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, April 20, 2017


Farewell the pioneer parachutist                                        

She was Kartini with a gun – bold, brave, and determined to compete in men’s traditional areas.  First journalism - then the military. 

Herlina Kasim (right, with President Soekarno) was the only female parachuted into the Papua jungle behind the colonialists’ lines.  This was during the 1961-62 Trikora (Tri Komando Rakyat - strategy for mobilizing the nation) campaign led by General Soeharto who later became the Republic’s second president.
The young writer turned warrior was also an exemplar of selfless patriotism. After being rewarded for her exploits by President Soekarno with a belt secured by a half-kilo gold clasp she was known as Srikandi Pending Emas (the gold buckle heroine).
Then she astonished the nation again by giving the prize back to the Palace.
She explained her gesture by saying that fighting for her country was honor enough and that the State needed the money for development.
When she died earlier this year from diabetic complications aged 75 her passing was little noticed. 
As a feminist she was way ahead of her time, a tomboy before the term became acceptable. In early photos she looks self assured as though wearing khaki was as natural as a floral dress. In one group she audaciously thrusts hands in pockets.
Herlina was born in Malang, East Java in 1941, the third of six children. Only one was a boy. After completing basic high schooling in Jakarta she left home in search of adventure in the Moluccas. It’s not known why she wanted to put about 3,500 kilometers between herself and her family.
In Ternate she worked as a journalist on a weekly paper and got involved in anti-colonialism campaigns.  It was a time of gross chauvinism.
Emboldened by shipments of Russian weapons and the backing of so-called ‘non-aligned states’, Soekarno started Trikora to wrest Irian Jaya from the Dutch.  Western diplomats thought the real purpose was to divert attention from a collapsing economy.
Volunteers were sought to fight behind enemy lines. Herlina offered her services and must have had a silver tongue because she persuaded the generals that girls could also be guerrillas. 

This was decades before women became active combatants in Western nations, with restrictions remaining in some armies.  Last year the US finally announced that all roles are open to females.  In Indonesia women in the armed forces are usually assigned to administrative and welfare duties.
After minimal training Herlina was parachuted into Irian Jaya along with 19 men.  Like an earlier seaborne assault which turned into a rout, the drop was not a professional operation. She missed her target, was knocked unconscious and came too in a field of mud. She then set out to find her companions not knowing some had been killed.
After a week of fruitless wanderings and supplies running low she met local tribesmen and was led to a fishing village. Three weeks later Herlina was ferried to an Indonesian island. She hadn’t fired a shot or seized territory.
Trikora cost 400 Indonesian and 126 Dutch lives.  But it showed Indonesia was serious about recovering colonial territory and the Dutch no longer had the stomach for war. Under international pressure they ceded the province to the UN.  In a later referendum selected Irian leaders voted to join Indonesia. 
By then Herlina had left active duties. For a while she worked in Jakarta as an educator in the Women's Army Corps, then as a press secretary in Foreign Affairs. There are reports that she was involved in a fake news campaign during Konfrontasi when Soekarno sent in the army to oppose the creation of Malaysia, but these can’t be confirmed.
She also married and had two sons, Rigel Wahyu Nugroho (born 1962) and now a trader, and five years later Aurigea Bima Sakti who works as a commercial pilot.  Both men live in Malaysia.
“My Mom had a very strong character,” Rigel said by phone and e-mail.  “She was disciplined, straight forward yet a very humble person.  She liked to help people, especially the poor.

Herlina with son Rigel

“She hardly ever wore her army uniform but didn't tell me why. She didn’t care much about her rank - not like others.
“After she left the army she was involved in a few businesses as well as social work together with my Dad Harkomoyo.  (When Rigel was nine his Mom divorced, later remarried but had no more children.)
“In the early 70s she got involved in sports and built the Caprina Football Club.  Again it was not for business but for social activities.  It was very successful. 
“She selected about 24 junior players and gave them accommodation and education.  She also ran a club for under 14s.
“After a few years the club joined the Indonesian professional league.  It was based in Bali and renamed Caprina Bali FC.  It also had a boxing team.
“I think my Mom was the only women who had a football team in Indonesia and maybe in the world.”
Nationally Herlina kept a low profile until 2011 and the 50th Anniversary of Trikora. She reportedly asked President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to change the name of Papua back to Irian.
It seems her motive was to negate the influence of the OPM (Organisasi Papua Merdeka, Free Papua Movement) because she believed its independence campaign damaged the reputation of Trikora.  Irian Jaya became Papua in 2002.)
Herlina was laid to rest in Jakarta. Her family was offered a place in a heroes’ cemetery but she had stipulated an ordinary plot in a public graveyard.  To the end she stayed determined to do things her way.
All pictures courtesy of Rigel Wahyu Nugroho.  

(First published in The Jakarta Post 20 April 2017)

