Saturday, November 7, 2015

Remembering your why: Let's keep the conversation rolling.

"Kangen...Everyday he cries...Mummy I miss you, kangen!" Sri tells me as I ask if she has spoken to her son.  Mother-to-mother, my heart sinks and feels for this woman not much younger than myself who has left her two-year-old child in the care of her own mother in Sulawesi, while she travelled to another island in the vast archipelago for work that would provide enough for herself, family and small child.  Even as I think about it as I write, my heart feels for her and tears well.  I think about her beautiful smile and the heart ache I could see as she told me about the 'bad husband' that left her with a small child to support, as she told me about the back-breaking work that rice planting is, with such little pay.  As we mix English, Indonesian and often a few charades, I listen to her story, I am struck yet again with the opportunities that I, as an Australian woman have compared to Sri born in a poorer part of our neighbouring country Indonesia.

Sadly, Sri's is not the first story that I, like many of you I am sure have heard like this but it is in the meeting with and listening to the stories of men and women while I have been on holiday that sparked my interest in the country, it's people, the language and my desire to make a difference.

It was second time that I travelled to this mystical holiday island of Bali to which I had related to as a place where my rich friends went, enjoyed sitting by the pool and haggling for cheap goods that I started to realise that there was so much more to this country of Indonesia than the holiday isle.  My children were about the ages of seven and three and I sat in the foyer of my hotel chatting with one of the staff.  As we chatted I asked her about if she lived close, if she had family... she was from East Java, and she had a child, the same age as my youngest, she also had had a 'bad husband' and her child was in the care of her mother in East Java.

Ignorant to expense of travelling and the typicalness of this situation, I asked "Do you get to see him often?"  She looked at the floor, "No, maybe every three months, sometimes not, it depends if I have enough money."  I was shocked, I couldn't imagine not seeing my children for such a long period of time.  She and I sat there and where language had failed us, the tears in both of our eyes said more than words ever could.

Fast forward a few years, I had learned a bit of language and at my Balinese friend's suggestion I found myself wandering a village teaching English in a little school and having daily long-winded chats with an older gentleman on the concrete platform that was the local bemo stop - the phrase "O begitu!" served me very well.   The little school is one of but a few which also takes in children with disabilities.  I remember a couple coming one day with their child who had club feet, and watching them explain the the principal with great desperation and hope in their eyes for a chance for their child to attend the school.  I remember learning that they had come very far.

But nothing had prepared me for the day a young girl maybe about the age of eleven or twelve came aided by her mother, she had polio.  One of my friend's mothers had had polio in Australia whilst I was growing up, she constantly had to wear a brace and I knew quite alot about the disease and am ever so grateful for vaccinations which makes the disease effectively non-existent in my generation. To now see a child with this completely preventable disease was heart-breaking. I found myself asking 'How can this be happening in my neighbouring country, where so many of us come to holiday?'  Her mother one day had stopped me to tell me about her daughter and her prospects - another moment that urged me on to continue to connect our neighbouring countries above and beyond  the relationship Australia has with Bali as a holiday destination.

So why bring this up? Well, because from time to time I get busy, and bogged down in all of the work to be done, all of the emails, documents and politics that so often go along with getting things done that I become disillusioned and forget why I started this 'Let's connect our countries and work together' business and I have to stop and remind myself of these among other moments, of the people. I wonder if others get like me and forget why and for whom they started.  Everyone's story is different, do you have a moment?  If you'd like to share please do in the comments, what spurs you on?  And if you've got a little bogged-down like I have lately, I hope this has helped you remember your why.

We hope you enjoy this edition of the blog with a varied selection of readings and opinion for your viewing and thought.  We thank those of you who have submitted or recommended articles for publication.  Keep them coming, let's keep the conversation rolling... on that note, we encourage you to comment with your thoughts and opinions, the bigger the conversation, the bigger the difference we can make.

Sampai kali depan,


Something important to note:

There's been some talk in the media lately about having a limited number of Visa on Arrivals into Indonesia.  Our president Ross Taylor has spoken to the Indonesian Ambassador to Australia, Pak Nadjib who has confirmed that there is no change to the VOA for Australians at present and that the standard USD$35.00 will continue to apply and Australians can travel to Bali, using VOA as many times as they like.

We are continuing to lobby hard to have the visas for Indonesians touring to Australia changed, which is currently set at AUD $130.00 per person, with no online application process.  Hardly seems fair does it?


