuesday Oct 7 2008:

genial and chatty

I was asked today by a doctor at Shoalhaven Hospital whether or not I'd seen any real change in the patient's condition over the past three days. No, I said, I hadn't. The doctor indicated that while Wes's recovery since the accident - not yet a month ago - has been impressive, we've now entered a phase where progress will occur slowly. Perhaps very slowly. The hospital is actively pursuing a transfer to a rehab unit in a hospital in the Shoalhaven area of New South Wales, where there are excellent staff and facilities more able to assist Wes's recovery. Perhaps he could live for a while with Peter, Sheila and me in Kangaroo Valley and be a rehab unit outpatient, several times per week ... Today he was genial, and chatty, and very happy to see us. Yesterday he'd told us he was going home today, but fortunately he'd forgotten about that (the doctor told me that the hospital's "duty of care" would require that it stop him leaving the hospital until he'd been given the OK by his medical team). We stayed for three hours or so, then he drifted off to sleep.

Dear Wesley, I just found out the terrible news that you had an accident and that you are in hospital. I just wanted to send you my best wishes and hope for a quick recovery. My prayers are with you. Keep strong. Best wishes ...

some excerpts from cards in Wes's hospital room, some quite old, like this one:

To dear Wes, I do hope you're reading this by the time it arrives. We've kept in touch with your progress ... When you do wake up properly and read the flood of messages you'll realize just how important you are to all of us, the Territory and to the East Timorese community. Even crusty old D D McNicoll obviously has a grudging respect for all you've done! Keep getting better and better, and better ... love ...

To Dady (Rob Wesley): We are pray and wish and hope you can struggle and pass from critical condition. We hope you will get better soon. We love you and miss you dady. Love ...

Dear Wes, We want you to know we were shocked and most concerned to hear of your injuries. We pray you will make a full recovery, in the fullness of time. All the members of the Sister City Committee - and all at HIAM Health - send you their best wishes. We will continue to pray for your full recovery. Best wishes also from all at East Timor Sunrise ...

Dear Rob, Given that to me you have always been the last of the (illegible) anarchists, for heaven's sake don't do anything that threatens that position - the current world needs more of you, not less or none! Hope your recuperation is quick, successful and relatively pain-free. Hugs and love ...

Dear Rob, I sincerely hope you are recovered enough to read this. What a shock to read in The Australian about your terrible accident. I know the Royal Darwin Hospital is an excellent hospital, and I'm sure you are in the very best medical hands. I tried to find Sheila, but our shared podiatrist, John, told me she'd moved to NSW Kangaroo Valley?? Anyway, Wes - glad to hear you are still ear-bashing the pollies about the Timorese. We will be thinking of you, and wishing you the very best for a full recovery. I bet your breathing hurts! Love ...

next entry; dates

* Monday Oct 6 2008:


Sorry there was no entry yesterday! I came back to Darwin from Kangaroo Valley, where I live, and where I spent the previous week, went to the hospital and saw Rob, then went to his place, had dinner - and fell asleep ... Rob was so much better physically than he was when I last saw him, just over a week before. Mentally, too: he was bright and cheerful, and he chatted happily about all sorts of things. The problem was that a lot of what he said was fanciful, without much basis in reality. I told this to a friend of his who rang up to ask about him: "He's a bit loopy", I said. "Good!" said his friend, "He's back to normal, then!" Well ... he's not back to normal, and won't be for a long time, if ever. One of the doctors here suggested that he's not in the rehabilitation ward because they don't think they can do much for him. This is a real worry. This week we'll be looking at all options, including moving him, when he's fit enough to travel, to New South Wales. Watch this space ...

Last week I attended a performance by The Song Company of Peter's and my piece doublethink (great performance, but dismissed by the Sydney Morning Herald "critic" because of its "lazy, blandly euphemistic Victorianisms", whatever that means), and one in Canberra by Alice Giles' SHE (Seven Harp Ensemble) of our piece for seven female singing harpists, plus other vocalists, Seven Widows at the Gates of Sugamo (described by one excellent critic as "sublime" ...). I also attended a workshop conducted by stunning a cappella jazz vocal quartet The Idea of North at Bundanon on the Shoalhaven River in New South Wales.

The photo, above: Wes, a couple of days ago, with - if you click on the shot - old friend Jill Huck (photograph: Peter Wesley-Smith).

I haven't seen Wes today yet. I'll try to write more this evening, when I have. Later: I went in with our mother, Sheila. He talked like a two-bob watch. At one stage he got out of bed, unaided, and walked to the bathroom. His ribs must have given him pain, but apart from the odd grimace he didn't show it. He got back into bed and resumed chatting. But, again, he'd make sense for a while then veer off into nonsense e.g. yesterday he started talking about a black man wanting to inspect his "tackle" - his genitals, pudenda, nether regions, privates, family jewels (if he had a family of his own) ... whatever you want to call them. Just before this there had been an ad, on a television set in the background, for a shop selling fishing products, including "tackle". He picked up that word and incorporated it, with a different meaning, into a long rave about life in general ...

Jane Whiteaker wrote about seeing him yesterday:

Wes was the most positive and lucid I have seen him yet ... There were certainly times when he was not speaking clearly, or rationally, but they were brief compared to my previous visits, and far outweighed by the more rational times. He referred to various people who had visited him in the last few days a number of times, and also made reference to things other people had said about Ted. (nice things) Although I don't have any idea whether all of those particular people have all visited there were names which I have heard Peter or Ted speak about being there, so to me there seems to be some short term memory that he didn't have last time I saw him. On the not so rational side, he is convinced that Person X has his mobile, and ... has hired Agency Nurses to sit with Wes and make sure that his (X's) wishes are seen to. I did correct these ideas, but he didn't look too convinced. He also stated a number of times that the hospital had his car - again we reassured him that the car was being looked after at his place.

excerpts from recent emailed expressions of concern:

I have been wondering how Rob was getting along. Reading the blog I can see that the whole thing has been, and continues to be, a pretty traumatic event for everyone. And it's obviously not at an end and sounds like a long, slow period of R&R. Please give him my best wishes and tell him there are more suitable ways for an Ozzie icon to do himself in than by falling off the roof of a Land Cruiser ... I will continue to think of him and send him my best thoughts for a complete recovery ...

Hi Wes, Glad to see your recovery is progressing well. You are such a stalwart and 'historical' part of the movement that I can't imagine that you could be kept down for long. I know that you are in the minds of so many people, and that they all hope you quickly recover to your usual state of irrepressibility. I join them comrade. Best wishes ...

I am an old friend of Robert's. I was horrified to hear of his accident. I have been away from Darwin for a couple of weeks and have been unable to get news of him. Please convey my best wishes for his recovery.

Hi Rob, So happy to hear about your progress. I was so sad when I couldn't find your Aussie number in my old mobile since it is broken. I believe your strength. I just said YES YES YES after I read SBS news at ETAN mailing list. Lucky me, they wrote Martin's email address. Get well soon, get well soon...then you can visit Dili again ... huge hugs ...

CONGRATULATIONS!!! We are happy to inform you of the release of lottery winners international programs held on the 2nd October 2008 ... you have been approved the winner for a lump sum pay out of THREE MILLION EIGHT HUNDRED THOUSAND US DOLLARS ($3,800,000.00 dollars) congratulations!!!

Er, I'm a bit suspicious of that last one ...

Before Wes's accident he was campaigning on behalf of Angelita Pires, who is being held in Timor-Leste despite not having been charged with any offence. The main target of his criticisms was old friend and sparring partner José Ramos-Horta, who, as it happens, was in the same ward of Royal Darwin Hospital as Wes just a few months before. I understand that JR-H would not these days be one of Wes's greatest fans, but I think it curious that he has not sent - yet, anyway - a get-well message to a prominent activist who since 1975 has been one of his country's most active, outspoken and consistent external supporters. And a key colleague of JR-H's in the struggle for a free East Timor. Wes has been to T-L many times since the carnage of 1999 (and once, memorably, before that), helping out in many practical ways. The love and concern coming from so many Timorese people might yet lead, one hopes, to a gesture, symbolic if nothing else, from T-L's President.

back to Oct 16; next entry; dates

* Saturday Oct 4 2008:

dutch irish colleen

A report from Ted Whiteaker (click on the photo for a larger version in colour (184KB) - looking good ...):

I went to the hospital at 11am and found Wes outside in a wheelchair in the care of another of his "Irish colleens" (this one was Dutch). He was in good spirits, and was recalling bits and pieces of recent factual conversations, but with much fanciful embellishment. Another bloke called Hugh turned up to talk to him; some association with E Timor. I stayed about an hour and left when they wheeled him back in to lunch.

While Wes was largely inventive with the facts, there was enough consistency expressed to suggest that his faculties are still slowly improving. It was great to see him outside - maybe the colour of the concrete agrees with his complexion or something ... Seriously, I'd call today a steady day, from what I saw of it. As I left he said he'd drop in to visit us tomorrow ...

The PCA (Ed: "Personal Care Assistant") asked for some clothes and thongs or sandals - Wes has no further need to be wrapped in a hospital gown, although it does impart an angelic quality to the photos if you squint your eyes a little. I will see Peter tomorrow morning to get some stuff together for him.

Please convey to Rob our best wishes for a speedy and full recovery.
We have been most saddened by his accident, and of course hope that we will see him in Adelaide in better health in the not too distant future. Please let Rob know that the committee of AETFA, and many of his other friends in Adelaide are thinking of him.
Viva Timor-Leste
Viva Wes
(Australia East Timor Friendship Association SA Inc.)