Thursday, April 13, 2017


Learning to be mates, step-by-step       
Numbers are still low and the hurdles remain high, but Dr David Reeve (right) is cautiously positive about building relationships between Indonesia and Australia through education.
The Australian academic’s optimism is not a cosy motherhood statement from a novice booster, but a hard-nosed observation from an old hand.
He believes the ceaseless predictions that Southeast Asia’s largest economy will continue to grow (the World Bank is forecasting 5.2 per cent this year against Australia’s 3 per cent) are pushing students who want to be part of the action. 
Reeve expects the drumbeat of business will draw the doers and dealers of the future to the archipelago seeking the rhythm at its source. In the past 18 months Australian government ministers have led two big trade missions to the Archipelago.
“Interest has moved away from the arts and humanities,” Reeve said. “Learning batik painting or ethnic dance can be done in spare time, as a hobby; it’s not the principal attraction. 
“Visiting Asia is no longer exotic – it has become routine for the young.  Some of these kids are miles ahead of earlier generations in relating to difference.
“The demand is in areas like economics, law, politics, development, sociology and feminism. Students want the whole experience - often taking short in-country courses and following these with work or internships. Tertiary institutions need to identify the possibilities.
“A few are already aware.  Yogyakarta’s Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM) has courses in disaster management and conflict resolution attracting foreigners. In Manado (North Sulawesi) marine biology is an obvious area.  Unfortunately market research is seldom done.
“There are difficulties.  Visas to study in Singapore and Malaysia come through in two or three days. In Indonesia it can be two or three months. This has been the situation for too long.”
Reeve  is well credentialed to comment. Apart from being a Visiting Fellow at the University of New South Wales he’s also Deputy Consortium Director and Study Tour Coordinator for the Australia Consortium for In-Country Indonesian Studies.
This is a non-profit organization helping students enrol at Indonesian universities for one or more semesters earning credits recognized by their home institutions. Around 2,000 have used the scheme in the past two decades.
The success of ACICIS has cleared the scrub for the Australian government’s New Colombo Plan (NCP). In the past four years this has supported about 17,500 to study in more than 30 Indo-Pacific countries through ‘mobility grants’ and scholarships. (The original Colombo Plan last century helped students from ‘developing countries’ study in Australia and other Commonwealth nations.)
This year 105 won NCP scholarships.  Only 14 have chosen to study in Indonesia – most are at UGM.
Reeve says the scheme is attracting quality and another reason why he’s more plus than minus about Australians starting to better understand their northern neighbors.
The numbers are tiny when compared to Asians in lecture rooms Down Under.  This January (the latest figures available) more than 382,000 overseas students were enrolled – most from China and India. Around three per cent are Indonesians according to Australian Government statistics.
Reeve argues that Australian undergraduates who go to education institutions abroad are “opening up a new constitution and building personal contacts that will serve them well in their future careers.” 
The government promotes the NCP in similar terms:  ‘Internships, mentorships and practicums … provide students with opportunities to enhance their skills in real life situations, build cross-cultural competencies and develop professional networks that can last a lifetime.’
That’s been the case for Reeve who first came to Indonesia as a diplomat.  “I’d studied French so I was sent to Jakarta,” he commented wryly.  His doctorate analysed Golkar, the government party which dominated politics under second president Soeharto’s authoritarian rule till this century – and remains a major force
He’s lived in Indonesia for eleven years, and worked at four Indonesian universities. He was a founding lecturer in the Australian Studies program at Universitas Indonesia in the 1980s.
His experience has proved the wisdom that in Indonesia personal relationships trump official positions.  Even in university rector’s suites visitors can be asked about the offspring of their loins ahead of inquiries about intellectual output.
“Few campuses have built bilateral relationships that last,” said Reeve. “Australian universities have files of MOU (memorandum of understanding) that are going nowhere.  It’s very hard for head offices to make these work and maintain the links.
“Inter-campus relationships that are a success tend to come about at the departmental level where the bureaucracy is not so obstructive and where dynamic individuals operate through friendships built over the years.  There are signs this reality is being recognised.”
Because such deals are powered by committed individuals flying low they seldom get noticed and promoted by government publicity machines.

Vicki Richardson (left), Dean of Languages at the private co-educational Tranby College in Western Australia is an example.  In 2010 she set up an exchange program with a school in Surabaya.  The arrangement flourished.
Building on her contacts she is now English Coordinator in Senior State Schools in East Java.  It’s a volunteer position she created herself with support from the local government which provides a car, a driver and an advisor.
Richardson visits schools across the province that are below the national standards in English.  Sometimes backed by students from Australia she helps teachers with second language classroom strategies and encourages learners to build conversational confidence.
 Few instructors in state schools have visited English-speaking countries so have limited understanding of daily language use. They rely on grammar-based pedagogy which tends to bore.
Richardson hopes her initiative will be recognised, supported and expanded by the Australian government now she has shown what’s possible.

Reeve agreed, but concedes that the “signs remain mixed” regarding relationships between the Republic and its southern neighbor. 
An outrage like the 2002 Bali bombing or clashes of policy, like Australia’s involvement in Timor Leste’s independence could uproot the path that’s been laid.  Nonetheless Reeve stays smiling. “Anxiety levels are dropping,” he said. “Green shoots are starting to appear.”

(First published in Strategic Review 14 April 2017)

Monday, April 10, 2017


Those were the days                                                 

Indonesia is an historian’s mother lode – a vein of dazzling riches.
From the bloodletting and intrigue of the Majapahit dynasty to the adventures and betrayal of Prince Diponegoro through to building a nation; the mix of mystery and fact continues to yield high quality ore. Some stories feature European adventurers.
Probably the most famous was K’tut Tantri, aka Surabaya Sue, aka Muriel Walker, the Scottish-American Bali hotelier who supported the nationalists.  Tortured by the Japanese she became a broadcaster and speech writer for Soekarno. and told some of her past in Revolt in Paradise. Though not all. 
Less famous and less coy is John Coast though his past is almost as fantastic. Had his biography Recruit to Revolution (first published in 1952) not been reissued by a reputable publisher and edited by scholar Dr Laura Noszlopy it might have been considered suspect.
Coast’s story starts in pre-war Britain where he worked as a bored bank clerk who loved to watch ballet. He enlisted and was sent to defend Singapore two weeks before it fell.
As in The Lunchbox film about the Dabbawallahs of Mumbai ‘sometimes you have to get on the wrong train to get to the right station’. 
For more than three years Coast toiled on the 418 kilometer Death Railway linking Thailand with Burma.  He slaved with thousands of European prisoners and maybe up to 300,000 romusha, conscripted Indonesians; he found them more likeable than the ‘blackguard’ Dutch. 
Despite the appalling conditions (about a third of the workers died) Coast spent his time usefully.  He discovered Balinese dance and organised performances to entertain the men. 
He also studied Dutch and Malay, arousing suspicion as he had the ‘fantastic idea’ of Indonesian independence. Instead of crying in his cups during the long sea voyage home after release he wrote about his experiences. Railroad of Death was published in 1946 and did well. Coast mixed with Indonesians in London and assembled a Javanese dance group to stage tours.

