Letter to the Editor

My name is Lionel Rudd (membership number 766) currently living in Dili, Timor Leste. My partner and I have been here for nearly two years now working with St John of God Health Care in the National Hospital with a team of nurses and pathology scientists assisting to build capacity in the Timorese staff.

I am primarily writing to congratulate the team publishing the online copy of the Vintage Chatter. It is my only link with the club apart from my occasional visits back to Perth which I try to align with a monthly meeting at the club. Unfortunately this is not always possible and the cost of flights between here and Perth prevent regular casual visits. The mail system here is only just getting back on its feet and as such, getting the paper copy of the Chatter delivered is not a viable option. When we want mail we get it forwarded to our Melbourne office and when someone comes to visit, they bring the mail. In that way on an irregular basis I receive my subscription of ‘Old Bikes Australasia’.

To catch up on news from the club, see photos of faces I recognise from meetings and read of the escapades of riders on team rides makes it worth persevering with the unreliable and slow internet connection here. I am really impressed with the colour photographs brightening up the issue. Including the stories of peoples’ visits overseas adds another dimension as well. Can’t see myself getting to Tan Hill Inn any time soon but, in my mind, the article is nearly as good as being there. Having just read and viewed the photos about Elliott Montagu’s 1927 Triumph restoration gets me itching to be back in my shed at home. I’m looking forward to more of these articles if more of our members can be encouraged to document and publish their work to encourage on going restorations. A month doesn’t go by without me checking out the parts / bikes for sale and dreaming of additional projects. Best left alone!

I’m currently “working” on a couple of Triumph Speedtwins (1947 & 1951) as well as a 1948 BSA M20. “Work” at this stage consists of hunting down parts across the internet world and getting them sent to my sister’s place in Beverley, to wait for me when I can make it back to Perth. Trips home are like Christmas all over again. It also involves bringing parts from Perth to Dili on my occasional trips home so I can sit here with a beer on the weekends cleaning and polishing the alloy. It’s amazing what can be achieved with the occasional Bintang, a good range of wet & dry and a lot of time on your hands. Intrigues the locals and the myriad NGO people who pass through the garden area of the apartments where we live, to see the “Doc” sitting with his bucket of water and chain and gearbox covers, manifold and rocker boxes, polishing away. Trips home include a suitcase of polished alloy which is then replaced with more old parts for the return journey. I considered bringing more substantial components up here to work on them but was scared of issues that might arise with import / export considerations. Things we take for granted at home can be somewhat dysfunctional here.

Further to commending the online Chatter team, I wondered if club members might be interested in some observations about living and working in Timor Leste from the perspective of a motor cycle person.

Timor Leste is a motor cycle country. For the majority, transport consists of walking, microlets (small buses), larger buses and trucks. It is not uncommon for people to walk 10 kilometres through the mountains to market, load up with produce and do the return journey in bare feet or thongs. Children walk two hours to school each day and then home again. Normal fare for a microlet in town is 25 cents, the three and a half hour trip to the next large town to the East by bus is $4. Many people in the rural areas cannot afford these rates so resort to going long distances on foot. Very few people have their own car and roads are diabolical. Purchasing a motorcycle is a large expenditure for many. Many drivers are not licensed and driving skills range from non existent to very poor. Helmet laws are in their infancy and often only the person on the front has one. This usually means mum and the children (which could be three or four on the bike) are not covered. Child sized helmets are a luxury for the children of expatriates, brought from overseas. When driving in Dili, there is a constant stream of motorcycles all around you passing wherever they can, including driving along footpaths if it will get them ahead. One guy who writes in a newspaper here refers to them as “Road Rats”. They swarm in and around you crossing multiple lanes in a couple of car lengths, and should traffic stop for whatever reason, they will find a way to pass you. Road accidents are a way of life, the results being a significant part of the work done in the emergency ward at the hospital. Much of the travel through the mountains is by Angguna; open backed trucks packed with people. In the wet season a tarpaulin is pulled over the top to keep passengers partially dry. These too regularly roll off the side of the mountain with significant loss of life. If the driver survives the accident, they often flee the scene and try to get to a safe place such as a police station as they will often be blamed for any deaths and pay back is a part of life here. The small two wheel drive microlets also travel out through the mountains and are driven places most of us only go in a 4WD. Travelling into the mountains the roads are full of people riding their motorcycles back to their villages to meet with family. Common practice is to beep the horn to let drivers know you are there. It is a polite exchange for the safety of all involved unlike the abusive interpretation commonly encountered in Australia. Many vehicles do not have rear view mirrors and if they do, it is not common practice to pay much attention to them. Hence the need for the horn. Likewise for everyone’s safety, it is common practice to sound the horn when approaching a bend as they are invariably blind corners and you have no idea if anyone is coming the other way. The motorcyclists pay little attention to indicators if they work and assume you can see them and will avoid them. Tail gating is a regular occurrence with the consequential motorcycle ploughed into the rear of a 4WD. Likewise they regularly pass on the right (if you are lucky) then turn left immediately in front of you. Taxis seem to set a challenge to see how many lanes they can turn across, regularly turning right from the third lane over to the left or vice versa. Many of our vehicles have had motorcyclists drive into the side of the car when doing either a left or right turn. A crowd then quickly gathers and can turn angry if the “malae” (expatriate) does not promptly pay compensation. Taxis will stop in the middle of the road to pick up a passenger from the footpath and if the taxi breaks down, they stop where the issue arises so a taxi in the middle of the street jacked up with a wheel missing is not uncommon. Basic rule of driving is “Assume nothing is as you would expect”.

