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 22, 2006



Could Indonesia’s hopes for a future pitch at World Cup soccer have its roots in Perth?

The question isn’t as silly as it first seems for there are 16 Indonesian teams in the Western Australian capital.

“About 4,500 Indonesian students live here and the majority seem to love soccer,” said Indonesian consul and footy fan Aloysius Lele Madja. “We also have teams competing in badminton, table tennis and volley ball.

“The sports facilities here in Perth are wonderful – super – something we don’t have in Indonesia, along with training and management. That’s a big problem.”

Dr Madja knows what he’s talking about. During a stint at the Indonesian Embassy in Bonn between 1987 and 1991 he took a course at a sports school as a soccer trainer. It’s a qualification that does him no harm in sport-crazy Australia where he’s worked for 18 months. Last year he saw the Indonesian soccer squad train in Perth for a month.

To kick off a week of Independence Day celebrations he’ll be presenting trophies to the top teams. On the big day there’ll be all the formal procedures as laid down by Jakarta, including a reading of the Proclamation and a flag raising. These will be followed by a lunch of sate and other archipelagic delights for those who can spare the time, for there’s no public holiday.

On the 18th the consulate will host parties for other diplomats and Australian government officials.

Last year the proceedings got washed out by rain. August is still winter in southern Australia and the weather unstable. This year the dignitaries will keep their batik dry as funds have been found for a canopy.

Included in the onlookers on the 17th will be about 50 Aussie kids from State and private schools who’ve been studying Indonesian. Earlier in the week the polyglot Dr Madja (he speaks German, French and Hungarian, along with a smooth European-accented English) will announce the winners of an Indonesian writing and speaking competition at Curtin University.

The topic: What are the advantages and disadvantages of learning another language? The prize: A ticket to Jakarta to attend next year’s Independence Day events.

There are around 8,500 Indonesians registered with the consulate. It’s believed many more live in Perth but prefer not to have official contact with their government’s representative.

The cheerful Dr Madja, 54, runs a remarkably relaxed consulate which gives no hint that relationships between the neighbours are strained. The modern two-storey building has two steel gates which can be remotely controlled. On the day of this interview both were wide open. There were no visible security guards or police patrols. No bag searches or frisking.

Western Australians clearly have a lot to learn from Indonesians about staging street protests.

Dr Madja said the Australia Free West Papua Association had scaled back its weekly demonstrations outside the consulate to one a month, usually attended by single digit crowds. Association coordinator Neil Sullivan confirmed the situation but described the protest as a ‘vigil’.

Are participants aggressive? “Not at all,” Dr Madja said. “They’re sincere, but just don’t seem to have the numbers. We don’t have too many enemies.”

(His comments overlook the fact that during recent controversies Indonesian authorities in Australia got threatening letters including some containing bullets and allegedly toxic powders.)

During his 23 years service with the Department of Foreign Affairs Dr Madja has had encounters with suspicious authorities in Russia, Germany and Italy – but so far no problems in Australia – apart from ignorance.

Do you agree with Australian Prime Minister John Howard that the difference between our countries and cultures is huge?

On some points. It seems that Australians don’t know much about their neighbour. Your main interests are in Europe or the US – except when security or crime issues crop up. Many seem to say: ‘Indonesia? Forget it!’

How to make Australians think differently about Indonesia – that’s the issue. The perceptions are terrorism and radical Islam. A small group spoils so many other things. But it’s very difficult to change prejudice. We should try to find out how we can get rid of the impediments.

Against this is the great friendliness of people here and their kindness. You never get strangers in Europe saying ‘good-morning’ as you walk along the street. The response of Australians to Indonesians suffering in natural disasters has been generous - excellent.

The challenge for us is how to change things politically. There have to be more people-to-people contacts, but that’s tempered by the travel warnings.

The Australia Indonesia Business Council has been complaining that fewer Indonesians are visiting Australia. Is that true and if so why?

Student numbers are decreasing. I think the growth of international schools in Indonesia is a major reason. Perth is certainly popular because it’s so close and air fares are reasonable. But it’s cheaper to send children to Malaysia and Singapore for further education.

Any solutions?

I’d like to see an Indonesian school in Perth. Many families have children being educated here and not speaking their own language. This could be a big business opportunity. There are Australian schools in Jakarta, Bali and Yogya. Why not an Indonesian school in Perth? There are Islamic schools here.

Maybe the problem is our inferiority complex. Some think that doing things the Indonesian way is not so good and that all things from abroad are excellent.

I meet so many smart people who’ve come from Flores. Why is that?

The Catholic school education we got was very good. It was thorough and disciplined. We had a native English speaker and he was tough. We really had to work hard.

Why did you become a diplomat?

I was going to be a priest, and then a writer. But after waiting two years for a publishing permit for the Flores Post I gave up and went to Jakarta. Maybe when I retire I’ll grow Western Australian wildflowers in Flores. (The state is internationally famous for its wide range of colorful wildflowers.)

Were you a good soccer player?

I think - yes! I used to play almost every day. But my two sons (he has four children) are playing rugby. I’m trying to understand cricket.

And the Indonesian World Cup team?

Maybe by 2030. Or 2050. It’s my dream!

(First published in The Jakarta Post 22 August 2006)



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