 Coast helped his friends agitating to get the Dutch out of the East Indies through cultural activities, translations and lobbying. Although Independence had been declared after the Japanese surrender the colonialists had returned and were engaged in a guerrilla war.
During this time Coast met key players including the Moscow go-between Suripno and the Sorbonne-educated economist Sumitro Joyohadikusumo, who later became Minister of Finance. He and Coast were the same age – both born in 1917.
 According to Noszlopy’s introduction, Joyohadikusumo was also associated with the Socialist Party of Indonesia.  The reminder may not please his son, failed presidential aspirant Prabowo Subianto now Gerindra Party boss.
The closest Coast could get to Indonesia was the British Embassy in Bangkok. He was supposed to be handling public relations but spent time developing contacts with Indonesians.  He quit after a year to work for the new Indonesian government. Coast claimed his former employer considered him ‘unstable’ and a ‘nutcase’.
Long before security clearances and plastic name tags hampered adventurers, oddballs like Coast could get into what he called ‘the thick of things’. He was also a speedy learner, prepared to adapt and dilute his personal beliefs. Keen to be seen as egalitarian in the post-colonial era he wore shorts and walked. 
A Javanese friend who understood the protocols of appearances trumping abilities offered advice: Wear long trousers and a tie; use a car; mix only with top officials and wear glasses to look older.  The ploys worked and Coast then got treated with respect.
His job was organising clandestine flights of goods and guns into Indonesia past the Dutch blockade which was making the Republic a ‘dirty, shabby, isolated, barren, vicious-minded place.’
American pilots flew old Dakotas from Thailand to Bukittinggi and Jambi in Sumatra, and Yogyakarta.  To earn money the revolutionaries exported opium – another awkward piece to fit into the jigsaw of the nation’s history.
Coast met the leaders of the new government and was impressed with their qualities. He formed a close relationship with Agus Salim who cleverly organised support for the new Republic from Arab states using his credentials as an Islamic scholar.
Coast accompanied the Indonesian delegation to the 1949 Round Table Conference in The Hague which led to the Dutch withdrawal from Indonesia.  He was then smart enough to realise his job had been done and there was no place for a foreigner in the new nationalism. 
He moved to Bali to become a concert promoter taking an Indonesian dance troupe called Peliatan (named after a village near Ubud) on a successful tour to Britain and the US.
Coast wrote about his experiences in Dancing out of Bali and for some time was seen as an Indonesian expert. He worked with people like the naturalist film producer Sir David Attenborough on BBC documentaries. Coast’s essay on East-West relationships ( is as relevant today as it was when written in the 1950s.
What this book doesn’t say is that Coast had allegedly been a pre-war fascist and Nazi sympathiser, a background only recently revealed through the release of official papers.
The omission is strange as the information was published in 2015 – and also because Coast was later linked to left-wing activists and causes. Although allegedly of interest to the MI5 spy agency Coast was never arrested though some friends were jailed.
Two years ago Britain’s Express tabloid commented that ‘it is unlikely they (Attenborough and other celebrities) would have wanted much to do with him (Coast) if they had any inkling of the depth of his anti-Semitic fanaticism.’
Was this true – or a Dutch intelligence smear? Fortunately Indonesians saw the man for what he was – a genuine anti-colonialist with the determination to help the new nation through his skills and contacts. Coast married a Javanese (Supianti) and died in 1989, and as the conservative newspaper reluctantly notes, with his reputation intact
Recruit to Revolution                                                                                                                             by John Coast, edited by Laura Noszlopy                                                                                         NIAS Press 2016      

(First published in The Jakarta Post 10 April 2017)                                                                                                                                  

Wednesday, April 05, 2017


Seeing the bigger need       

Blind supporters of the Arema Football Club
Few came alone to the birthday bash.
Pairs seemed mismatched, little kids and older men, mothers and adult daughters, relatives and friends holding hands though not side-by-side. More often one person was being led in front or steered from behind with a shoulder grip.
They shuffled uncertainly into the hall even though the welcomes were genuine, the seats prepared and the chocolate cream cake looked splendidly yummy.  All to celebrate the tenth birthday of Pamitra, the association representing blind people in Malang.
Though lunchboxes were bakery-warm the invitees carefully sniffed every banana-leaf package.  Not for freshness, but identification.
There was an energetic band with boisterous back-up singers; the amplifier man ensured everyone within a kilometer knew a special show was underway for some special people.

“Please don’t treat us as though we are stupid,” said former educator Erni Suliati (left with mother Mestika). ”We may not be able to see like you but that doesn’t mean we’re not capable. We can do more than just manual work.”
However in Indonesia there’s a tradition which slots the blind into performing music or becoming a pijat tunanetra a traditional masseur. Some seek a broader choice; Suliati, 38, was an elementary school teacher before brain tumor surgery two years ago went wrong and robbed her of sight.
“I can still care for my two children though I depend on my mother, Mestika, to help me get around,” Suliati said. “I don’t blame anyone for what’s happened.  This is a test for me.”
It was the same with other handicapped celebrants; whatever misfortune had brought them to this point in life they faced the future with resignation, frequently saying that their blindness was from God – so what could they do?  It was a response that litigious Westerners seeking someone or something to blame might find difficult to fathom.
Told of the situation in Australasia where the disabled are paid a regular allowance and given access to special training and facilities, the blind and their carers reacted not with envy or disbelief but wan smiles. This was the stuff of fantasy, like trips to Mars.
“There are no guide dogs because Muslims are not allowed to have dogs,” said helper Puji Rahayu. “Some people have canes but the sidewalks aren’t suitable.”  The smart sticks which use sonar to warn of hazards would never stop pinging on Indonesia’s cluttered and dangerous streets. Pedestrian crossing signals which beep to alert the blind would be ignored by motorists.
So reliance has to be on other people. Rahayu only became aware of the need when a neighbor turned blind.  So she started leading him to shops.  “I’m OK and have a good life and business,” she said. “When I understood his situation I thought it was my responsibility to help.”

That man is Hendro Setiawan (right) and now head of Pamitra. His wife is also blind; their two sighted children are committed to school so for special events he calls on Rahayu.
“As a community we care for each other in many ways, though it would be better with more government help and our own meeting place,” he said. “We even organize futsal the five-a-side indoor soccer.” (The ball makes a jangling sound and players shout their intent).
Pamitra’s network includes becak (pedicab) drivers who are understanding and patient for some members are doubly disabled like Anis Hidayati, 29. She was born blind and later turned deaf. If her doctors know why, they haven’t told their patient.

Hidayati’s father died when she was three so she relies on her stoical Mom Musyarofah (left).  Now aged 60 the position has reversed and she depends on the income her daughter earns through massages using a table and training provided by the local government.  Sometimes Hidayati makes Rp 30,000 (about US $2.40) a day.
To be more independent and communicate with clients Hidayati carries a card where the alphabet has been written in capital letters with the shapes pricked out beneath, a home-made version of Braille. The sighted person asks questions by holding Hidayati’s finger and touching the letters to spell words.
Her mother bought a wrist watch with raised digits over the numbers so she can tell the time. There are now handphones on the market with similar markings.
“Everyone wants to be successful but my destiny is to a masseur,” said Achmad Jazuli, 60.  “I hope that someone develops a device to tell the value of rupiah notes.  I have to ask friends to tell me how much I have.”
The principal hosts for the event were the local departments of Social Welfare (Dinas Sosial) and Tax (Dinas Pendapatan) backed by a couple of small businesses. Malang Mayor Muhammad Anton was expected but failed to front.
Dinas Sosial head Pipih Trastuti said her agency was helping about 80 sightless people through training courses and gatherings like the birthday party. “People should never underestimate the handicapped,” she said. “The blind often have more acute senses, like being able to smell and hear better than you and I.
“When you can’t see a face you have to rely on voice to assess whether someone is friendly or otherwise. The blind identify me and my staff from our footsteps.”
Around 1.5 per cent of the population has a serious sight problem; that’s more than three million people. According to the World Health Organisation about half the cases are genetically transmitted or the result of accidents and diseases like glaucoma. 
The rest are caused by cataracts.  These can now be treated through relatively simple surgery, but Pamitra head Setiawan said the cost of around Rp 7 million (US $525) an eye was beyond the reach of most people at the party.
“What we also want is for society to change its mindset towards the blind,” he said.  “We can be extraordinary if we get the right support.”

