The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

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WALKING THE TALK © Duncan Graham 2005

If you’re magnetised by books about the latest US management guru’s success formula – probably with chicken soup, cheese or herding cats in the title – turn the page now. This story is not for you.

However if you’d like to know more about running a successful business in Indonesia using Australian management skills – read on.

The key player is Australian David Montgomery, born in Scotland, educated in Ireland and at sea by the time he was 17.

Now he’s vice president director of PT Terminal Petikemas Surabaya (TPS), the East Java port’s huge international container terminal, and all without an MBA from Harvard. Or anywhere else.

Like all top executives Mr Montgomery has a swish office with a view. His shows thousands of long red, blue and green steel boxes ready to be filled with Indonesian goods for export across the globe.

But unlike many bosses he doesn’t have hot and cold running secretaries interrupting his every moment. There’s no queue of knee-knocking staff wanting his signature on sheaves of documents. Mobile phones aren’t chiming across the desk as a symphony to his importance.

Indicators of an idle enterprise? Wrong. More than one million containers pour out of Indonesia’s second major port every year. About 1,700 people work directly or indirectly for the company. More than 8,000 truckies have licences to enter the terminal, which is twice the size of Sydney’s.

TPS is also facing a major tussle with the Tax Department that is trying to impose a retrospective value-added tax on the containers and has presented a bill for US$ 7.5 million.

“The only management courses I’ve been on have been brief, in-house and specific to one task,” Mr Montgomery said.

“But early in my career as a British merchant navy navigator I was taught about management by walking. That means getting off the bridge and taking a stroll on deck, to see what people are doing and to listen to what they’re saying.

“You learn to be friendly but as an officer or manager you also have to keep your distance. Like many P and O executives I’ve worked at the coalface.

“When I first came here six years ago I told the staff that I wasn’t going to make them work harder but I was going to help them work smarter. The quality of workers here is very high. By and large they are receptive to new ideas.
“Patience is very necessary along with a sense of humor. I’m prepared to sit down and talk about anything, to see if we can find different ways of dealing with a problem.

“Sometimes you have to fight, but you must be fair. If you can’t motivate you don’t go far. I haven’t encountered many stumbling blocks.”

And the big tax bill? Surely a financial and political crisis of awesome dimensions looms: “Oh, I’m sure common sense will prevail,” said the unfazed Mr Montgomery, “there’s no point in getting worked up.”

He arrived in Surabaya just as the ink was drying on a contract for the Indonesian Government to sell half the terminal to P and O Ports. One of his jobs for P and O had been to scour the world for new opportunities. The company started negotiating with the Indonesian government early last decade but had no success till the fall of the New Order government. (See Sidebar)

Despite P & O making a huge investment and then spending US $ 50 million on upgrading plant and equipment, only four Australians settled into work in Surabaya.

“We wanted to take a very low profile,” Mr Montgomery said. “It doesn’t go down very well in Indonesia to see too many foreigners wandering around, and certainly not if they’re the type that jumps up and down and throws their hands in the air.”

Before moving to Indonesia Mr Montgomery and his wife Diana had lived in many countries and learned about the need to tread warily in other cultures. His career had taken him to Manila, Buenos Aries, Pakistan, the Russian Far East, India, Mozambique and the US.

In Indonesia he found an inflated workforce and a set of work practices that didn’t meet international standards. Ports everywhere are dangerous places, and not just because they attract thieves; trucks, cranes, forklifts and other heavy equipment add to the hazards. Safety has become a priority.

Keeping containers flowing smoothly through the yards along with the profits didn’t mean making people work excessive hours for little pay. Mr Montgomery said the feudal management-by-fear system that operates in some Indonesian businesses – including those run by overseas companies – did not apply at TPS.

“Almost everyone works a 40 hour week – it’s just not effective management to wear people down,” he said. “We pay very much higher for staff than other companies so our turnover is minimal.

“We’ve had to change mindsets and this takes time. We don’t cut corners, and this can put us at a disadvantage against those companies who don’t insure staff, pay low wages and don’t disclose profits.”

Mr Montgomery is also the vice president of the Indonesian-Australian Business Council in East Java – the major international business association in Surabaya.

He said patience and perseverance were critical qualities for overseas investors. He thought Australians tended to be successful because they were usually more egalitarian than Europeans and got on well with Indonesians at all levels.

“I can get things down into plain English and I’m lucky in being able to simplify complex issues,” he said. “However I have one major handicap – I have a mental block with languages and have to get others to interpret.

