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

Sunday, August 14, 2022



       Indonesia’s unfinished business

shallow focus photo of people holding Indonesia flag


Acknowledgements of Aboriginal land as preludes to formal events are now rarely contested,  a belated acceptance that Australia has a bloody history that needs to be publicly discussed as a move towards reconciliation.  Indonesia also has a grim past, but still shies from recognition – and healing.

August 17 is our neighbour’s Independence Day and the jingoism is over-the-top now pandemic restrictions have been binned.

There’s not a kampong, village or town which isn’t already so bedecked with red and white banners and bunting that buildings and trees can’t be seen. Triumphal archways make streetscapes look like sets from Aida.

 The joy started in July and won’t fade till this month is done and dusted. The big show should have been the 2020 semi-sesquicentennial marking the 1945 declaration of independence from Dutch colonialism and Japanese occupation.  Then Covid hit.

A bit of background to help the gory jigsaw pieces fit.

Two days after Japan surrendered in the Pacific War the revolutionary leader Soekarno proclaimed Merdeka (freedom); his edict was yawned away by the returning Dutch confident the natives still loved white-skinned rulers.

They didn’t: A four-year guerilla war followed till Western pressure forced the colonialists to quit in December 1948.

Just as Anzac Day recalls the disastrous landing at Gallipoli in 1915 rather than the 1918 November Armistice, 17 August celebrates the Soekarno statement not the eventual realisation of independence.

Patriots are letting rip.  Dressmakers’ have been sewing red-and-white creations, bottle-tops and face masks are bi-colour, and workers are splashing paint onto pillars, posts and walls. Indonesia Raya (Great Indonesia) blares from homes and cars, smothering the roar of motorbikes, though sadly not their pollutants.

The Covid shutdown has given progressive historians the chance to rejig the nation’s story which used to be taught as starting 77 years ago. A few posters of resistance leaders from centuries past are now being displayed.

But there are events more recent and politically volatile which remain off limits.

Soekarno became President and for two decades was almost in bed with the Reds much to the distress of the West and the Indonesian Army.  A failed coup on 30 September 1965 when Indonesia had the largest Communist movement outside the USSR and China, led to an outburst of contrived hate which ran for six months.

What happened and why is still contested. Australian translator and academic Dr Max Lane wrote that after an attempt to replace the anti-Communist military leadership, the army launched ‘an extremely violent uprising in which over one million people were killed and tens of thousands imprisoned.’

Real or imagined Communists, trade unionists, teachers, intellectuals and some ethnic Chinese were put to the sword, clubbed to death or shot, their corpses dumped in rivers and swamps.  Millions were tortured and jailed while others were denied work.

The official line remains that the killings were spontaneous reactions by outraged pious peasants who hated the godless Marxists and could not be stopped.

Although this myth has now been buried by overseas researchers proving the slaughter was organized by the Army, millions still believe otherwise.

Their credulity is unsurprising.  Till recently schoolkids were brainwashed by an obscenely violent 1984 government film, Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI (Treachery of the Communists). 

Using official documents Australian academic Dr Jess Melvin has shown the genocide was engineered through the secret police unit Kopkamtib (Komando Operasi Pemulihan Keamanan dan Ketertiban - Operational Command for the Restoration of Security and Order.)

Cracks in the Indonesian government’s disinformation fortress opened after its architect, the late second President Soeharto, yielded to public fury against his mishandling of the 1998 Asian economic crisis.  The former general resigned after 32 years of despotic rule – while amassing $32 billion.

After a brief interregnum, in 2000 his successor, religious leader Abdurrahman (Gus Dur) Wahid, publicly apologized for the killings. Though many former military men and some faith groups were outraged by his stance, it was welcomed by victims’ families.

Komnas HAM, (the National Commission on Human Rights) expected the doors would open wider and the truth revealed to all.  Naive hope. No one has ever been prosecuted for the killings. Mass graves are still being uncovered.  

During the 2014 presidential election campaign, the winning candidate Joko (Jokowi) Widodo was not from the military so seemed ready to follow Gus Dur. Not so: In 2016 Widodo was reported as stating:  ‘One of Indonesian history's darkest moments will not be revisited …the  government will focus on the future by developing the nation to gain competitiveness with other countries, not looking back on the country's past.’