First published in The Jakarta Post 5 April 2017

Friday, March 24, 2017


Lost in transit   
Indonesia was once a short stop-over for Middle East asylum seekers queuing for ferries to Northern Australia.  Now it’s a terminal. The lines are getting longer.  So is the wait for a resolution.  Duncan Graham reports:
The grim posters feature a rickety craft on a rolling sea under a dirty sky. They are captioned:  NO WAY.  You will not make Australia home. The small print warns those registered with the UN High Commission for Refugees in Jakarta after 1 July 2014 will never reach their goal.
The government says its policy will ‘reduce the movement of asylum seekers to Indonesia and encourage them to seek settlement in countries of first asylum.’ 
A year ago there were around 13,800 known illegal migrants (the official Indonesian term) stranded in the Republic with about half from Afghanistan.  The number is now 14,475 according to Dicky Komar, the Director of Human Rights in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The increase is despite 1,236 refugees being resettled, mainly in Canada and the US in the same year.  This means almost 2,000 got into Indonesia in 2016 by-passing immigration.  Researchers say the usual route is to fly into Malaysia, take a boat across the Malacca Straits to Sumatra then public transport to Java.
Those who ignored the posters and didn’t drown in the Arafura Sea have been caught by Australian patrols and either turned back or sent to offshore detention camps now holding around 1,360. Most are young men; the majority are on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island – the rest on Nauru.
Those who did heed the posters’ message and stayed in Indonesia are seeing their resettlement hopes dashed daily. Last year Australia took 347 (down from more than 800 three years earlier), the US 761.  These numbers will tumble.  President Donald Trump is cutting the intake and trying to ban people from six Muslim-majority nations.  Refugees from Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Syria and Libya are in Indonesia.
Jakarta hasn’t signed the UN Refugee Convention so those trapped in the Archipelago can't legally study or work. Claims to be a refugee are determined by the UNHCR. The process can take years.
Indonesia is getting serious about trafficking. This month [Mar] a Rote Island court sentenced notorious people smuggler Abraham (Captain Bram) Louhenapessy to six years' jail.
He’s not the only one in cramped quarters.  Chairul Anwar of Indonesia’s Transnational Crimes Unit claims the 13 rudenin (detention centres) are full. So around 4,000 squat in community halls or rent rooms around Cisarua in West Java known for its cheap lodgings.
Anwar said it would take 14 years to clear all asylum seekers at the current rate of resettlement provided no new arrivals. He forecast conflict unless the process is accelerated.
Indonesia is confronting the issues but Australia is paying the bills.  This financial year it has budgeted US $1.7 million for the International Organization for Migration and US $43 million to fund ‘regional cooperation arrangements in Indonesia …to manage their asylum seeker populations’.
The social strife forecast by Anwar was downplayed by advocate Ian Rintoul of the Refugee Action Coalition in Sydney.  He said there are “large communities of Afghan families” who have been living in Cisarua for many years.
These domestic arrangements could sink soon. This year Indonesian President Joko Widodo signed a decree confirming refugees have three options – resettlement, repatriation or deportation, though countries like Iran refuse to accept returnees. Integration is not on the menu.
“Australia has created the bottle neck that leaves asylum seekers in limbo in Indonesia for years,” Rintoul said. “Australia effectively forces Indonesia to warehouse asylum seekers … while they wait hopelessly for resettlement.”
Australian academic Dr Antje Missbach was at a Jakarta briefing where the figures were released.  In her book Troubled Transit she wrote ‘most displaced people in need of protection do not have Indonesia in mind as the ultimate country of final settlement … (but) a way station and the final stepping stone on the journey to Australia.’
After the briefing she told Strategic Review:  “Indonesia is no longer so much a transit country but will become more of a containment country.”
Asylum seekers’ hopes of a life Down Under have collided with citizens’ fears of open floodgates, a popular metaphor in the debate with connotations of the ‘boundless plains’ of the national anthem being inundated. 
The major parties support the turn-back policy; polls show politicians inclined to a more humanitarian line could be thumped at the ballot box.
Although Indonesian officials complain about the foreigners the numbers in the archipelago are small when compared to neighbouring lands. There are now more than half a million asylum seekers in Southeast Asia. Most are Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar hunkered down in Malaysia and Thailand after escaping alleged persecution. 

Indonesia also has its own refugees.  According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre there are at least 31,440 citizens ‘who remained internally displaced in Indonesia as a result of conflict, violence and human rights violations’.

The increase in asylum seekers is likely to be discussed in May by a working group of the Bali Process  on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime a talkfest first formed in 2002 and now involving more than 50 nations and agencies. It is co-chaired by Indonesia and Australia.
Rintoul was pessimistic about the outcome. “There will be no constructive results because Australia has used the Bali Process to enforce anti-people smuggling (i.e. anti-refugee) arrangements onto participating countries,” he said.
Commented Missbach: “So far the Bali Process has always been more concerned with protecting borders rather than people; if this is the prime goal they have been successful, but that is to the detriment to the people who need protection.”
Whatever the Bali Process decides, it will be tackling symptoms, and not the reasons people flee.

First published in Strategic Review 24 March 2017

Wednesday, March 22, 2017


Letting their hair down  

Malang has long been soccer mad, but yesterday [Sun 19 Mar] the East Java city went even loopier.
A week ago Arema FC won the 2017 President’s Cup beating Pusamania Borneo 5-1 in the final round so the 30-year old club had a victory worth celebrating.

Tens of thousands of supporters known as Singo Edan (Crazy Lions) lined the streets around the railway station and the town hall to see their heroes while waving some ambiguous banners: Did they mean being unique or being ostracized with the slogan – ‘no one like us’?
It didn’t matter because the crowd was good natured and in party mood.  The police had little to do other than back the volunteer marshals who kept the traffic moving.

A group of blind people held a notice saying even though they are sightless they still back Arema.
Before a lion dance the performers’ whips and costumes were purified in incense smoke – a local ritual predating soccer’s arrival in Indonesia from Europe in the 1930s.

