Friday, October 14, 2016

At home with the Aremaniacs

By Duncan Graham

The Brits would have loved it. Deep in the heart of East Java the Union Jack was carried with pride, waved with vigor and cheered by thousands.

But the only blondes bobbing in the swirling ocean of soccer fanatics were two benign Belgians, disguising any assumption that they might be Dutch or American. Their trick was to pull on Harry Potter cloaks of invisibility, in this case T-shirts screaming love for Arema soccer club.

Paul Beetens and Annie Aertsen need not have bothered. Had the boisterous crowd known the couple was from the tiny royalty that has become the darling of European soccer, they would have been mobbed as heroes at Arema’s ginormous birthday bash in Malang.

The day-long show celebrated 29 years of less than spectacular successes on the field — Arema was last trounced by Persipura Jayapura — but almost three decades of heartfelt hope and soul-wrenching prayer. With wet cheeks it recalls 2010, the year of majesty when it reigned over the Indonesian Super League.

To revive the fatigued ambition the fans painted the town blue. Although Aug. 11 is the official 1987 birthday, the police persuaded organizers to shift to the nearest Sunday to minimize disruption. The tactic was a success. Total chaos was reduced by 5 percent — gridlock by marginally less.

The Belgian tourists thought the event a hoot. And a roar, amplified by 100,000 Hondas, plus a backing choir of Suzukis and Yamahas.

“It’s a celebration of solidarity,” they shouted. “Everyone seems happy. We’re lucky to be here at this time. We came for a trip to Bromo — and this is a bonus.”

Malang’s followers did not get labeled Aremaniacs by holding soirees with the gentry so security was intimidatory. “Was” because threat fatigue soon set in — as it does wherever trouble is imagined. Suspicion is a high-maintenance emotion with a short shelf life.

A squad from the police’s Mobile Brigade (Brimob) in age-of-terror black vaulted from a Barracuda Armed Personnel Carrier (APC) that looked like a giant toad. They checked packs of tear-gas cartridges, slung Pindad SS1 assault rifles across their chests and swaggered into the front line.

The everyday cops, eclipsed by this awesome show of military might, showed their authority by pulling out traffic offenders and disarming riders carrying flagpoles.

“To stop them being used as weapons,” said a policewoman, who then used a confiscated stick to whack the bottom of a fan giving cheek.

Arema’s birthday party is one great do-it-yourself shebang, at odds with the official choreographed Aug. 17 Proclamation Day events where goose-stepping discipline rules. The handmade banners often use English to add status, though the grammar and spelling tended to dampen that desire.

Though the mob was largely male the event was egalitarian. Women may have been outnumbered, but they compensated with enthusiasm by pillion dancing and urging the drummers to bang harder.

Teenage Fitri’s message across her bosom was encouraging: “Football For Unity, Indonesia is not Iran or Saudi Arabia, so a woman’s place is almost everywhere”.

The Union flags were there to inspire. The UK teams are models for Arema fans who wish their lads could be as skilled and focused as Manchester United. In Malang it is the English leagues that excite. The fans trickled through the gauntlet of gendarmes, and then opened throttles for circuits around the flower beds before the town hall. The courtyard was fronted by two blue fiberglass lions, so kitsch they would not make it into a Disney cartoon movie.

Suddenly the police radios sputtered and the uniforms dashed away. Clearly a fight had erupted, or — shock, horror or maybe a suspicious package. Fortunately it was the lunch bell and the packages contained the local alleged delicacy nasi rawon (black beef soup).

This delighted the giggles seeking selfies with men in black. The bullet-proof Barracuda began to melt. So the doors were opened, letting the local guys goggle the weapons wonderland. The greatest danger was not from a deranged knifeman but an invisible toxin. The fans should have prayed for real winds of change. Concentrated carbon monoxide kills. In lesser doses it sickens.

The saddle dancers lost their balance, the banner boys began to flag, the kids in lion masks stopped growling and started coughing. Arema’s birthday is a fun show that should be on the tourist calendar, a marvelous expression of organic togetherness.