“But maybe that’s a good thing. It gives me time to cool down by the time I’ve found someone to explain what’s wrong. Working in Indonesia is extremely rewarding because you can actually see results.”


Shortly before he resigned President Suharto appointed businessman Tanri Abeng as the first Minister for State-Owned Enterprises – a job he held when President Habibie took over.

The assignment was to privatise or semi-privatise government-held industries and the Surabaya container terminal at Tanjung Perak was on Mr Abeng’s list.

The British based multinational Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company – widely known as P & O - won the bidding for 49 per cent of the terminal. It did so on the strength of its record in terminal management in Australia and 18 other countries. P & O was formed in 1837.

TPS has five commissioners, including two from P & O, and five directors. Three are Australian. The president director is an Indonesian, Adji Pamungkas.

Growth has slumped a little in the last year, a factor that TPS finds puzzling. Although the government says value of exports has risen, the number of containers has not. Maybe the contents are more expensive (TPS only knows if they are hazardous or perishable) or perhaps the exchange rate is a factor.

The 37-hectare terminal is mainly a feeder port for Singapore. It’s spacious and well organised and could almost double its capacity before further investment is required.

P and O brought in an Australian computer system. Now agents can check the progress of their cargo through the terminal by SMS messages.

Security has been tightened. Employees clock in and out using hand recognition machines which scan their palms – a difficult system to corrupt.

Although TPS has no direct competition it’s not just a licence to print money. As the majority partner the Indonesian government is keen to maximise the workforce – while its commercial partner has a different objective.

A similar enterprise in Australia would be operating with one third of the staff employed by TPS. Despite this labor costs are low. About 75 per cent of running costs in Australian terminals are for labor – in Tanjung Perak they are 25 per cent.

(First published in The Jakarta Post Friday 26 August 05)


DO-IT-YOURSELF TOURISM © Duncan Graham 2005

If you’ve been bumped in Borobudur, pressured at Prambanan and fleeced at both don’t despair. There’s one place left where the splendid history of Java can be savored in solitude. Duncan Graham reports from Trowulan:

The problem with this story is that it’s giving away secrets; fortunately readers of The Jakarta Post are discerning. I know you’ll treat this information as exclusive and will only pass it on to the right people.

Trowulan is a little village about an hour’s drive from Surabaya. It’s now of no economic or administrative importance but it was once the capital of the mighty kingdom of Majapahit whose power is said to have extended beyond the present boundaries of Indonesia.

Although this Hindu-Buddhist golden age lasted for almost 1000 years, the apogee was probably during the 14th century reign of Hayum Wuruk. However the architect of the might of Majapahit was his Machiavellian prime minister, Gajah Mada. His specialities were palace intrigues, regicide and military ambush mixed with diplomacy and manipulation – all essential ingredients for success.

Volcanic explosions, family feuds, internecine brawls, the coming of Islam, disastrous wars and plain lousy management after Gajah Mada’s death all contributed to the kingdom’s downfall. The survivors fled to Bali and by 1520 the Big M was no more. A century later when the Dutch arrived most Javanese were Muslims.

Fast-forward to the early 19th century and the brief British rule of the more refined Stamford Raffles. His interest in history and culture helped uncover many of the lost treasures smothered by ash and overgrown by jungle. Some, like Borobudur, have since been grossly trampled into commercial submission. So far Trowulan has escaped that curse.

But there are downsides; no hawkers harassing you with glossy publications – but no English texts to explain the past. No hustlers with kitsch trinkets – but no minibuses with AC to take you hither and yon. The infrastructure of the hospitality industry is absent; Trowulan is strictly Do- It-Yourself Tourism.

That’s really no problem. Here are some tips: Base yourself in Surabaya where the hotels are plentiful and excellent value, particularly during weekdays. (Up to half the price of Jakarta and the service is better – but don’t spread it around.) There are no hotels in Trowulan and those in nearby Mojokerto are mainly for commercial travellers.

A good quality hire car with AC and driver will cost about Rp 250,000 for a 12-hour day, or you can use public transport which is more fun, cheap and certainly fast. (It’s also scary, but keep that to yourself.)

Arrive in Trowulan around 7 am and hire a becak. You have to bargain but rip-offs are rare; budget Rp 25,000 plus meals for a half day. The major sites are scattered with an average gap of three kilometres between ‘tourism objects’ as the clumsy official guides say.

There are 16 attractions. The land is level and the silent ride along shady lanes flanked by fields of corn is pure delight. By car there’s no chance to catch the smells of fresh produce and feel the early morning breeze; by the time you’ve spotted a warung serving thick Javanese coffee your vehicle has whizzed on.

