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

Wednesday, September 05, 2007



If concern for the nation, a passion to right the wrongs and intelligence are all that’s needed to reform Indonesia, then the Republic can look ahead to a glorious future.

Though only if the young idealists erupting with enthusiasm to create what they call a ‘New Indonesia’ get the chance to apply their vision and realize their hopes. To do that they have to go home.

Returning is something a group of young Indonesians who are working and studying in Perth, Western Australia (WA) talk about a lot. There are the superficial longings – for a warmer climate and rice that tastes the way Mum cooked it – and the more emotional concerns of family reunion.

But overriding nostalgia is worthwhile, well-rewarded work in their chosen field that will provide long-term security. And that’s hard to find in Indonesia.

Badai Fatturrochman, 21, an accounting and finance student would love to return to professional soccer, but reckons he couldn’t score more than Rp 5 million (US $550) a month; he thinks four times that amount would be a fair wage, but knows he’s kicking uphill and against the wind.

James Martin, 26, who despite his name and appearance is an Indonesian Muslim with Arab and Jewish forebears, and his wife Nuraini Kusuma Wardani, 28, understandingly want their firstborn (currently domiciled in Nuraini’s womb), to have a decent chance in life.

So they’re hanging on in Australia hoping to get permanent resident (PR) status so their child will be able to have access to career, lifestyle and other opportunities beyond the archipelago. Nuraini, who has studied hospitality, works as a chef.

Not that James has lacked chances. He got a scholarship to study in Australia, has been in the country six years and will stay till maybe the end of the decade. Although he’s studied economics he works as a waiter for AUD $13 (Rp 100,000) an hour, the sort of money he can’t imagine getting in Jakarta, even as a hot number-cruncher wearing a tie.

“I’d love to go home, but my parents want me to stay,” he said. His military father was determined his son would get a good education – and the insurance of PR should chaos erupt again and the firebrands take to the streets. Perth, a calm and wealthy city is little more than three hours flying time from Denpasar and a popular bolthole.

“I want to help my country,” James said. “I want to know why we have been left behind by countries like Malaysia and Singapore. Why can’t we get ahead? We have the natural resources and the people.

“We need to create better infrastructure, to clean up the country, the get rid of corruption. And we need Australian investment.”

And to this end he and other young Indonesians in Perth are working to help make their country’s presence at the Perth Royal Show in September a stand-out success.

This year the annual week-long showcase of farming and industry, a major event in the WA capital, has invited Indonesia to be the guest nation. Rommy Begenk, who produces a high-quality Indonesian-language giveaway tabloid for the 8,000 Indonesians in Perth and their Aussie friends called Voice of Indonesia, has designed the poster.

Other promotions are being planned to show that the tropical archipelago is really a welcoming wonderland of diversity and charm, not terror central.

In June they ran a concert called Care for Indonesia in the Perth Concert Hall starring, among other pop idols, Glenn Fredly and Dewi Sandra. This was to “create awareness of Indonesia” and raise funds for a mobile library for the poor.

Rommy also says he wants to rush back to the Big Durian and build his design business, but first needs to amass some hard cash. Like others he denied having been seduced by the Australian lifestyle – but having an Australian girlfriend is another reason not to jump the next Boeing heading north.

Jessisca, 19, from Papua is unusual and not because she comes from an outlying province. She’s studying maths and science at the University of WA; business, accountancy and economics are the favored faculties for Indonesians abroad.

She went to school in Singapore and has ambitions of working in New York. But she’s also much taken with Australia because she likes the way that people are treated with respect, “even taxi drivers, bus drivers and teachers.” The downside for this young Christian is the amount of swearing she hears.

“The critical question for all of us is this: How do we survive,” she said. “It’s the financial situation. In Indonesia the chance of getting a good job is remote unless you have the right contacts. But here there are so many opportunities.”

Indeed. WA is leading the Australian mining boom and the only thing in short supply is labor. In Indonesia you scrabble for work; in WA bosses scrabble for workers.

Accountancy graduate Anwar Helmy, 28, can’t get a job in sensitive areas of the Australian economy where citizenship is required, so is working as a book-keeper. Unlike his friends he’s not so upbeat about the future of his country.

His wife Fency Sjafei, 25, who has an Australian master’s degree in information technology, works with the national telco Telstra on data processing. She also spends time as a volunteer on a local Indonesian language radio program.

“If the right conditions existed we’d really go back,” said Fency. “We feel so emotionally attached to our homeland.” But when will those conditions become apparent?

“That’s the really tough question,” said Anwar. “Our friends in Jakarta say the job situation doesn’t look good, even for people like us. We’re not alone with overseas qualifications; there are thousands more coming in all the time from Britain and the US.”

So here’s another dilemma for these golden lads and lasses; they want Indonesia to introduce transparency and fairness in government and business, but know the best way to get a job is through nepotism.

Fency is also expecting and discussing what language they should use at the home they’re buying when their bi-cultural bub is born. At the moment it’s Indonesian inside the house, English outside – though ready to seep in under the eaves like dust and smother the mother tongue.

Complaints? Nothing worth writing home about. They mix with Aussies, but tend to stick together “because that’s out culture of togetherness.” They hear of racism but say they’ve had no personal encounters, though are distressed at perceived growing public hostility to Islam. They say they haven’t encountered the evil and debauched West of popular mythology.

Any other messages for the folks back home, particularly the old fellows who run the show? “Give the young generation a chance to build our country,” said the effervescent James who doesn’t blush when his wife says that he’d really like to be a future president. “Give us the space, give us the respect. We can do it.”

So while they wait for the economy to bloom back home – and without their help - the roots sink deeper, anchoring them to the ochre-rocks Down Under: Jobs, money and possessions, proper salaries and decent working conditions, cars, Aussie-born babes, friends, romance - even mortgages.

How long before gum trees smell sweeter than mangoes and the dreams of helping the homeland frizzle in the Antipodean sun?


(First published in The Weekender (JP) September 2007)

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