I understand Robert is recovering well.
We continue to monitor his progress and remain optimistic for a full recovery. Please pass on our birthday wishes and let him know we are thinking of him daily.

We have all been very concerned to hear about Rob's accident and send our best wishes to Rob for his recovery, and to you all at an anxious time. The most recent news seems to suggest that he is recovering slowly - I hope this continues! I guess he will be doing all he can as he always has ...
(IHRC in Aotearoa, NZ)

I'm going to Darwin tomorrow, so I'll be able to report first-hand.

next entry; dates

* Friday Oct 3 2008:


Despite it being Wes's birthday yesterday, he didn't have a great day. Peter took him this blog on a laptop so he could read the messages, but he wasn't interested. It was good that he listened to Beatriz's program on SBS radio and contradicted something I said in the interview, but he doesn't seem to understand what's happening to him - or if he does he forgets almost immediately. The progress of recovery from brain injury can be frustratingly slow. Today, however, was different. Here's Ted Whiteaker's report:

After a down day yesterday, not worth talking about (so much for a happy birthday), Wes was in good form again today, much the same as Wednesday. He wanted to go over the accident again, and seems to be retaining bits of the story. Sheila was there, and I took Lily (Ed: Ted'n'Jane's daughter) in with me. He has been moved to single bed room 13 where he is not distracted by the passing parade, and the visiting list has been reinstituted to keep the numbers down to no more than two at a time and to stop him from getting too excited. It may be worth highlighting this request on the blog, and asking any visitors not to stay too long, or to engage in talk of leaving the hospital. He is becoming a bit vexatious about getting out and driving home to look after his property. Ces arrived, then Martin returned from a discussion with the social worker and Lil and I left to keep the numbers down. (Ed: Ted means Peter here - we do look a bit alike.) We were there for an hour and a half and there was lots of laughter. Peter is a little concerned about Wes's Irish colleen fetish with the attractive attendants in a single room when they can't escape easily, but I reckon he's all bark and saliva but no bite.

Northern Territory News, today

Peter wrote that Rob is now in Room 13 in Ward 2B of Royal Darwin Hospital. "It's a single room and more comfortable than previously when his was one of two if not four beds. He was still intending to come home today or tomorrow, despite at times seeming to appreciate that he was still recovering from a pretty nasty fall."

left: Wes, today, with his Mum, Sheila

click on the photo to see the whole shot, in colour (160KB)

photo: Ted Whiteaker

"on different beaches of the same dark waters"

Yesterday Clinton Fernandes sent out the following message:

Today 2nd October is Robert Wesley-Smith's 66th birthday. He's recovering in hospital, and good wishes can be emailed to him via his brother Martin (email).

This weekend is also the tenth anniversary of the death of Cliff Morris, former Australian Commando. I had written something but thought it appropriate to instead send along something that Wes himself wrote when news came through in 1998 that Cliff had died.

Cliff and Wes: two men possessed of moral and physical courage, and unparalleled stubbornness. Now on different beaches of the same dark waters.

Wes's beach has a track leading up to a car park where his fuel-efficient Honda Jazz awaits ...

The article about Cliff that Wes wrote can be read here. Extracts from more emails received:

When I stayed in Darwin last February, Rob helped me in reaching some of my old friends ... I was also very glad to meet the son of the owner of the hotel Luma Luma. Rob drove me and two East Timorese to see the historical site of the flying boat base, which was really interesting for me.

I was dismayed when I first heard the news about the accident. I could not quite understand what actually happened to him. Was it strong wind? I talked about Rob with my wife ... She is also an East Timor activist. She said she hadn't met him before, but she feels very close to Rob, too. Now I saw the Clinton's posting that you can pass a message to Rob, and that's why I'm writing this.

We hope that he will recover quickly.

Though I've not met Rob, I've tracked his comments and activities on line and I appreciate his heart and grit. I am wishing him a speedy and thorough recovery. All my best thoughts and wishes are to Rob getting back up and to the business of justice in East Timor... I always remember his forceful statement of support for ... my (ETAN activist) husband upon his passing away in 2005 to cancer- with best thoughts for recovery to Rob ...

Dear Martin,
Please pass on to Rob my warmest regards and best hopes for a swift and full recovery. My own partner ... was in an accident at about the same time, and I know that recovery can be very slow and sometimes incomplete. I sincerely hope that Rob is progressing, making sense of the world (in so far as that has ever been possible) and physically okay.
Best wishes ...

Hello Rob,
We hope that someone might be clearing your email and will tell you about this message.
We have been away and have only just caught up with the news of your terrible accident. On the other hand, we were delighted to read this morning that you are getting better.
Our thoughts are with you.

My best wishes and hopes are with you at the moment. I know Rob from my time as a journalist in Darwin. He's always been a selfless, committed and uplifting man ...

Please do pass my warmest regards to Brother Rob, especially happy birthday to him. I have been following the terrible news about Rob, and thanks God that he is recovering. Hope to see him one in Darwin again ...

Dear Martin,
Could you pass on to Rob my deepest wishes for his full recovery. I promise I will join him at the next demonstration!
Regards ...

Hi Martin,
Can you please pass on my best wishes for a speedy recovery to Rob? My partner Nick and I bumped into him at the Darwin festival a few weeks ago - it must have been just before his accident. I hope he's going ok. We're missing his spirited discussions about Timor on the ETAN list! All the staff at APHEDA also send their best wishes ...

Could you please pass on to Wes my birthday wishes, and, more importantly, my wishes for a speedy recovery. We need you, Wes. At the best of times we have too few such brave warriors; at this time we seem to be dismally short. A big hug and very, very best wishes ...

We knew today about the situation of your brother and our friend Robert. Obviously we are deeply concerned by so big accident. Robert is a strong mind man and we know that he will surpass this problem. Please tell him our best wishes of a fast recovery. And also our congratulations by his recent birthday.
Best regards ...

Thankyou so much for bringing us up to date with Rob's progress. What a courageous fight is going on: he was so damaged it is indeed a miracle he is still here.
Thinking of you often, and keen to keep across all that's happening.
Much love ...

It seems to me that Wes should be in a rehabilitation ward, and that if Royal Darwin Hospital can't provide a rehab bed for him then he should be transferred to another hospital somewhere else. This is one of several topics to be discussed with hospital staff.

next entry; dates

* Thursday Oct 2 2008:

sixty six

Today is Wes's 66th birthday!

Dearest Rob
We are wishing you a healing birthday this year and thinking of you daily, watching the news and looking forward to the next chance we have to see you.
much love and affection ...

Hey Rob, thinking of you on your birthday and sending lots of love and hugs......I know you love hugs so lots from us to you. Hope each day is getting a bit better for you, great to have your gorgeous Mum there with you and one of your little brothers.
Love and best wishes ...

Wes, owing to a top secret leak, we understand an ASIO officer who went to manually lift your old file suffered a double hernia and is now in Royal Darwin Hospital. Also, in an effort to learn the names of all Top End subversives, the FBI will inject you with a double dose of the truth drug. Next time you have a needle try not to blurt out Big Jim Bowditch, Brian Manning, John Tomlinson, Doug Lockwood, Big Billy Pitcheneder, Cec and Sandra Holmes, Jack Meaney , John Loizou et al.

Dear Wes
(We) hope your birthday is great and that it won't be too long until you are back out there stirring the possums. We have been keeping an eye on your progress ...
It must be frustrating for you when things seem to take a long time. But just remember Woody Guthrie's words "Take it easy but take it"
Hope it's not too long before we'll be able to go fishing again ...

Uncle Rob,
A very Happy Birthday to you my Uncle Rob. You are one tough cookie and have been in my thoughts. Love you lots & hope you have a super cute Nurse to help you celebrate your day.
All my love, hugs & kisses ...

Words seem so inadequate, and perhaps they aren't needed, but then again perhaps it helps to know that others are thinking of you and sharing a little of your pain and anguish.
We have been following the blog (thank you) and noting the extraordinary number of emails of support and the global nature of their origins. Rob has certainly touched a lot of lives during his 66 years!
Love and best wishes to you all ....

Dearest Wes
Get well soon comrade! We love you. You still needed to kick arse.
Happy birthday ...

Rob, hope your birthday is happy if a little out of the ordinary! Very Best Wishes and love ...

Rob, Pob hwyl is Welsh for every good wish. I was shocked to hear of your accident and its serious consequences, and, until this blog was sent to me did not know how to get up to date news. So glad your reading and linguistic skills are back again. As a member of the Darwin-Dili sister city committee and a long-time well-wisher of East Timor I look forward to seeing you stirring things up again when you are next there ...

Robbie Darling, you are going to have to get better much quicker than at this stage because you are taking up too much of my time (and emotional energy) as I check your progress each day (tongue very much in cheek, you'll no doubt guess. My first job each day is to check on you.) ... today you look and sound soooo much better, that I can't help a few tears of thanksgiving. Keep up the good work and we hope you have a comfortable and happy birthday, Rob.
Our love and very best wishes ...

I have been following Wes' progress and hope it will continue. Tell him we are thinking of him and wish him a happy 66th Birthday today. Like Ken, he's a tough old "bugger".
Affectionally ...

Dearest Wes, Best wishes to you on your birthday. Think of you every day! Much love ...