Where to start? The choice is yours. There’s the robust and well-weathered Candi Brahu which may hold the cremated remains of a Brawijaya king or kings, or the marvellously slender red-brick Candi Bajang Ratu. Built around 1350 this is a professionally preserved winged gateway standing 16 metres high and in a lovely landscaped setting.

Just down the road is the sadly named Candi Tikus or Rat Temple. This has little to do with rodents other than the fact that the site was discovered when a rats’ nest was excavated. This was once a ritual bathing place and it has been competently restored.

The people who built Trowulan were skilled hydraulic engineers who constructed dams and canals to control floods and deliver water through terracotta pipes during droughts. Opposite the museum is a 6.5-hectare artificial lake; the legend claims the kings of Majapahit entertained royal visitors here and when the meals –served on plates of gold – were finished the dishes were tossed overboard.

Understandably this gesture mightily impressed the visitors. (‘You’ll never guess what! That Majapahit mob are so-o-o rich they can’t even be bothered to do the dishes! Better not get on their wrong side.’) Once the guests had left to spread the awesome word divers were hired to recover the well-rinsed plates.

The museum (entrance fee Rp 2,500 at Trowulan – US$ 10, or about Rp 100,000 at Borobudur) is worth a couple of hours and the friendly guides are proud of their collection even if its provenance is not always clear.

If you can’t speak Indonesian recruit an English-language student to act as interpreter. There’s no harga bule (foreign visitor surcharge), no touts or souvenir sellers to mar the experience and the inevitable busloads of school kids are never the suffocating size of those encountered around Yogya.

One of the many joys of Trowulan is to wonder at the advanced metal, wood, stone and ceramic technology of the age, sometimes called the terracotta era. In the fields nearby hand-made bricks are still being produced using the technology of 800 years ago. To lay these with precision required a thorough understanding of mathematics, physics and measurement.

The cattle plodding the padi still ring their presence with bells designed by the Majapahit. The riders of local ponies push their feet into the same style of stirrups found on the museum shelves. These artefacts sit alongside clay piggy banks and water pots identical to those in the town market. Also for sale in the town are bronze handicrafts – another skill from the past.

The word candi is widely used and usually translated as ‘temple’; in fact it’s now a label for almost any historical site. Some, like Gentong are still being excavated; their original purpose is not always clear. Although the houses of common people made of wood and bamboo have not survived, the museum has ancient clay models of these structures along with figurines of the folk.

Some features are clearly Arab and Chinese, indicating a multi-cultural society. The few remaining original sculptures of Gajah Mada show a plump-lipped round-faced fearsome figure. To the outsider he bears little resemblance to modern Javanese, but to the friendly locals he’s one of them, and a national hero.

Whether these are factual portraits or artists’ flattery will never be known; what is for certain is that this brilliant politician united the many islands of the archipelago through force or treaty to create a major power equal, some claim, to the Roman Empire.

The seat of this grand epoch is still accessible and unspoilt – at Trowulan.

(First published in The Jakarta Post, Saturday 27 August 05)

Sunday, August 21, 2005



Here’s a simple message to critics of Indonesian manufactured goods: Shut up!

OK, we all know of polycarbonate chairs that crumple after a season in the sun, electric kettles which short circuit on the third boil and greenstick furniture which warps.

But there’s one local product which has achieved international standards for toughness to become a fine advertisement for home-grown industrial skills. Please stand and applaud: We’re celebrating, of course, Plastic Seals.

Impenetrable as the mind of a Javanese bureaucrat, more rugged than the life of a becak driver, Indonesian plastic seals are the Mercedes Benz of global consumer packaging.

Pity those outsiders who never come to grips with this product’s splendid durability and awesome resistance to assault. Only stout lionhearts who have clawed down the dotted line on the cap of a water bottle before succumbing to thirst can testify to this great truth.

Forget having to pass a language examination; opening aqua is the foremost test of cultural adaptability. As bule have been genetically programmed against exhibiting patience and come from soft, welfare-dependent societies, most foreigners fail.

It’s a sad fate. Having flunked the plastic-peel challenge they remain doomed to be outcasts forever, unable to realise the abiding mysteries of Indonesian life.

It’s true that some labels advise rejection of the product if the seal is broken. That’s an unnecessary warning; the seal can’t be broken even by the buyer without sacrificing a fingernail. Right down to the quick. If there’s blood on the bottle maybe they’ve been successful.

It’s the same with sachets. It doesn’t matter whether they contain coffee, candies or condoms. The contents may perish, but never the wrapper.

