Getting to know you – through a pendopo
Dr Anton Lucas has spent much of his rich life trying to improve Indonesian-Australian relationships. He’s studied and taught in Yogyakarta and Makassar, run an Asian Studies Centre in Australia, written well and widely, and inspired seekers of truths about Indonesia.
He’s earnest enough to look like an austere academic but sufficiently inquiring to prove a student’s life goes beyond 70. Though powered by faith he doesn’t proselytize. Schooled as a Protestant, Lucas now calls himself a Christian-Buddhist.
His rare collection of documents from the post-proclamation period has been given to Flinders University library and will eventually go on line. The papers were gathered during interviews with 324 survivors of the 1945 ‘Revolution within the Revolution’ around Pekalongan in north Central Java.
Peristiwa Tiga Daerah (The Three Regions Affair) tells of the violent clash between ruling elites and farmers during the chaos following collapse of the Japanese occupation.
Lucas regards his book, published in Australia as One Soul, One Struggle and likely to be re-released, as a significant accomplishment. But his master stroke has been donating a hut.
Though not any old humpy. This is a pendopo – a splendid four-post Javanese pavilion on the Flinders University campus in Adelaide.
The cube of Indonesian culture was built to create a sense of calm and unity despite gulfs of difference in lifestyles, world views and local customs. It’s a communal place for visitors and locals to find common cause and set signposts for others.
The pendopo has a Sekar Laris gamelan from Central Java used by students, teachers and the Indonesian diaspora. The glass walls fold back in summer so the metallic music from a lush land drifts among the eucalyptus roots clawing arid soils.
“It was the best thing I ever did,” Lucas said firmly before heading to Yogyakarta where he and his Indonesian wife Kadar have an extended family. The couple’s $150,000 philanthropy was revealed only after Lucas retired in 2010.
“Indonesians can feel at home here while Australians can encounter their neighbours,” Lucas added. “It’s not just a tangible symbol for coming together; it also has an emotional dimension and a unique ambience.”
Lucas had a privileged education. Though never gentry his Greek heritage family had property and sent their gifted son to the Anglican Geelong Grammar, famed for nurturing achievers and leaders.
“Yet I always thought of myself as a square peg in a round hole,” he said. Set for a career as an agricultural economist or broadacre farmer he won a scholarship to the East West Centre in Hawaii.
The education and research organization opened in 1960 to ‘strengthen relations and understanding among the peoples and nations of Asia, the Pacific, and the US’.
Astonishingly his Asia Pacific origin meant he was exempted from studying a regional tongue after passing an English test. Like most Australians he’d seen his country as a European outpost.
Another revelation came on meeting members of the Peace Corps, a US government volunteer aid program. They seemed at ease with difference, spoke Asian languages and were driven to better the world. Said Lucas: “They were not ugly Americans.”
Instead of becoming an apoplectic conservative ranting against reason the Australian turned left towards history, social justice and human rights.
He dropped ag-ec and picked up Indonesian. Through a series of curious happenings – including an encounter over a lost camera – he was steered by Australian Herb Feith.
Through this world-renowned scholar Lucas researched the Pekalongan revolusi sosial also labelled ‘struggle’ and ‘movement’, which “had never been clearly and coherently depicted”. Some saw it as a communist revival.
The survivors’ stories opened Lucas to Indonesia’s complex past and expanded his empathies. The square peg found the right hole, or as he said: “Indonesia fitted me like a glove.”
Yet much was discomforting. In a Yogyakarta jail he saw political activists broken by a brutal system during Soeharto’s Red Paranoia era. “With a Catholic priest I tried to help a boy reconcile with his long jailed father,” Lucas said. “We failed. This had a huge effect on me.”
At Flinders as an associate professor Lucas was also in demand as a consultant. He worked on the documentary series Riding the Tiger about authoritarian rule in Indonesia, and with Australian funded projects on land use, social capital and local government.
He taught Indonesian culture and society, religion and social change and identities. He also privately funded this magazine when it was staggering as a print journal. He remains treasurer.
Adding a Catholic nunnery in Java to Inside Indonesia’s subscriptions seemed a good idea. It wasn’t. The nuns were then accused of spreading Marxism.
Despite fumbles and stumbles, relationships improved. In 1992 Prime Minister Paul Keating, who was close to Soeharto, declared Australia part of Asia. Enrolments at Flinders rose enough to support four full-time academic positions. (Now the jobs are shared and limited.)
Five years after the pendopo’s gamelan gongs first stirred the bush, Lucas and his colleagues organized a seminar on Australian-Indonesian relations. The show was packed. A book followed – Half a Century of Indonesian-Australian Interaction.
Australians were developing a positive interest in the people next door. The feeling was mutual. The folks were getting matey and wiser.
Recalled Lucas: “It was the pinnacle of the golden era.”
Then the glitter dimmed. Factors in the fade included the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, turmoil following the 1998 fall of Soeharto, and high tension during the 1999 East Timor independence referendum.
The 2002 Bali bombs killed 202, including 88 Australians. The government shouted travel warnings. Educational visits stopped. University administrators found computing and communications more profitable than Asian Studies.
“To turn this around we all need to do more – and that includes Indonesians studying Australia and hosting seminars,” Lucas said. “If we lose a generation of scholars we won’t get them back. The goodwill is not so strong.
“There was no background given on why Australians reject the death penalty. (Ambassadors were withdrawn in 2015 when Indonesia snubbed pleas to save drug couriers Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan from execution.)
“The failure to explain the media response to the release this year of ganja queen Schapelle Corby was an opportunity missed. “We need to tell our story about our history, multiculturalism and values, such as diversity and equality. As in the pendopo we should listen to each other and reflect on the relationship we want.
“Otherwise I despair for the future.”
(First published in Inside Indonesia 13 Nov 2017. See: http://www.insideindonesia.org/essay-getting-to-know-you-through-a-pendopo
An Indonesian language version has been published by Surya. See here: http://surabaya.tribunnews.com/2017/12/19/memahami-anton-lucas-diplomasi-pendopo-dan-gamelan-sekar-laras Our thanks to editor Trihatma Ningsih.