Hi Wes
Martin is here with Helen and me for dinner - he can't cook you know! [Ed: that's BS]
Of course, the topic of conversation is YOU. [We] are thinking of you very much and we look forward to your continued progress. Have seen the photo of you and the nurse - so behave.
Happy birthday - Martin says it's the big 66.
Hello Sheila
Love to you both ...

A warm Irish hug to the unstoppable Rob from here in Dili. Hard to believe the old codger is 66. Please pass on my good wishes and deep admiration.

Dear Martin, dear Peter,
I wish to congratulate Wes for his 66th birthday. Please pass my best wishes to him, and tell him that he is one of my heroes! In the last weeks I didn't hear anything about his recovery. How is he going?
Warm greetings ...

We wish you a speedy recovery so that we can celebrate next year's birthday with a proper party!

Dearest Wes,
Wishing you a new birthday year of perfect health. Ah so you are a Libran male, reputed to be charming bastards! It is a daily ritual to check Martin's blog to see how you are progressing.
Heaps of love on this special day- thank god you were born because your life is a tribute to the struggle for justice on many many fronts.

Dearest Rob,
I have been thinking of you so much and sending you lots of love. Even though after everything you have been through there is still so much to celebrate! Because you are still with us & your recovery sounds truly amazing (a testament to your inner strength!)
I wish you all the strength and healing and light and love and laughter for the road ahead,
Happy Birthday again!
Love ... xxxxxxx

At 11am today, Beatriz Wagner did a special segment of her program on SBS Radio about Wes (mainly in Portuguese). Download it (.mp3) here.

next entry; dates

* Wednesday Oct 1 2008:


Wes, today:

click on the photo for more detail

photo: Peter Wesley-Smith

Hi Sheila, Pete & Martin
Letting you know we continue thinking of you all, and Rob. Good to know he is up walking now and has moments of lucidity.
The prognosis of possibly full recovery after long-term rehab is unsettling.
So glad that Sheila and you guys are able to be up there helping him through it all.
fondest love, as ever ...

what can one say ? I hope Rob gets better. And if there is any point to it, please tell him that I, and all i know who know him, are pulling for him. (don't know who one would "pray" to!).
And that I enormously admire his work... oh dear. this sounds so trite ! But sometimes the truth is trite ! ...

With very best wishes for you all !

Today's report from Peter:

Today's intelligence is somewhat conflicting. When Sheila and I arrived just after lunch we were taken aside by the junior doctor on the team and given a briefing, from which we learned that

(a) Rob's physical recovery is extraordinary;

(b) his mental recovery, so far as it goes, is also extraordinary, given that the brain damage was extensive (some details were provided of bleeding from two or more sites, bruising, etc) and that, when he arrived at Royal Darwin Hospital, the doctors did not expect him to survive;

(c) he is tending to "confabulate", that is, witter on to cover his inability to answer a question or maintain a line of thought - being, she said, a sign of intelligence (gilding the lily a bit, I thought) but also proof of mental confusion;

(d) there is a fear that his mental faculties won't recover, or not completely, though it is recognised that we're still in early days;

(e) the doctors want to apply for a guardianship order to facilitate continued care in case the patient acts irrationally by, for example, refusing treatment or seeking to discharge himself;

(f) recovery, if it occurs at all, will take a long time. There is little likelihood of a bed being available in the rehab unit at Royal Darwin (they have only twelve beds and 35 patients on the waiting list and Rob is not a priority candidate). We discussed alternative options (the private hospital next door, various visiting and outpatient services in Darwin, transfer to a rehab ward at another hospital in say New South Wales, and so on) - but in the meantime he can stay where he is.

All this sounded quite pessimistic, but I'm not sure we should be losing heart just yet (there is probably a professional need to present a worst-case scenario, time will tell better than a judgment made three weeks and a day after the accident, etc etc). When we got in to see Rob he seemed in quite good form, slightly better than I've seen him. There's now a notice next to the bed about post traumatic amnesia, which is presumably his current condition; the notice says he should not be stressed, he should not be provoked into argument, he must be given plenty of opportunity to rest, he should be encouraged to understand where he is and why, etc. A separate notice, not there yesterday, restricts visitors to just two at any one time.

Then we spoke to Ted Whiteaker, who had been in there this morning. Ted was quite excited by what he saw as a considerable improvement since about five days ago: he said Rob was generally lucid with occasional lapses, unlike earlier when it was the other way about, and when he spoke to Rob about the accident there was great curiosity about it, he wanted all the details, he seemed to be very aware that it had all happened to him, and so on, and he took some notes which were very coherent. Cesarina also saw him this morning but seemed more concerned. So there are mixed messages, the professional one quite sombering but I think there are reasons not to succumb to despair. Rob's looking in excellent physical health - and we're encouraged to take him for walks in the sunshine - and is generally amiable; some of his traits, such as wanting to organise everyone and responding flirtatiously to attractive staff, are traits with which we're familiar - so in some ways he's almost his old self. We've not been sure that he's realised his situation before, so I think his response to Ted's interrogation indicates a significant advance.

Ted's perspective:

Back from the bush and went in to see Wes at 1pm today. He was looking very dapper and cheerful, sitting in a chair and carrying on conversations with others in the room (Lily was with me and we met up with Cesarina at the desk; and two nurse types of friendly demeanour were in attendance). The conversations mostly had a beginning, a middle and an end. I retold the story of the accident (at his request), which he listened to attentively, asking occasional questions; and we spoke of other things. He still has a shaky memory, but the essential Wes is still there and becoming more concrete as time passes. He looks great - no tubes, his hair is growing over the little scalpings he has had to endure, signs of bruising all but disappeared - and the super optimist within me says he'll be outa there in a week.......

However, after talking with Peter, it seems he has had a poor couple of days and today may have been one of the up days.
(It's strange how an up day can seem so down sometimes....)

I shook his hand when I first entered the room and he responded with a proper handshake - a bit weak, but it had all of the requirements of satisfactory contact. He fed himself a complete meal - we had to direct him back to the task when his attention would drift off, which happened when anyone walked past in the corridor. Our solution was to partly draw the curtain so he couldn't see out there, and it worked.

While telling the accident details, Wes was making notes on the back of an envelope:

It reads:

Wes Intensive Care 2 wks
then to High Dependence Unit
ICU unit 2 days then HDUnit for 2 days.

Disregarding the timing discrepancy in the last line, when seen in relationship to the earlier writing attempts it's solid evidence of progress ...

two shots of Wes, taken last weekend,
one with a nurse (name unknown)

click for more detail

photos: Peter Wesley-Smith

Tomorrow (Thurs Oct 2) is Rob's birthday. He will be 66.

next entry; dates

* Tuesday Sept 30 2008:


Wes was much the same today as yesterday. He walked, with assistance, to the lavatory, showing that he's getting stronger physically. Staff are currently assessing his mental state and the degree of brain damage so that they can design an effective rehabilitation program.

I just got the news about Rob, in Facebook (from Helen Hill's post) and I'm still shocked. Please send him my best wishes for a recovery. I understand, after reading the blog, that he is slowly getting there. That's great ... Warm regards to you all, and "get well soon" to Rob ...

Peter found a credit card statement of Rob's showing that he'd paid a travel agent for a return ticket to Sydney, leaving on Oct 2 (Rob's birthday). After receiving a fax from the hospital confirming that Rob won't be able to fly on that day, the agent will attempt to get a refund from the airline.

next entry; dates

* Monday Sept 29 2008:

confused and disoriented

I was away yesterday, and wasn't able to update this blog. Apparently there was no significant change, however, in Rob's condition. Today Peter wrote: "This morning when Sheila and I were at the hospital Rob seemed quite logical; it was his best session yet. This afternoon, however, he scarcely said anything which wasn't confused and disoriented. Disappointing, but solid progress at this stage is not to be expected." When he's had a good night's sleep, he does well. When he's tired he gets irritable, and his speech becomes incoherent. No-one knows as yet if he knows where he is or what happened to him. And no-one knows, as yet, how long it will be before he's back to his normal self - it will certainly be months, probably years ...

Dear Martin and Peter,

Along with everybody else I was shocked to hear that Rob had done himself a serious mischief and landed up in a coma and in hospital. I saw Rob some months back ... (We) worked in East Timor for the Portuguese NGO OIKOS some years ago, and as old Darwinites we have known each for many many years ... I wish Rob a steady and complete recovery and to you both and the rest your family much strength to see out this troubled time.

Sheila will be seeing Rob tomorrow with Maria and Lurdes Pires, old East Timorese friends of Rob's whose family has received a lot of help from him over the years.

next entry; dates

* Saturday Sept 27 2008:

moments of lucidity

Brother Peter reports:

"Sheila and I saw Rob this morning (he's now in bed 17 in ward 2B, waiting for a spot in the rehab ward). He was very alert, talkative, rather confused and a little paranoid. In physical terms he looks pretty good. The nursing notes call him confused - and therefore they said he couldn't authoritatively identify his next of kin or claim possession of his wallet - and he is, but there are moments of lucidity ..."

We're trying to get hold of Wes's credit card in order to cancel a Qantas booking he made to fly to Sydney on October 2 ...

next entry; dates

* Friday Sept 26 2008:


Not a lot of change in Wes's condition since yesterday. He was tired today and not very coherent ("disconnected from reality" was one description), but he walked, with assistance, taking several steps in the right direction: he's now considered well enough to leave HDU and go to Ward 2B.

What great news about the removal of tracheostomy, that's wonderful. Is Rob un-comfortable with the ribs or what? I had two broken ribs once and it was terrible for several weeks, every breathe and every movement hurt me, I was very miserable and I found it exhausting, that was just two ribs!

