Domingos Belo da Cruz will have more on his mind than a family holiday when he returns home to Timor during the Christmas break from Charles Darwin University.
The 24-year-old might be studying towards his diploma in tourism and cultural events management at the Palmerston campus, but his love of music has propelled him towards a recording career in his home country.
During the break Belo da Cruz and his band plan to record his original songs at a studio in Indonesia where he has developed a special relationship with its owners.
The young vocalist describes his songs as political rock – messages about the state of his country and hope for the future.
Once his songs are recorded in Indonesia, Belo da Cruz aims to target their sale at the international market in his home country. There may even be an opportunity for him to sell his CDs in Darwin.
‘My countrymen cannot afford to buy CDs, but I hope there is a big market among the international workers in Timor,’ he says.
For the past year Belo da Cruz has been studying at Charles Darwin University on a Friendship Scholarship offered by the NT Government.
It was a hotly contested scholarship in Timor, with about 300 students applying for the chance to study in Australia.
A bonus of the scholarship is that the NT Government offers the winner the chance to work one day a week in a government department – in Belo da Cruz’s case with the Department of Business, Economics and Regional Development (DBERD).
Belo da Cruz comes from the mountain town of Maliana close to the West Timor border, a four to five hour drive over mountain roads from Dili.
With its 15,000 residents, the town was devastated by fighting in the struggle for independence in 1999 with some of the most ruthless battles occurring near the border.
It was occupied by UN troops, who pulled out of the town early in the struggle, leaving independence supporters at the mercy of the militia and Indonesian soldiers.
Many of the townspeople were forced to seek refuge in the local police station, leaving a legacy of political activism for its younger population who witnessed both slaughter and the burning of homes.
Belo da Cruz was educated at the local school at Maliana and began his tertiary studies at the National University of East Timor before being offered the scholarship to Darwin.
While he hopes for a career as a professional musician, his other ambition is to set up his own tourism company, offering tourists the chance to explore Timor’s natural environment through such adventurous activities as deep-sea diving, jungle and mountain trekking and cultural tours.
Another longer term ambition is to contribute towards the creation of the country’s tourism infrastructure by working towards the building of new hotels.
‘I’d like to be able to train staff for hotel management and set up customer services,’ he says.
Timor still has a long way to go to enter the highly competitive international tourism market, but it is young people like Belo da Cruz who will help the country achieve its goals.
And in the meantime, Belo da Cruz is hoping that the questioning nature of his political songs will make their own contribution to Timor’s development and sense of national identity.
‘We not only ask questions in our songs, but provide solutions,’ he says with a smile.