(Pix by Erlinawati Graham)

Thursday, March 16, 2017


Making Indonesian schools happy places        

Muhadjir Effendy is ambivalent about his time at a tiny wooden desk.  It happened half a century ago in a Madiun (East Java) madrasah Islamic school.  “The war against illiteracy was being waged,” he recalled. “The concentration was on reading and writing - so not such a happy place.”
Whatever the faults of the system in that era it set one boy on a compass heading to the peak of the education mountain. He took that journey through Java and beyond, garnering prestigious qualifications along the way.
Now the Minister for Education and Culture’s task is to help the present generation find an easier and more fulfilling way to the summit.
“I want schools to be more human,” he said during a one-on-one interview in Malang where he used to be Rector of Muhammadiyah University, now the biggest tertiary institution in East Java. “The school should be every child’s second home, a place where they enjoy learning and want to be there.
“Let’s build a new paradigm. Some class ways have to change; teacher talking and students copying is not right. We need to develop a nation of critical thinkers. My objective is to revitalise basic education in Indonesia.”
Indonesia ranks below Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam on most international education scorecards.
Effendy, 60, said he had never met Joko Widodo before he got the President’s shoulder tap last July following the sudden sacking of Dr Anies Baswedan.
The professor wasn’t given a portfolio pick.  Had choices been offered he would have selected Defence as he studied ‘military sociology’ for his PhD in Indonesia, and regional security and defence policy in the US. 
“Another preference would have been the Ministry of Research, Technology and Higher Education,” he said.  Why not the Ministry of Communication as he was once a student journalist? “Not so interesting.”
“The President wanted me in the Education Ministry because, he said, ‘you believe in our values and you know our vision – we share the same background’. In particular he wanted an improvement in the take-up of the Kartu Indonesia Pintar (KIP - Indonesia Smart Card).
 “When I took on this job about 22 per cent of the cards had been distributed.  Now it’s 70 per cent because I’ve been working with provincial governors.  I hope to reach 90 per cent this year but there are many obstacles and with some my hands are tied.”
(The KIP is a cash-transfer card to ensure poor students continue their schooling. Introduced in 2015 it’s also intended to help bright kids enter university. Almost 20 million are eligible but millions are reportedly missing out. The rate is Rp 225,000 (US $17) to Rp 500,000 (US $37) per semester.
Effendy said the bureaucratic snafus involved a mismatch in data gathering and ways of interpreting poverty and need by different departments. The education future of 900,000 orphans, many without birth certificates, also has to be addressed.
The Minister said the problem was extra bad in Ambon where a prolonged sectarian civil conflict earlier this century had shattered thousands of families.
Effendy flicked aside the suggestion that he was a new broom in the Ministry although he initiated one change.  Last December he held a Christmas function in the office and asked a pastor to address all staff, whatever their faith.
He said his predecessor, now a candidate for the Jakarta governorship had “done the job well” and his policy directions had not been overturned.  Effendy declined to speculate on why Baswedan had been dismissed other than saying the President “needed a new style”.
The Minister said he wants to scrap the national exam system which uses multiple-choice questionnaires: “The President is keen but the Vice President (Jusuf Kalla) is not so enthusiastic.”
Some universities are starting to organize ‘international’ conferences where all have to use English.  This hasn’t bothered confident participants but the shy are often reluctant to display their abilities for fear of ridicule.
“I agree this is an issue,” Effendy said. “Some students can’t express themselves. We need to improve but we have only one official language and all others are labelled ‘foreign’.  This has created a barrier.”
Another contentious point has been Effendy’s enthusiasm for a longer school day though he claims critics have misunderstood the proposal.
“I understand some people’s concerns but eight hours a day five days a week doesn’t have to be spent at a desk,” he said. “Nor does it mean more mathematics and grammar.  It’s already being piloted in 1,500 schools.
 “I encourage teachers to take their students out of school to community sports fields and museums. As I’m also Minister of Culture I can ensure that happens. The idea is to increase involvement with, and understanding of, ethics, aesthetics and kinetics.
“Overseas education systems I admire are those in Australia and Japan where there is a balance between learning and doing.
“Lack of tolerance is a big problem in Indonesia.  We have to live together whatever our ethnicity or religion. This has to be appreciated so it must be taught.  This is the President’s idea and it is also mine.
“Being Minister is a big job. Everyone talks about education and they claim to know what’s wrong - so that means I should understand everything.  I do know that we have to do much more to lift the quality of teaching and facilities.
“For example in Sekolah Menengah Kejuruan (SMK – vocational high schools) we have to upgrade facilities so our graduates get familiar with the latest equipment and can find work.  We have already sent 12,000 teachers to visit factories so they know what’s happening in modern industries.
“Teaching needs to be much wider - about universal values of morality and integrity that are supported by all the world’s major religions.
“Let’s get away from teacher-centered education to a position where everyone is working as partners, not bosses. We have to build equality.  I am going to get rid of our weaknesses in education.”


First published in Strategic Review 14 March 2017

Friday, March 10, 2017


Java’s magic architecture revealed     

From the outside they look unremarkable, only to be picked out among terracotta sameness by keen eyes. The roof is the giveaway.  The lower sides should slope gently over verandas on all four sides while the peak rises sharply.
The shoulder shape is critical, indicating the owner’s importance, essential in a status-conscious culture.   The most important are joglo with a central cone, the others limasan.
These houses are the liveable representations of the landscape in miniature, the gently rising fields suddenly confronted by the upward thrust of a mountain range.
Limasan are the traditional buildings of Java and South Sumatra with a design ancestry of more than a millennia. This we know because the houses sometimes feature on temple frescoes where the playful carvers of legends and the doings of royalty spiced the stories with cameos of everyday life.

Some look as though they were chiselled yesterday as the artist glanced around for subjects; a man hawking goods carried on a yolk, a woman dressed in a long skirt, buffalo ploughing a paddy: These remain commonplace scenes in rural Java.
Volcanic eruptions smothered Borobudur and scores of other monuments to Shiva-Buddha (an evolved mix of indigenous Hindu and Buddhism).  Hot ash rained down destroying almost everything combustible. As the people’s homes were built of timber and bamboo these burned rapidly or rotted slowly as the jungle reclaimed abandoned farms.
The carvings survived, and like photographs contain such detail that curators at the Trowulan Museum in East Java have built a replica.
Western visitors should be warned not to stand upright in doorways or under roof beams. The early Javanese were not tall so built according to their body sizes. However they did construct with a sense of proportion and beauty and a practical knowledge of comfort in a climate of heavy rain and intense sunlight.