Malicious manufacturers add to consumer’s grief by printing tiny arrows on the packet indicating the best place to tear. This is their little joke. Don’t succumb to the temptation; like the military’s chain of command the weak point is always elsewhere.

Pull-tags on cartons of milk and orange juice and on tubs of margarine are also attempts at factory humor. When these are yanked off they reveal another far more durable skin beneath – and no pull-tag. Funny, ya?

Force is foolish. So is seduction. Many men (usually in mixed company) slap and tickle the membrane on water cups as though a little foreplay will lower the defences. But like good Sundanese spinsters Indonesian containers keep their virtue intact.

If you use your teeth to sever power cables you may be able to bite open sachets. The reward is usually a mouthful of the contents. Hair shampoo isn’t a recommended lunch snack while washing powder can get you frothy-mouthed. Literally. We won’t talk about the discomfort of gulping contraceptives.

To slash seals the wise housekeeper includes in her or his kitchen a samurai sword or pair of industrial-strength shears (the type used for slicing roofing iron are best). But travellers find such tools difficult to transport. Particularly on aircraft.

Appeals to carry a kris so you can assault the airline’s complementary plastic cup of mineral water will not be treated sympathetically though security guards understand the problem.

They don’t remove all sharp objects from passengers’ baggage to keep weapons off aircraft. (As an intelligent reader of this quality newspaper you surely weren’t misled by that public relations reasoning?)

The confiscation policy is to ensure security staff meal rooms are properly equipped with enough tools to open their refreshments. After a hard day at the luggage ramp watching moving X-ray pictures of ladies’ underwear you don’t want to spend lunch hours fighting plastic lids.

Some design wag has developed a plastic straw with an allegedly sharp point to stab through the tops of water cups. Foolish fellow! (A woman wouldn’t be so stupid.) The lids can deflect shrapnel. They’re made of the same material as flak jackets.

This article has not been written to mock. The author recognises plastic’s major contribution to the economy particularly in bookshops. Unemployment is down because extra staff are hired to wrap the products. This is to prevent potential buyers testing the publishers’ florid back-cover blurbs against the turgid text within.

This practice should be exported. Discerning readers, who never judge a book by its cover, buy with confidence on the quality of the wrapper. If the seal is absolutely tight and peep-proof you’re getting a real virgin.

It’s time for thirst-crazed, nail-torn consumers to fight back, to demand the same quality in packaged foods as other goods. If furniture can be given a veneer of varnish which strips just as the table is set for a wedding party, why can’t plastic seals have the same short-term life?

The Deity designed easy-to-remove hygienic seals. Shells on eggs, husks on coconut milk, skins on bananas – all triumphs of a benign Creation. These were copyrighted long before Noah built his impervious ark. So why can’t modern human technology compete?

(First published in The Jakarta Post, Sunday 21 August 2005)



© Duncan Graham 2005

To boost Indonesia’s kindergarten television industry and celebrate the extraordinary fare now on offer, The Jakarta Post gives YOU the chance to help select the next Indonesian Idle.

Let’s face it – creativity is hard work. It also demands wearing sunglasses in nightclubs in case there’s a police drug raid. That really deserves recognition.

This prestigious award will go on YOUR selection of the director / producer / scriptwriter / office boy / security guard who has brilliantly failed to exercise an atom of originality to produce the most ludicrous Sillitron this season.

You haven’t heard of the Sillitrons? Where have you been for the last three months? A Sillitron is a Silly Sinetron and we make the best.

So get those thumbs moving and Telkomsel profits soaring by sending your SMS vote NOW!

Still bemused? OK, here’s a brief overview of the best we’ve seen. There are three categories:

· Campus Crisis
· Family Feuding
· Moral Muslims

A Campus Crisis cast has the prettiest girls west of Merauke, and they’re all Eurasians. Just the sort of crowd you’ll find at any government school across the archipelago.

The boys aren’t bad looking either; none are plagued by the teenage curses of acne and a stumblebum approach to social intercourse.

Maybe because they’re all 20 somethings in real life and planning a third divorce. Or perhaps the skin whiteners and dandruff cures they promote between episodes really do work.

Here’s a plotline: Plain Jane is heading for a career as a deep space ethno-palaeontologist. (Actually she’s a shoe-in for the Miss World contest but disguises this by wearing spectacles favored by Bung Hatta in the 1940s.)

Secretly she lusts for the class spunk, Hunk Abs. But he squires the school bimbo Fifi Airhead. She’s always dropping things and bending over in her button-busting blouse and seam-splitting skirt.

