Sep 21, 2017 Last Updated 1:04 PM, Sep 13, 2017

Reviews: Writing Australia and Indonesia

A group of Australia Awards alumni pose for a picture at the 2014 Alumni Dinner, Indonesia.
Published: Jul 02, 2017


Reviews: ‘Linking People’ and ‘Troppo’


The personal ties that link Australia and Indonesia are many and varied, but these encounters and connections are too rarely written about. So, it was with great pleasure that I chaired a session on Writing Australia-Indonesia Relationships at this year’s Makassar International Writers Festival (MIWF), to discuss Madelaine Dickie’s novel Troppo and launch the Indonesian translation of Linking People, translated by MIWF founding director Dr Lily Yulianti Farid. 

Linking People pays homage to the power of public diplomacy. By telling stories about people-to-people links, it makes the case for how these individual interactions together add up to something more powerful, providing a steadying undercurrent to whatever issue of the day may from time to time heat up the bilateral relationship. 

Supporting this session, and MIWF, made perfect sense for the Australian consulate-general in Makassar, whose mandate centres on this concept of people-to-people links. In fact, reading Linking People was a bit like reading my own job description, but with a sense of depth that academia can bring, at its best, covering the history of the scholarships program, to youth engagement and community arts projects. 

Co-editor Dr Jemma Purdey’s chapter on the Australia Awards scholarships program narrates the impact of one of the longest running scholarships programs of its kind since it began as the Colombo Plan more than 50 years ago. Between 2007 and 2017, Australia has provided over 3900 post-graduate scholarships to Indonesian recipients. In 2017, we’re particularly proud that around 20 percent of scholarship awards offered went to recipients from eastern Indonesia (around 60 scholars).

Purdey met many alumni as part of her research – the stories of accompanying partners and children, stood out. Coined the ‘family multiplier effect’, scholars who moved with family in tow felt more integrated into the communities into which they moved, often due to their children’s school enriching their experience. These stories are precious and could be easily overlooked in capturing the outcomes of the scholarships program, without dedicating the time to meet, talk and write down alumni experiences.

Translator and MIWF founding director Dr Lily Yulianti Farid’s chapter on community-driven arts projects between Australia and eastern Indonesia was also particularly relevant, as we gathered in the chapel of Fort Rotterdam, in Makassar, for our session. Farid’s chapter reflects on a project that was part of the inaugural MIWF event, exploring the historical relationship between Bugis sailors from South Sulawesi and Indigenous Australia, including trading trepang, or sea cucumbers. From these early origins, MIWF has established itself as a premier international cultural event on the Makassar calendar, and an important opportunity for cultural exchange between Australia and eastern Indonesia. 

In moving from Linking People to Madelaine Dickie’s novel Troppo, I looked for commonalities between the two, quite different, texts. What links them is the writers’ backgrounds, and how living in Indonesia, often at a young age for the five female panellists, had a profound impact on their chosen trajectories and careers paths. Madelaine’s story is about Australian surf culture in Indonesia, from the perspective of a bold, albeit somewhat naïve, female surfer on a journey to a remote Sumatran surf oasis. It is a brutally honest portrayal of a surf culture that is at times shamefully disrespectful to local customs and sentiment and yet also manages to convey the magnetic pull Indonesia holds for many young Australians – drawn to adventure and the rich, organic chaos, so different from their rules-based upbringings. 

Although fiction, it is a story shaped by Madelaine’s own experiences as a teenager living in Bali. Madelaine, along with the four other panellists, is fluent in Indonesian and we had a rare opportunity to host our session in both languages, for an audience of mixed English and Indonesian abilities. It was a reminder of the importance of studying Indonesian language, to facilitate on-going encounters such as this one, as well as the importance of translating stories such as Linking People, into Indonesian. 

Linking People was conceived as a book after an academic conference in Perth in 2014. In 2015, as luck would have it, Indonesia was the guest of honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair, Germany, and so the book found a publisher. In 2017 the translation by Dr Yulianti Farid, was published by Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia (KPG). This is a noteworthy achievement and hopefully many more stories that write the Australia-Indonesia relationship, are to follow. I know the panellists’ concluding thoughts were a desire for more Indonesian voices to be included in following projects. I believe Madelaine would be quite happy for Troppo to be translated, if there are any aspiring translators out there? 

I look forward to the Makassar International Writers Festival next year; it’s a special, somewhat rare, time in Makassar. There is a joyful feeling, as the courtyard of Fort Rotterdam fills with enthusiastic, mainly young students, particularly as the sun goes down, the heat fades and music, spoken word and other literary goings-on spring to life. 



In translation: Linking People: Pertalian dan Interaksi Orang Australia dan Orang Indonesia. Jakarta: KPG, 2017.


Antje Missbach and Jemma Purdey (Eds), Linking People: Connections and Encounters Between Australians and Indonesians. Berlin: Regiospectra, 2015.


Madelaine Dickie, Troppo. Fremantle: Fremantle Press, 2016.


Violet Rish ( is the vice-consul of the Australian consulate-general in Makassar. The consulate-general opened in March 2016 to promote trade and investment ties between Australia and Indonesia.


Related articles from the archive

Mar 07, 2017
Review: Footsteps of Indonesians in Victoria by Anita Dewi
Celebrating fifty years of the Indonesian Community Association of Victoria (IKAWIRIA)


Sep 26, 2016
OzAsia and beyond by Barbara Hatley
OzAsia Festival illuminates the world of Indonesian performance and its social concerns


Apr 26, 2015
What are your true colours? A conversation by Delita Sartika
A brief conversation between strangers provokes thoughts on Australia–Indonesia relations


Inside Indonesia 129: Jul-Sep 2017

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