Anyway he certainly is progressing, I gather he is eating and drinking unaided.....all wonderful. Sheila must be greatly relieved by all this ... Lots of love to you all ...

... thanks for keeping us up to date with Wes' progress. It is also interesting reading all the emails, and of course the photos are a bonus.

Hi Wes,

Thought I would send another note, now that you are obviously up to reading them or having them read to you. I see from the blog that you are making progress. However it will no doubt be a long haul back to full recovery for you as I am sure are aware. Be patient!

Am providing a photo of the view from the deck of our house in the hills - remember a comfy guest wing with lots of space is here if you feel like a break in FNQ anytime in the coming months (except over Xmas). There is life after Darwin - the weather is beautiful, the people, well they are Queenslanders, but then I was one too. Actually given the climate and the access to places I don't know why I stayed in Darwin for 30 years! And it is a bit different since the days of Bjelke P which is when I was last lived in QLD.

Will be in Darwin for work around the 5th and 6th so will try to see you if I can. I emailed Terry (Hartney) the blog details and he has been following your progress.

Visited Rob yesterday in the High Dependency Unit. He was sitting up and grinning. He ate a large portion of dinner and quite a bit of sweets too. He laughed when I said that now he had something in common with President Ramos Horta - a trip to the Royal Darwin Intensive Care Unit. Think of the fun they will have talking about that!

Hey Wes, really terrible to hear of your accident - such a shock to us to imagine you in such a bad state - we are thinking of you and sending healing thoughts across the Flores and Timor seas. It is great to be able to see your progress on (Martin)'s blog, and was so great to see you in such fine form, albeit briefly, in Darwin in July - we know you're on your way back there and look forward to another yarn when next in Darwin.

Hi Martin,
Thanks so much for all the updates of Wes's progress on your blog.
Our lives have taken a completely different tack these days, and we haven't seen Wes for years, but at the moment we're thinking of him every day. He's such a strong, heroic sort of person, and his inner strength seems to be asserting itself. It's good to look at the photos and watch him improve.
Thanks again,

Someone wrote that in "going off into what appeared to be gobbledegook" (see below), Wes sounded "Just like his press releases!"

next entry; dates

* Thursday Sept 25 2008:


Wes had an uncomfortable, largely-sleepless Tuesday night. As a result he was tired and uncommunicative yesterday. This sort of thing is to be expected, I'm told: he will find a few sharp bends, and boulders, on the road back to good health ...

later: I've just rung the hospital. He had another uncomfortable night last night, but the good news is that he's now on low-flow oxygen through his nose, meaning that they've been able to remove his "trachy" and he can now talk for the first time in over a fortnight. Sheila and I will be seeing him at 3pm.

later still: Wes appears to be progressing "in leaps and bounds", as a nurse put it. A doctor, however, cautioned that he could be in hospital for two to three months more. He will leave the High Dependency Unit in the next day or two and go to a general ward. From there he will go to a rehabilitation ward. It could be years after that, if ever, before he's back to normal. But at this stage no-one knows, not even the experts.

Today Wes talked, at times lucidly, at others in a highly confused way, going off into what appeared to be gobbledegook. A physio took him for a walk, with a walker thingy, and was impressed by how strong he was. His leg muscles, however, have wasted away, and will need building up. He largely ate his dinner by himself, he drank from a mug, and he was cheeky to both his nurse and his mother ...

Brother Peter and I are swapping places tomorrow. I will still blog, but with second-hand information that he will email me. There might be a slight hiatus in these reports while I get back home and catch up with things there (including a performance of Peter's and my piece doublethink by The Song Company and one by Alice Giles' SHE (Seven Harp Ensemble) of our piece for seven singing harpists, plus vocalists, Seven Widows at the Gates of Sugamo).

Wes, today (with Ted Whiteaker and Justin Tutty)

click on the photo for more detail

Thank you for maintaining a blog on Wes' "condition" ... Please tell him that I was alarmed to hear his news ... but relieved to read your updates. Please also give him my love, and tell him he is in my thoughts ...

Shocked and saddened to hear of the news about Wes's accident. Please pass on my best wishes for Wes's speedy and complete recovery, as his dedication and energy have metaphorically moved mountains and are an inspiration to many. My prayers are with Wes, you and your family during this time.
Respitu barak.

Good grief! But he's intact inside and the rest will come later - am sure of it...the humour still works, which is the real intelligence and the drawing has to be his way of showing how he fell off the roof, so he's quite an artist, plus he's obviously randy as hell with his good eye on the prettiest nurses ... Keep up the pecker dear Rob ...

I've only just caught up with this dramatic news about Rob ... Am relieved to see news of ongoing recovery. Pls pass on Get Well Wishes to Rob ... Fond regards to you, Sheila, Peter ...

I was extremely sorry to hear about Rob and this is just a brief message to say I hope he is improving. While I have not seen Rob for a number of years I have very fond memories of his great work--particularly with regards to Timor Leste. Please pass on my kindest regards and best wishes when you are able--will be thinking of him.

One of Wes's visitors yesterday was Jim Sullivan, a beef cattle farmer whom Wes advised when he was an agronomist working for the Department of Agriculture.

next entry; dates

* Wednesday Sept 24 2008:

brown, green

No news today as yet.
In the meantime, check this out:
Wes, yesterday, with Jane Whiteaker
(click on the photo to see more)

photo by Ted

Dearest Wes -
Save Darwin Harbour Group talked a lot about you at our last meeting on Wednesday at the Environment Hub. We all send you our warmest wishes. See you soon.

Dear Wes,
Wishing you a return to your usual vitality. You are so greatly needed by both your family and your friends at Bega Valley Advocates for Timor-Leste.

Dear Rob,
This is to send you warmest greetings and hopes you recover quickly and completely.
I saw the note about your plight in "Strewth" in The Australian. You and I are both getting on but, however many years you have to go, your life can easily bask in the glow of the East Timorese people's freedom for which you did so much. Wishing you all our best,
Bob Brown & the Greens

OK, OK, for privacy reasons I've been keeping the best wishes, from cards and emails, as anonymous as possible. But I couldn't resist leaving Bob Brown's name in there ...

next entry; dates

* Tuesday Sept 23 2008:

off the ventilator

Yesterday Wes was indeed soaking up the sun, eating and drinking as if he'd been tube-fed fluids for a fortnight or so and was making up for lost time! I read him some of the emails that had come in: when I got to a bit that told him it would soon be a "time to reflect and count (his) many blessings", he started counting on his fingers, stopping, with a grin, at two (one was his Mother, I suspect, and the other his nurse, Jess) - not a bad attempt at humour. Better, in fact, than the sense of humour he had before the accident! His right eye, which was a bloody mess, is clearing up beautifully, and the (now un-)stitched gash on the right side of his head looks almost healed. He still has nine broken ribs, of course, although these don't seem to give him much pain. I suspect that he'll have an off day today (he's establishing a pattern here), but that he'll still make steady progress ...

later: as I thought, he was a bit down today, but still doing pretty well. He is now off the ventilator - instead they're pumping oxygen into his "trachy" - and he has been moved out of ICU (Intensive Care Unit) and into HDU (High Dependency Unit), where he has a room with a view. Progress!

15 unbroken ribs - you came out in front!
Hope you bounce back soon - the world needs people like you.

Dear Wes,
We pray for your recovery and hope you will be soon back with your wonderful sense of justice reminding us of the things that matter.
Fondest thoughts ...

What is it??

click on the photo to see Wes's giant pumpkin (368KB), with me there to give an idea of its size

photo by Ted Whiteaker, this morning

Dear Wes, Since there is no Wes no 2, 3, 4 etc, you are just irreplaceable, i.e. shape up!!!!!!!! Your exploits always fascinated and intrigued me and I was left saying things like: that man's courage............
No, not me, I never had the guts to stand up the way you did.
Oh, leave the nurses alone,

A casual friend ...

from yesterday's Northern Territory News:

NT activist out of coma

POPULAR Darwin activist Rob Wesley-Smith
is out of a coma at Royal Darwin Hospital but
still in a serious condition after a freak
accident that almost claimed his life.
Mr Wesley-Smith (pictured) was helping a
friend unload sheets of iron at the Nhulunbuy
tip when a gust of wind caught the iron and
knocked him down. He was in an induced
coma for more than a week as vigils were held
in the homes of Darwin's East Timorese
community members for his health.

I'll scan, later, the photo that appeared and post it here.

next entry; dates

* Monday Sept 22 2008:

best day yet

Sheila and I are about to go to the hospital. I just rang and spoke to Wes's nurse, who told me that they've taken the feeding tube out of his nose, he's just finished his lunch (they fed him a bit of it, but he got most of it into his mouth himself), he drank a cup of tea by himself (a bit of a worry: he hates the stuff!), and they're taking him outside for a couple of hours, for a break. Apparently it's his best day yet, which after yesterday is a great relief!

It's SO wonderful to read that Rob might have turned a good corner ... I'm glad you showed (yr blog) to Rob - there'd be nothing worse than being in a life-threatening condition in hospital and thinking that no-one knows about it! ... Please tell Rob for me that I am glad he's coming round OK and that he should take it slowly when he gets back on his feet and not try to be his usual supermanly self TOO soon!! Pass on a metaphorical kiss for me!

My family and I would like to wish Wes (Rob) a speedy recovery.

Wes was the first Australian I was able to trust and communicate with. He has been a friend of the family ever since we arrived in Australia.