Fickle Fifi rapidly tires of broody Hunk even though he drives a BMW to SMP. That’s because his ambition is to be an unpaid kampung doctor working in a Sulawesi swamp. He won’t join Daddy’s conglomerate PT Korupsi, so who wants a hubby like that?

Nasty Fifi knocks Jane’s glasses off her lab bench and grinds them underfoot. Just then Hunk brings back his test tube results and sees Jane’s baby blues for the first time. Can YOU guess what happens next?

Camera crews working on Family Feudings must be crash-zoom experts. That’s to emphasise the emotions of distraught stepchild who clashes with Daddy’s new wife who’s a dimple short of being two decades younger than his offspring. The number of times you can use this technique is limitless. (Crash zoom and stepmum hate.)

Daddy is busy with business and an outstanding success. Otherwise he could not afford a multi-room mansion where spending on female fashion equals the national education budget.

He’s also blind to the growing tensions of having one man and two women in his dysfunctional domain. Sorry, three. I forgot the maid who’s a secret love child of Daddy’s former wife’s cousin and therefore a half-sister to the stepdaughter, and who has the hots for the old man … No wrong again - that’s the other way around.

If you can roll your eyes, purse your mouth and stab your finger in the air, slap faces, fling yourself on a bed in tears but still keep your hair-do intact – then start auditioning now.

Different skills are required for the Moral Muslim series. The most important is a straight face. How else can you wear papier-mâché horns, a red beard and plastic claws while prowling a graveyard wreathed in blue mist?

For this role you have one line: “Ha, hah,hah-hah,ha, hah-h-h-h,” delivered into a mirror while the victim is shaving / doing make-up. In this scene the door must be locked and the key lost. A snake makes a useful prop. Sounds easy? Beware: Ham actors risk being upstaged by the flying shrouded corpse.

As the resident ghoul your prey is the gambler who gets his lucky numbers from tombstone dates, or the girl who won’t wear a headscarf. He’ll go crazy before his kind friends from the mosque exorcise his inner demons. She’ll encounter lying men with lying plans before discovering maiden modesty with the help of many holy sisters.

And only just in time: That Happy Soda from the boyfriend was really full of cocaine, not condensed milk. Who could possibly have guessed such a novel storyline?

Hollywood invented the cardboard cutout character, with black hat baddies and white hat goodies. Bollywood pioneered the all singing, all dancing scene when the crims and cops need a break from the shootout. And Jakarta? TV producers, denied any creative heritage by decades of authoritarian rule, have to start afresh. Maybe someday soon.

Look, enough is enough. We’re not going to take all the pain – you’ll have to watch the Sillitrons yourself and lodge your vote for the best Intellectual Idle.

Anything else? Of course. You’ll want to know what the winner gets. First prize - a week in Surabaya; second prize - two weeks in Surabaya.

(First published in The Jakarta Post, Thursday 25 August 05)


Friday, August 19, 2005


© Duncan Graham 2005

Australian and Indonesian academics agree: More government and community support is needed for cultural and language studies in both countries to help improve relationships.

Enrolments are dropping for Indonesian Studies and language in Australian schools and universities. In Indonesia only a few hundred undergraduates are actively studying their southern neighbor, though numbers are slowly increasing.

“Fifteen Indonesian tertiary institutions, private and state, belong to the Australian Studies Circle, but not all offer full semester courses,” said lecturer Aylanda Dwi Nugroho from Surabaya’s Petra Christian University, and chair of the Circle.

“Some English departments include Australian poems in their poetry units, or classes on Australian society in their history departments. About five offer Australian Studies as a major subject, but there aren’t enough teachers who have first hand knowledge of the country or have undertaken specialised study.

“Only the University of Indonesia has a full Australian Studies course for postgraduates. ”

The Circle was formed two years ago at a workshop in Bromo, East Java. It helps other campuses design courses, write curricula, build resources and open new centres. In October the Sam Ratulangi University in Manado will open the latest Australian Studies Centre, and the first in North Sulawesi.

The others are in North Sumatra, West Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan and South Sulawesi.

Petra has a well-developed centre funded in part by the Australian government’s Australia-Indonesian Institute. It includes a small library of books, topical magazines and DVDs, and Internet access.

“We want our students to understand Australian life, culture, communities and institutions,” said Aylanda. “We hope this will strengthen mutual understanding and relationships between the two neighbouring countries.

“Most new students have a limited and simplistic view of Australia. They tend to think it’s a poorer version of the US plus kangaroos and koalas.”

Aylanda studied for her master’s degree in applied linguistics at Canberra University on an Australian government scholarship. Since graduating in 1994 she has returned about ten times and plans to do her doctorate at Melbourne University.