But on a windless day in Malang it is a health hazard.

Duncan Graham is a journalist who resides in Malang, East Java, Indonesia.

At home with the Aremaniacs  
Arema for life: Fans of Malang’s Arema soccer club, also known as Aremania, stage a convoy during the club’s anniversary celebrations in its hometown in East Java.(JP/Erlinawati Graham)(JP/Erlinawati Graham)  

Amri Yahya and the Sydney University Labor Club

Amri Yahya and the Sydney University Labor Club

In Yogyakarta’s Fort Vredeburg, one of the city’s major tourist attractions, hangs a little-known painting by the famous Indonesian painter, Amri Yahya. The painting is titled Lukisan Perjuangan dari Agresi Belanda I s/d Renville (Painting of the Struggle from the First Dutch Aggression until the Renville Agreement).
The painting is of particular interest to Australian visitors as it commemorates the support given by members of Sydney University's Labor Club to the Indonesian Republic during the early-1940s revolution. It depicts a dramatic example of Australian popular support for the fledgling republic.
witton 2Amri Yahya  Source:
Amri Yahya was born in Palembang in 1939 and lived most of his life in Yogyakarta where he lectured at the Yogyakarta Public University (UNY). He died in December 2004 in a state of severe depression after a fire at his Yogyakarta gallery destroyed virtually all his art collection, including his first painting.
Painting of the Struggle from the First Dutch Aggression until the Renville Agreement consists of four ‘frames’, each covering crucial events in Indonesia’s struggle for independence.
The first frame (top left) depicts a scene from the conflict which later became known as the First Military Aggression. On 20 July 1947 the Dutch, claiming violations of the Linggadjati Agreement of November 1946, launched what they called a ‘police action’ to destroy the fledgling Indonesian republic.
witton 3Dutch troops with captured Indonesian fighters Source:
The second frame of the painting (top right) records that this Dutch aggression raised a storm of protest throughout the world, including demonstrations in Australia against their actions.
The most well-known demonstration in Australia occurred on 25 July 1947. Two days before, the Sydney University's Labor Club had hosted a talk by a colourful Scotswoman named Muriel Pearson who had adopted an Indonesian identity and was better known as K'tut Tantri. She was a staunch supporter of the revolutionary republican cause. K’tut Tantri had remained in Indonesia throughout the Japanese occupation (during which time she became known to the Allies as 'Surabaya Sue'), and had subsequently become a close confidant of Sukarno and other Indonesian revolutionary leaders. In 1947 she travelled to Australia as part of Indonesia’s efforts to gain international support for the independence struggle.
witton 4‘Sourabaya Sue at Freemantle’, Daily News, 14 June 1947 
K’tut Tantri’s fiery speech at Sydney University condemned the Dutch violation of the Linggadjati Agreement. Jan Lingard in Refugees and Rebels: Indonesian Exiles in Wartime Australia, reports that Tantri painted a graphic picture of the desperate plight of the Indonesian fighters:
'...ill equipped to fight against the planes and tanks of the Dutch. Their army is dressed in rags and has little more than bamboo spears...there are few doctors or hospitals and they are acutely short of medical supplies’.
Sydney University Labor Club students, inspired by her stirring words, immediately planned a demonstration in support of the Indonesian cause. Details of the planned demonstration were provided on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald on 25 July 1947, along with reports of many other expressions of support for the Indonesian cause from a wide range of Australian unions and churches.
witton 5Sydney Morning Herald, 25 July 1947
The Sydney Labor Club students were joined in their demonstration by other supporters of the Indonesian cause, including a large contingent of wharf labourers who had been instrumental in preventing the departure from Sydney of armament-laden Dutch ships destined to help the Dutch forces in Indonesia. The demonstration was staged outside the offices of the Dutch Consulate-General in Margaret Street in the centre of Sydney and was met with heavy-handedness from the NSW police. Such violent consequences typified the way the NSW police in those days dealt with any possibly communist-inspired demonstration. The next day’s edition of the Sydney Morning Herald (26 July 1947) had graphic photos of the melee.
witton 6Front page, Sydney Morning Herald, 26 July 1947
The demonstration was widely reported in Indonesia and was what later inspired the Amri Yahya to include the Sydney University Labor Club placard photographed on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald in his painting. The Herald also refers to the presence at the demonstration of ‘Mrs Ketoet Tantri known as Sourabaya Sue’.