Thank you for updating the blog it is a relief to be able to keep up with the progress of his recovery. We wish him well and would like to help if there is anything that we can do.

more later ...

next entry; dates

* Sunday Sept 21 2008:

two forwards, three back

I'm sorry that I couldn't post an update yesterday, particularly 'cos the news was excellent. I wrote it (see below), but had too many other things to do to be able to access the web. I'll add to this as soon as possible after seeing him today.

later: Well, after yesterday's highs it was inevitable, I s'pose, that today would be one of those two-steps-forwards/three-back kind of days. Perhaps Rob was tired after trying too hard for too many visitors: he seemed sad, depressed, was coughing a lot and very uncomfortable. I was reminded of what a nurse said the other day: that recovering from such injuries involves small steps over a long period of time ...

from recent emails:

Our loving thoughts are with you, Wes, and also with your loving family and friends. The world continues to be a better place because of your generosity and your care and your enormous energy. We pray, along with so many others, for your speedy and full recovery.

Hi Martin and Sheila,

Have been closely following your fabulous blog and getting a few incoherent mutterings from Peter about Rob's progress. Wow if all you needed for a speedy recovery was love, he'd be outer there last week ... I have been comforted by the photos of Rob, he very much looks like himself, not that I have ever seen him sleeping, but he looks asleep rather than comatosed. There is difference. Hopefully when all the bruising settles in his brain he will awake from the fog of it all and gently recover to his lovable old self.

I have thinking what a wonderful concept the blog is for scenarios like this, it is a fabulous vehicle for people to express their feelings in a way I doubt they could verbally....too emotional to articulate I think. This way people get the feeling that they are joining a very expressive and heartfelt and productive line of communication. You and Sheila must feel very buoyed by these expressions of love and support. I am also aware of what an anxious and tedious time it is waiting for someone to wake up, so it is a good distraction for you Martin to have an important task in maintaining the blog and keeping us all abreast of what is happening with Rob. Believe me, it is comforting for us to know what's happening and also how everyone is feeling for Rob in his journey of healing.

Anyway, will get off, lots of love to you, Sheila and Rob.

to brother Peter:

Dear Peter,

Saw Wes yesterday for the first time. Looked strong, and colour good. Seemed very uncomfortable in himself at first, but after a while much more cheery and himself. Got to be a lot more responsive with some smiles and thumbs up.

He read the NT News a bit, although I offered to read. Wants to get his glasses somehow ... Very frustrating for him yet with the tub not letting him speak. Nurses very good, and seemed to get through well.

Love to your Mum.

Ted found his spectacles and took them in to hospital today.

Thanks Peter - I've been following his struggle on the blog. I can't imagine why he and Rae Perry both chose this time to have life-threatening accidents. Timor can't have been providing enough adrenaline-raising experiences lately. I'm going to Mary MacKillop's chapel for Mass tomorrow and I'll put them both on her list - she helps me all the time. They are both in my thoughts and prayers, as are you and the rest of the family.

I saw the reports. Give him my best. The world needs people like Wes. He is a bloody legend. All the best mate.

(We) were very sad to hear of Rob's accident. We are thinking of him and sending all the feelings we can from Tassie. Since the early seventies we have kept in contact with Rob and when we moved to Darwin in 2002 we valued seeing more of him ... Wishing him a speedy recovery, our thoughts are with you all.

... I was aware of Wes's accident and I rang Peter last week and have been following bulletins that he has been sending out.

The members of the Australian East Timor Friendship Association Committee (SA) are all very concerned about his health & welfare and send him our best wishes and hopes for a full & rapid recovery ... As you would know, I have been a friend of Wes's for over 30 years and am very worried about him ... I heard that Sheila has gone to see him. We have not seen her since she left Adelaide. Please extend our love and solidarity to her, Rob and the whole family.

Amor y solidaridad

more later ...

next entry; dates

* Saturday Sept 20 2008:

big smile!

Great news! Sheila and I went in this morning and were greeted with a big smile! The improvement was remarkable. I showed Wes this blog on my laptop, and read him some of the letters - he appeared to be delighted. When he saw a photo of himself taken a few days ago he grimaced as if to say "You mean I looked that bad??". Jane Whiteaker came in and went to give him a kiss; he shoved his head forward and puckered his lips, clearly relishing coming into contact with hers. We've been told to expect small steps over a long period of time - still likely to be the case - but today it felt like a giant step. He can't talk (the tracheostomy tube is still in his throat), but he's actively communicating with facial and other gestures. Progress is rapid at the moment. There's still a long way to go, of course, but things are looking as good as they possibly could.

later: we saw Rob again, late afternoon, and received more smiles, plus some thumbs-ups when people said things with which he agreed. At one point a pretty nurse walked past; his eyes followed her, even though I was talking to him at the time - looks like those who were hoping his behaviour in that area would improve are gonna be disappointed. Actually, all the nurses are pretty, even the blokes - it's hard not to see them through rose-coloured glasses when they, and the doctors, have put so much skill and dedication into Rob's care. An example of their dedication: when Sheila and I went in this morning, his nurse was reading the newspaper to him, making sure his mind was stimulated ...

left: Wes awake, today, a smile on his dial. Photo by Ted Whiteaker.

Right: a drawing Wes did today. What is it? What does it mean? The first correct answer
received - as judged by Wes when he's able to work out for himself what he meant by it -
will, one day, score a framed signed copy!

Click on the photo and graphic for larger versions.

more cards from Wes's hospital room:

Since learning of your serious accident we have been constantly thinking of you - as have so many others in Australia and around the world. When you pull through this setback, Wes, you're gonna have to slow down - time to reflect and count your many blessings ...
With love and daily thoughts ...

Dear Rob
It's hard to imagine you any other way than "up and at 'em", full of energy and ideas. We were so shocked to hear of your accident and to know that you are now lying in a hospital bed.
We wish you a speedy, full recovery and a minimum of pain in the meantime. Thinking of you (and waiting for news) ...

To Wes, You are our HERO! Get better soon, but take it easy when you do ...

Hey, Wes, Always one for a "headline". This was one none of us wanted to hear! We hope and pray you'll be on the mend asap.
Regardless of what they say, Royal Darwin Hospital gives excellent care!

next entry; dates

* Friday Sept 19 2008:

like a baby

In Darwin for the past week or so I've had ready access to the internet (thanks, Brian'n'Leigh!). However, Sheila and I have now moved to a place where it's gonna be much harder to update this blog. I might not, therefore, be able to report every day ...

A friend of Wes's who saw him yesterday claimed that he smiled a couple of times. I didn't see it myself, but he was certainly more aware and responsive than he was the day before. When I saw him today he was sleeping like a baby (see photo below), doing OK ...

excerpts from recent emails received:

Like so many many other people we were shocked and saddened to hear about your accident Wes - we were just talking about how we were going to insist on making a film about you even if you tried to resist us! You are such an amazing, inspirational man who brings so much to so many. We can't wait to be hanging out with you again soon... with lots and lots of love

We've been shocked and paralysed for the last few days since we came back from away to hear the new of Wes.

The blog is a great release of energy - well done. It is great to have the opportunity to write and send our wishes for a speedy and smooth recovery.

Apparently Wes came by to visit last week but we were not home. Our neighbour let us know. No point but can't help kicking ourselves wishing we could turn back the clock and not miss an important moment.

Wes is an inspiration on so many levels - personally (what a genuine, real, good person)as an activist, role model to others, and mostly as a member of this local and regional community who shares his appreciation and joy along with his criticism and ideas for change.

It is so hard to describe the impact he has had on our lives and those of our friends and neighbours in the NT, Timor and beyond.

All our thoughts are with you,
If there is anything we can do to help out please call ...

I'm so glad i found your blog tonight - by persistently googling Rob and following links to him - and am so glad to remember he has close family! I came across a report of the accident by chance on the internet a few days ago and have been feeling shocked and alone since then.

I met Wes once in Darwin a few years ago but seem to have known of him forever. He did a couple of interviews with me on East Timor issues for Melbourne community radio recently and I was struck all over again by his humanity, humility and dogged commitment. He ended the last one saying something like, "You know I say to them, 'We didn't all fight for all those years for you guys to set up a corrupt dysfunctional system in East Timor ...'"

We need him.

Good on you for getting up there to be with him, and thanks so much for the blog updates. My thoughts go out to you, your mum and the rest of the family, as well as to everyone else, like me, who fears his loss.

I have just got out of a very busy time, and am shocked to hear of what happened to Wes. Wishing you, Peter, and Sheila much strength in this difficult time. If it is any consolation, I have survived 14 (yes, fourteen) comas with blood poisoning, and Wes has an even stronger fighting spirit than me. Knowing how Wes appreciates not having people talk behind his back, I have written a short message to him:

I pray for your speedy recovery and for our good brother in humanity to stand as strong as you ever were, and the sooner the better. We all need you as an example of unrelenting and tireless humanity, never seeking for yourself, but always standing for was is right and just.

Wes, you are one of the few people that I have known since I first started getting active, first for Timor, and through West Papua and beyond. I would always bump into you in random, but very special places in various parts of the country, just when you were the person we needed to see (like that time at the national film and sound archive). Most importantly Wes, your determination was the shining beacon on which I would get my own "never give in" streak, by the example you set of not playing bullshit political games, talking straight, and just doing what is right by the people of the ground. I know I would not still be fighting for justice after all the years without your wise counsel. On many occcasions, when I would be a young firebrand, sometimes run through with more emotion than strategy, it was you that would sit down and suggest a more strategic path. And see it through. Truly a human being that deserves the name, and one who has done more for people's justice in our region than just about any other, and never given up. I hope Wes you surprise us all once more,and bounce back stronger than ever. Given your character, and the good deeds of your life, I have faith that you will be back with us all soon.

Our GP a wonderful woman and Doc was here yesterday and I showed her the photos of Rob. She said "my god is he a lucky boy - must have a guardian angel".....I looked at her and said "are you joking?" She said "no....if that cut on his head had been half a cm lower he would have had a slim chance of survival from the accident as it would have cut through a major cerebal artery". She agreed he was looking a mess, but when we talked about Rob's tenacity and guts and she inspected the photos closer she reckoned (even without seeing charts) he should pull through okay, but it will take a long time. She has great respect in her profession for her scarily accurate prognosis for people who have been given a lot of bum steers about their problems. Anyhow.....the kids were stunned by the photos, couldn't believe it was Rob!!! Great big hugs from all of them to Rob!

I just read your blog and can confirm its true - he smiles, he gave me a few goofy smiles yesterday, the nurse said its the most he had seen him smile all day. I chuckled and had to tell Wes what a big dag he was.

Am on my way to see him now.

Left: Wes asleep, today. His left hand is bandaged solely to stop him
gripping and pulling out the feeding tube in his nose, which he did yesterday.

Click on the photo for a larger, full-colour version (368KB).

Wes has received various cards with messages such as:

My dear dear friend,
I am SO thinking of you and if there's a chance prayers help then I'll pray heaps for your speedy and full recovery. It saddens me that you are in pain. If you need my help, just ask.
love and concern ...

more later!

next entry; dates

* Thursday Sept 18 2008:

most persistent man

Wes was as comfortable as can be expected last night. That is, not very comfortable at all, as one can imagine. But he's looking a lot better, generally, than he did a few days ago (when the photos below were taken). No results have been reported as yet from an X-ray of his right shoulder that he had yesterday (he might have a broken bone in there). Nor is there yet a report from the facial surgeons. Yesterday I put my finger in his left hand and asked him to squeeze it, which he did, strongly. But he could not repeat the exercise with his right hand, although he tried hard, suggesting a weakness in his right arm (not surprising, given that his right side bore the brunt of his fall). The tracheostomy means that he can't, for the moment, talk. As a nurse said yesterday, it's small steps, over a long period, mostly forwards but sometimes back ...

A letter to the editor in today's Northern Territory News:

Prayer for
spar partner

I AM alarmed and concerned
to read your news item of
September 15 on the injury of
Rob Wesley-Smith.
While we at times cross
swords in our letters, I share
the concern of his relatives and
friends for his swift and full
recovery. Darwin needs Rob
and his views; to his family and
friends my wishes are with you
as you pray for his recovery.
Howard Young, Kununurra

more media today: an update on ABC Radio this morning, plus this mention by D. D. McNicoll in his column Strewth! in The Australian:

Timor activist in coma

THE most persistent man in the Northern Territory, Rob Wesley-Smith, remains in an induced coma at Royal Darwin Hospital after he toppled over and hit his head while helping a friend unload corrugated iron in Nhulunbuy in Arnhem Land last week. Wes, as he's known to his many friends, has been carrying on like a cracked record about East Timor from the time Indonesia invaded in 1975. The political effect of the activist's unrelenting campaign to make Australians aware of the plight of Timorese cannot be underestimated. There are few politicians or journalists who have not been subject to his intense lobbying. Wes, 65, broke eight ribs and has a collapsed lung, but most worrying is a knock to the skull that may have caused brain damage.

from the USA, today:


I do believe we met when you were doing a performance in Dili about 5 or 6 years ago ... but anyway, I did get the joy of first meeting your brother in Dili back in 2001, after having heard and read much about/by him as an ETAN student activist in the late 90s. I worked with La'o Hamutuk in Dili, and had the pleasure of meeting him several times afterwards. He has always been a great militant (activist is too weak to describe him), and one of the unique individuals that makes social justice work so fun and inspiring for us less colorful personalities.

So I just wanted to briefly say hi, and I am sure you realize that Wes is in so many of our hearts and minds these days. I know whatever happens, we will never forget all that he has done for our world, but we do hope that he will be back on the streets (or maybe in NT it's in the bush?) with us soon.

excerpts from other letters:

Dear Martin & Family
Such a shock to hear of Wes' accident. I was about to invite him to protest on Oct 6 at Australia's hypersonics research at Queensland Uni and was hopeful of being arrested and sharing a cell with him. Give him our very best wishes for a speedy recovery so that he can continue to be a bloody big thorn in the side of those who speak power to truth.

Thankyou so much for keeping us informed on Rob's condition ... we are extremely fond of him ... please let him know we are concerned and that he just has to get better! I always look forward to Rob's adventure stories - but not this one! ... Please if there is anything we can do to help - call us.

Just looked at Martin's blog including the photos and all the warm tributes to him from so many wonderful people ... What an amazing man to have lived such a life and given so much to humanity and earned so much love and respect. Hard to believe this has happened to him. I hope all these tributes give you some consolation Sheila. Please give his hand a squeeze from me and send him my love and wishes for a full recovery. And lots of love to you.

Thanks for keeping us posted, Peter, I hope it is all improving for Rob, everyone sends their best to Rob, you and your family.

Was shocked to hear of Wes' accident and injuries, though pleased to read in your blog he seems to be making progress.
Wes has been a solid example of character, conviction and action since our first meeting in Rural Science at UNE in early 60s, so was great for me and sons Saul and Jacob to catch up with him in Darwin in Dec 2003 on our way to Timor Leste.
Our thoughts and prayers for speedy and complete recovery are with you Wes!

Dear Peter, Sheila, Martin and all the family
We have just read in the Australian about Rob's accident. We just want to say how sorry we are and to send our love to you at this time of worry. We would like to hear how Rob gets on with his broken ribs and concussion so please send an e-mail when you have time to pass on the news ... Please give Rob our love when he is up to receiving such and our wishes for a speedy recovery.

Martin, longtime Darwin friends of Wes, in Bali at moment after six weeks at sea, have just heard the news. Shocked as are all the others. We look forward to seeing him restored to all those adjectives others have used to describe him.

G'day Martin. I am writing in regards to Wes . I have only just looked at your web page , and am relieved to see Wes is able to squeeze your hand. Thank heavens. He is one tough nut. I was lucky enough to travel with Wes to East Timor in 1999. And thanks to your brother we were well looked after. In fact it was an experience of a life-time . Anyway i will not keep you . I am a friend of Wes' and admire him enormously . Our thoughts and love are with you all during this difficult ...

Hey Rob
You silly billy! Now why'd you go and do a silly thing like that? We need you! For god's sake, we can't have another East Timor activist leaving the ship! Your fierce determination, passion, wit and success to date just can not be replicated by others. You're one of a kind Rob, so tell those doctors you're going to get well, and to hell with any advice that says otherwise (which is not to say that I know what they're saying, but just in case they are not being totally positive, I'll be positive for you. As Ingrid Poulson says "I choose to live well in honour of them" but that's another story). Take care, take baby steps, and we'll see you back on the airwaves one day.

Thank you SO much for blogging updates on Wes' progress. And thank you for posting the photo which while utterly sad helps to share from a distance the love and concern for his situation. It is a huge relief to read that Wes responded to your asking him to squeeze your hand.

It is consolation that he is in the good hands of the medical staff at Darwin hospital who cared for the Bali bomb victims and JRH.

with you all in love and spirit ...

Was shocked to hear of Wes' accident and injuries, though pleased to read in your blog he seems to be making progress.
Wes has been a solid example of character, conviction and action since our first meeting in Rural Science at UNE in early 60s, so was great for me and sons Saul and Jacob to catch up with him in Darwin in Dec 2003 on our way to Timor Leste.
Our thoughts and prayers for speedy and complete recovery are with you Wes!

from Great Britain:

Dear Rob,

This is Carmel wishing you all the very best from afar. For so many years when we all worked hard together to make the world understand what was happening in East Timor, you were always a great part of the club and a great inspiration.

I wish you all the strength to recover from your many injuries and look forward to hearing that you are able to sit up in bed and gradually get back on your feet.

With love and best wishes ...

The expressions of love and support that this good man has engendered are overwhelming ...

next entry; dates

* Wednesday Sept 17 2008:

climbing mount ramelau

Rob is coming out of sedation again, and is able to see and hear Sheila and me when we talk to him. He's moving around a lot, and has resumed trying to pull out the various tubes still giving him essential life support. He's breathing by himself, using a ventilator just to give him extra air whenever he breathes in. Facial surgeons are coming to see him today to determine what to do - if anything - about fractures in the bones around and behind his right eye. All in all, he's making gradual progress ...


Today's mail includes:

A little note to say I have heard from Geoff terribly upset about Wes, and just to let you know my thoughts and prayers are winging across the Tasman for his full recovery - knowing how distressing this is for you all as a close-knit family, and for Wes's many friends too. Arohanui ...

Greetings Martin and family
Seems that brother of yours does get himself into serious trouble from time to time and needs a bit of looking after. Our experience of this was on our honeymoon drive from Sydney to Darwin in November 1966. We dropped in on Rob at the research station to find him with an ulcerated wound on his leg. Joyce took control, cleaned the wound (and the house) probably saving his leg (and saving the three of us from food poisoning!).
Forty tumultuous years of activism later he is at it again, helping friends, taking risks. Sadly, just a bit more serious this time.
Our love and best wishes to Rob.