Dogs here lead a charmed life, at least until they get eaten. Regularly you come across them asleep in the middle of the road or an intersection or they will wander out into the lanes of traffic as if they have a right to the space, oblivious to the vehicles taking evasive action. I have on a number of occasions pulled up to a stop at a sleepy dog only to have it wander around the driver’s side of the car to see what the fuss is. One floosy often wanders down the middle of the road in front of my car at the hospital. With a smile on her face, glancing back over her shoulder as she strolls along with her udder flopping from side to side. Eventually she moves over and lets me go on my way to the office. She’ll be back there in the afternoon sleeping on the warm asphalt until I come along and expect her to move again.

For we expatriates there are two main rules of the road; 1. if you have an accident it is your fault, 2. if it wasn’t your fault, refer to rule 1. We just pay because language difficulties and potential for violence make for a poor negotiating position. If you hit an animal while driving you have to pay the owner (whoever claims to be the owner) and you don’t get to keep the animal. Can be quite expensive for chickens, pig or goat. Hitting a larger animal such as a buffalo would be horrendously expensive without considering vehicle damage.

Motorcycles here are normally road bikes in the 100-200 cc capacity range, consisting of step throughs to small road bikes. Honda (Indonesia) is by the largest supplier although many of the smaller bikes are Chinese. Models such as Tiger, MegaPro and a whole other range of models never heard of in Australia fill the streets. Yamaha’s main product is a water cooled 150cc which to me is probably the most modern bike design here. The Hondas are pretty much 1970’s air cooled design which is perfectly adequate for here given much of the repair work has to be done in sub-optimal conditions on the side of the road in the mountains. There is a thriving spare parts market with most bengkels (road side workshops) able to supply a range of genuine and non genuine parts, depending on the buyers budget. I travelled across the border into West (Indonesian) Timor a couple of weeks ago and was asked to buy some parts for a friend’s Honda Megapro in Atambua because he knew they would be cheaper there than in Dili. I bought new barrel, piston set, cam shaft and bearings, cam chain and cam chain tensioner, top end gasket set, chain, primary and rear sprocket set complete for $88. Can’t see myself doing that in Perth if I could even locate the parts. In Atambua, it was as easy as walking out the front door of the hotel, cross the road to the bengkel and lay the money down. When I tell people the parts I am cleaning are for a 1950’s 500cc bike they are usually shocked at the capacity and the age. They have not seen a bike that big. Very few old bikes of consequence exist here with most of the local bikes being from the last fifteen years. In my travels, I have seen one Royal Enfield (good condition) and a couple of Vespa scooters (terrible condition); nothing more and it hasn’t been for want of looking. Over the last year there has been an increase in small 150cc Kawasaki trail bikes. A Chinese trike with a 250cc motor and a tray on the back has been imported in the last two years and these are being bought by people in the rural districts for family transport and agricultural work. They are used by the Saniamentos (Street cleaners) in Dili to ferry the cleaners around Dili and transport the rubbish they collect. (The streets are swept by hand) We followed one in the districts travelling at 50km per hour with 5 people on board. On the return journey we passed another with 11 people on board, all be it travelling at a much more sedate pace. I think these may be the next contender in road accidents statistics. (If any were kept)

Timor Leste has a long way to go developing infrastructure and the governance processes we take for granted in Australia. Even so there have been significant improvements in the two years I have been here. For those of us for whom owning a motorcycles means getting your hands dirty, this is an interesting place to be.

Lionel Rudd
Country Manager – Timor Leste
St John of God Health Care