From about 1994 until 2007, Inside Indonesia’s office was located at 124 Napier Street, Fitzroy, in a run-down building owned by, and situated behind, the Uniting Church. It was a bluestone building constructed in 1871-72. The office was homely. Front covers of all the past issues were posted on the wall. We stored old issues in the large room and had access to a room downstairs for doing mailout.
I was a long-time subscriber, an Inside Indonesia Board member from 2002. From 2004 to 2007 I was the part-time Office and Production Manager, at which point the magazine moved online and the office was shut down. Pat Walsh and John Waddingham have described the cycle of producing the magazine and the communal feel of the mailouts. Little had changed from then until the 2000s, except the people involved. During this period the group doing mailouts included Melbourne-based Board members, such as Bob Muntz and Deryn Mansell; employees, such as Klara Rosaline, Cecilia Hadiyanto, Wendy Miller, Bel Harper and me; and our extended friendship groups, including the next generation of the Inside Indonesia family – Pat’s daughters, Mayra and Suzannah. In this piece, therefore, I focus on the building, the community within it and the changing times.
During my time with Inside Indonesia, there were a number of other small NGOs, also attracted by the peppercorn rent. The common thread between the groups was that they looked beyond Australia, were community-focused and progressive. At Napier Street we were working on different projects but with similar aims and objectives and overlapping interests. The Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) was in the room next door. COHRE was an international NGO, based in Geneva, with the mission of fighting for ‘adequate housing for everyone, everywhere’. It campaigned against forced evictions of people and communities from their homes and lands. COHRE had regional programmes in Africa, Asia and the Americas and offices in these regions, one of which was the office at Napier Street.
Further along, there was a large room, shared by the Boîte and Project Respect. The Boîte was established in 1979 to support culturally diverse music in Australia. The Boîte has supported a number of Indonesia-related music performances over the years. Project Respect is a support and referral service for women and gender diverse people with experience in the sex industry, which also assists people who have been trafficked for sexual exploitation. Downstairs there was the East Timor Human Rights Centre, established in 1995, to promote and protect human rights in Timor Leste.
Next to our section of the building was a kindergarten and it was walking past the kindergarten each day, that I was introduced to the Wiggles. ‘The wheels on the bus go round and round....’ Day in and day out, over and over. At Chinese Lunar New Year, us adults were as excited as the kids, when lion dancers came to the kindergarten playground and we all peered in through the wire fence.
Then there were the non-paying residents. For a long time, we had a very tidy homeless refugee, who lived in the porch area, near the front door. He packed up every morning before we arrived and rolled up his bedding neatly. We did not meet him for many months, until he was ‘evicted’ by a group of rather rowdy men, who took up residence. At that point, he came knocking on the door and introduced himself, seeking help. Someone in the building was able to re-establish him in the porch but then, ultimately, help him get in touch with services and find proper accommodation.
Less appealing were the non-human, non-paying residents. At one point we had a rat infestation. There was a debate among the tenants. Some felt that rats deserved to have safe housing and that they were entitled to our lunches. Others (myself among them) did not like the idea of sharing our offices with rats and supported eradication. However, I was glad that I was working in my other job, when some of the COHRE staff found what they thought was a dead rat, dug a hole, put the rat on the spade and started to carry it down the stairs to its grave, when it suddenly got a burst of life, leaped off the spade and onto the stairs, determined to seek its own destiny.
Long time passing...
For years there was talk that the building would be sold. Occasionally, we would hear that we might have to move and we investigated other buildings, where the groups could all move together. One building we went into, someone checked the bathroom and said, ‘It has hot water!’ We were very excited. We had become used to washing our hands in cold water in the middle of winter but creature comforts were appealing.
In the end, though, Inside Indonesia closed its office about two years before the church building was sold. Following the decision to cease its print version, there was a frenzy of sorting and finding homes for, or disposing of, everything, including decades of paper, books, past issues, t-shirts and furniture. Then we were gone.
The Fitzroy Uniting Church congregation moved to CERES Environmental Park in 2009. Two groups re-located to other buildings which house small NGOs: the Boîte to Abbotsford Convent in St Heliers Street, Collingwood; and Project Respect to 126 Moor Street, the former building of the Fitzroy Town Hall.
After more than 20 years, COHRE ceased operations in about 2012. Its archive is on the web. I don’t know what happened to the East Timor Human Rights Centre: it has left little trace on the web.
And the building itself...? 124 Napier Street has been converted into luxury apartments. At last look, an apartment was selling for about $5,000,000. It is no longer a suitable home for NGOs with shoestring budgets, but I presume there is now hot water on tap!
Helen Pausacker (email@example.com) is on the law faculty of the University of Melbourne.