Setting the Scene: The Japanese Occupation Excerpt from the newly published Revolution City of Heroes: A Memoir of the Battle that Sparked Indonesia's National Revolution by Suhario Padmodiwiryo translated by Francis Palmos.

Connection Opportunity

Can a Kangaroo make Friends with a Komodo? by Lauren Gumbs.  Check out the Australia Awards CAFE program!  Life-time Aus-Indo friendships and connections... if you are reading this, it could very well be a fit for you!

Panel Discussion (Video 45min)

A Man and a Myth: Jokowi's First Year in Power Liam Gammon leads a panel discussion on the highs and lows of Joko Widodos first 12 months via New Mandela (November 2015).

In the News and Opinion

These 'people smugglers' need an apology from all of us by Ross Taylor (October 2015).

Public Ignorance key to Indo-Aus Tensions by Rebecca Le May.  Rebecca writes from the recent visit of Professor Tim Lindsey in Perth (October 2015).

Indonesian Human Rights: Greater Protections since Reformasi? by Jack Buckley (October 2015).

Indonesia is burning.  So why is the world looking away?  by George Monbiot via The Guardian (October 2015).

Is Jokowi Nostalgic for the Good Ol' Days of Suharto? by Johannes Nugruho via The Jakarta Globe (October 2015).

Diagnosing Asia's Australian Problem by Melissa Conley Tyler via The Interpreter (October 2015).

Are vested interests always lurking behind Indonesian policymaking? by Matthew Busch via Indonesia at Melbourne (October 2015).

Can a Kangaroo make Friends with a Komodo?

By Lauren Gumbs

It’s a question as old as time and one that Australia is continually asking itself.

Ok maybe we don’t all think in dramatic metaphors, but Australia and Indonesia do have a longstanding tradition of questioning where they stand with one another, each new ‘issue’ manifesting in the media as an existential threat to a forced relationship made necessary by geographical proximity and critical sovereignty.

Yet, Indonesia has been touted as Australia’s most important regional neighbour, despite polls suggesting Australians rate Indonesians pretty low.

It’s not one-sided though, Aussies often get a bad rap in Indonesian polls too.

Yet, for those of us who have been on the ground and engaged with each other’s countries and culture, we know the story is a different one – Indonesians and Australians do make good friends and there is vast potential to help get our countries on better terms.

If you have an interest in Indonesia or just want to break down some barriers, the Australia Awards CAFÉ Program presents a clever way to reach out and do your bit for Aus-Indo relations.

A coffee today, lasting ties and advancement of economic and social interests tomorrow.
But we’re not saving the world; it’s easy and fun – participants are matched with an Indonesian postgrad or PHD studying in Australia.

Your only obligations are to meet up informally at least four or five times in the year – for coffee, dinner at your place with the family, the cricket or a show, and a visit to your workplace.
You just might strike up a lifelong friendship; or at least get an invitation to venture out of Bali next time you plan a trip to the archipelago.

Imagine if you had an Indonesian counterpart that provided an equivalent window into their culture, a bit of kopi and nasi goreng at an ankringan, makan malam with a large and smothersome Indonesian family and a local buffer who would accompany you to a pertandingan sepak bola to be enveloped in a 40,000 strong crowd of roaring football fans in 40 degree heat.

Trust me it’s quite unlike anything you have ever or will ever experience but it’s one of those things you need an ‘in’ for.

The local experience is everything and it changes everything when it comes to perspective. A good cultural experience will sit with you for life, shaping and informing your world view.

On a macro level this peer to peer investment in social capital translates into a less bi-polar alignment of mutual and reciprocal interests.

The idea is not only for Indonesian participants to get as much out of their scholarship as they can, academically and culturally, but for both participants to benefit equally from access enhanced leadership, knowledge, networking, and technical skills between people and organisations.

The CAFÉ Program is targeted when setting you up with a mate, a platonic Tinder if you will.
Participants are Australia Awards scholarship recipients who might work in the civil service in ministries and agencies in the Indonesian government or in identified priority sectors and industries.

Matches are have a high rate of success, pairing ladies with ladies, men with men, and matching people with similar educational qualifications, industry, interests, age, and family status.
In other words it’s not a friendship lucky dip – you will have plenty in common.

Scholarship recipients are talented and driven people who are creators, thinkers and innovators in their home country – possibly a lot like you.