On 12 August 1947 at Lake Success, New York, the United Nations (UN) hosted discussions between Dutch and Indonesian representatives. The third frame (bottom left) depicts the actions at the UN by Indonesia’s delegation to bring the Dutch aggression to world attention. In the painting, behind Sjahrir are three significant figures of the Indonesian delegation. On the left is Soedjatmoko (known to his friends as ‘Koko’), a significant Indonesian intellectual who wrote widely on social and political issues and served as both Indonesia’s ambassador to the UN and Rector of the UN University in Japan. Behind Soedjatmoko is Soemitro Djojohadikoesoemo who later became finance minister. In the centre of the painting is Charles Tambu, a Sri Lankan lawyer who had been living in Singapore before the war and who had been captured by the Japanese and taken to Jakarta where he was placed in a ‘Radio camp’ and given the task of monitoring allied broadcasts in English. He became an effective supporter of Indonesia’s independence movement and remained a resident of Indonesia. In the 1960s he became one of Sukarno's loudest enemies, via his Jakarta-based paper, Times of Indonesia.
witton 7The Indonesian delegation arriving before the Lake Success UN Security Council meeting: (left to right): Agus Salim, Foreign Minister; Dr. Soemitro, Minister of Finance; former Premier Sutan Sjahrir, Ambassador-at-large; and C. Thamboe, Minister of Foreign Affairs. Source: UN Photo archive.
The fourth frame (bottom right) is a scene depicting the January 1948 negotiations, brokered by the UN Security Council, between the Dutch and the Indonesians. The talks were held on the USS Renville anchored in Jakarta Bay and resulted in the Renville Agreement. The agreement was an unsuccessful attempt to resolve the disputes that arose following the 1946 breakdown of the Linggadjati Agreement. The republican delegation was led by the then Prime Minister, Amir Sjarifuddin, with the prominent Christian politician, Johannes Leimena, as his deputy.
witton 8Photo taken on 17 January 1948 on the deck of USS Renville shows (right to left): Prime Minister Amir Syarifuddin, Setiadjit, Johannes Leimena, H. Agus Salim, Ali Sastroamidjojo, and Latuharhary. Source:

Events subsequent to those portrayed in the painting

The subsequent August-November 1949 Round Table Conference led to a formal transfer of sovereignty. At that Conference, the talks were held between the Indonesian Republic and the Netherlands as the two disputing parties, under the chairmanship of the United States, who the two disputing parties saw as a ‘neutral power’.
witton 9The Round Table Conference in session Source: wikipedia
To represent them at the Conference, the Dutch chose Belgium, a sympathetic colonial power. Indonesia chose Australia rather than, as many expected, the newly independent country of India. This choice is perhaps explained by the popular support for the Indonesian cause in Australia as reflected in Amri Yahya’s painting. It should be noted that Australia’s delegation was headed by the judge, Sir Richard Kirby, whose exemplary efforts on behalf of Indonesia became widely known in Indonesia and resulted in his being awarded the rare honour, for a non-Indonesian, of the Bintang Jasa Utama (Supreme Service Medal).
witton 10Jogjakarta, 16 November 1947, Good Offices Committee (GOC) Chairman Judge Kirby brings Dutch proposal Source:
In 1960, K’tut Tantri wrote Revolt in Paradise, a book recording her life story. Revolt in Paradise became extremely popular in Australia and throughout the world. In 1983, at the age of 85, K’tut Tantri left Indonesia and returned to Australia to continue her efforts to have a film made of her life. However, despite three decades of interest by a variety of film producers, both in Hollywood and Australia, no film was ever made, although a biography was written by Tim Lindsey who managed to get close to his subject in her last years. K’tut Tantri, in her nineties and with failing health, became a social recluse in Sydney’s fashionable Hyde Park Hotel.