Then he attended a public screening of the propaganda film allegedly telling soldiers: ‘Don’t let the PKI (Communist Party) cruelty happen again … if the PKI revives, just beat them up. ’The party is long dead and little wonder. Advocating for Communism can lead to two decades behind bars.

Once a week since January 2007 victims of human rights violations and their supporters (Aksi Kamisan – Thursday Action)  protest peacefully outside the State Palace in Jakarta. In 2018 – for the first and last time - Widodo met some of the group in a closed session but nothing happened.

This Wednesday the 77th anniversary of the Proclamation and the Republic’s achievements will not be a gala event for the families of those brutally persecuted by the state last century. 

Although their calls for recognition and reconciliation are growing shriller, few are listening. Indonesia’s military and business oligarchs and the descendants of the killers continue to ensure there’s no widespread ventilation of grievances and certainly no sorry business, as the First Australians say. 

Despite the hush, the anger, hurt and shame continue to gnaw away at the national psyche.

First published in Pearls & Irritations, 14 August 2022:








Thursday, August 11, 2022



   A hodge-podge is not an international service


Abc Australia Network | Republika Online

As Opposition Leader touring overseas, Anthony Albanese probably clicked on ABC Australia TV to kill time.  If so his claim that ‘it’s a matter of national security that the ABC makes more content that projects Australian values and interests to the Indo-Pacific region’ sounds like despair driving action.

Albanese playing with the remote in an Indonesian hotel room would have been swamped with shame.  Channels from Britain, the US, Japan, South Korea, Qatar, France, Germany, Singapore, Russia and China – all with programmes showcasing their nations’ ‘identity, values and interests’ (the PM’s words), and doing so in quality English, sometimes with local captions.  Against this line-up Australia isn’t even in the pool.

The PM’s comments were made last week at the ABC's 90th anniversary shin-dig in Sydney.  According to the broadcaster he ‘reaffirmed Labor's previous funding commitments to restore $83.7 million … as well as five-year funding terms and options for financial sustainability which safeguard against political interference.’

This is a shaft at Julie Bishop, the former Foreign Minister who turned off the Australia Network (the predecessor to ABC Australia) in 2014 to the angst of many independent experts, because it ‘had failed to deliver a cost-effective vehicle’.  This followed a heavy artillery assault on the service by Murdoch media

She offered no facts to back the claim leading to the paranoid seeing revenge as Channel 7 once sought public money to go offshore. The then ABC managing director Mark Scott commented that the decision:

‘…runs counter to the approach adopted by the vast majority of G20 countries. Countries around the world are expanding their international broadcasting services as key instruments of public diplomacy.’

Because the ABC Charter forces it to be an international broadcaster the gap had to be filled. The result was Australia Plus now ABC Australia with an allowance of $20 million for three years.

Voice of America’s annual budget is $315 million, all from government funds. It broadcasts and telecasts in more than 40 languages, including Indonesian.

The French Government is reported to spend $169 million a year on France 24 while Russia’s RT channel is believed to get through $434 million every twelvemonth.  (All figures in Australian dollars). Much is propaganda (no balance in the Red channels) but so well packaged the messages are subtle and the pictures usually splendid.

Said Albanese this month: ‘On top of every other consideration, it (international broadcasting) is a prudent investment in our national security as well as our national interest … undervalued by the previous government, even trivialised.’  Reason having failed to move governments, China plonking transmitters around the zone has done the trick.

Labor calls its strategy a ‘strong Australian voice’ in the ‘Indo Pacific’.  But where is this wonderworld?   The term is beloved by politicians, economists and climatologists, though not ABC chair Ita Buttrose who uses ‘Asia Pacific’.

Either way this is a vast area and includes 48 countries, according to the US Transportation Department. They’re as disparate in culture, language, rule and drive as Mongolia is from Singapore, the only commonality being included in ellipses drawn by Western cartographers.

The last ABC annual report claimed ABC Australia is available ‘in more than 38 markets across Asia and the Pacific, and has a monthly viewership of at least 2,553,000.’  Whether these are regulars, or ten second tries-and-goodbyes isn’t known.  Note ‘markets’ not nations.

This is a one-size-fits-all approach.  Business experts say products must be designed for consumers for top sales.  So why telecast full AFL games on three days a week to the democracy next door where all balls are round, and its 273 million citizens don’t care a damn whether Geelong will thrash St Kilda.