The eternal optimist that I am, am sure Rob will pull through.....I have just had a flash back to one hell of a memory to make me convinced.... March 2002; picture a VERY determined Rob, who slowly inched his way up a mountain he had always wanted to climb just a few months after by-pass surgery to the top of - Ramelau... And there we were at the top lamenting the fact he wouldn't make it ....AND WEREN'T WE SURPRISED to see his cocky little self come around the rise and punch a fist in the air with a "told ya so" grin......he's a tough one and got lotsa pluck and spirit...I don't know too many by-pass patients could have done that....it was hard enough coaxing two children up that mountain in July.....GO ROB....yup.....reckon he'll make it!

Love to all, especially to Rob

click here to see a photo (212KB), taken by Ros Dunlop, of Wes on top of Mt Ramelau, Timor-Leste, in 2002, with brother Martin

We are immensely concerned about Rob. You must be finding each day very difficult as you and Sheila see him in this state. (We) are thinking of you daily, and hoping that some small good news will emerge soon. We wait hopefully.

The shot at left was taken by Jane Whiteaker in Royal Darwin Hospital a few days ago
(before Wes was put into the neck brace that was removed yesterday).

If you can stand it (it's pretty confronting), click on the photo for a larger, full-colour version (352KB).

Other shots (also by Jane and also confronting) available here (367KB) and here (415KB).

I'm sure that Wes would have no objection to my posting these shots.

next entry; dates

* Tuesday Sept 16 2008:


No news today as yet. I'll be seeing Rob this afternoon, after his temporary tracheostomy (note: not tracheotomy).

later: I saw Rob for all of two minutes today, as it happened: for some reason the tracheostomy took longer than expected, and his Mum, Sheila, and I were kept outside the Intensive Care Unit for nearly two hours. But he looked as well as could be expected, even though heavily sedated again. He no longer has the ventilator tube down his throat, which will make life more comfortable for him when he wakes up. The sedatives will be stopped in the morning, but he will stay on a low dose of morphine to help him cope with the pain ...

From Tokyo, today (from the Japan East Timor Coalition):

I just heard the bad news about Wes' accident and wanted to pass on my best wishes and hopes for his full recovery. I first got to know your brother via email in 1999, through East Timor solidarity activities, and met him for the first time in 2006, when I stayed at his place in Darwin on my way back to Tokyo from Dili. I will always remember his wonderful hospitality and that fantastic garden of his with all the fruit trees! Please let him know that I and all the other ET activists in Japan are thinking of him and sending him positive energy for a speedy recovery.

Today's other mail includes:

Wes, ok you have our attention again, now get better! Am sending good thoughts your way from across the QLD border and hope that you are your usual tenacious self under these circumstances. Will be keeping a lookout for news of your full and speedy recovery. I hear that the NT News readers and the ABC listeners don't know who will fill the gap in letters to the editor or the quiz until your return to good health. Much love from an ex Territorian and old friend.

I thought about Rob and you all a lot yesterday. The uncertainty about the extent of Rob's head injuries must be very hard for you all to cope with. I think Rob may well be aware of your loving presence, your touch and your conversation, and be comforted by that, even if unable to respond. I hope that by the time you read this there may be some signs of improvement in Rob and some clarity for you ... I rang Sheila Draper (Rob's aunt) yesterday and had a chat. She said ... how much she loves Rob, to whom she referred as her "golden haired boy" ...

I heard about Wes's fall and condition on the weekend. I hope that he and the rest of you are holding up well. Thinking of you all at this difficult time.

... I only heard yesterday from Darwin ABC colleagues and have been thinking of him ever since - tried to send flowers but if course he's in a no-flower zone. I've just read the blog - as so many people observe he's tough and ornery enough to come through this but my thoughts are with all of you at what must be a horribly traumatic time. I hope Sheila is coping. Please give her a hug and give Wes's hand a squeeze from me and Phil and tell him we're thinking of him. He's far too unique to lose ... So good that you're keeping everyone in touch with Rob's progress.

We send you all so much love & support for Rob's recovery. I can imagine some of what you are going through Saul and his children and their mother Meiling have been taking their healing wishes and cards to Rob at Darwin Hospital ... Such a gentle soul is Rob! I have a house up in Darwin; over the years whenever I am up there working or visiting I encounter Rob with his sensitivity, wisdom, creativity, courage, quiet determined action and respected respectful influence. He was already a legend by the time I was at UNE in the 60's; it was through him that I came to know of the poignant plight of the similarly gentle Timorese people ... Thank you for your blog keeping us informed.

Power to you, Rob! Power to heal, and return to us. Love to Rob and all of you up there ... With you in Spirit ...

Hi Martin and Sheila,
Give Rob's hand a squeeze for us and a big hug for Sheila. Thanks for your Blog Martin ... Can't berate the technology at a time like this. We are with you in spirit ... All our love ...

Just caught up late yesterday with news of Wes (and your webpage). Very distressing. Our thoughts with the great man, you and your family ... If there is any way you feel I could be of help, pls don't hesitate to ask.

Thanks very much for your note. We are both hugely sad about what has happened. We will be thinking him and of you all as you do everything that you have to and need to in these awful circumstances.

... both very concerned to hear the news of Wes' condition. It does sound as though his spirit is as strong as ever and he will pull through okay. Thinking of you all.

next entry; dates

* Monday Sept 15 2008:

towards consciousness

Wes is being gradually brought out of his coma, towards consciousness. He has started moving his limbs, and opening his eyes. I had a long talk to him last night, explaining what had happened and telling him where he was and that he was in excellent hands. I put my hand in his and asked him to squeeze it: he made a definite attempt, although he's very weak. The next few days will be crucial, however, as he regains full consciousness. Only then will the doctors be able to assess the extent of the damage to his brain.

later: This morning Wes was moving even more, but when I went back in the afternoon, he'd been re-sedated - apparently he was trying to rip off his neck brace, which could have resulted in major damage. The doctors decided to give him an MRI scan to assess possible soft-tissue damage in his neck. The result was good, so they removed the brace. Tomorrow they will give him a temporary tracheostomy, which will enable them to remove the ventilator tube in his throat. Thus two major irritations will have gone. They will then resume the process of bringing him out of his coma ...

For more information about tracheostomies, click here.

from today's Northern Territory News:

There were brief mentions on ABC radio this morning and this afternoon, and on Ch9 and ABC television news reports this evening.

extracts from yet more emails received:

Dear Peter,

I was told by my family on Friday that Wes had been seriously injured and in an induced coma. My sister and mother are keeping me informed. However, it is very good to hear directly from his brother. How is Wes' condition today?

Here in Dili, we have started candlelight and prayers for him daily. He is a very kind human being and a very dear friend and great inspiration to me. God is watching over him. Our prayers for his recovery will not go unanswered ...

Please Peter, if you are near him, whisper to him that "Angie says you must get better quickly because the fight for justice and equality in TL is just not the same without your contribution. She needs you. Your work in this world is still unfinished ..." Please give him a gentle hug from me ...

Best regards to Wesley-Smith family.

Dear Wes,

I know you probably can't hear me but we went thru a bit together and you always included me in your emails about ET. My best hopes and spirit go out to you and your family & friends. We all want you to pull through and take great comfort in the fact that you are a strong fighter, stubborn and determined. So all of us are adding our best energy to these qualities you already have and have shared so generously with me and everyone else who is here for you.

Love and best wishes ...

Here's hoping for Rob wesley's full recovery from his unfortunate accident. please pass on my best wishes to him when he is conscious and able to receive visitors.

I am so very moved. It is strange how when something like this happens you remember so much about the person and with the poignancy of the current situation ... Of course I am praying for him and for you two as I have said before ... I do understand the Timorese community and how they feel, watching him especially through the lean years when he and a few others kept the coals smouldering with the radio link. A long time he gave to the Timorese cause when you think about it ... Give Rob a kiss for me. Having been through my own brush with death and having such an incredible outcome I know now how capable the brain is of rejuvenating. It also takes a long time. I reckon I didn't reach my full recovery for a few years. And had to deal with a great deal of fear having a brain that felt like it was scattered to the four corners for months.

I am devastated by the news of Wes's accident. Knowing how nuggety, sinewy, resilient and straight out tough he is, I feel confident he will pull through, but the brain injury is a worry. Thinking of him, and you all, all the time. If he is conscious enough to understand our concern, please give him my love ... All in the Darwin Chorale would send their best for a complete recovery.

For many years, Wes was a mainstay of the tenor section of local choir The Darwin Chorale.

next entry; dates

* Sunday Sept 14 2008:

a gust of wind

Ted Whiteaker was with Rob at the tip in Nhulunbuy when the accident happened. I saw him this morning. He said that Rob was actually up on the roof of a Land Cruiser, picking up sheets of old roofing iron and handing them down to Ted. He picked up one, but it was stuck to the one beneath it, so two came up. Just then a gust of wind caught both sheets and blew them up into Rob's face. He fell backwards off the roof, almost certainly hitting one of two metal skips that were next to the Land Cruiser. Ted ran around to see him, expecting him to be cursing and a bit sore but otherwise OK. But he was unconscious, and breathing in a very laboured way. Ted ran to the dump office, and the bloke there called for help. Within two minutes the Fireys arrived and did immediate first aid. Within five minutes the ambulance arrived. They were very efficient, Ted said, got him into the van and whisked him off to hospital ...

excerpts from an email received today from Jude Conway:

Kerry Nettle and her partner Adam Nelson phoned me last Thursday night from Dili to express their concern about Wes. They had stayed with him just a few weeks ago on their way to TL [Timor-Leste]. Kerry told me that it was announced at the National Women's Congress in Dili that day that Wes was critically injured in hospital and that everyone prayed for his recovery ...

