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Behind the scenes

Behind the scenes
Published: Jun 01, 2013

Then, as today, volunteers were vital for Inside Indonesia's survival and success

Pat Walsh

Annie Keogh, unknown, Janet Hunt, David Hill - Christine Wheeler

Volunteers deserve a central place in Inside Indonesia's virtual hall of fame. Unlike a one-off publication such as a book, a magazine by definition is a serial exercise based on a schedule that requires long term administrative systems being put in place and judicious financial management. Credit for this must go to the volunteers who administered subscriptions, organised and staffed mailouts and promoted the product.

Subscriptions were our life-blood. Early on we obtained a couple of seed grants but until two generous benefactors came on board some years later, the magazine relied heavily on its subscribers. Bulk direct sales through newsagencies and bookshops were not a realistic option. Our print run was too small for commercial distribution agencies like Gordon and Gotch and, too painful to contemplate, they pulped unsold copies. Instead we hand-delivered copies to several strategically placed outlets like Readings in Carlton and Gleebooks off Broadway in Sydney so that their regulars would learn of the magazine's existence and, we hoped, subscribe.

Ann Ng became our subscription secretary in 1985 and did this on a part-time voluntary basis for six years until June 1991. Ann first came across Inside in Singapore, probably through Herb Feith and Student Christian Movement networks. She moved to Melbourne in 1984 where I contacted her the following year after hearing on the grapevine that she was keen to do voluntary work. As she also worked at Monash University and World Christian Action, she was only available after hours or on weekends. Ann also had two children during those six years. The work entailed processing the mail, book-keeping, entering new subscribers, updating and typing up address labels– all on a 386 computer with a small screen. And it was her first experience using a computer. Ann recalls that international subscriptions were a particular headache because overseas subscribers sometimes sent the wrong amount, used the wrong currency or Australian banks would not recognise their cheque. The banking had to be done during working hours so full to me.

Neva Finch was another early stalwart who made an excellent contribution. Neva had lived in Indonesia when her husband Tony, a former captain in the British merchant navy, was regional head of the International Maritime Organisation, a United Nations agency. Both were internationalists with a strong commitment to human rights. Neva contributed many hours of clerical support, came to mailouts and hosted Inside meetings at her home in Albert Park. Her daughter Jane Finch developed our first computerised database using Dbase 3+. Another volunteer, John Paterson helpfully added value by customising Jane's work for our use. John knew Javanese and specialised in Javanese culture. As if that wasn't enough, he also conveniently lived two streets from my office and worked from home so I often turned to him for technical trouble-shooting during working hours.

I met Kirsty Sword through Inside. An undergraduate at Melbourne University and student of Bahasa Indonesia, she wrote to volunteer her assistance. An offer I happily took up. Making use of rudimentary software, she contributed to the maintenance of the subscription database. She recalls sitting at home in Moonee Ponds labouring over data entry with an early model laptop perched on her knee while watching telly. Her parents, Brian and Rosalie Sword, had visited Indonesia and came to mailouts. After she moved to the UK, her photos of Roman guards and bobbies posing with Inside while on duty at official sites in London were published on the back cover of the magazine to illustrate our claim that it was 'widely read, inside and out'. Kirsty, who later married Xanana, found the contact rewarding and kept it up after Inside moved to Napier Street Fitzroy. 'I gained much', she says, 'from exposure to the dynamic comings and goings of friends, activists, Indonesianists, and academics to the Inside office in Napier Street, the wonderful conglomeration of socially committed individuals working out of the Latin America Information Centre, and the huge learning curve on social justice, labour rights and so on that I experienced'.

The 1990s was a period of consolidation. Laurie Price, a regular visitor to Indonesia with his wife Sheila and dedicated subscriber, took over from Neva and Kirsty and helped out in a supporting role for the next 10 years. On one visit to Bali, Laurie spent hours – according to Sheila's account – photographing a monkey reading Inside for our back cover promo series. He eventually succeeded by taping a banana to the inside of the cover. To his delight, we used the pic on the back of editions 49 and 50.

Denise Maresh, a chartered accountant, assisted with accounts and was generous with her time. Inside featured her 18-year old son, Ben Maresh, on the front cover of no 43 (June 1995) to publicise Denise's strong belief that he had been murdered in Kupang.

The administration was finally bedded down when, in a bold move, we employed Melinda Venticich to manage the office, a decision we never regretted. Despite her lowly wage, Melinda stayed for nearly 12 years and made a vital contribution taking over most of the administrative functions, freeing me up to focus on editing each edition. She saw over forty editions out the door and even got her husband Simon and boys, Tom and Pete, to mailouts which, serendipitously often occurred during school holidays. Before winding up in 2003 and handing over to Bel Harper, Melinda had added promotion and production to her subscriptions responsibilities.

The principal mainstay during this 20-year period was my wife Annie Keogh. Annie was a gift from the gods because she has an extraordinary talent for financial management and for organisation, both of systems and people, skills we needed like rain on dry ground. She was the administrative backbone of the project from early on until she joined me in East Timor in 2002. Others made important administrative contributions but Annie was the dalang (puppet master) who made us all dance – more or less in tune. She started when the Inside office was based in the front room of our house, got her dad to donate some early model computers, organised mailouts and worked with the colleagues mentioned above to develop and then refine the systems that were vital to the administration of subscriptions and accounts.

Pat Walsh ( co-founded Inside Indonesia in 1983 with John Waddingham. His talk at the online launch of the magazine, 24 September 2007, was called An Audacious Project and published in Inside Indonesia no 90 (Oct/Dec 2007). For Pat's current activities visit

Inside Indonesia 112: Apr-Jun 2013{jcomments on}

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