As glass was unknown and robbers abroad windows were timber shutters open during the day to snare passing breezes.  Guests could be received in shade on the front veranda without having access to the intimate inside.  The overhang kept rain off the walls.
The high point in the house collected the rising hot air ensuring the lower living area stayed cool. Keeping out the light meant many dark corners where spirits could feel at home. All well and good.  But inside a limasan there’s much more than a few basic tricks of design.
The underside of the roof supported by tall timber pillars is often a masterpiece of carving inside rectangular three-dimensional ceilings.   Like sleeping under the stars and watching galaxies afar wink their way across the dome of heaven, a dozer in a limasan can be lulled by contemplating the impressive decorations above.
Archaeologist Mitu M Prie graduated from the University of Indonesia in 1984.  For a while she worked in her profession before turning to advertising. She started the arts collective Koalisi Seni Indonesia and has long been involved in campaigns to preserve and appreciate Indonesian heritage. 
Her latest work Pancaran Limasan (The Brilliance of Limasan) is homage to the artisans of the Majapahit Kingdoms (late 13th century to early 16th) and their ancestors.
This golden era of Javanese history came when an empire was built by the clever and cunning Gajah Mada, the prime minister under Hayam Wuruk.  The king reigned between 1350 and 1389, consolidating his empire’s power centered on the rich Brantas River flatlands of East Java.
The people prospered through conquest and trade. They had enough disposable income, as modern economists say, to spend on things they didn’t necessarily need but certainly liked.  These included elaborate interior design of a style that reflected the culture – enigmatic.
So there are elaborate patterns, though few depictions of real things, unlike the temple frescoes. This may be a mark of respect to Islam which prohibits images of nature; if so it’s a recent addition as monotheism was a latecomer to the archipelago.
In the finest examples of limasan the posts are decorated and painted in the traditional green and yellow, often with a touch of muted red. Although originals are rare and pricey limasan with glass windows, neon lights and all modern amenities have been built in some upmarket resorts.
Ms Prie’s book also attempts to be a work of art in keeping with its subject.  It has a sturdy cover, many sketches and around 100 photos taken by the author.  Unfortunately these are monochrome or sepia; many are soft focus presumably to give an Olde Worlde feel when sharp colors would have aided appreciation.
The text is tiny, which is another drawback. Publishers of big picture books frequently get carried away by presentation and forgetting contents.  The final product should be easily accessible to all readers – even if that means sacrificing tonal subtleties known only to the designer.  We shouldn’t have to search for a magnifying glass.
The book has been written in Indonesian and poorly translated into English. A skilled sub-editor could have smoothed over some jarring awkwardness in language. There’s no index.
When the Dutch arrived in the 16th century they included European architecture among their cultural baggage – but soon found that a mansion in chilly Amsterdam didn’t transplant well to tropical Batavia.
Those who were least proud borrowed local concepts to create the high roof ‘Indies Style’. Art deco versions are still to be seen in cities like Malang where the wealthy Dutch plantation owners settled.  The intricately patterned tile floors came later.
The best limasan and joglo are exquisite indeed, to be ranked alongside wayang kulit puppets and gamelan orchestras as cultural treasures of global importance.  It’s good they are being recognised - but they deserve a richer record.
Pancaran Limasan (The Brilliance of Limasan)                                                                                  
by Mitu M Prie                                                                                                                    
  Red and White Publishing 2016                                                                                            

(First published in The Jakarta Post 9 March 2017)

Thursday, February 09, 2017


A novel bridge between us and them                                                           
Maturity at last.  A novel from Australia that treats Indonesia as a real place, not an Eat, Pray, Love fantasyland of frangipani maidens in sun-kissed ricefields.  This is how Troppo starts:
‘The first story I hear about my new boss is in a brothel in Bandar Lampung.  I don’t realise it’s a brothel at first.  From the outside it looks like a typical Indonesian beauty salon; pink curtains tacked up in a prayer arch over lace, a gritty Salon Kecantikan sign at the front and a becoming ladyboy at the door with toilet paper moulded into boobs’.
That’s an addictive intro.
Troppo is Australian slang derived from ‘tropical’.  To ‘go troppo’ is to abandon normal conventions, to ‘go native’. It also means turning crazy. 
In the hands of West Australian writer Madelaine Dickie, Troppo is a sinewy take on the people next door seeing Indonesians as humans with flaws and qualities, not economic units in a government statement.
The surfing, skateboarding knockabout’s literary talents won her a Prime Minister’s Australia-Asia Endeavour Award. She used this to live in West Java where she was mentored at Universitas Padjadjaran and Universitas Islam Bandung while writing her debut novel.  The result may not be what they expected.
Promoted as a book about ‘black magic, big waves and mad Aussie expats’ Troppo follows the life of Penelope, a name associated with steady faithfulness.  That’s not her bag, so she becomes Penny, as in dreadful.
Miss adventurous enjoys the Indonesian lifestyle, though her hosts have trouble slotting her into their mindsets.  And so will many readers who are not into the religion of surfing and the worship of waves, or too old to remember overwhelming lust and its aftermath.
It’s 2004, two years after the Bali bombing. Penny is 22 going on 16. She’s a part-time hangover artist and full-time risk-taker on a break in Indonesia from her older conservative boyfriend in Perth.  As she says, a bolter when things get too hard.
Soon this liberated lass is getting perved in the shower by masturbators, stalked in the bush by weirdoes and stoned by kids before making it into bed with a thigh-biting pilot who already has a pregnant girlfriend.
While her demure Sumatran sisters are treading an ancient path of service, mapless (but not hapless) Penny is desperately seeking self before her use-by date when tissues sag and a bikini is inadvisable.
The gap between Indonesians and Australians could hardly be wider despite Penny’s sympathies, empathies and occasional eruptions of guilt. She wants to find a bridge but doesn’t know how so turns to gin in a water bottle.
She’s set for a job at a resort where the arrogant and explosive bule boss Mister Shane, a former freedom fighter in Aceh, is in deep trouble with the citizenry.
Penny gets warnings aplenty but this surfing tragic is still in Pollyanna-land even when thugs hurl rocks through windows while a boozy party is underway.
Yet this libidinous lass is no naïf. She speaks Indonesian, likes street food and sleeps with a knife under her pillow ready to turn unwanted amorous advances into limp retreats.  She can even handle unflushed squat toilets.
The tension builds. Fundamentalists are talking bombs. The expats tell her to go.  So do local friends. But with only a third of the book gone and knowing Penny’s temperament we doubt she’ll be dozing on the next bus south.
Penny’s Indonesia doesn’t feature in airline mags. People are kind and cruel, honest and thieving, dirty and clean, treacherous and loyal – like anywhere.  Their cut-and-paste view of outsiders has been colored by brash, exploitative drunks with too much money and too little understanding.
Like Elizabeth Pisani, author of the essential Indonesia Etc, Dickie has insights to offer through her unstable heroine. ‘For Indonesian people Islam is a symbol, not an ideology’. Penny asks a mountain village woman why she has started wearing a jilbab, expecting a deep discourse on faith. The reply - to keep warm.
She ponders the treatment of the elderly: ‘Here the old people aren’t shut away. They continue to be part of the community … everyone has a place.’
The expat group is a handy literary device to explore attitudes:  Ageing academics in an ethnographic wonderland, balding failures seeking compliant brown virgins as the whitegoods market has closed, hucksters running businesses denied permits in their rule-bound homeland – and the drifters turned stayers.
One long-timer says; ‘The whole world speaks English.  Why would I bother learning Indo?’
On the other side are teens trapped by customs dictated by men, controlling clerics, venal cops, dutiful wives whose dreams of a liberated lifestyle are destined to be trashed by frustrated and jealous husbands.
They ask Penny about ‘free sex’ and boyfriends, questions as predictable as ‘where you from, Mister?’
Ponders Penny: ‘Sometimes there are things you can’t explain. Cultural difference so vast you don’t know where to start’.  She says she’s from New Zealand. Australia carries too much baggage in Indonesia.
What these generally unpleasant people share is a common hatred of Mister Shane so plot his downfall through black magic and violence which is bound to have collateral damage.  Enough said.
Less able writers would have resorted to clichés in exploring this swamp but Dickie doesn’t use a monochrome palate.  She has a fine sense of places ‘where the earth holds a memory’ but is more at home with the sea like compatriot writer Tim Winton.
What is it about these beach-crazed West Aussies? They’re always looking away, unlike Indonesians who know they’re at one with the land.
Troppo has already won a major award named after journalist and author Tom Hungerford, so Dickie, now 29, seems set to make a mark.  Hopefully through revealing another Indonesia:
‘There’s something intoxicating about living in extreme places, among extreme people. You never, for a moment, forget that you are alive’.

