Kirsty Sword Gusmão

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Kirsty Sword Gusmão
Kirsty Sword Gusmão.jpg
Kirsty Sword Gusmão accepting a plaque aboard the USS Reuben James (FFG-57) in 2010
Born Kirsty Sword
(1966-04-19) 19 April 1966 (age 49)
Melbourne, Australia
Nationality Timor-Leste
Other names Ruby Blade, Mukya
Education Eaglehawk Primary
Golden Square Secondary
Alma mater University of Melbourne (BA Hons)
Monash University (DipEd)
Victoria University (DUniv)
Occupation Administrative secretary, Teacher, Researcher, Interpreter, Political activist, Spy
Known for First Lady of Timor-Leste
Religion Protestant
Spouse(s) Xanana Gusmão (2000–present)
Children Alexandre, Kay Olok, Daniel
Parent(s) Brian Sword, Rosalie Sword

Kirsty Sword Gusmão (born Kirsty Sword 19 April 1966)[1] is married to Xanana Gusmão, Prime Minister and former President of Timor-Leste.[1] She is the founding director of the Alola Foundation,[2] which seeks to improve the lives of women in Timor-Leste,[2] a nation with one of the world's lowest per capita GDPs.[3][4][5]

Early years and education[edit]

Sword was born in 1966 in Melbourne, Australia, to schoolteachers Brian and Rosalie Sword,[6] and was raised there and in Bendigo. Sword attended Eaglehawk Primary School,[7] where her father was the principal and her mother a music teacher in the 1970s.[7] She was taught her first Indonesian words by her father when she was four years old.[6][8] She was a promising ballet dancer, but decided not to pursue it as a career. As a teen, Sword travelled to Bali and Jakarta with her father and brother.[6] After Golden Square Secondary College, she attended Monash University and University of Melbourne in the 1980s where she completed a Bachelor of Arts (Honours), majoring in Indonesian and Italian, and a Diploma of Education.[4][8][9] In 1985, while studying Indonesian at Monash, Sword met Timor-Leste students and took up their struggle for independence.[4][6] Her father Brian died in 1998.[5][6]


Sword worked as an administrative secretary with the Overseas Service Bureau (now Australian Volunteers International) until 1991, when she joined the Refugee Studies Program at Oxford University in England as assistant to the development coordinator. Later that year, she travelled to East Timor as a researcher and interpreter for a Yorkshire Television documentary film called In Cold Blood: The massacre of East Timor, about political and social developments in the territory.

From 1992 to 1996, Sword lived and worked in Jakarta, Indonesia, as an English teacher, humanitarian aid worker and human rights campaigner.[3][5][8] At the same time, she became a clandestine activist and spy for the Timor-Leste (East Timorese) resistance to Indonesian rule.[3][5][8] Her resistance code name was Ruby Blade, later changed to Mukya (tr. 'fragrant') by Xanana Gusmão.[3][8]

Regarding the eventual media revelation that a member of a supposedly neutral organisation was spying against a host country, whether any lasting damage was done to the capacity of humanitarian aid and human rights organisations to work freely in Indonesia is difficult to assess, as none of the relevant agencies have been willing to make official statements, however there has been some open criticism of her conduct that pointed out the lives of aid workers in Indonesia may have been endangered by the spying activities. Sword has deflected these criticisms by stating she did not consider herself bound by the codes of conduct applicable to aid workers.[10]

From resistance activist to First Lady[edit]

Sword finally met Xanana Gusmão face to face in December 1994 while he was serving a 20-year sentence in Jakarta's Cipinang prison for leading the East Timorese resistance group FRETILIN.[3][5][8] Their first contact came when she taught him English by correspondence since 1992, ultimately she bluffed her way into the prison at Christmas 1994 on the pretence of visiting an uncle.[3][5][8]