If you want to connect with an Indonesian professional, make friends and get to know our neighbours, visit or email

Revolution in the City of Heroes: Book Excerpt



The Japanese Occupation of the Netherlands Indies (1941–45) began with a welcome from many Indonesians keen to rid themselves of the Dutch colonial administration. The Japanese Imperial Army had overpowered the Dutch, who had held the territory for two centuries. By 1943, however, the Japanese had revealed their contempt for the Indonesian people under their control, enslaving hundreds of thousands of villagers, confiscating agricultural produce and sending unpaid laborers to the Japanese Army in Thailand and Burma. They controlled all media, executed anyone caught listening to war news, and dismantled scores of steel bridges to send to Japan to be melted down for the war needs. Thousands of innocent people were summarily executed for minor infringements and beatings, including of women, were common.  By the end of 1943 the people were wishing the Japanese had never come, seeing them as far worse than the Dutch colonial rulers.  Both foreign rules had given rise to a strong nationalist movement led by Sukarno and Dr Hatta, who fought for self-rule as the better future path for the Indonesian people.

The Japanese landed in Surabaya on the First of March 1942, raising their flag over the Wonokromo Bridge. They began immediately to ‘Nipponize’ Surabaya, removing signs in Dutch or English, destroying Western films and books, and demanding Indonesians learn the Japanese national anthem and bow towards Japan to honor the Japanese Emperor. Suhario ‘Kecik’ was a medical student and early victim of the Japanese anti-Western hysteria that closed educational institutions in cities and brought misery to the entire population. In August 1945 the Surabayans turned on the Japanese, armed themselves, and prepared for a fight to determine their independence against the British-Indian Army attempting to reinstate the Dutch. Kecik was in the middle of the fray, first as a student planning underground moves, then as Deputy Commander of a 500-strong youth force that took on the British in the crucial Battle for Surabaya, 10–24 November 1945.

The Anatomy Department…was by 1943 flooded with bodies of the homeless and those unfortunates who later became known as romusha, men recruited on rosy promises to help ‘Brother Japan’ in their war. They were in fact slave labourers used by the army.  So many had died of … exhaustion, hunger and beatings that the bodies soon piled high … we had to stop taking delivery.  

The Japanese Imperial Army marched into Surabaya on Friday 6 March 1942, announcing what would be a torrid, repressive three year occupation by flying the Japanese flag over the Wonokromo Bridge. They closed the Medical School I had been enrolled in and other institutes of Western learning, so my parents suggested I go to the Veterinary School in Bogor, West Java, to continue my studies. They had also closed the Jakarta medical school; I had nowhere to turn, and Veterinary Science seemed the closest I could get to my desired profession.

I said goodbye to Hartadi, my childhood friend, without realising he would later play a major role in the Battle of Surabaya alongside me four years later. He had been offered a job in the Railway Workshop in Surabaya, so would ‘guard’ Surabaya for us while I went to Bogor, and of course we promised to keep in touch, neither of us guessing that his railway connections would soon become vital to the anti-Japanese independence fighters’ network.

When I arrived at Bogor I discovered I was not the only Surabayan student there. Basuki and Bahar Razak, old friends from the Faculty of Medicine in Surabaya, were also there, so I stayed in a group in unfamiliar surroundings.

There was still a little pocket money secretly available to me from Hartadi who had what he called the ‘Robin Hood funds’ from a Dutch government office the Japanese had seized in the first days of Occupation. The senior Dutch and other office workers had fled as the Japanese soldiers blustered in, leaving behind a full cash box used for fees and taxes and the like. None of those fleeing wanted the cash box, so Hartadi, not wishing the Japanese to get it, carried it away, renaming it the ‘Robin Hood funds’ for him and his close friends. Used quietly, the funds lasted for many months and helped our circle of friends get through some nasty scrapes. When the Japanese were entrenched they printed their own paper money, which was soon useless and fell apart. Dutch money was illegal, but still the best guard against inflation.

The Robin Hood fund was not entirely used for altruistic ends. After especially enervating days, several of us would splurge on a memorable meal down at the main market. Alas, those meals became memorable for the wrong reason. It would be many years before we could again live in safety, or have adequate food or clothing.

We were in the Bogor Veterinary School for just a few months. The Japanese soon realised they would need to reopen at least one Faculty of Medicine because the Imperial Army would need a lot of trained medical and paramedical staff. Along with the Faculty of Medicine in Jalan Salemba which reopened in Jakarta in April 1943 as Ika Daigaku, (a name which nobody used), they also opened a Faculty of Pharmacy.

