The Indonesia-Australia relationship is extremely important. However, lately it seems as though each month brings fresh controversies highlighting the troubled nature of the national government-to-government relationship. The 2015 Lowy Institute Poll claims that Australians’ feelings towards Indonesia are the lowest they’ve been in 10 years. To add to the gloom, the low number of Australian high school students studying Indonesian has been described as “almost catastrophic“.
Language and cultural understanding between Australia and its closest neighbour is more important than ever, and hope is not lost. On 12 June 2015, a truly cross-sectional, collaborative and grass-roots event titled Indonesia in Action was held. From ten high schools, around 240 students, their teachers and some parents made the trip to the campus of Sydney University, with some from as far away as Wagga Wagga. These students, who are currently studying Indonesian, made the journey to learn more about Indonesia and the employment benefits of being ‘Indonesia literate’. The ultimate purpose of Indonesia in Action is to encourage a life-long interest in Indonesia and strengthen the learning of Indonesian in NSW.
For these NSW students, a day of fun hands-on learning was waiting for them, not to mention a day outside of the classroom. After a welcome by Professor Adrian Vickers, the Consul General of Indonesia, Dr Yayan Mulyana, officially opened the event with an engaging talk which got students laughing. Dr Vannessa Hearman then gave an interesting talk about “history fever” in Indonesia before Samuel Bashfield chatted about his adventures riding a motorcycle from one end of Java to the other. The students were also informed about exciting Indonesia-related scholarship opportunities from the Australian Indonesia Association (AIA) and engaging networking events of Australian Indonesia Youth Association (AIYA). Between each guest speaker, the audience was treated to dazzling performances by Suara Indonesia Dancers.
After a lunch of Indonesian rendang and gado-gado, the hands-on activities got under-way with a number of workshops set up to enable students to delve into Indonesian culture and language. These workshops included: a campus tour in Indonesian led by university students, interactive language workshops delivered by high school teachers, a cooking workshop to make a beautiful Nasi Tumpeng, and typical games of Indonesian Independence Day celebrations, such as lomba makan krupuk and lomba memasukkan paku ke dalam botol, provided by the University of Sydney’s Indonesian Student Association (PPIA). Dance workshops were also a highlight as students learned the sitting body-percussion dance Ratoh Duek from North Aceh as well as Randai, a form of traditional theatre from West Sumatra.
The enormous success of the Indonesia in Action day did not just happen by chance, and I am proud to say that my efforts as an AIYA volunteer contributed to that success in some small way. Indonesian in Action was the result of the cross-sectoral, collaborative efforts of Sydney University’s Department of Indonesian, the NSW Department of Education and Communities, the NSW Association of Independent Schools, the Catholic Education Office Sydney and AIYA. Personally, being involved in this event and representing AIYA on the planning committee was immensely rewarding. On the day, it was great to see NSW students having fun and learning about Australia’s closest neighbour.
If you also want to be a part of positive change and make a difference in the Australia-Indonesia relationship; learn an Indonesian language or expand your professional network across Australia and Indonesia. If you are not sure where to start, check out AIYA.