ABC Australia programmes are shunted and shifted without notice. A presenter tells what’s coming next - then something different appears. The channel’s Internet TV Guide is a misnomer; TV Guesser would be better.

 Nat Geo docos are subtitled in Indonesian.  Likewise the History Channel, Animal Planet, Discovery, BBC Earth and many others, even crime and food programmes. Exceptions on ABC Australia include some one-off docos, a few science and art shows and the worthy Books that Made Us opening the pages on our culture. 

These translations are a welcome recent innovation – but costly if done well. Machine jobs are imperfect, particularly with slang and idioms, good for giggles, not grasp.

ABC Australia’s flagship is The World a one-hour news bulletin.  Despite its title the programme is padded with parochial yarns. Other news spots get State bulletins wrapped with a local weather forecast. The heat in Halls Creek and rain in Albany may excite viewers in these tiny towns, but get a WTF response in Surabaya and Makassar.

An estimated 64 million households in Indonesia have receivers, the highest saturation rate in Southeast Asia.  No focus-group surveys needed to show viewers want wholesome fare to suit their taste, not innutritious trolley-fillers.

In its 2019 report  A Missed Opportunity for Projecting Australia’s Soft Power the Lowy Institute claimed ‘international broadcasting is one of the most effective forms of public diplomacy, if managed properly…

 ‘Australia is explicitly competing for global and regional influence, yet Australia’s international broadcasting has been weakened through a combination of government inconsistency and neglect, ideology-driven decisions, budget cuts and apparent ABC management indifference.’

Extra money for the ABC is fine and dandy, but this isn’t all about dollars. Albanese’s drive for a meaningful service needs to swerve past managers who reckon any show with a roo and a beach will satisfy foreigners.

Maybe once. Not now.  Like the PM in a Hilton, viewers can click. Getting the turn-offs to turn on will need translations and curated programming by progressive producers who know the ‘market’ has matured.

[Some of this story is based on a two-part Pearls & Irritations 2020 report (here and here) which analysed the ABC’s international offerings.]

First published in Pearls & Irritations, 11 August 2022:






Tuesday, August 02, 2022





 Legini and Gimah have foot and mouth. They’ve just been vaccinated privately for Rp 100,000 ($10) each.  Had an Indonesian government vet wielded the syringe the cost would have been Rp 40,000, but Ibu Bambang fears officials might seize her precious charges and give no compensation.

Her concern is shared by village leaders, for trust in government agencies is low.  This is why claims of Bali being free of the highly contagious virus should be treated with scepticism.

If FMD crossed the Arafura Sea the crack of rifles gunning down thousands of bovines would horrify zoophilists and terrify bankers, for exports nationally are worth close to $11 billion.  So far the Australian government has ignored Opposition demands to lock the border against the archipelago, unsurprisingly as Indonesia has been Australia’s primary market for feed-lot cattle for more than two decades.

Then there’s the historical reminder of emoting before thinking. In 2011 the then Federal Labor agriculture minister, Joe Ludwig suddenly banned live exports to Indonesia after an ABC Four Corners programme alleged gross mistreatment in abattoirs.  Although the ruling was supposed to run for six months, trade resumed after four weeks’ following an outcry by exporters who also launched litigation.

If our airports closed gates to flights from Ngurah Rai the impact on Bali’s tourist trade, slowly dragging itself back from Covid shutdowns would be crippling.  BP (Before the Pandemic) a million-plus Ozzies every year spent big at Bali’s bars, eateries and hotels, so travel agents play down the risks.

Scientists don’t: Diponegoro University’s Dr Dian Wahyu Harjanti coordinates a national task force running an awareness campaign through social media. She described FMD as ‘the most important infectious animal disease and the most feared by all countries in the world.’

Australian vets have been in Indonesia advising on vaccination campaigns.  However media reports suggest less than one million cows have been needled since FMD was first diagnosed in East Java in May this year. More doses are coming, but storage and delivery are causing logistical probs.

Australia has committed $5 m to ‘fund testing, personnel and logistics support for the distribution of vaccine’.

Since the outbreak more than 6,000 beasts have been slaughtered and 4,000 have died across Indonesia.  Figures are highly suspect as farmers like Ibu Bambang and her community don’t want bureaucrats to know their kine are crook.  She doesn’t understand how the virus arrived. Her neighbours often come into contact with livestock; there are no footbaths or other hygiene facilities in use.