Also Edith Neto and Beba Sequeira phoned me from Dili worried about Wes. They both worked with the NGO we set up in 2000, APSC. Wes was on the management committee of APSC and spent much time in Dili helping repair our office and taking people here there and everywhere. Edith in particular is a good mate of Wes's and he brought her over to Darwin for a break during the strife in 2006. They were both going to pray for Wes as well. (Praying is a national pasttime in TL ...) Sonny Inbaraj phoned from Sri Lanka very upset to hear the news and will be closely watching reports of Wes's progress ... Bill Day phoned from the Pilbara last night also upset of course. He told me that Wes had been looking forward to the Nulunbhuy trip ... I have received other emails of concern and best wishes for his recovery. I will forward them all on to Wes when he is able to read them ...

excerpts from emails received from other friends of Rob's:

... we have only just heard about Wes' accident. My partner and I love Wes, and want you to know what a wonderful friend and man we think he is. He is tough and if his bravery and love of life can have any impact they will get him through. Nevertheless it sounds so worrying ... If you have the chance to email back any news or requests, we would be so grateful, but in the meantime our thoughts are with you and your mum and the rest of the family. At any opportunity please give our love to Wes ...

Very sad to hear this! I've never met Rob in person, tho' tried to one day I was in Darwin, but feel like I know him reasonably well; and have enjoyed his communications, his commitment and cyber friendship; he is effective in any medium. Please pass on, when possible, my best wishes and high hopes for a quick recovery.

Best wishes for a good recovery to Rob and warm wishes to all the family.

Keeping all my fingers crossed for Wes.

I hope it will not be too long before Wes is on the ride-on mower at Kangaroo Valley.

... really terrible news. We saw Wes briefly in Darwin before sailing over here (Timor-Leste) in July - he was in his usual fine form ... we'll be praying for him.

Sad to hear about the accident and Wes's state ... hope he pulls through ok; thinking of him.

Please accept my best wishes for you all and for Wes, that he may have a speedy recovery from his dreadful injuries. I was in the Chorale in the '80s and '90s, and have happy memories of those times.

Needless to say, I am still in shock and at certain extent paralysed by the news ... Our prayers are with Wes and the entire family. Timor is praying for him as well. I receive numerous emails and text messages from East Timor, asking about Wes, everyday. The old bugger WILL SURVIVE. HE MUST because WE CAN'T DO WITHOUT HIM. Be strong, we pray for Wes' speedy recovery.

We were so so sorry to hear this dreadful news. Not fair that this sort of thing should happen to such good people when they are trying to lend a helping hand ... keep talking to Rob because I am sure he will sense you all being there for him and it could well help to pull him through. I'm glad you are able to feel such confidence on the people who are looking after Rob, and I'm sure it is well-placed. It is amazing what miracles those doctors can perform!!

At this sad time for your family and the many friends and admirers of your brother Rob, please receive my deep sympathy and best wishes from Paris. I was shocked to learn about the accident Rob suffered. As always, while generously helping others. I can only pray for Rob's recovery. May God bring him though this difficult test, and may we all be able to again enjoy his kindness and share in his endless commitment to justice for many years to come.

Very shocked and sad about Rob. We hope he recovers to full health however long it takes. Please send our regards and a very big hug for Sheila.

Please pass on my best wishes to all of Rob's family - and to Rob himself for the fullest recovery. He's too good to slow down for long - the world needs him.

Have just read the shocking news of Rob's accident. Strong prayers of the secular kind from me that he be able to pull through the damage. I will be thinking of him constantly and hoping for this ... All strength to you and any others who are with him to help him through this.

Wes has many friends and is clearly much-loved ...

next entry; dates

* Saturday Sept 13 2008:

no real change

No real change in Rob's condition today. No decision has yet been made about when he will be brought of his induced coma, but it's likely that tomorrow they will start gradually reducing the medication till he regains consciousness sometime on Monday ...

Kirsty Sword Gusmao wrote to Jude Conway today:

Can I ask you to please pass on Xanana and my sincere dismay at the news of Rob's accident and our very warmest wishes for a rapid and full recovery. We are thinking of him, the family and his closest friends at this difficult time.

from John Miller, of ETAN (East Timor Action Network, USA), today:

Just a brief note that we in ETAN here in the U.S. are thinking of Wes and pulling for his recovery. He has long been an inspiring and creative figure in global movement of solidarity for East Timor. Please let him know, we still need his stubborn activism. As you know better than we do, he is tough and that should serve him well in this time of crisis.

Please note that our thoughts are also with you and your family.

more news tomorrow ...

next entry; dates

* Friday Sept 12 2008:

four-inch gash

I'm in Darwin. Rob's still in the induced coma, in intensive care. He has broken ribs 2 to 10 on his right side. His right eye is a mass of black and blue flesh. He has a four-inch gash on the right side of his head which is all stitched up. He has a collapsed lung. The worst of it, though, is the swelling of and bleeding from the brain, which means there will almost certainly be brain damage. He's a forbidding sight, what with the bruises, gashes, tubes coming out from or going into everywhere, lots of machines going ping!, two full-time nurses (one male, one female) monitoring everything ... I'm enormously impressed by the staff here (Royal Darwin Hospital), both nurses and doctors, and by the facilities.

There wasn't a lot we could do today other than hold his hand, tell him to stop malingering, and hope he could hear us. He had a CT scan this afternoon. As a result of that, the doctors will decide when to bring him out of his coma. Probably Sunday. I'm told that people can be very belligerent, even combative, sometimes violently so, when they come out of a coma, confused, not knowing what's going on, thinking that the nurses are out to hurt them. I pointed out that Rob is combative at the best of times, so he could well be doubly so when it all happens. I'll be there when he wakes up to try to calm him down a bit ...

I had a long talk to him tonight. I doubt that he could hear me, but you never know. Told him how we all loved him, about the hundreds of other people who do too, how we expect him to pull through, that there are jobs needing to be doing in Kangaroo Valley, that I've brought his saintly old mother to see him so he'd better be on his best behaviour, and so on. It was good for me if not for him ...

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* Thursday Sept 11 2008:

concerning news

Am going to Darwin tonight. I may be able to blog from there ... we'll see ... I'm taking our dear old Mum Sheila with me. Together we'll sort out brother Rob, who's currently in a coma in Royal Darwin Hospital. Meanwhile, Brother Peter has sent out the following notice:

Some of you have heard already that brother Rob (Wes) fell off a truck the other day and is in Royal Darwin Hospital in the intensive care unit. He has a severe head injury (and other injuries: rib(s), gash in the head, eye-socket damage) and is under heavy sedation, with a ventilator and the insertion of various tubes. A CT scan indicated swelling of the brain and internal bleeding. He'll likely be kept under sedation for another two days, then brought out of it sufficiently for another scan, and following that decisions will be made about further treatment. His condition is described as critical (isn't he always critical?), but no one thinks his life is in danger, though of course in his circumstances nothing is reliably predictable. He has friends and relatives (cousins) up there who are spending time with him: he apparently is aware though cannot respond much to stimuli. Sheila wants to go there and we are currently discussing whether that's feasible and if so whether Martin or I accompany her. There's not much we could do there at the moment, but I imagine it would be beneficial to Rob to know he has close family nearby. In due course I expect that he could better recuperate in Kangaroo Valley than Howard Springs, but when he might even be well enough to leave the hospital is unknown.

Sorry to bring such grim news. Rob is of course a strongly-willed character, not to say ornery, which in these circumstances (not all circumstances!) should be a positive factor and I'm pretty confident he'll be back as bolshie (alas) as ever - but probably not for some time.

from Jose Teixeira to Peter, today, headed Our Thoughts are with Rob and Family:

Dear Peter

I have been asked on behalf of the Secretary General of FRETILIN, Dr Mari Alkatiri, and Party Parliamentary Leader Aniceto Guterres and the many many others in our party who know him to express our sadness with the concerning news received and our hopes and prayers for his recovery. Please pass this onto the family. Though there is little we can do except support and hope all goes well and he recovers, if there is anything we can do, please do not hesitate to call on us. Warmest regards and solidarity with your family and Rob.

Jose Teixeira

Here's hoping that in a few days' time there'll be better news ...

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* Wednesday Sept 10 2008:


Rob (see yesterday's blog, below) has undergone various tests, with the prognosis unclear as yet, although it appears that the injury is more serious than we first thought. He is being kept in a coma, probably for a few days, to guarantee maximum rest. I'm going to Darwin as soon as possible.

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* Tuesday Sept 9 2008:


Our brother Rob Wesley-Smith, prominent East Timor activist and general ratbag, has been for the past few days in Nhulunbuy, in Australia's Northern Territory, helping a neighbour replace the roof on a house. This morning there was an accident with a load of roofing iron - I don't as yet know the details - resulting in Rob suffering a head injury and being knocked unconscious. He has been put into an induced coma and is being flown tonight by air ambulance to Royal Darwin Hospital, where he'll have a CT scan and appropriate treatment. If there are any significant developments I'll post them here.

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Martin Wesley-Smith's home page
e-mail: mwsmith@shoalhaven.net.au


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