Ron Witton ( has a MA in Indonesian and Malayan Studies from Sydney University and a PhD from Cornell. He has taught in Australian and Indonesian universities and still works as an Indonesian interpreter and translator. A version of this article appeared earlier as ‘Australia and Indonesia: an art history’, SAM [Sydney Alumni Magazine], Spring 2009, p.11.

Australia-Indonesia cultural relationship: Those who shaped our critical mind.

Japan’s occupation in the late period of World War II has been a big inspiration for many literary works in Indonesia and Australia. And it’s just one simple example of how we share similarities and proximity in literature.

For a very long time, Indonesia has only been seen by Australia as a security threat within its own backyard without carrying any economical and political benefits for them. Or, all along they have been confused on what to do with its giant neighbor just north of them, with some feeling that it’s just like a geographical curse, and grudgingly accepts it because it’s there in the first place.

For most Australians, the only interesting thing about Indonesia is Bali. It was however understandable.
After gaining its independence in 1945 until the end of Sukarno’s era, Indonesia was a poor country. During the era,  relations between Australia and Indonesia were minimal and suspicious at best with communism gaining ground in Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, as the Cold War was peaking. The eradication of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) and its supporters in Indonesia, however, did not improve bilateral relations.

While openness to international trade and investment, and exploitation of the country’s natural resources ,plus the blessing of oil prices’ skyrocketing allowed Soeharto’s totalitarian regime to increase the nation’s economy and strengthen its defense and military power, Australia was getting more and more insecure and suspicious toward Indonesia.  

In the pretext of allegations of human rights abuses and extra judicial killings put forward by the international community against the regime in many areas in Indonesia, Australia kept a distance with its neighbor and the relations continued to stagnant, and in many occasion, tensed. Relations fell to its nadir when Australia became the most active initiator in pushing then East Timor to gain independence from Indonesia.

Regardless of the relationship between the two governments, so many Australian scholars gave attention to Indonesia’s culture and literary works during this era. They did such important and influential works that showed many Indonesians possible ways to break free from the regime while help shaping the critical minds of Indonesian people.

The world would have probably never heard about and read Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s books, if they were not translated into English by an Australian scholar and diplomat, Max Lane, in the early of 1980s. He worked at the Australian Embassy in Jakarta back then. Translating Pramoedya’s books, which were banned by Soeharto, got him into a lot of  trouble. But he dared to do it anyway. I have to say that what Lane did was a milestone in Indonesia’s literary history and also for Australia and Indonesia’s cultural relationship.

We also know there was David Hill, who opened our eyes on how culture and cultural products had been used by Soeharto’s regime to control people and how it invented narrative to serve the regime’s interests. All of these insights are clearly showed in his research, for example in The Two Leading Institutions: Taman Ismail Marzuki and Horison ( 1993 ).
From his research on Mochtar Lubis’ works and life, Hill has not only helped us to put Lubis’ novels on our literary history map but also provided such important study for everyone who wants to learn and do further research on Indonesian literature and culture.

While Lane and Hill have been helping in culture and literary works, we owe Richard Robison for his hard work to debunk the oligarch of the New Order Era. No one can deny that Robison’s book Indonesia: The Rise of Capital ( 1986 ) is one of the most important literatures to understand how corrupt Soeharto’s regime was and how the country was designed economically and politically to give benefits to only several people.

As the New Order regime instilled its own truth in people’s minds through literature and information as well as fiction and academic works, people like Lane, Hill and Robison have provided us with rich and insighful perspectives to understand our own nation, arming us with alternative narratives to challenge the regime’s fabrication of truth. Their works have allowed people in Indonesia to start thinking critically and stand  firmly in trying to build the nation’s just, free and democratic society. We can’t count how many Indonesia’s most capable scholars, activists, authors, journalists, intellectuals, have been shaped and inspired by those works.
All in all, I really believe this is the best form of a cultural relationship. Culture is not only about traditional dance, food, or series of performance events. Above all, culture is the way of thinking. It’s about knowledge and consciousness that shape thoughts and ideas from which we can create art works, literary works, books, films and anything we want.

