TELLING: East Timor: Personal Testimonies 1942-1992 By Michele Turner (New South Wales University Press, $175) IF you enjoy eye-witness accounts of rape, torture, mutilation and execution, then this is the book for you. The work deals with Timor, that big island just to the north of Australia, the west end of which was formerly occupied by the Dutch, the east by the Portuguese. World War II changed all that. The Japanese took over for a while; then after the war came the Javanese, the Indonesians who seem to be settled in for good or ill. Judging by these edited interviews, it seems generally to be for ill. Goodness knows how many Timorese have died, whether they be of primarily Indonesian-Malay stock from the coast or Melanesian aboriginals in the mountains. This is really two books in one: the first about the Japanese occupation, the second about the Javanese occupation. The author's technique has been to transcribe various interviews in sections with scant narrative in-between. It works, up to a point, butcan become extremely confusing. Naturally enough, this being an Australian book, the first part involving the Japanese invasion has many references and passages concerning the Australian detachments which operated in Timor during World War II. Interviewees often had European names as the Portuguese, as happened all over the world, had assimilated themselves into the fabric of East Timor society by intermarriage. Teenage girls, as always with occupying forces, were particularly at risk. One of the first interviews, which are admirably simple and crisp, describes the experiences of Virginia Ribiero when the Japanese came looking for evidence of Australian troops. ''Once, Japanese came into our house and we watched them from above. In the traditional house the roof is high and there is a platform up there where we put the food. . . There is a hole to put the food through and a little ladder with space to get in and then we pull the ladder inside. . . The Japanese did not know this and nobody told them. Girls would hide up there always.'' Virginia Ribiero, now long dead, continued: ''There were many young boys the Japanese told to be spies, but they would see Australians all the time and they wouldn't say they did. The Japanese would just grab any Timorese and make them carry the bodies of their soldiers the Australians had killed and near Dili Airport [Dili is the biggest town in East Timor] they sang their national song and burnt the bodies so there was an awful smell over the whole town.'' With the end of World War II, the Indonesians took over the west end of Timor without much trouble. That was the Dutch end, and the Dutch wanted out. But Indonesia was not easily satisfied. It wanted the whole island and maybe more. Alfredo Pires, who spent 30 years as a colonial official in Timor (he is Timorese himself) recalls being shown a map used in schools to teach children what was Indonesia. ''On that map, coloured green was the whole of Timor, all of New Guinea, as well as Australia and New Zealand. At the time I thought it was a mistake or a joke. But since then I have thought of it many times because it seems to be coming true.'' Australia and New Zealand had better watch out, not to mention Papua New Guinea, which is most vulnerable. Because when then Indonesians go in, as they did in East Timor, there is no joking: land bombardment, sea bombardment, napalm and high explosives from the air and then thousands of troops. Then the real purgatory began. Not just the rapes, although they were bad enough, but torture and murder. Cristiano da Costa, suspected of being against the Indonesian occupation, was press-ganged into locating resistance fighters. But the Indonesian troops had got there first. The following is not for the squeamish, I should warn you. ''We smelt the bodies before we found them. The heads had been cut off the first bodies, one woman and four men, on the ground together. The woman wore a black dress, the men trousers and shirt. The bodies were swollen and the clothes split. It was not possible to say how they died. ''The heads were still on the other bodies I saw. We found three men tied by their feet hanging upside down in trees. Then further on, another two men were tied with their hands behind the trunks of trees.'' Nobody really knows how many Timorese died since the 1975 invasion. Fifty thousand, 100,000? I doubt whether even the Indonesians know. They seem to have gone into East Timor with a murderous fever judging by these interviews. Alas, many of these interviewees are now dead of natural causes so it is impossible to check their interviews. This is a fascinating, but unsatisfactory book. The idea of splitting the interviews into sections may have seemed all right in theory but I don't think it works in practice; and the repeated references to ''Javanese'' after ''Japanese'' make it confusing. The extraordinarily brutal Indonesian troops may well have come primarily from Java - we have no way of knowing. But it is a very big country, one of the world's most populous. The book is critical of Australia's recognition of Indonesian sovereignty over all of East (and come to that, West) Timor. But as a bystander I really don't see what else they could do, short of a declaration of war. Perhaps the most telling excerpt is the suggestion that Indonesia, in an attempt to inflate its already very large empire, is hoping to gobble up Papua New Guinea, followed by Australia, then New Zealand. An interesting prospect by an - on the whole - interesting book. But I do wish the New South Wales University Press had not been so twee about its typography, its little lines beside page numbers and its reverse type, all of which is distracting. I thought that sort of thing went out in the 50s.