“Indonesia ? Hmmm…where is that ? Is it near Bali ? I’ve been to Bali…”
Growing up in Australia in the 80’s, this was the response I would constantly hear when I would tell people where I was from. It left me puzzled. Yes, even at the age of 9.
How can we Australians not know that Bali is a part of Indonesia ?
So here’s a quick refresher:
Indonesia is not that far away. It is Australia’s closest Asian neighbour.
Although we couldn’t be any further apart culturally or demographically, we need each other. Both economically and for the sake of national security (Dare I say, in regards to the latter issue, Australia is more reliant on Indonesia).
The problem is that we don’t know enough about each other. And what we do know, is sadly, only the negative depiction on what we see on television – the bombings, the natural disasters, the extreme poverty, the harsh judicial system that still enforces the death penalty.
Last week, the question of the Indonesian – Australian relationship was raised again. There was much ado from politicians regarding a 450 million dollar project that the Australian government provides to the Indonesian government in aid to build Indonesian schools. There has been talk of cutting these funds.
I understand that when it comes to foreign aid and what the Australian government provides to developing countries can be a sensitive issue. However, along with many Australians, I believe that by ending this funding – which is for the betterment of Indonesia’s education system, – would in fact, in turn, be detrimental to our relationship with Indonesia.
Here are three very simple, yet crucial facts about the country that is Australia’s closest channel to the rest of Asia. If there’s anything you can take away with you from this post, please take this.
- The fourth most populous country with 240 million people
- The 3rd fastest growing economy in Asia
- Australia’s 5th largest market in ASEAN and 13th largest trading partner overall
A prominent professor at Melbourne University who specialises in Asian law and is fluent in Bahasa Indonesia made an interesting point. He says that those who have a personal or private interest in the Australian – Indonesian relationship are tolerant and understanding of both sides.
Well guys, being born Indonesian and raised Australian, I can only say that the relationship between these two countries is a topic that is extremely close to my heart.
Educated in Australia, I feel damn lucky and proud: The abundance of free educational resources from pre-school right up to high school; the freedom to study whatever I wanted, wherever I wanted; and most importantly, knowing that I wasn’t hindered by finances when it came to my tertiary education because the government had a system that I could pay back my university fees when I was financially capable of doing so.
Yet, when visiting relatives in Jakarta during my childhood, I was reminded of just how tough my cousins had it. (And these guys were the lucky ones as they were able to have an education).
During some of these holidays, I would go to school with my extended family and saw how exhausting the two hour commute (each way) to school was. I would sit through classes with them, sweating from the stifling heat and dense humidity as there was no air-conditioning. The playground was a concrete courtyard. As for the school toilets – this is where I learned how to hold my breath, shut my eyes and do my business with great expertise.
Yet, I don’t ever recall them complaining about homework, their teachers or their insane early 7 am starts.
So now, to make things even closer to home – to help you understand how the future of these two very distinct cultures and countries is important to me – let me introduce you to some of my family.
This was at our wedding reception.
My family were performing a traditional ceremony where family members offer the newly wed couple their sincere wishes and blessings for a prosperous and happy life together. Accompanied by (rather loud and raucous) traditional music, each family member holds up the colourful, woven cloths as they dance towards and around the couple before wrapping the blanket as a sign of protection and love from the family:
And here are some cousins, a brother, a niece and a crazy, yet loved, sister-in-law (can you guess which one she is ???):
Lastly, but certainly by far not least, the most important reason(s) – to me – why our two countries need to get along…my half Aussie, half Indo munchkins:
Okay, I’ll step off the soapbox now.
But just before I do, I hope that I’ve shed some different light about a country that we know so little about, yet sits so close to us that there are domestic flights to get there from Darwin.
I hope that by giving you a glimpse of the warmth, colour and laughter of my family, you can see a more personal side to Indonesia and realise it’s not a country that’s all about political and social turmoil.
I hope you can understand that by helping to improve Indonesia’s education system, Australia is making a long-term investment. It’s work in progress to build a relationship with a vibrant Asian country that offers great economic potential.