Unfortunately there is still an imbalance in relations. It seems that Indonesia has been much more influenced by Australians than the other way round. It’s the thing that should be disturbing and challenging for Indonesians like myself. I think it’s time for Indonesians to start influencing Australians with our ideas.

Okky Madasari is an Indonesian author and co-founder of ASEAN Literary Festival. This article is an excerpt from her paper for  the Australia-Indonesia Youth Conference (CAUSINDY), September 2016.

Bali murder case a sobering lesson for all tourists.

Ross B. Taylor

When mother of two boys, Sara Connor (45) from Byron Bay, boarded her flight to Bali, she was no different to the 1.1 million Australians who head-off to our favourite playground each year, seeking sunshine, good food, change-of-culture and fun.
Two weeks later Ms Connor was sitting in a police cell facing an investigation into the murder of a Bali police officer. The rest reads like a story from a crime thriller movie:
Ms Connor had arranged to meet her new boyfriend David Taylor, 34 near Kuta Beach and they were enjoying the warm breezes and atmosphere that makes Bali so popular for many Australians. That was until the night of the 16th August 2016, when they went out for dinner and then found themselves sitting on Kuta beach around 3am the next morning drinking when things became ‘romantic’.
From what has been reported so far, Ms Connor and Mr Taylor ended up involved with an incident involving a local – and long serving - policeman, Wayan Sudarsa, who soon after lay dead with numerous stab wounds to his body from an alleged broken Bintang beer bottle.
As a result of police investigations, both Taylor and Connor have now been arrested and charges of murder for either or both of them have now been confirmed by the Police Prosecuters.
The first real shock for Australians reading this story as it unfolds is that the Indonesian Police and Prosecution can take several months to prepare their case and then decide whether to formally charge the couple. In the meantime, the concept of ‘bail’ is not readily accepted in Indonesian law, so often persons arrested can find themselves as ‘guests’ of the police for extended periods; even before charges are laid. This is what has happened to Connor and Taylor.
The second real shock is the conditions in which accused people find themselves are very different to those in Australia. And also the Australian Government is very limited as to what they can do to intervene and assist.
Welcome to the laws in a foreign country.
The other stark reality is that whilst a country like Indonesia has now embraced democracy, including the principles of the ‘Separation of Powers’ whereby there must be a ‘separation’ between political, law enforcement and judicial procedures, they are still very inexperienced and still vulnerable to corruption and inappropriate behaviour by officials.
We have seen this recently on Australian news coverage, when police instructed Connor and Taylor to re-enact the events that lead to the stabbing of the police officer. The re-enactment was carried-out with full and gruesome coverage by Indonesia’s media. It was an appalling spectacle for many Australians, but in Indonesia it was normal process.
Over the next week the Prosecution will prepare their case. Then the process of a full and public trial of two westerners will be played out on national television. The reality that the dead policeman was an ‘Orang Bali’ (a Balinese) with a proud record and a respected family will only make matters more complex.
Once the judge, who shall hear the case, is appointed he or she may exercise their right to have a ‘private discussion’ with the accused. How this is handled by the lawyers representing Connor and Taylor will be critical to their future and to the impact on her children back in Australia.
This case has a long way to go. In the meantime both Taylor and Connor will remain in very unpleasant conditions similar to that experienced by Schapelle Corby and the Bali Nine. And the Australian Government can only sit and watch.
The sobering lesson for all of us is that whilst Bali is an incredibly safe place to visit (with only .006% of Australians coming into contact with Bali’s police each year) we need to remember that, as is often the case in foreign countries, when things go wrong, events can spiral out-of-control very quickly, and when they do, the laws that we take for granted here simply do not apply in your host country.
Whilst sipping a cold Bintang on Kuta Beach is a great idea, perhaps at 3am it’s better to be back at your hotel around the pool; or in bed.
Ross B. Taylor AM is the President of the Indonesia Institute Inc., based in Australia: @indorosstaylor
October 2016