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

Thursday, October 06, 2005


STUPID WHITE MEN © Duncan Graham 2005

Does Indonesia really hold a mortgage on the wacky, weird and wondrous? This may not be the littoral of literati, but does it have to be archipelago of oddball behavior?

You might think so if you read some Internet newsletters and blogs published in Jakarta to titillate expats.

Popular are stories about embezzlers who manage to flee the country after their passport has been seized. Bizarre sightings on the highway are also good for a giggle, along with the cab driver from hell.

Although offered in jest there’s also a touch of the sneer. The subtext to these stories is Only In Indonesia. The hardly hidden message is: “Look at the dysfunctional society we expats have to tolerate. Such things can’t possibly happen in our disciplined and developed homelands.”

Oh, yeah?

I’m not in the business of running down my country, but in the interests of balance let’s set the record straight with some under-reported facts from Down Under:


Can you imagine a school bus driver forgetting to drop three little kids off at their kindergarten and then going home and locking the tots in for six hours?

It happened in the Western Australian wheatbelt recently – and of course there’s an inquiry underway. Fortunately the littlies weren’t hurt.

Now piloting a school bus might not be on a par with steering an Airbus, but the checks, licences and tests to get the job are just as onerous in rule-mad Australia. Now there’s one more requirement for drivers. Look, left, right, straight ahead, behind – and inside.


As every Muslim visitor to Australia knows to their great distaste, there’s no escape from having baggage and person assaulted by the wet nose of a customs dog.

Of course they’re on the scent of drugs. Right? Wrong.

Seven dogs had been trained to sniff talc, not coke. So no surprise that tiny tots were getting fido’s nostrils up their bottoms at the airport while cocaine kings with body belts laden with the white stuff just got a tail wag.

Further inquiries revealed that the drugs normally used to train the canine cops hadn’t been switched for any illegal purpose. An administrative issue, said the police. Translation: – a stuff-up.

The dogs are being returned to sniffing school. Let’s hope they’re not left on the bus.


The world knows that too many Australians have an alcohol problem, and the courts throw the book at drunks who drive.

To prove their case the police get hospitals to take blood samples of suspect drunks. If the blood alcohol content is too high, the fine will be also reach the stratosphere.

So when New South Welshman Jeff Shaw crashed his car blood was drawn.

But guess what? The sample prepared for the police vanished.

Ho hum, you think. But Mr Shaw was a Supreme Court judge. Was. Not now.

Apparently he took the samples home but testified at a police inquiry he was unaware one of the vials was destined for the police lab.


Former television comedian and businessman Steve Vizard was so popular and seen to have such integrity that the Australian government put him on the board of the Australian telco Telstra.

Here he had access to highly confidential information about Telstra’s deals with other companies.

So off he went to buy shares in these companies - ahead of less humorous and virtuous folk. Later the value of the shares shot up.

The courts didn’t think insider trading was such a giggle and hit the wrongdoer with a fine of AUD 390,000.


Mr Kim Faithfull (yes, that is his name) had an important job as a Commonwealth Bank manager in a small country town – the sort of place where little goes undetected.

Except massive fraud. He managed to steal almost AUD 19 million over four and a half years before his crimes were revealed. Most of the money was used for gambling.

The bank said the betting agency should have been suspicious that a man in Mr Faithfull’s job was gambling such huge sums. The agency says the bank should be looking at its own internal control systems.

Mr Faithfull was caught only because he eventually turned himself in.


Still on visiting Down Under, monolingual travellers from afar would be embarrassed to find they must fill in visa and immigration forms in English to enter the multicultural continent.

And if you have funny accent and look bemused, beware.

Australian citizen Vivian Alvaraz was deported to the Philippines and former airhostess Cornelius Rau, also an Australian citizen, was thrown into detention.

Both were wrongly suspected of being illegal immigrants.

Should any of the above happen here the chorus of contempt would be heard in every expat’s bar from Blok M to Kuta’s Jalan Legian.

So here’s my message: Before you jeer at the happenings in this extraordinary country take a hard look at the foibles of your own. No nation is immune from the daffy actions of its citizens, whatever their rank.

(First published in the Sunday Jakarta Post 2 October 05)


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