Welcome to my Interests & Activities section. Here you can rummage amongst all those bits that don’t fit into the other pages – photo albums, travel tales, interesting conferences, and more. Think of it like that spare room in your house or the garage where you put things you want to keep until someone works out where to store them.
Scroll down, enjoy the mess and, BTW, let me know what you think!
Excerpts from Milking Our Memories: 150 years of the Walshs of Walshs Road South Purrumbete (Pat Walsh, April 2020)
Why this memoir? There are too many reasons to unpack here. Chief among them, however, was a deeply felt imperative to re-connect with my own family, place and origins after many years doing other things and to leave future generations with a sense of their history before it was lost. As no family is an island, this inevitably meant re-connecting us to our bigger clan, past and present.
I also felt the memoir would work and be fun. I had to do a lot of digging but, at a practical level, there was plenty of good, colourful material to work with and to knock into a readable story. ‘If you haven’t got the ball’, says Sam of Coodabeen Champions fame, ‘It’s very hard to score!’
Given the ambitious scope of the memoir (four generations across 150 years), my biggest challenge was to avoid swamping the reader with detail. Rather than putting everything I was told into the story, or writing a series of detailed biographies, I’ve been selective in the interests of readability. I also wanted to capture the milieu in which the Walshs lived by telling the stories of places, institutions, events and issues.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Chapter 2. The First Walshs of Walshs Road The story of Maurice and Margaret, the first Walshs of Walshs Road, South Purrumbete, is both improbable and remarkable. From their earliest years, the odds were stacked against them. They were born losers, condemned by dehumanising and systemic poverty, discrimination, bigotry and repression to a second-class ride through short lives distinguished only by ill-health, frustration, and daily struggle. Remarkably, however, their lives didn’t work out like that. Thanks to some lucky breaks, great sacrifices, prodigious leaps in the dark, and, it has to be said, their enterprise and strength of spirit, the road, initially rocky, finally rose to meet them and the wind of Providence filled their sails. It carried them half a world away from their desperate origins to a new world, Australia. Here they not only survived; they thrived. [p. 21]
Chapter 3. The Stoney Rises Mitchell’s euphoria over the natural wealth of the area was surely shared by his Aboriginal contemporaries. It was ‘felix’ to them too. And because they valued and cared for it like family leaving only the lightest of footprints, Mitchell, and later our ancestors, ironically had them to thank for the prime condition of the area. [p. 61]
It can be safely assumed that Maurice and Margaret and their seven children all enjoyed rabbit stew and knew how to trap, skin and cook rabbits. The tradition was passed down to us and continues today, though in a far smaller way. As kids, we all learned to hunt rabbits. Our shed was festooned with metal rabbit traps and the wire frames on which skins were stretched to dry. Ferrets, dogs and guns completed the hunter’s kit. We learned where to set a trap by identifying fresh droppings and new mounds at the entrance to burrows. We learned to shoot our single barrel 4-10 shot gun and rifle. One of my worst memories is being asked by Mum to cull our numerous dogs by shooting one of their number, Blackie. Unable to look him in the eye close up, I tied him to a post and shot him from too far back. This left him badly wounded and yelping in pain until I forced myself to complete his execution. [p. 83-84]
Chapter 6. Cyril Augustine Walsh: War Hero All (Uncle Cyril’s) siblings were impacted by the Second World War. But his story stands out in sharper relief and poignancy because he lost his life in the service of freedom. He was our very own victim of Nazi Germany. His death, the knock on the door that all parents whose children were on active service feared, admitted the very beast, not just its shadow, into the inner sanctum of a farm house on a back country road at the far edge of the Western world. [p. 159]
Chapter 8 The Third Walshs of Walshs Road (Mum and Dad’s) wedding was the first to be celebrated at St Brigid’s. The Darcys dispute this and claim that Jack and Noreen were the first. The Camperdown Chronicle, however, states it was Mum and Dad. As they say in research ci.rcles, whoever writes the minutes has the last word even if one of our aunts wrote the story. It misspells Mum’s name as Foster, but the Corangamite Heritage Study (2014) also supports our claim to fame. [p. 229]
Nothing, apart from a fat milk cheque, quickened a farmer’s pulse more than the sight of a freshly mown paddock strewn with bales of hay ripening in the summer sun. Where Van Gogh might have seen living colour, the scene presented the farmer, as producer and breadwinner, with a comforting vision of order and security, insurance for him and his family against the vagaries of the seasons and the market, at least for another year. [p. 260]
Chapter 9. The Fourth Walshs of Walshs Road Peter, John and Cyril all played for the (South Purrumbete) Panthers at various times. John reckons Peter could have played VFL if circumstances at home and the club had been more favourable. Facilities at the ground were rustic. There were no showers or fancy amenities to clean up after a muddy game in the middle of winter. When they came off at half time, players were offered a shot of whiskey to fire them up. Income depended on gate takings and Cyril, who ran the boundary before joining the contest himself, had to work hard to get his ten bob off the committee. [p. 311]
If it turns out that John is the last of the Walshs of Walshs Road, South Purrumbete, we will have regrets but no reason to complain. Our connection to country will be broken and links to ancestors further weakened. But we will have him to thank for his keen sense of history and his contribution to the family narrative, both as hyperthymesist and participant. He has kept the show on the road thus far and helped keep us in touch with our past, enabling us to appreciate better what has gone into creating a story that has all the ups and downs, twists, turns and rugged beauty of the Stoney Rises. [p. 335]
PRAISE FOR MILKING OUR MEMORIES Tony Wright, Special Writer for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, writes: Walsh, “a story teller with a rare gift for words… has returned to his childhood to write an arresting history of his dairy-farming family just south of the Stony Rises at South Purrumbete, a land of ancient volcanoes and lakes between Colac and Camperdown in the Western District” of Victoria.See his article here.