“Australia is my second home,” she said. “I’ve visited most parts of the continent and I enjoy the country and its people. Good relationships between our nations are so important.

“When I was an undergraduate at Malang University in East Java Australian Studies was unknown. At that time American Studies was enormously popular. That changed with the advent of international terrorism and restrictions on travel.

“British Studies was never taught before 2000. It became briefly popular in East Java but has also declined since the British Council in Surabaya stopped its support.”

Terrorism has also been a factor in tumbling interest in Indonesian Studies in Australia. Paradoxically this has come when the demand for Indonesian-speaking cultural experts in government departments and security agencies is increasing.

At the national conference of the Australian Society of Indonesian Language Educators in Perth last month, University of New South Wales professor David Reeve said periodic crises in Indonesia and attacks on Indonesia by sections of the Australian media had eroded student confidence.

The focus on terrorism, government travel advisories warning against visiting Indonesia and a hostile reaction to the Corby drug case had aggravated the situation. (Last month Australian woman Schapelle Corby was sentenced to 20 years jail for importing marihuana into Bali.)

Professor David Hill from Perth’s Murdoch University described the falling enrolments as “stark”.

“In Western Australia last year only one per cent of the Tertiary Entrance Examination candidates sat the Indonesian second language paper,” he said.

“That’s a 24 per cent decline on the previous year. In New South Wales there’s been a 16 per cent drop in the past decade.

“Even committed teachers of Indonesian face resistance within their schools from parent groups and students influenced by negative public opinion.

“Positive information about Indonesia – its enormous strides towards democracy and the predominant peace and tranquillity across the vast archipelago – has become rare. Yet Indonesia’s rapid social and political transformation makes the nation more fascinating than ever.”

An Australian Parliamentary report on relationships between the neighbours, and published 14 months ago, called for more people-to-people contacts. It also recommended that Indonesian Studies be designated “a strategic national priority.” So far the Australian government has failed to respond.

Apart from negative perceptions of Indonesia, Professor Hill blamed the Australian government for dropping the National Asian Languages and Studies program in 2002. He said this had turned students away from studying Asia.

But he also criticised the Indonesian government for banning two Australian academics and for making research visas hard to obtain. He said Indonesia should provide scholarships for staff and students to visit Australia.

The high cost of education and living in Australia makes it difficult for many Indonesians without outside support to study abroad.

Professor Hill helped pioneer an intercultural program called the Australian Consortium for In-Country Indonesian Studies and now in its eleventh year. This places Australian undergraduates in selected Indonesian universities where they study alongside local students and live in boarding houses. Most find the costs easy to bear.

Aylanda agreed more resources, training and government support were required. She said the Australian Embassy in Jakarta had been “enormously helpful” in supplying materials and encouraging Indonesian academics.

“The number of Australian government scholarships has also increased to more than 600,” she said. “But when is enough, enough?”

(First published in The Jakarta Post Thursday 18 August 05)


Tuesday, August 16, 2005



The Westernisation of Indonesian lifestyles is helping lift incomes for thousands of East Java dairy farmers.

Working with the provincial government and the agriculture department of Western Australia they’ve boosted milk production. Now they are manufacturing their own brands to meet the demand as Indonesians turn to dairy foods.

“At last we’ve become price makers instead of being price takers,” said Fuad Ardiansyah, 30, manager of the new Sekar Tanjung milk processing plant at Purwosari.

“Being at the mercy of the buyers has always been a problem for Indonesian farmers, particularly those producing perishable foods.

“When yields are good, prices fall. When yields are poor prices go up. Farmers had to take what’s offered. They were seldom able to save money or upgrade facilities. That situation has now changed for members of our co-ops.’

Six dairy co-ops in the Malang and Pasuruan regions, each with about 7,000 members, have pooled their dividends to build their own Ultra High Temperature (UHT) milk-processing plant.

The factory, about 90 minutes drive south of Surabaya, has created new jobs for 100 local workers. It runs three shifts 24 hours a day.

The Rp 45 billion plant was set up with loans from the East Java and Indonesian governments using funds allocated to help cooperatives. No money was borrowed from banks.

Although it has been operating for less than four months the venture has been so successful that plans to install more packaging machines in 2010 have been brought forward to this year. This is despite having no advertising budget.

“Indonesian tastes are changing. There’s a shift from powdered milk to UHT milk,” Faud said. “Consumers are more concerned with their health. They recognise UHT milk is cheaper and easier to use. Like Westerners, people have less time and prefer fast foods.