Troppo by Madelaine Dickie                                                                                           
Fremantle Press, 2016      

(First published in The Jakarta Post 6 February 2017)                                                                                                        

Wednesday, February 01, 2017


The village that knows its limits          

Some societies have giant boots; they stamp and shuffle, trampling shoots, raising choking dust.  Other cultures are more delicate:  They tiptoe, taking care not to disturb the sacred soil.
When academic Dr Grace Pamungkas was growing up in Bandung last century national development under President Soeharto was being thrust ahead with missionary zeal.  GDP rises were proof of prosperity – then a synonym for happiness and wellbeing.
Neither she nor anyone else had heard of ‘ecological footprints’ a metaphor that would have aroused mirth, not concern. Green was for grass, not an ideology.
But the little girl did know that leaving just one grain of rice on her plate was naughty.  Waste not, want not, scowled Mom. The daughter is less pernickety now but the message hasn’t been deleted.
Instead it has been expanded, given academic credibility and published for the world to consider – and maybe a plan for others to follow.
“Throwing something away means we don’t know our limits - which is a most difficult thing to understand,” Pamungkas said. “We’ve become a growth-focused economy.  We buy what we’ve been told we want by advertisers, but don’t necessarily need.
“That may be good for business though not for the environment. We can run our lives differently. The problem is defining the question: What is enough?”
One secluded West Java village has known the answer for decades – maybe centuries.  Kampong Naga, 30 kilometers from Tasikmalaya, is a living museum in a hidden valley which has avoided consumerism. 

It has done this partly through location – it’s even unreachable by motorbike, which makes it rare indeed.  Access is only down more than 300 steps. The other factor is residents maintaining rituals which emphasize the sacredness of frugal living.
The 500 Sundanese on the Ciwulan River valley floor call themselves Sanaga, which is also the name of their religion.  Though technically Muslims they follow the teachings of Sembah Dalam Singaparna, a real of maybe mythological being who passed down eight codes of living to his followers.
Some commandments appear joyless but overall are egalitarian - no-one lives better than anyone else.
Pamungkas, 45, now a leading expert on Kampong Naga, is an architect. Other scholars have focused on the cluster of 110 furniture-free thatched homes built from local materials, but the University of Indonesia architecture graduate took a different approach.
For her doctorate at the Victoria University of Wellington Pamungkas studied the ecology of the mysterious village and the way spiritual beliefs can underpin sustainable development.
Through four years research she’s discovered that the Sanaga’s light tread on the land offers a lesson on living without plundering resources.
This is despite the villagers having limited education and contact with the outside world.  They have a battery-powered television but use it only to watch football.  No smartphones. No trash in the river, though the men smoke factory-made cigarettes.
Pamungkas’ road to Kampong Naga meandered. She was recording colonial- era buildings in Jakarta when offered a scholarship to study art history in the Netherlands.
Completion of a course in academic English was a pre-requisite. A colleague recommended   NZ.  While learning how to fill pages with italicized references she met two Kiwi academics keen to know Kampong Naga’s use and re-use secrets.

As an Indonesian who also understood Dutch (the few records were mainly written by the colonialists) Pamungkas was the ideal candidate for a scholarship. She graduated just before Christmas and is now working as a university tutor.
“My supervisor Professor Barbara Vale commented that Western science thinks it’s smart but in some ways the Sanaga are smarter,” said Pamungkas. “Few books, but inherited knowledge. There’s no clinic but they are clearly healthy and fast regularly.
“Kampong Naga applies the principles of sustainable living, something few other societies have achieved. They use ancient beliefs to determine limits – not just through consumption of outside goods - but also by restricting growth and marking areas with a bamboo fence. It’s applied mythology. Taboo breakers could bring curses on all.
“No more houses will be built because they’ve reached the sacred boundary with forest, fields and river.  Families wanting to grow move out.  But they always return for the six annual pilgrimages to the Great Ancestor’s forest grave so I’m confident the culture will survive.”  The tomb has not been seen by outsiders.
Frustrating for any scholar is the dearth of records.  Much was lost in 1956 when the village was torched by Islamic extremists.  A 13th century engraved copper plate, which has since disappeared, is the only known reference to Sembah Dalam Singaparna.
He is supposed to have been one of seven brothers.  Six were capable and smart, while the village founder’s only attribute was leading a humble life.
Most of the limited information is stored not in Indonesia or Holland but the National Library in Australia.
Pamungkas’ mother insisting on a clean plate echoed an ancient Sanaga proverb directed at kids: ‘If you don’t finish your rice you’ll make Dwi Sri cry’.  The rice goddess is a powerful figure in the mythology and at the center of many “heartfelt rituals” apparently related to Hinduism which pre-dated Islam in Java.
“It’s all fascinating and I want to learn more on how religious beliefs can have practical applications,” said Pamungkas who is considering rewriting her 383-page thesis into a more accessible book.
“The only things I couldn’t stand in the village were the smells of decaying bamboo and feces from toilets above fish ponds designed to handle waste and grow food.
“The people are not closed to new ideas – I noticed a solar panel on one visit – so they may build compost toilets or methane gas generators in the future.  But they do consider every step most carefully, measuring changes against the founder’s instructions.
“The message for all is this: Materialism can be checked by traditional beliefs so all have a fair share.”
(First published in The Jakarta Post 31 January 2017


