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Inside Indonesia: Conception and birth

Inside Indonesia: Conception and birth
Published: Apr 14, 2013

One of the founders of Inside Indonesia reflects on the origins and earliest days of the magazine

John Waddingham

Multi-tasking in July/August 1983. Pat Walsh (left) and John Waddingham (right) with leading East Timorese diaspora and Pat's twin daughters Annie Keogh

As I read Inside Indonesia online today, I cannot stop casting my mind back to the journal's humble beginnings. While I claim no credit for the marvellous work done today by Inside Indonesia's contributors and editors, I still take some joy from my part in starting the journal in its original print form. I particularly delight in seeing that a driving idea behind the journal's creation—to provide insights into Indonesian society which go beyond sensationalist or stereotypical mainstream media coverage—survives in today's Inside Indonesia.

As co-founder Pat Walsh has written, the journal's genesis was an 'audacious' undertaking and we certainly had no idea at the time that it would work at all, let alone survive for thirty years.

Why Inside Indonesia?

Pat Walsh and I had been working together on East Timor research and advocacy since late 1978. Our principle focuses included determining what was happening inside closed and occupied East Timor and trying to change the direction of Australian and other government support for the Indonesia military annexation.

Each of us had come into our Timor work through earlier connections with and affection for Indonesia. Pat learned and then taught Indonesian language in country Victoria in the late 1960s and visited Indonesia through the widespread network of his Catholic religious congregation. With the material support of Herb Feith and other Indonesia-philes in 1974, I became indelibly marked by a marvellous informal research trip to Ambon and southeast Maluku (Moluccas).

For this reason the 'anti-Indonesian' charge commonly levelled at East Timor advocates in the 1970s and 1980s was especially galling to us and many others.

To challenge this perception, and the narrowly-based and largely impenetrable Jakarta-Canberra official relationship, it became increasingly clear to us that we needed to build more links with Indonesian civil society. Such links could facilitate Indonesian understanding of Australian community knowledge and attitudes (including on East Timor) and conversely inform Australians about the lives, experience and aspirations of ordinary Indonesians.

With few individual exceptions, we were not drawn to look for assistance in this endeavour from Australia's Indonesian Studies establishment, some leading members of which were very close to government and scathingly dismissive of all East Timor advocates. Thus began a series of informal discussions between ourselves and our natural constituency in the non-government aid and development sector as well as interested individual academics, unionists and activists.

I don't know how long those largely unrecorded conversations went on, but nothing definite emerged until a serendipitous encounter in Canberra.

Meeting Max Lane

I can't now remember when or why I was in Canberra sometime in 1982 - but it was most likely July or August and related to the ongoing Senate Standing Committee Inquiry into East Timor. Pat and I had successfully coordinated lobbying for the Inquiry in 1981 and were now following its progress very closely. Either way, I ran into Max Lane at Canberra airport.

I had first met Max in 1974 through the small Sydney-based Indonesia Action Committee but had not seen him since. The conversation quickly turned to Indonesia and our Melbourne musings, which Max instantly understood and made immediately clear he was interested in joining.

For me, here was someone whom I knew had his ear to the ground in Indonesia. I was particularly excited because Max was certain he could tap into more suitable material from student, worker and non-government organisational (NGO) sources and materials in Indonesia than we could ever hope to obtain or use. My immediate thought was: here is the person we need to make this idea go. I couldn't wait to get back to Melbourne to discuss the encounter with Pat.

Melbourne meetings - late 1982

In formal terms, Inside Indonesia can trace its origins back to a small meeting on 15 October 1982. It was held at the Brotherhood of St Laurence building in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy - the then home of Community Aid Abroad. Ten representatives from Melbourne-based non-government aid organisations and solidarity groups attended; Max was the keynote speaker.

The essence of Max's message as I recall it was: the Australian public needs to know what is happening inside Indonesia - beyond stereotypes of Javanese generals, gamelan and gado-gado, and the perception that Indonesian workers willingly accept low wages and poor conditions. We need, Max told us, to ensure that Indonesian voices and views are known, to develop concrete links between Indonesian and Australian non-government counterparts and to create a structure to do these things.

It was a watershed moment for all present, a plan of action was forming. Three days later Max sent from Canberra a draft proposal for the establishment of an Indonesian Resources and Information Centre (IRIC). He then revised the proposal to suggest the formation of an Australia-Indonesia Friendship Committee which would, among other things, run an Indonesian Resources and Information Program (IRIP).

IRIP is born

Two further meetings were held in Melbourne in November 1982. At a third meeting on 24 January 1983, IRIP was formally established with a 12-member working group and a larger advisory group. It is notable, in retrospect, that IRIP was originally composed almost entirely of individuals from aid and development NGOs like Community Aid Abroad, Australian Catholic Relief, Australian Council for Overseas Aid, Australia-Asia Worker Links and Asia Bureau Australia. Harry Bocquet from the Waterside Workers union was the only union presence, while Jim Schiller and Barbara Martin-Schiller were the academics actively involved at the outset.

IRIP's envisaged tasks included providing an information service (a clearing house and research unit rather than political or social campaigning body); linking Australian and Indonesian NGOs; working with the Australian media to correct its sensationalising tendencies in Indonesia reportage; organising Indonesian visits to Australia; and processing Indonesian NGO requests for assistance.

It was envisaged that through the information service IRIP would create a regular journal or newsletter, public comments on significant public issues and major backgrounders.

Regular journal or not...?

Further meetings were needed to get the ball rolling, not least to work out how to fund the show, including covering a commitment to pay Max to coordinate and drive the work.

At this time there was also uncertainty about the wisdom of committing ourselves to publishing a regular journal. I was particularly wary of this, knowing from experience how much time and other resources would be needed to do it. At one meeting I did show-and-tell with examples of some earlier Australian attempts to produce newsletters on Indonesia - each had failed in a short time or was struggling to keep producing regularly.

There may even have been a decision to back away from publishing a journal. The surviving archives do not record such a decision but do contain a letter from Max (8 February 1983) forcefully arguing against the alternate idea of only producing occasional publications. A regular journal, Max wrote, would provide continuity, develop 'a line', build audience and establish an IRIP identity.

Inside Indonesia conceived

Max won the day and was appointed editor and chief writer for a journal that did not yet have a name.

waddingham2An early list of possible names for Inside Indonesia journal Update on the IRIP Program, Pat Walsh, 4 May 1983. Monash University Archives, MON 1169.

Choosing a name is serious business but we had a bit of fun trying. Echoing Australian union solidarity with 1940s Indonesian independence activists, Indonesia Calling was an early candidate. Indonesia Today or Indonesia Tomorrow were considered, along with the delightful In-digest. In the end, though, it came down to two - and Inside Indonesia easily pipped Indo-File for the banner spot.

In early March 1983 Max outlined the likely content of our first issue: a lead article on the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), political and labour updates, sections on culture, 'Indonesian lives', Timor and an Indonesian NGO 'development action' example. He envisaged a publication date of mid-April. Alas, this proved wildly optimistic.

A shaky start

Pat Walsh had managed to secure a few thousand dollars from Community Aid Abroad and the Australian Freedom from Hunger Campaign, $250 from the Waterside Workers and the prospect of a bit more from similar sources, but that was never going to be enough to properly fund us. It was going to have to largely rely on volunteer work and donated resources.

I was used to this. I had experience working voluntarily on a bi-monthly periodical (Retrieval: A Newsletter of Current Events, 1971-78) and had been publishing since 1975 (irregularly, it should be added) the Timor Information Service newsletter. In both these endeavours I became an adherent of the aphorism: 'If it is worth doing, it is worth doing badly'. This meant that you did things as well as you possibly could within the limits of available skills and resources.

Therefore the offer of access to typesetting equipment and use of layout facilities at Monash University's student newspaper office seemed luxurious to me. I will always remember the day Pat and I went out to Monash to try our hand at laying out the first issue. It was a disaster. I lost count of the number of well-meaning and interested students who dropped by to discuss what we were doing. This, combined with each of our uncertainties about the journal's design, made the task impossible.

This failed first attempt to get the journal into a publishable state was very dispiriting for us both as well as for Max and everyone else involved. It took us weeks to recover from the impasse. I suspect it was put on the back-burner for a while because both of us were intensely involved in our Timor work - 1983 was a big year. In the end, Pat rescued the project by pushing for the whole job to go to Rus Littleson, a professional designer he had used for Timor work.

'Inside' born!

During the creation of IRIP and 'Inside' (as we called it), both Pat and I had the ultimate human experience of becoming fathers for the first time. I won't say holding this new 'baby' was anywhere near as exciting or frightening as holding real ones, but it was momentous enough.

waddingham3Kaypro 'luggable' computer - a modern marvel in 1983 http://oldcomputers.net/kayproii.html

However it wasn't a perfectly formed child. Many, including me, were uneasy about our first cover featuring General Murdani. That cover, redeemed by the poet Rendra in Issue 2, seemed to go exactly counter to our original intentions to showcase the 'other' Indonesia – the day-to-day side of the country experienced by ordinary people and the students, workers, poets and others trying to make changes. Furthermore, the design delays meant we were running February-March Indonesian news items in a November publication. I was worried that the 'glossy' layout would exceed the quality of the material we could find or write. I would have been more comfortable with a simpler, less costly format.

Against that, I was enormously encouraged by the number of people who thought the journal was worth pursuing and began to be involved in the various stages of its production. I will never forget the stimulating, energetic interest of the (mostly) younger, budding Indonesian academics who increasingly became regular contributors. Standout examples for me were David Hill and Krishna Sen who were enthusiastic contributors and came, dream of dreams for me, with a portable Kaypro computer. In 1983 computers were primitive, expensive and beyond the reach of most of us. Email and the internet were unimaginable.

We all celebrated the launch of the first issue at the Arjuna Restaurant in Prahran on 10 November 1983. I didn't know it then and only time would tell, that the new journal would never have survived its first few years without the formidable drive and stubborn commitment of Pat Walsh.

But that is another story.

John Waddingham (chart@timorarchives.info) is a co-founder of Inside Indonesia and a qualified archivist currently managing Clearing House for Archival Records on Timor (CHART Inc). This account is based on his own memories, helped by consulting the surviving IRIP archives at Monash University.

Inside Indonesia 112: Apr-Jun 2013

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