“The shift is marginal, maybe two to three per cent a year. But with 250 million people that’s a lot of new customers.”

Faud’s father Mohammed Koesnan was one of the first farmers to seize opportunities presented by the East Java – Western Australia Sister-State agreement. This provides exchange visits for progressive professional and business people.

Visiting Australia he was surprised that dairy cows produced 25 litres of milk a day. Around Malang the yield was seven litres.

He imported Friesian cows from Australia when dairy farms in that country were being rationalised to make the industry more efficient. Small enterprises were closing and quality cattle were on the market.

Most East Java dairy farmers have three to five milking cows. Australian herds are numbered in the hundreds.

Milk production jumped once the new cows had settled in, but the only buyer was the Nestle factory in Pasuruan which makes dried milk powder.

Faud, who studied marketing at the University of Auckland in New Zealand puzzled how to sell the extra milk and improve returns. Every year production was increasing by around 15 tonnes.

Five years ago he recommended the cooperatives build their own plant. They agreed and set aside dividends for capital. All had a role in the planning.

The new factory has been designed for study tours by schools, community groups and government departments to promote milk consumption. To maintain hygiene visitors are not allowed in the milk processing rooms but can watch operations through big windows. The laboratories, which constantly monitor quality, can also be viewed.

Packaging machines imported from Sweden seal milk in sterile multi-layered paper and foil packs. These contain 150 or 180 millilitres of plain or flavoured UHT milk.

The packs, under the brand names Idola (with a logo like the Indonesian Idol TV program), Sekar (Flower) and Juara (Champion) are designed for the youth market. They are distributed through the Indonesian co-op network and schools.

Sekar Tanjung also packages for other manufacturers who can’t get enough milk.

“There’s a great need to build health awareness in the villages and kampung, and slowly this is happening,” said Faud.

“There are some free milk programs for poor schools supported by overseas aid agencies, and we are starting to retail UHT milk through kaki lima (food carts which patrol the streets of most Indonesian cities).”

During the past 14 years the Western Australian agriculture department has been sending veterinary surgeons and dairy farm experts to help the cooperatives raise standards. This service has been free.

“I’m very optimistic about the future,” said Faud. “Everyone supports Indonesian co-ops because they know profits go back to the members. The healthy food message is getting through and we’re in a great position to benefit.”



It’s a fact well known by every sleep-starved parent who has fumbled late at night to prepare a bottle for a hungry baby; powdered milk has some awkward properties.

If it’s not stored properly, prepared in sterile bottles and mixed with clean well-boiled water the baby will keep howling – from stomach cramps.

And if you doze off at the stove the milk can suddenly boil, rapidly changing its taste and composition – and not for the better.

Fresh milk is nutrient-rich which makes it a lively breeding ground for bacteria so most Western consumers now prefer pasteurised milk. In the 19th century French chemist Louis Pasteur developed a system of raising and holding the temperature of milk at 68 degrees. While this killed many harmful pathogens food purists also claimed it destroyed some natural benefits.

Opponents of pasteurisation were vocal for many years early last century but the process is now well accepted. It’s also used for other natural products, including fruit juices, beer, wine and honey.

Pasteurisation doesn’t kill all micro-organisms, so the milk has a short shelf life. In tropical Indonesia the absence of an integrated refrigerated transport and retailing system means UHT milk (also known as long-life milk) has a ready market.

UHT milk lasts about six months at room temperature. It does not require refrigeration until the pack has been opened.

The manufacturing process is critical. The temperature has to be raised to 140 degrees and held for four seconds before rapid chilling. The system was developed in Sweden last century and eliminates the need for added preservatives. It destroys all bacteria.

Families with refrigerators tend to buy one litre cartons of UHT milk which Sekar Tanjung does not make. Instead it has concentrated on the individual one-pack, one-drink market. These retail for around Rp 1,500.

Small shops in Indonesia seldom have refrigerated cabinets to display perishable products so prefer to stock powdered milk. Prices vary depending on the product and additives, but 400 grams typically costs about Rp 20,000.

However widespread TV and print promotion of the benefits of UHT milk (which retails at around Rp 8,000 a litre) is turning busy families towards the liquid product.

A survey last year claimed more than 80 per cent of Indonesian milk consumption is powdered, compared with less than one per cent in the US. This indicates huge potential for UHT milk manufacturers and dairy farmers.

(Published in The Jakarta Post, Saturday 13 August 2005)


Tuesday, August 02, 2005


HAVE A NICE FRIGHT, SIR © Duncan Graham 2005

This is going to be a high octane complaint about airports and airlines. But because I’m an expert don’t send me your troubles; I’ve got enough thanks. Just fasten your seatbelt and put the tray table uptight – sorry, upright. And don’t bother corresponding with the airlines; did you think the Lost Property Office is for baggage?

Better rant at the cardboard cutouts of smiling staff which clutter the check-in aisles. Now that could be really effective.

Top of my list is the bouncy M’bak Mandala who sold me a ticket to Manado, gave a receipt and then said the plane had been cancelled. The obvious question was: ‘Then why did you just issue the ticket?’ Lots of laughter. The joke was like the flight: I didn’t get either.

Actually she failed Airline Standard UP/U. This requires passengers to be given notice of cancellation after they’ve arrived at the airport. Well-qualified staff (Star Air used to be tops) put your baggage on the conveyor belt and wait till it has vanished behind the frilly plastic curtain before announcing there’s no plane.

There’s no value in asking: ‘Why didn’t you call me before I checked out of the hotel and took a two-hour cab drive through the Valley of Death? You’ve got my HP number.’ At this point the giggle-meter goes off the scale. Stupid questions must come from a stupid questioner.

They’re right - the problem is the passenger. The sacred airline credo reads in letters of burnished aluminium: ‘The customer is an idiot.’ Staff recite this awesome oath daily to keep their jobs.

Like most consumers of nasi plastik at 30,000 feet I like a little assurance that everything is in order. It seems logical that if the ground staff haven’t got their act together maybe the cabin crew are equally sloppy. Did the refuellers really top-up the tanks with the right stuff? Has the pilot kicked all the tyres? So here’s the wish list:

Precise details on the boarding pass, please - no blanks. If I wanted to be in a guessing game I’d enter Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? – not an airport, and be confronted by an intimidating Tantowi Yahya: ‘Before boarding Doom Airlines Flight Z 999 will you use: 1) A departure lounge? 2) A toilet? 3) An emergency exit? 4) A lawyer?’

Can the departure monitors function and have factual timely information? Yesterday’s schedules may give historians hot flushes, but today’s are more useful for travellers. Staff telling passengers for Surabaya, whose tickets stipulate Gate 10, to board through Departure Lounge 6 where the flashing sign says Jakarta, builds confidence in the future like a politician’s pledge to eliminate poverty.

Public Address systems are fine if they work (amplifiers built since Marconi are on the market) and the broadcaster articulates the words clearly. That means employing someone with a good voice. Airline policy currently prohibits using anyone other than Miss Communication but surely she’s overdue for a transfer? Even Miss Direction would be an improvement.

Could staff insist passengers follow the published rules or abandon them? (The regulations, not the passengers – they’re lost already). Like not serving fat and aggressive late arrivals who barge to the front when other potential passengers have been queuing patiently for 30 minutes? The latecomers can’t all be wives and mistresses of the airline’s directors.

Are those warnings about not using mobile phones serious? I quit complaining on a Lion Air flight when the attendant ignored three users (including a bule) sitting close by her safety-feature presentation: ‘Use of mobile phones and other electronic devices is strictly prohibited.’ That’s what she probably said. Who knows? Her voice was drowned out by ring tones - Greensleeves, the 1812 Overture and a few bars of Air Supply.

Maybe such instructions are just to pass the time while they look for a pilot who remembers how the thing works because the right captain is still sitting in the wrong departure lounge. How can little Nokias upset the navigation systems of big Boeings? The idea is ridiculous. Who cares whether the cockpit dials say we’re descending into Sukarno-Hatta when we’re really circling Mt Bromo? Stop worrying. No-one has ever got out of this life alive.

Lest you think these are the ravings of a bule who has lived too long in Indonesia (or maybe not long enough), read on about my last trip south.

The plane arrived late into Perth and the airbridge doors into the airport were closed. More than 160 Australians, rugged individualists all, independent custodians of a great birthright of robust anti-authority sentiments, stood for ten minutes in a sealed steel tube waiting for someone to do something. Just like sheep – except that sheep bleat.

Immigration sneered that it was nothing to do with them. Airport management said it was the responsibility of Air Paradise. The airline blamed the airport; no one else had whinged – so what was the problem?

As I said – maybe it’s the fault of those naive passengers who really believe the captain when he says: ‘Thank you for choosing to fly with us’, when he knows seat price not brand loyalty was the key factor.

But Australian airline staff still have much to learn from their Indonesian counterparts in dealing with aggrieved customers. For starters the Aussies don’t laugh. Well, not to your face anyway.

(First published in The Jakarta Post, 31 July 05)