She’s already lost three goats and relatives have told her of other deaths among the cloven footed. Legini and Gimah might be pulling through.  When seen by this unqualified onlooker their mouths were blister-free but the mother and daughter, who’d just delivered a stillborn calf, could not stand, their weeping hooves shedding hard tissue and propped on planks.

Ibu Bambang is a no-nonsense farmer but she wipes away a tear while talking to her pets, who she says weep in pain.  Her treatments have been strong doses of flu medicines meant for humans.  She says the vet who inoculated her cows confirmed FMD, but didn’t know whether it was genuine and if effective on already sick cows.

The scene is altogether different next door. In WA 444 pastoral stations each carry around 2,600 Brahman and Shorthorns walking seven kilometres a day to find food and water, according to the State government.

The size of the industry is clear to travellers through Northern Australia.  Apart from big mobs hanging around dams, where paddocks aren’t fenced the penalty of disobeying the traffic code are bleedingly obvious. Flocks of agile crows and kites – and the slow-flapping wedgetail eagles – feast on the rotting carcases where roadtrains have smashed through those that strayed onto the bitumen.

There are about five million cattle in East Java.  However visitors will see nary a beast apart from an occasional ox dragging a plough through a wet ricefield or maybe plodding down a rural track ahead of a solid-wheel cart. For tourists from developed Western countries, it’s a lens-uncapping scene out of the Middle Ages.

The Java herd is hidden, tucked into tiny sheds usually alongside houses in hamlets, the critters spending much of their life in cramped quarters alongside their owners.  Few eat out; bundles of grass slashed at dawn on fallow land and riverbanks are carted on the backs of herdsmen’s motorbikes and served to the hungry.  The nutritional value of the fodder is low, so corn husks are used as supplements.

Ibu Bambang and her husband, who works as a hotel gardener, supplement their income by selling bull calves (no steers) for public slaughter outside mosques at Idul Adha, the Islamic feast of the sacrifice.  This recalls Ibrahim’s willingness to follow orders from above and get ready to slit his son Ismail’s throat, a story also found in the Bible.

This year’s event in early July may have helped spread the contagion as young bulls were walked and trucked to the killing fields.

If a little fellow is plump and sturdy a seller might get Rp 15 million ($1,500), a handy sum in a district where the average net monthly wage is Rp 2.3 million ($230).   

To date Australian gatekeepers seem aware that Indonesian assurances of control and abatement need to be treated with pitchers of salt. This disease has political symptoms.

(‘Bambang’ is a pseudonym to avoid harassment by government officials.)

First published in Pearls & Irritations, 2 August 2022:





Monday, July 11, 2022



Alive, but not living


In one of its nastier theological fabrications seemingly driven by schadenfreude, the Catholic Church invented purgatory - heaven’s waiting room where sins were cleansed oftentimes by fire.

The medieval idea has been largely smothered by modern church teachings more in line with Christ’s compassion, but the worldly equivalent thrives next door through Australian indifference.

Cisarua is a once picturesque and now overcrowded hilltown about 70 km south of Jakarta. The cool climate draws rich Indonesians escaping from the world’s third most polluted city a thousand metres below – and foreign escapees from persecution 6,000 kilometres to the north.

On 19 July 2013 PM Kevin Rudd declared asylum seekers on boats who failed to reach Australia by that date would never be allowed to settle.  With that appeasement to tense voters imagining a tsunami of Asians, Rudd and his successors condemned thousands of families to a future gutted of purpose.

Only the most extreme evildoers get infinite sentences; the rest can put crosses on calendars.  Though not the offshore asylum seekers.  They’ve been convicted of wanting to live free of fear and build a better world, believing Australians shared these values.

Boats organised by people smugglers and launched from Indonesian islands were turned back by armed sailors under the spine-stiffening title Operation Sovereign Borders. That left around 14,000 human beings stranded on the north side of the Arafura Sea.

Indonesia hasn’t signed the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, nor does it have a system to determine their status. So the national government has flipped problems to the UN High Commission for Refugees, which is supposed to ‘identify solutions for refugees in the country.’

Finding the agency’s centre in Jakarta used to be easy.  Its steel door was occasionally narrowly opened for selected individuals.  In the surrounding streets listless bodies curled in doorways.