Xanana was released in 1999 and the couple married the following year in Dili, where they live in the independent Timor-Leste with their three sons, Alexandre, Kay Olok, and Daniel. From 2001 onwards, From May 2002 to May 2007, Xanana was President of Timor-Leste, and Sword Gusmão was its First Lady. On 1 November 2003, she published an autobiography entitled A Woman of Independence.[3]

During the 2006 East Timorese crisis, Sword Gusmão conducted media interviews and met Australian troops on behalf of her husband, who was immobile due to back pain.[11] In May 2007, Xanana declined to run for another term as President, and was succeeded by his Prime Minister José Ramos-Horta, Xanana became Prime Minister on 8 August. In October, Sword Gusmão was appointed to the honorary position of Goodwill Ambassador for Education of Timor-Leste by Ramos-Horta.[12]

On 11 February 2008, national television reported that the motorcade of Gusmão had come under gunfire one hour after President Ramos-Horta was shot in the stomach; according to the Associated Press, the two incidents raised the possibility of a coup attempt.[13] During the assassination attempts, Sword Gusmão was protecting her children from gunmen stalking their home.[14] Also being sheltered was another woman and her four children, upon contacting Xanana by mobile phone Sword Gusmão heard he was under gunfire.[14] The Gusmão family were reunited after negotiations between her guards and the gunmen allowed her through and, despite the risks of future attempts, Sword Gusmão decided to remain in Timor-Leste.[14]

Personal Life[edit]

In early 2013 it was reported that Sword Gusmão had undergone treatment for breast cancer. [15]

On May 14, 2014, Sword Gusmão was admitted to the degree of Doctor of the University (honoris causa) from Victoria University for her outstanding community service in championing the importance of education and improving the lives of women and children in Timor-Leste.


  1. ^ a b "Alola Foundation honours the First Lady" (PDF). Alola Foundation Ltd. September 2005. Retrieved 2009-01-18. 
  2. ^ a b "About Fundasaun Alola". Alola Foundation Ltd. Archived from the original on June 18, 2008. Retrieved 2009-01-19. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Sword Gusmão, Kirsty; Rowena Lennox (2003-11-01). A Woman of Independence: A Story of Love and the Birth of a New Nation. Sydney, NSW: Pan Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-7329-1197-3. 
  4. ^ a b c "Public lecture presented for the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law". Monash University. 2008-09-09. Retrieved 2009-01-19. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f McLean, Sandra (2003-11-08). "Love and revolution". The Courier Mail. Retrieved 2009-01-19. 
  6. ^ a b c d e Scobie, Claire (2003-10-11). "Years of Living Dangerously" (PDF). Saturday Telegraph Magazine. Retrieved 2009-01-18. 
  7. ^ a b "East Timor First Lady returns home to launch Victoria-wide Friendship Schools Project" (PDF). Alola Foundation Ltd. 2003-03-24. Retrieved 2009-01-18. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g "Enough Rope with Andrew Denton episode 86: Xanana and Kirsty Sword Gusmão transcript". Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). 2005-07-18. Retrieved 2009-01-19. 
  9. ^ "Kirsty Sword Gusmão" (PDF). Monash University. 2008-10-29. Retrieved 2009-01-18. 
  10. ^ Kirsty Sword Gusmao: A Dutiful Life. East Timor and Indonesia Action Network
  11. ^ "The World Today - Gusmao in charge of military, Sword says". 2006-05-26. Retrieved 2013-01-04. 
  12. ^ "Ambassador for Education - Press release". Alola Foundation Ltd. 2007-10-24. Retrieved 2009-01-18. [dead link]
  13. ^ "East Timor President Wounded in Attack". The New York Times. 2008-02-10. Retrieved 2009-01-19. [dead link]
  14. ^ a b c Shanahan, Leo (2008-02-13). "PM's wife tells of terror ordeal". The Age (Melbourne). Retrieved 2009-01-19. 
  15. ^ Craig Butt. "Gusmao's wife in Melbourne for cancer surgery". Retrieved 2013-01-04. 

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