Thursday, January 26, 2017


Going free
It’s one of the world’s most desirable destinations, a country of gasp-out-loud beauty and sweaty challenges for the adventurous.  But New Zealand is also big dollar land with budget travellers reluctant  to pay Rp 2 million a day for a bed, meals and travel. So they’re turning to freedom camping – and upsetting some locals.  Duncan Graham reports

Last year more than three million foreigners descended on the tiny South Pacific islands.  Proportionally that’s equal to Indonesia getting 165 million visitors a year instead of its current nine.
NZ is just twice the size of Java but with a population below Surabaya’s.  Sprawling Auckland is the biggest city holding a third of the nation’s 4.5 million citizens; it’s also astonishingly multi-ethnic; Indonesian migrants who prefer urban living settle in this warmer city.
Most visitors want to see deep valleys, snow-capped mountains, regimented vines marching up brown hillsides and scattered white sheep nibbling green paddocks.
They also want to scale the peaks, ski the slopes, dive with sharks, get close to whales, tramp through passes, bungy-jump off viaducts, raft clean cascading rivers, test their courage and get close to nature. For these folk freedom camping is the only way to go.
With limited public transport and then only between the major centers, NZ is DIY (Do It Yourself) tourism for the frugal traveller.  Buy a bike and pedal down dedicated cycleways stretching the length of the land, with most already completed.
For those hooked on the scent of burning fossil fuels a motorbike is ideal. The step-through 80 cc Japanese sepeda motor that clog the Republic’s roads are seldom seen.  To tackle NZ’s long highways and steep hills grunt is needed with a heavy machine – not recommended unless the rider is an experienced throttle-twister on the big brutes.
That leaves camper vans and here the choice is rich.  Clear Customs  (international entry points are Auckland, the capital Wellington and  the South Island’s Christchurch) and you’ll find more rental companies than taxi touts at Ngurah Rai.
Around NZ $50 (Rp 470,000) a day gives visitors the key to a simple van, the type normally used for small goods deliveries and with just enough space to squash a mattress behind the front seats. It helps to have a partner who doesn’t kick in bed.

Top of the range are the big purpose-built motorhomes with air conditioning, a kitchen with electric stove, TV, a double bed and bunks for the kids plus shower and toilet.  Renters can stand without cracking skulls
These are the Ritz on Wheels vans that commercial camp operators like to see enter their gates. That’s  because cashed-up campers pay NZ $50 (Rp 470,000) a night for the privileges of using club rooms, swimming pools and other comforts. .They call their sites ‘Holiday Parks’ and usually include basic cabins.
Inevitably it’s the budget conscious teens and young adults who go for the cheapest transport with no toilets so rely on public facilities. The businesspeople allege that tourists who huddle in sleeping bags on the roadside use the bushes as lavatories and trash cans.
Although this occasionally happens despite a NZ$ 400 fine (Rp 3.8 million), the case has been overstated as most visitors come to view, not vandalize.
Some local councils have passed laws to restrict campers without on-board WCs – but this is hurting the bottom end of the market.  These travellers may not select from restaurant menus but they still spend in supermarkets.

Fortunately there’s an alternative.  The Department of Conservation, widely known as DOC has more than 200 ‘conservation campsites’ in the North and South Islands. The two are connected by a car-carrying scheduled ferry through the spectacular  Marlborough Sounds where hills plunge straight into a still sea.
Facilities at the DOC sites go from basic with no water and ‘long drop’ or compost toilets through to ‘scenic’ with sealed roads, hot showers and on-site rangers.  DOC publishes free maps and details of locations.  Some sites have to be pre-booked through the Internet to prevent overcrowding.
Fees vary from zero to NZ $20 (Rp 190,000) a night per person.
Freedom camping is not for the pernickety but it’s a great way to meet people from around the world. Most come from Australia, then China, the US, Britain, South Korea, Japan, Germany. France and Malaysia.  Indonesians get grouped among ‘Other’.
They are usually found in off-highway wilderness and conservation zones, giving visitors intimate access to the parks and rivers they’d never experience bussing to the next manicured resort. .
How to enjoy
Although NZ gives footloose folk the chance to let the day make the decisions, some forward planning is advised.  Most businesses and services have their own websites so booking transport ahead ensures visitors won’t go without during the peak season.
This starts in October, goes through summer and ends in April as fall, which Kiwis call autumn, begins to bite. This is the most spectacularly beautiful season as green leaves turn to every russet hue known to nature.
Those planning to stay longer than the minimum two weeks needed to appreciate the country often chose to buy a van and sell on their departure. Tourist visas are usually valid for three months stay. Trade Me is the on-line trading site where most sales are made. Also check notice boards in backpacker hostels.
All vehicles must have a Warrant of Fitness, known as a WOF.  This ensures the tyres have tread, the brakes and steering work and all is safe, but it’s no guarantee that the engine won’t fail – so mechanical knowledge can be helpful.
Indonesians can use their own driving licences and will be glad to know the traffic drives on the left.  But this doesn’t mean Indonesian rules apply.
Stop signs mean what they say. So do speed limits. Vehicles must halt when pedestrians step onto the zebra stripes. At roundabouts the hard rule is give way to the right. Drivers tend to be disciplined and polite, but the police are everywhere – often in unmarked cars – and fines heavy.  
Distances are deceptive; because roads twist and turn, rise and fall allow extra drive time. Petrol costs about NZ $2 (Rp19,000) a liter.
DOC is online and bristling with tips. Big towns have I-Sites giving free advice on local attractions.  Calling into these well-signed centers is strongly recommended. 
(First published in J Plus, The Jakarta Post, 18 January 2017)