Few would talk to the media and always no names.  All seemed depressed, and suspicious.  They had imported the fears they’d fled.  As ‘illegal aliens’ the threat of deportation was real, though Jakarta mainly uses this tool against tourist visa overstayers.

Now the UNHCR is best located by protestors who shout their demands for resettlement as they did on World Refugee Day, 20 June this year.  That’s when we learned that more than 100 million around the globe have been forced to flee or be resigned to tyranny.  The current euphemism is ‘involuntary immobility’. 

In any case, the Jakarta officials were not in their fortress to hear the shouting outside. They’d decamped to a cooking show in a shopping mall and a ‘gala event’ at the Westin Hotel. This was to ‘engage women and child refugees in Indonesia to be trained in fashion modelling, styling and choreography.’ Jonathan Swift, we need you now.


Away from the catwalk the placard-wavers were wasting their lungs and the money they’d spent getting to the HQ, as Australian Jolyon Hoff (right) knows well.  As a film-maker he’s spent years dealing with bureaucracies while seeking project funds.

When Rudd yanked away the welcome mat Hoff was in Jakarta and wondered about the stranded.  So he headed to Cisarua, known as the people smugglers’ recruiting patch.  Before Covid, it was also a sleaze centre where wealthy Arabs rented villas for the orgies they’d never dare run in Riyadh.

The tolerant locals let the empty rooms to the refugees even though most are Shi’a hounded by fundamentalists.  Sunni Muslims dominate Indonesia and call Shi’a a ‘deviant sect’. 

Hoff found a scene at odds with World Vision videos showing queues of mothers on mud plain tent lines, humping buckets by day, fearing brigands at night.

Reliable stats are rarer than visas, but it seems most refugees in Indonesia have found rentals using savings and funds sent by relatives.  Some places are hovels, all are basic, cramped, several to a room.  In Cisarua the foreigners – maybe about 4,000 - live apart from the locals.  Few have learned Indonesian expecting their journey to resume after a brief hiatus.

Instead they’ve been sunk by the waves of political reality, as Alfred Pek, an Indonesian film-maker in Sydney argues: ‘Regional leaders in Indonesia have isolationist refugee management policies and a lack of political will, contributing to the invisibility of the issue. Understandably, there are simply more pressing domestic issues that affect a much larger local population.’

In brief Jakarta doesn’t care and wont unless there are outbreaks of hate and violence.  That’s when Canberra might get fidgety. If PM Anthony Albanese is dinkum about resetting relations with Indonesia then here’s a chance to get on the right side of President Joko Widodo and the economy – hasten resettlement and help fix the labour shortage.

But that would mean driving a stake through the political bogeyman of people smugglers spotting weakness and restarting the vile trade, though there are no reports of recruiters in Cisarua.  It’s believed they’ve quit because they’ve sucked all potential customers dry.   The market’s now in Sri Lanka.

In Cisarua nine years ago Hoff bumped into photographer Muzafar Ali (left) who’d worked for the UN Development Programme in Afghanistan and with the Jesuits.

He’d seen too much gore through his lens to believe in change. One scene haunts still: An ambulance attending a blast was itself used by a suicide bomber.  The death toll was more than 100.

Ali is a Hazara, the largest refugee ethnic group in Indonesia and long tyrannised by the Taliban. He said he was singled out because he’d worked with Westerners.  When soldiers stopped his car and questioned his wife and daughter about their lives the family knew it was decision time.

Ali, who has charisma in spades, is a standout success story that masks the despair of those left behind.  Now 36 he won the Oz visa lotto after three years in limbo. He lives in Adelaide as an Australian citizen, studying law, policy and politics plus sociology at uni. His wife Zahra has qualified as a teacher.

The UNHCR defines a refugee as ‘someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.’

Those who meet the test can get on a resettlement list.  One report claims 468 refugees got out of Indonesia to third countries last year: ‘At this rate it would take 28 years for all to gain resettlement.’


Many have been in Cisarua for up to nine years. They say pleas for progress updates go unanswered by UNHCR.  Instead they’re told to wait for a phone call and be patient, an instruction which ignores human behaviour.

Relationships develop. Babies become bewildered children, resentful adolescents and bitter adults. Real, imagined or manufactured slurs can explode into anger and harsh words.  The zealots’ weapon of choice is blasphemy, a charge few are prepared to stare down.