In Surabaya, where they had closed my medical school, they chose instead to open a Faculty of Dentistry, a decision which would come to haunt them in mid-1945 because Dr Moestopo, the chief lecturer, turned it into a school for amateur spies, whose intelligence gathering while posing as menials and waiters to the enemy was very effective. It became a “public secret” that we were eavesdropping on both Japanese, and later, Dutch conversations.

In the first months, our student dormitory or asrama was in a Christian middle high school opposite what is today Jakarta’s biggest public hospital, the RSCM Cipto Mangunkusumo. The dorm wasn’t big enough to hold all the students, most of whom were from outside Jakarta, so we crowded together while the new rooms were built.

The lecturers wore Japanese military uniforms, and, although we didn’t then know all the ranks, we knew that one young surgeon, who spoke German, was a major. Major General Dr Itangaki, head of the Faculty, seemed sympathetic to Indonesian students, in contrast to most unsmiling Japanese. Suwadi, an older student who lived on the edge of town in Jatinegara with his wife and two children, seemed to organise everything, employing a middle-aged woman who prepared three meals a day for us. The food wasn’t too bad, and the Japanese left the asrama management to Suwadi, which allowed us to concentrate on studies. Were we wrong about the Japanese? We had little cause for concern.

This is an excerpt from Chapter 1: Planning Our Revolution pp 1-4 from Revolution City of Heroes: A Memoir of the Battle that Sparked Indonesia's National Revolution by Suhario Padmodiwiryo translated by Francis Palmos.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Public Ignorance Key to Indo-Aus Tensions

By Rebecca Le May

PERTH, Oct 13 AAP - Tensions are inevitable between neighbours, but a lot more work needs to be done to manage the volatile and fragile relationship between Australia and Indonesia.  That's the view of Australia-Indonesia Institute chairman Tim Lindsey.

Professor Lindsey told a function in Perth on Tuesday that he hadn't met an Indonesian who didn't think the 40 per cent aid reduction was payback for the state killings.  "It doesn't matter whether that was intended or not - that's what it has become," he said.
Prof Lindsey said polls showed most Australians didn't realise Indonesia was a democracy, believed it sympathised with Islamic extremism and rated it more negatively than any other country with the exception of North Korea, Iran, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.
The shortcomings were on both sides, with the Indonesian public also ill-informed about Australia, but with much less hostility, he said.  "This is an appalling state of affairs. It is a catastrophically bad and that's why it's so difficult for the relationship to be managed," Prof Lindsey said.  "The key to the problem is this yawning gap between government-to-government enthusiasm for the bilateral relationship and this depth of public ignorance and hostility."
Another big problem was Australia not handling well the vast difference between Indonesia's highly diplomatic former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his successor Joko Widodo.  Prof Lindsey said Mr Widodo led an inward-looking....divided and (currently) dysfunctional administration that was generally uninterested in the country to its south.  

"The Coalition government in Canberra has not done well in dealing with the changed circumstances.  "If there was ever a time megaphone diplomacy and sending messages via the media or in parliamentary debate to Indonesia would be effective in the bilateral relationship, it is not under Jokowi.
"Rightly or wrongly, Canberra needs to be a lot more subtle, nuanced and smart if it wants Indonesia to look south."

 AAP rlm 

Indonesian Human Rights: Greater Protections since Reformasi?

By Jack Buckley

Abundant commentary exists on the impacts felt throughout the Indonesian archipelago since the resignation of former authoritarian ruler Suharto and the beginning of reformasi in 1998. In the field of human rights, however, there has been little effort to explain the processes facilitating increased human rights protections for Indonesian citizens today.

These human rights protections in Indonesia are not, however, experienced equally across the country. Various formal institutions have been established to promote human rights protections such as the freedom of expression, the freedom of association, and the freedom to choose a religion. These institutions include amendments to the Constitution and a national commission for human rights.

Except these formal institutions are regularly trumped by informal institutions in different regions of Indonesia, most notably in the outer islands dominated by centralised Jakarta policy-making and inter-regional rivalry. One such example in the earlier stages of reformasi is then President Megawati Sukarnoputri attempting to divide the Indonesian controlled territory in Papua into three separate provinces in an effort to engineer the electoral status of the restless region. This move backfired when the Indonesian Supreme Court struck down the legislation in 2003 and controversy continued as violent local protests over the freedoms of expression and association persist.

