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Jakarta Post
The Jakarta Post
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A more Indonesia-literate Australia on the horizon

  • Dewi Anggraeni

    The Jakarta Post

Melbourne, Australia | Fri, November 27, 2015 | 04:46 pm

There is no doubt that just as more Australians visit Indonesia, especially Bali, an increasing number of Indonesians choose Australia as their holiday destination.

However this does not reflect the depth of awareness of each other, which is the most important basis for real friendship. And where there is awareness, it is not always evenly spread. In other words, we don'€™t necessarily know each other in a wholesome fashion.

Last week, the Herb Feith Foundation Seminar Series 2015 presented '€œLooking back at Jakarta, 1950s-1960s'€. The seminar, held in conjunction with the launch of Scott Merrilees'€™ book on Jakarta, featured speakers who knew Jakarta fairly intimately throughout the period.

During question and answer time after the presentations, an attendee expressed her disappointment that none of the speakers mentioned anything about the mass murder of communists and suspected communists as depicted in Joshua Oppenheimer'€™s films The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence.

She said the speakers had simply '€œglossed over'€ the atrocities. She demanded them to explain this regretful omission.

While the speakers were explaining, I was a little surprised by my own private reaction. As someone who is critical of Indonesia'€™s historical misdeeds and the ensuing impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators, instead of feeling happy with the enquirer'€™s comments, I was rather saddened.

It was not the first time I came across this just indignation on the part of my Australian friends.

However, in the context of the seminar, where the speakers related their various experiences as the first Australian Volunteers Abroad with Indonesia'€™s young bureaucracy as well as the average person with whom they came in contact, what they related was very informative in terms of getting to know Indonesia.

All that appeared to have eluded the enquirer, because she had expected and was determined to hear about the atrocities of the 1960s discussed at the seminar.

I am generally pleased that more and more Australians, even beyond academics, are aware of the shortcomings of Indonesia, and care enough to want to help bring justice to the wronged individuals. However, I would prefer that they do this in the awareness of other aspects of Indonesia, such as what was recounted by the speakers of the Herb Feith seminar that evening.

On the other end of the spectrum, I often come across Australians who think that Indonesians are sweetness and kindness in personification and have no mischief whatsoever in their bones, not at all like what some fellow Australians think they are.

We don'€™t necessarily know each other in a wholesome fashion.

I am not sure if they are saying all this just to be nice to me, or actually believe it. Either way, they make me uncomfortable with their two-dimensional presentation of my native country, half of my psyche.

Fortunately the feeling of sadness was balanced out by the endeavors of a new organization, an initiative of the Australia-Indonesia Youth Association, named the National Australia-Indonesia Language Awards, or NAILA.

It has just completed its first national speech competition. Entries, divided into seven categories '€” Primary, Junior, Middle School, Senior, Tertiary, Executive and Wild card, came from all over Australia. I was lucky enough to be asked to be one of the judges.

The participants and their entries very much impressed me. Apart from their wealth of vocabulary and ease of use of the language, they displayed a depth of knowledge of their respective topics that would do any of their Indonesian language teachers proud.

One executive entrant, Michael York, spoke at length about how important learning the language of a neighboring country with which Australia wanted to be friends was in order to become familiar with their way of life and way of thinking.

This was especially true considering Australia aspired to be part of the region'€™s economy, he elaborated. And Emma Roberts, the Tertiary awardee, spoke of the urgency of tackling some social health problems, the smoking habit, which was often overshadowed by the better-publicized hard drugs emergency.

It is very important to note that all these are the endeavors of young Australians, some of whom have participated in the midst of their exams time.

The NAILA team, which includes at least two young Indonesians, led by a firebrand of a young lawyer, Sally Hill, has shown such unwavering and admirable dedication to their cause and objective that I have been persuaded to believe that the next generation of Australians will be a lot more Indonesia-literate and Indonesia-aware.

And not to be taken lightly are their wonderful teachers, who have worked beyond and above their nominated duties.

The writer is a journalist.