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July 2007

John Howard has recently visited Bali, albeit for 'just a few daylight hours', as the Weekend Australian of July 28-29, 2007 observes. His visit was mainly to open an eye hospital, dedicated to the Bali bombing visits. Such a hospital plays a vital role, and having seen at first hand what work like this (based on the Fred Hollows legacy) can mean in people's lives, I'd consider such institutions essential elements of Australian aid in the region.

At the same time a new consulate-general has at last been opened, but again the Prime Minister defended the travel warnings that are meant to deter Australians from coming to Indonesia. His disingenuous comment that 'we are leaving it to the judgment of individual Australians to decide what to do' ignores the fact that these warnings have an institutional role. For example, the Endeavour Language Teacher Fellowships (ELTF) 'are an Australian Government initiative which offer practising and trainee (pre-service) language teachers an opportunity to improve their language proficiency and cultural knowledge through an intensive, short-term study programme', as their blurb says, but for Indonesian language teachers, they only support travel to an intensive program in Darwin. Now I've got nothing against the lovely city of Darwin and their excellent language teaching facilities, but if Arabic teachers can go to Jordan, Chinese teachers to China, etc, why does the Department of Education and Training, which funds this scheme, not sponsor Indonesian teachers to go to Indonesia (answer presumably, travel warnings)?

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I was saddened to learn of the death of the Australian writer Glenda Adams this week. Glenda (as Glenda Felton) was one of the first honours students in Indonesian at the University of Sydney, writing a thesis on the Journeys of Purwolelono (although I have not been able to find a copy of the thesis in the departmental collection). Her first novel, Games of the Strong, was also based on her experiences of living in Indonesia, although it does not specifically identify the country as its location. Her Indonesian experiences coloured her other work, and in the 1990 issue of Australian Cultural History she wrote a moving reflection on her time in Yogya.

Glenda Adams was one of Australia's wittiest and most sensitive writers, as well as a leading teacher of creative writing at UTS, her passing leaves a large gap in our culture.

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I was recently a guest of Gus De--Ida Bagus Sidharta Putra--at Griya Santrian (Jl Danau Tamblingan, Sanur), where I opened their Gallery's 5th Anniversary Exhibition, 'White Paintings'. The Gallery is the only one in Bali to continuously host new shows of contemporary Indonesian art, and this exhibition was made up of works by some of Bali's best new artists, based around the theme of 'white'. I particularly enjoyed Ni Nyoman Sani's works, which play on images of women and fashion.

The gallery is quite an achievement, since it has broken the mould of the set collection displays of the major private galleries, and Wayan Sukra, the German-born curator, is one of the only people working in the area with a genuine art history and curatorial background. There have been attempts to do this before in Bali, notably Agus Wawarunto's Natayu Gallery, and the Ganesha Gallery at the Four Seasons, but the Santrian is the only new space to have been able to keep up shows of consistent quality.

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Just finished a workshop here in Yogya on 'alternative history', part of my Australian Research Council project. The workshop was made up of what they have called the 'third generation' of Indonesian historians, some might call it the post-Sartono or Reformasi generation. Abdul Syukur, whose paper included discussion of this category, pointed out that this ‘third generation’ includes a lot of practitioners outside the academy, and we had a good representation of them at the workshop: activists like Hilmar Farid, journalists like Maria Hartiningsih, and other media practitioners and those working on history in the media.
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Syukur’s paper was one of the highlights of the workshop, he put the developments in historiography in their context, and made some sharp observations about the state of history. Hilmar Farid challenged the way Indonesian historians have stuck to the categories and frameworks of the New Order, in a very important paper. Bambang Purwanto, despite being hampered by a computer virus, delivered some fascinating insights into the changing nature of land ownership in the lead up to 1965. He produced an important argument about how the various local religious leaders had been reclassifying land to increase their holdings, which is a direct challenge to the conventional view of ‘kaum merah menjarah’. Asvi Warman Adam gave some insights into what it is like to be at the centre of historical controversy, in his account of the recent text-book bannings.
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All the papers were exciting, so it is hard to pick out particular ones, although I enjoyed Bonnie Triyana’s lively account of the Purwodadi affair of 1968 and its international ramifications (again hampered by a Trojan Horse), and Razif’s comparative history of railways in Java and Sumatra. Interesting that a number of speakers pointed to Anton Lucas’s book on the Three Regions Affair as a methodologically exemplary work.


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Went to the wonderful Gondng Baru sugar mill and sugar museum at Klaten today. I thought that viewing all those fabulous Dutch photographs of the interiors of sugar factories would have prepared me for the experience, but it was truly awesome. This is one of the very few working sugar factories left in Java, as many closed down during the Asian Crisis. As readers of G. Rodger Knight will know, this factory dates back to 1868 (that’s what it says on the chimney anyway), and all the old Dutch machinery is still working. Apparently they even have people come out from Europe from time to time to service it (to be more correct, some of the machinery is French and English, the trains for pulling the cane cars were made in Germany, Ornstein, Berlijn-Amsterdam-Batavia). With the usual Javanese ingenuity, machinery is patched up, and some things are very run down, that is some of the machinery has thick coatings of sugary grease. But still the milling goes on around the clock.

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Occupational health and safety? What’s that? You walk along the gantries past all the moving parts (keep your hands in your pockets), churning pistons, massive wheels, grinding teeth of giant cogs, while everyone else is walking around with bare feet. No wonder they have to have big selamatans with slaughtered buffalo, reyog dancers and other offerings (I refer everybody to the article by John Pemberton in the festschrift for Ben Anderson if they want to read more on that subject).

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