In today’s Indonesia, captivated by monitoring the successes and failures of the reform-minded Joko Widodo administration, many of the freedoms and rights experienced by everyday Indonesians are determined by the increasing democratisation of formal government institutions. Once formal government institutions operate with transparency and accountability, the ability for corrupt officials to exploit existing shortcomings will disappear and informal institutions which perpetuate human rights abuses will most likely follow suit.

Broad efforts to achieve the democratisation goal are seen globally and in the efforts of the Australian aid program to assist bureaucratic reform in Indonesia. A 2013 report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights addressed the centrality of good institutional governance in achieving human rights protections with recommendations pertinent to Indonesia’s human rights development such as “centrally formulated policy should take into account the needs of citizens throughout the country.” What’s more, Australia’s aid investment plan to Indonesia highlights the need to improve public sector governance. Evidence of this is seen in the cooperation of Indonesian and Australian government ministries in the Bureaucratic Reform Initiative funded for AUD$11.8 million over the past five years.

The quality of human rights protections throughout Indonesia, including the outer islands, can only be assessed once the necessary conditions for formal institutions to protect these rights are in place. The improved delivery of public services may be the linchpin for success in this space and look set to improve under the Widodo administration’s commitment to bureaucratic reform and reform more broadly. However, reformasi period reforms to human rights remain incomplete and are still disappointingly applied in the outer islands where violations persist and some of Indonesia’s previous ethnic and religious issues may yet again be revived.

*Jack Buckley is a Masters candidate at the Australian National University and can be contacted at

These 'people smugglers' need an apology from all of us

By Ross Taylor

It hardly made any news.

An Indonesian ‘people smuggler’ last week successfully appealed to the full bench of the Australian Federal Court to have his conviction eventually quashed.

This particular people smuggler served two years in a maximum security prison in Perth (Hakea Prison) and Albany for smuggling asylum seekers from Indonesia to Christmas Island in 2010.

He has told stories of how he was denied the services of an interpreter, how he was stripped naked on numerous occasions, being chained by his hands and feet and being locked-down from 7am until 7pm on most nights.

This prisoner, at the time the offence occurred, was 13 years of age.

Ali Yasmin, now 19 years of age, was one of some 50 children recruited by people smuggling syndicates in Indonesia to work on boats as deck and kitchen hands at the peak of the asylum seeker debacle.

These children, many of whom were pre-pubescent, were from remote and very poor villages in the east of the sprawling archipelago to our north, with their families being offered up to $200.00 for the services of their sons for ostensibly two weeks work on board a fishing boat.

In an area where many people live on $70.00 per month, the offer was highly attractive, given that many of these kids worked on boats routinely.

The then Labor Government, desperate to be tough on people smugglers, had introduced mandatory sentencing for anyone carrying or assisting in the transport of asylum seekers from Indonesia to Australia. They did not intend to catch young children in this net, but that’s what can happen when poorly thought-out legislation is enacted by a government under enormous political pressure.

Ali Yasmin, like a number of his friends, was convicted and sentenced to jail in an adult maximum security prison here in WA. This was despite a doctor certifying that he was pre-pubescent and documents being provided to confirm the age of this young boy.

To think that a country such as Australia could have incarcerated children in this way – alongside drug dealers, paedophiles and bank robbers – and subject them to strip searches, lock downs and no access to their families back in Indonesia, is almost unthinkable for a nation that prides itself as being decent,  caring and respectful of human rights.

It was only through the Indonesia Institute, several leading media groups (including The West Australian) and human rights advocates, was the then Gillard Government forced to release these children and send them back to where they rightfully belonged: with their parents.

Ali Yasmin, being represented by human rights lawyers, last week won a ruling that now forces the Australian Attorney-General, George Brandos, to exercise his ‘legal duty’ to refer the boys appeal to the WA Court of Appeal where the team is hopeful the conviction will be quashed.

That a nation such as Australia knowingly allowed foreign children to be locked-up for years with hardened adult criminals leaves a stain on all of us. But to now force children like Yasmin to ‘fight’ in the courts to have his conviction overturned is appalling.

Our new PM, Malcolm Turnbull, should move immediately to have all the convictions of these children quashed, and to also make a formal apology on behalf of Australia to their families for the inhuman treatment of children who should never have been placed in our maximum security prisons in the first place.

Ross Taylor AM is the President of the WA-based Indonesia Institute (Inc)
October 2015