Along with Dr Julia Martìnez of the University of Wollongong I have been working on an Australian Research Council Grant looking at Indonesians in Australia between 1880 and 1972. As part of the end-stage of the project, Dr Martinez and I have been giving public seminars in Jakarta, Darwin and Broome. The project is concerned with the experiences of ordinary people living and working between north Australia and Indonesia. The stories of sailors, dock workers, divers and pearling captains from Broome to the Torres Strait, and from Dobo to Komodo, show the relationship between the two countries in a completely new light.
This project seeks to uncover the unknown history of mobility between north Australia and Indonesia from the late nineteenth century until the end of the White Australia Policy. The project focuses on the pearling industry, and the bringing of Indonesian workers to Australia under a variety of schemes, including indenture. Our work has brought to light stories of entrepreneurs, union leaders and war heroes who formed part of an international maritime community within the region.
Our research has revealed that the involvement of Australians in pearling in Eastern Indonesia has been largely neglected or under-estimated. We have uncovered personal stories of the Indonesians who came to Australia, some of whom eventually became Australian citizens, stories that are unknown even within the growing literature on Australian-Indonesian relations.
The Broome presentation was a major highlight of the project, as we had a chance to meet with former pearling industry workers, such as Ahmat bin Fadal, originally from the island of Bawean, who was one of the last Indonesians to come to Broome as a pearl diver. We had the great honour of being welcomed to Country by Marjardee, a Yawuru woman whose father, Abdul Gafur from Alor, was the first Indonesian to be fully initiated into the Yawuru. People at the seminar were keen to tell us about their family members, and we in turn were able to provide information from un-opened archives that shed new light on where their parents or other relatives came from, and their struggle go get recognition from the Australian government. A recording of the event, along with supplementary interview, was made by the ABC Kimberley, and is available on their website: