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Gregory John Shackleton (1946–1975)

by Peter Gifford

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Gregory John Shackleton (1946-1975), journalist, was born on 24 August 1946 in Brisbane, son of Queensland-born parents William Joseph Hogg, bank clerk, and his wife Olwyn Rebecca, née Schoenheimer. After leaving school, Greg worked as a copy-boy with radio-station 3AW, Melbourne. He changed his surname three times by deed poll: from Hogg to Smith, then to Sugar and finally to Shackleton. In 1964 he enrolled as a part-time student at the University of Melbourne (B.A., 1976).

At St Peter's Church of England, Glenelg, Adelaide, on 7 May 1966 Shackleton married Shirley Doreen Venn, a 34-year-old publicity manager. After a stint as a public-relations officer with the Australian Tourist Commission, San Francisco, United States of America, he returned to Melbourne in 1968 to work as a general reporter and news presenter with television-station HSV-7. By his wife's account, he reached A-grade level at the age of 22.

Although Shackleton was apparently a capable journalist, he achieved national prominence only after his death. On 10 October 1975 he was sent to Portuguese Timor to report on the civil war between the Revolutionary Front of Independent East Timor (Fretilin) and factions covertly supported by Indonesia. At the town of Balibo, Shackleton, his cameraman Gary Cunningham (aged 27) and sound recordist Tony Stewart (21) joined another journalist Malcolm Rennie (29) and his cameraman Brian Peters (30), both from TCN-9, Sydney. All of them died on 16 October that year during or immediately following an assault by Indonesian soldiers and their East Timorese allies against a Fretilin force at Balibo. Their remains were later buried in Jakarta. Shackleton's estranged wife and son survived him.

The five young newsmen had found little time to familiarize themselves with local conditions and only Cunningham had previously worked in a war zone. Yet their initial reports indicated sufficient competence to gainsay one newspaper colleague who dismissed them as having 'come straight from chasing fire engines' in Australia. Shackleton may have been carrying documents on behalf of Fretilin; if so, this action may have contributed to his death. The question as to whether he and his four companions were killed in the battle or subsequently murdered remained unresolved for more than twenty-five years.

Shackleton's mother complained to Australian authorities, while the Australian Journalists' Association and prominent members of the profession, such as John Pilger and Rohan Rivett, criticized successive Australian governments for their failure to exert real pressure on the Indonesians to hold a full inquiry into the killings. In 2000 the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade published Commonwealth government documents relating to the Indonesian invasion and subsequent annexation of East Timor, but excluded intelligence material. It has been alleged that Australian authorities received intelligence reports, before and after the attack on Balibo, indicating that Indonesian officers planned and supervised the murder of the five newsmen. Their common headstone bears an inscription: 'No words can explain this pointless death in Balibo'. The circumstances of their deaths and that of another Australian journalist Roger East (1922-75), are explored in the 2009 film Balibo, written by Robert Connolly and David Williamson.  East was executed by an Indonesian firing squad on 8 December 1975 on the Dili waterfront, East Timor.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Ball and H. McDonald, Death in Balibo, Lies in Canberra (Syd, 2000)
  • W. Way (ed), Australia and the Indonesian Incorporation of Portuguese Timor, 1974-1976 (Melb, 2000)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 13, 18 Oct, 13 Nov 1975, 14 Oct 1995
  • Age (Melbourne), 18, 21 Oct, 6 Dec 1975, 25 Nov 1981, 21 Oct 1998
  • National Times, 25 Aug 1979.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Peter Gifford, 'Shackleton, Gregory John (1946–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 19 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Hogg, Gregory
  • Smith, Gregory
  • Sugar, Gregory

24 August, 1946
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia


16 October, 1975 (aged 29)
Balibo, East Timor