The latest is the arrest of six men over a bar chain's free alcohol promotion for patrons named Mohammed, a common name in Indonesia. Booze is supposed to be haram (forbidden) for Muslims.

Hoff started taping a one-hour doco The Staging Post.  Although it focuses on achievements the title suggests a swift Western-saloon shootout, when the reality is debilitating delays which have reportedly led to self-harm and suicides.  

Many look well, dress neatly and can be stimulating conversationists.  Others are wary and withdrawn. Their mental stress rises to the surface when depression overwhelms.  Interviews start buoyantly but soon turn to tears. Despair multiplies, a virus hard to suppress.

Those once hoping to land in Australia have abandoned preferences.  ‘We just want somewhere that’s safe’, said Sara Salehi, 20 (right). 


That means a place where she and her siblings can learn, build careers (three want to work in medicine) express themselves, wear what suits, go where they want, worship how they choose, fall in love, start families - all free of the dictates of grim greybeards nursing AK-47s.

‘Despite everything we’re still better off here,’ she said.  ‘In Afghanistan I’d have been forced to marry a soldier, be controlled by him and now have children.’

She’s a member of a family of liberals that would enhance any state where they’d be welcome, though that horizon blurs as the years pass. Their time in Cisarua has been marked by pain, emotional and physical, including Covid and dengue fever.


Dad Mohamad Nasim was a baker who married Sohilla when she was 14.  The next dozen years or so she gave birth to five girls and three boys, all raised to have open minds.  They say this made them a Taliban target.


The young people have mastered English in depth and are hungry for education. They flew into Indonesia, allegedly spirited through immigration by people smugglers working with corrupt officials.

The 2022 Australian budget added 16,500 humanitarian places for Afghan nationals over four years, increasing the Refugee and Humanitarian Programme to 17,875 places each year until 2025-26. These people will come from camps around the world. 

In Cisarua in 2013 Ali and Hoff found a common bond in seeking to ease the plight of the stateless, no way back, no way forward, no legal opportunity to work or learn.  Ali proposed a partnership with UNHCR for a school saying education was a basic human right and vital to keep the kids hopeful.  The offer was ignored. 

Hoff then introduced his mate to a quality of Australian culture which swerves past the yawners – DIY.   

Ali roused the other asylum seekers on the need to work together despite their disparate backgrounds, ethnicities and ambitions.  Hoff tossed in $200 a month to rent space for a classroom. The men feared risking their refugee status so held back; the fearless women became teachers.


Within a week there were 40 students and a similar number on the waiting list. A community, which had previously not existed, formed around the Cisarua Refugee Learning Centre. People who’d kept to themselves now found a motivation to meet and be busy in a neutral place.

Pre-Covid stories and videos online drew overseas visitors with books, teacher-training skills, syllabus know-how and cash for rent. Within three months the school had moved to a bigger space.

The Centre now has more than 200 students. Cisarua Learning Ltd is an Australian registered charity and parent organisation for CRLC.  It funds five other refugee-led learning centres in West Java.

In June this year, they ran a Facebook Telethon.  The last event pre-Covid brought in about $80,000 but this time the pledges are under $30,000.  Donor fatigue or inflation?  Could be both.

The schools teach in English and keep religion off the syllabus. The CRLC philosophy is ‘that refugees are part of the solution …the refugee crisis is a non-political humanitarian situation, and we support refugee agency, gender equality and the right to education.’


Staff say UNHCR has turned up only once in five years, but the school did get some unidentified visitors in May photographing the kids and handing out playing cards with a ‘zero chance’ message of getting to Australia by boat.

The cards are marked ‘Australian Government’. The Embassy in Jakarta has been asked to authenticate and explain why the children were snapped without parents’ permission.  No response.

The CRLC claims to be the first refugee-run school in Indonesia, and has inspired an education revolution. This is warming, but unsurprising:  People with the guts and smarts to seek a better life are often the best and brightest. Afghanistan’s loss could be Australia’s gain.

Said Hoff: ‘Before the school started the refugees had very little agency to control their lives.  They were seen as victims and weren’t treated as human beings. 

‘Now they are teachers and managers running their own school.  They have a sense of purpose and value, vital for mental health. The school has given them community.’

 What they don’t have is a future.  

First published in Pearls & Irritations, 11 July 2022: