Kiwi response to Jakarta killings restrained Duncan Graham
When the first news of the Jakarta hotel bombings reached New Zealand the Prime Minister John Key said the outrage was a tragedy for Indonesia.
After the body of businessman Tim David Mackay, the Kiwi victim of the explosions, was returned home it was taken on Thursday to Wellington’s magnificent Old St Paul’s church. The casket was draped with NZ maritime insignia (Mr Mackay was a former captain in the merchant marine) and Indonesia’s Merah-Putih.
Hundreds, including ten Indonesians from the Embassy, attended the service.
Tom Clough, an executive of the Swiss company Holcim Cement where Mr Mackay, 62, was president-director told the mourners: “It’s easy to blame Indonesia … but that is not what Tim would have wanted. He loved Indonesia and its people.”
Tributes to Mr Mackay mentioned his good relationships with Indonesians and the charities he helped establish. His family thanked the Indonesian people for their support. The Indonesian Embassy condemned the ‘cruel and inhumane’ bombing, and offered sympathy to the victims. Diplomats visited the family privately.
The suicide bombing of the two hotels that claimed the lives of nine people and injured more than 50 is no longer page one in NZ. Media comment has been limited and muted.
That’s not the situation in Australia where updates following the police inquiry continue to dominate the news.
Three Australians died in the blasts. The activities and views of Islamic cleric Abu Bakar Bashir have been widely reported, including hate statements directed at Australia and its people.
There have been regular media reminders of the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202. The Australian toll was 88; three Kiwis died. Then there was the 2004 bombing of the Australian Embassy in Jakarta that killed nine and injured 150.
Other sad, bad histories continue to grate in Australia, including the killing by Indonesian troops of five journalists working for Australian TV at Balibo in East Timor. That was in 1975, but a new film has revived the story. In fact one of the men, camera operator Gary Cunningham, was a Kiwi, but that’s often overlooked.
Understandably the rest of the world tends to bundle Australia and NZ together. Both countries were ‘discovered’ by English navigator James Cook in the 18th century and soon settled by the British.
Today they share a common heritage. Their flags are confusingly almost identical. They have a similar outlook on many things – but not towards Indonesia.
Australia has set up a taskforce to help Indonesia deal with the Jakarta bombings. But NZ Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said his country wasn’t going to be part of the response. He said the reason was because Australia has a closer relationship with Indonesia than NZ.
However two NZ police liaison officers in Jakarta are reportedly helping the Indonesian police and NZ has followed Australia and put out a travel warning against visiting Indonesia.
Australians are acutely conscious of Indonesia and sadly a large number, according to many surveys, still harbor suspicion towards their over-populated northern neighbor. The fearful know that any attack on Australia would have to pass through the Indonesian archipelago, even if it didn’t originate there.
There’s no such paranoia in NZ, where an armed threat to the South Pacific country would first have to seize and occupy 7.7 million square kilometers of Australia, much of it desert.
Having such a huge barrier between NZ and Asia helps most Kiwis take a benign view of Indonesia.
More than 50,000 Indonesian-born people live in Australia, but only 4,000 in NZ. Indonesians in NZ are frequently confused with Filipinos, and at street level there’s widespread ignorance of the nation with the largest number of Muslims in the world.
Bahasa Indonesia is widely taught in Australia, but not in NZ.
Although Kiwis are great overseas travellers they usually overfly South East Asia on their way to Europe. Australians have long seen Bali as their back-yard holiday home, while Kiwis favor the Pacific Islands.
Overall the response to the bombings in NZ has been sober and balanced. There’s been much condemnation of terrorism, but no hatred directed to Indonesia and its people, despite fanatics killing a Kiwi who only wanted to help Indonesians.
(First published in The SundayPost 26 July 2009)