Published: Jul 29, 2007

It is delightful to see so many old friends here. Let me say a few things on behalf of the 1950s generation of volunteers. I think the most important thing to say is that we enjoyed ourselves enormously while we were here. It extended our curiosity fairly persistently, it stretched us, it empowered us, it gave us a sense of being able to relate comfortably to more than one culture. And some of us got a lot of career advantages out of it too.

We were young, we were a bit radical, so we also saw ourselves as engaging in a form of protest, staying with Indonesian families and hostels rather than European enclaves, riding our bikes when other slack people were being driven in cars. We saw ourselves as particularly against white colonial attitudes, against expatriate lifestyles and so on. In fact we had a pretty a strong sense of our own moral superiority towards them. And when we got back to Australia, we saw ourselves as being in the van of enlightenment on things like racism and parochialism. And when I speak of parochialism I don't mean merely Australian parochialism, I also mean Western parochialism, which is sometimes called first-world parochialism and which is, as you well know, well and truly alive.

There's a temptation on occasions like this to exaggerate the contributions that volunteers have made particularly to the Australia-Indonesia relationship. Obviously, people who came here as volunteers are only a part of the Australians who've been Indonesianised in the way they live. But it is true that a lot of meaningful friendships developed from all of those people living here, and those have survived the bad period. They survived the '63 to'65 bad period, and they survived the bad period of two years ago.

Looking at Australia today, it's certainly a lot more multicultural country than it was when our fifties group of volunteers came here, and it's a country which engages Asia in far more ways. But it's still a country in which first-world parochialism is a very powerful force. Australians who see themselves as citizens of a planet are still a pretty small minority, and that's become painfully clear to us, particularly recently over the asylum-seekers issue, over the people coming in tiny boats from long distances, and ultimately from places like Iraq and Afghanistan. And of course it's become clear to us as a result of the events of September the 11th in New York and Washington. The 'all the way with the USA' responses that have been so dominant in Australia have given all of us a great deal to ponder about and indeed a great deal to be anxious about. So those of us who believe in solidarity with Asians and people in other third-world countries still have an awful lot of battles to fight. But it's a happy thing that we've been empowered in relation to those battles by a lot of very valuable Indonesian friendships. Thanks for doing that.

From Herb's remarks at the 50th anniversary celebration for Australian Volunteers International held in Jakarta, 2 November 2001.

Inside Indonesia 70: Apr - Jun 2002