The Student Conservators for Timor-Leste (SCTL) is a graduate student organisation at The University of Melbourne.

Established in 2014, the organisation is an initiative that follows the signing of Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) by the University of Melbourne and Universidade Nacional Timor-Leste (UNTL) in September 2011 to facilitate projects between the two institutions.

We aim to work within the spirit of this memorandum and build relations with groups and organisations in Timor-Leste and Australia, for the advancement of Timor-Leste’s cultural heritage conservation.

So, why Timor-Leste?

Since the Indonesian occupation from 1975-1999, Timor-Leste has been a country in recovery. During the occupation there were an estimated 183,000 Timorese casualties as well as extensive non-fatal violations of human rights such as arbitrary detention, torture and rape. Almost half of the Timorese population were forcibly displaced and resettled.

In 1999 a referendum was held which brought an end to the Indonesian occupation and on 20th May 2002 the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste was officially declared.

As Timor-Leste was preparing for independence, the then UNESCO Director-General, Koïchiro Matsuura, launched an appeal to the international community to help Timor-Leste preserve and enhance their cultural heritage.

One of the larger projects led by UNESCO is to aid in the development of a new national museum in Timor-Leste. The Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation (CCMC) at the University of Melbourne has aided this project through the Museum to Museum Partnership Programme for Timor-Leste which promoted the protection, conservation and presentation of endangered moveable cultural material in Timor-Leste.

The proposed Museum and Cultural Centre of Timor-Leste will house the nation’s collections as well as host the future Schools of Art and Music so that a substantial part of living culture will be clearly represented, preserved and developed, ensuring access to intangible heritage such as dance, music and ritual for future generations.

As such, we at SCTL aim to engage with these issues by collaborating with people and organisations concerned with safeguarding Timor-Leste’s tangible and intangible heritage and by contributing research and resources to conservation projects.

In 2016, SCTL started work on a number of projects including the CHART Paper Project where students have been assisting in the conservation and digitisation of several newspapers from the 1970s for Clearing House for Archival Records on Timor Inc. (CHART).

Many students from the Master for Cultural Materials Conservation program have had the opportunity to gain experience and use their knowledge by working on the ‘paper project.’ Early in 2017, once students had completed the condition reporting of the newspapers, a milestone event was held to celebrate the next phase of the project, digitisation.

With assistance from the University of Melbourne digitisation unit, we have scanned the newspapers which will now be processed. We look forward to handing the completed project back to CHART Inc. in the near future.

You can see more about the beginnings of this project in an article written by two of our students  –

This year SCTL continues to work on several projects for the coming months. Members are currently working on plans for a symposium and exhibition to be held later this year.

SCTL hopes to be organising Tetun language lessons to be taught to interested group members. Learning Tetun is important for effective communication and collaboration with the Timor-Leste community assisting in a positive outcome for our future SCTL ventures.

We have had many people assist the group since its inception. SCTL would like to thank the students that have and continue to work on the SCTL committee, our ‘paper project’ students, the staff at the Grimwade Centre, the many groups that we have had the opportunity to liaise and work with so far including CHART Inc. and Afalyca Community Arts Centre and Gallery, the University of Melbourne Digitisation team, and GSA for their assistance and support.

We look forward to working on many projects now and into the future. If you would like to know more about SCTL and would like to be involved please email us at or like us on Facebook at StudentConservatorsforTimorLeste or check out our Instagram, @studentconservatorstl.