HOW TO PURCHASE Contact Pat Walsh by email (firstname.lastname@example.org). Price: $30.00.
Late last year, Australia’s Foreign Minister Senator Marise Payne asked the Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade to inquire into Australia’s use of targeted sanctions to address human rights abuses.
In my April 2020 submission to the Inquiry, I argue that :
(1) Sanctions like visa bans against individual perpetrators would strengthen Australia’s existing vetting through its visa application process and sanction perpetrators such as some former Indonesian military;
(2) would give some justice to East Timorese victims of crimes against humanity; and
(3) would protect minorities like the Papuans and back up East Timor’s efforts to pre-empt human rights abuses in Indonesia and internationally. Recommendations made in 2005 by East Timor’s CAVR truth commission included visa bans and asset freezes on perpetrators.
The idea of sanctioning individual perpetrators with visa bans and asset freezes is based on the Magnitsky Act adopted by the US Congress in 2012 and aimed at Russia. Since 2016, it has been broadened to cover human rights abusers anywhere. Countries like Canada, Estonia and Lithuania have legislated their own versions and the UK has committed to follow suit. The US has used the Global Magnitsky Act to sanction many abusers. In our region these include named individuals from Burma and Cambodia, but no-one from Indonesia.
Many of the basic freedoms of so-called enemies of the people were repressed by the Soviet
Union/USSR during its existence 1922-1991. These violations were particularly massive and
brutal during the Stalinist period 1929-1953. They included the exile and death in forced
labour camps (gulags) of millions of peasants, political opponents, members of the
intelligentsia and church; famine and starvation; intense surveillance, harassment and mass executions by the Secret Police and show trials.
During a visit to Russia in May 2018, I had the opportunity to check out, albeit superficially,
how contemporary Russia is dealing with this horrific past. I was surprised and impressed to
see that civil society and the State have chosen to remember, not suppress, these events.
Below is a link to information, images and reflections on seven memorials in Moscow and St
Petersburg that I was able to visit, photograph or learn about. This introduction is offered in
the hope that it will further inspire and strengthen efforts in Indonesia to reclaim and
publicise the truth about its past during the Suharto years and confirm advances on
memorialisation already underway in Timor-Leste particularly through its Centro Nacional
Nobel Institute of Peace Seminar, Oslo. L-R: Olandina Caeiro, Fidelis Magalhaes, Stig Traavik (chair, Norwegian Ambassador to Indonesia and Timor-Leste), Bishop Belo, Arnold Kohen discussing Timor-Leste’s colonial past.
The European launch of the English language Chega! was conducted at the Nobel Institute of Peace, Oslo, 25 Jan 2016. I was a panellist in the associated seminar which was sponsored by the Norwegian Government and brought together key activists, officials, and experts on transitional justice to reflect on Chega! and Timor-Leste, ten years after the appearance of CAVR’s monumental report. Timor-Leste’s two Nobel Peace Laureates, Jose Ramos-Horta and Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo, also participated.
Jose Ramos-Horta presents the English language edition of the Chega! report to Norway’s Crown Prince Haakon, 25 Jan 2016
Bishop Gunnar Stalsett, former Norway Special Envoy to Timor-Leste and Member of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, Emeritus Bishop of Oslo. The seminar was Bishop Stalsett’s initiative.
Red Cross index cards used to trace the missing after World War I.
The International Red Cross is revered for its service to suffering humanity as both the world’s conscience and humanitarian front-line. It is also a keeper of the world’s memory and stores a vast archive of records on man’s inhumanity to man in the subterranean vaults of its headquarters in Geneva.
On 21 May 2013 I was privileged to visit these archives and see what material the ICRC holds on Timor-Leste where it worked during the 1975 civil war, the great famine of 1979-80 and subsequently.
CAVR recommended that organizations such as ICRC make their records available to Timor-Leste so that it can accurately and fully reconstruct its historical memory. Some of the ICRC material is public and accessible. The bulk of it – records related to the missing, family reunions, displaced people and political prisoners – will only be declassified 40 years after the event.
Medieval Bern, the beautiful capital of Switzerland.
A conference I attended in Switzerland in May 2013 made me more aware than ever of the importance of archives in Timor-Leste. Participants from Morocco, South Africa, Argentina, the former Yugoslavia and others explained how records were being preserved and made accessible in their countries to assist victims, combat impunity and promote human rights.
In my presentation on Timor-Leste I explained that a good start has been made by CAVR and others but that national archival legislation, cooperation between existing archives, professionalisation of staff, and the establishment of an Institute of Memory are needed to make further progress.
The visit was also an opportunity to discuss Timor-Leste with the Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs and the UN and to visit Timor-Leste’s Permanent Mission to the UN.
I recently made a submission to the Australian Parliament’s new inquiry into Australia’s relationship with Timor-Leste.
The submission points out that the reports of Timor-Leste’s two truth commissions post-date the last Parliamentary inquiry into Timor-Leste, held in 2000, and that this inquiry is an opportunity for the Parliament to assist East Timorese victims of historic crimes by addressing the findings and recommendations of the CAVR commission in particular.
The submission also points out that Australia’s official apologies to victims of the Stolen Generation and Forced Adoption make it clear that addressing past traumas requires more than the passage of time or developmental measures. Deeper responses, including recognition, reparations and justice, are also needed to assist the healing and reconciliation of victims and the shared objectives of nation-building and poverty reduction in Timor-Leste.
Based on proposals by the CAVR, the submission recommends 10 ways in which Australia can assist Timorese victims. These include an apology, justice measures, a victim impact review of Australia’s aid program, reparations, and support for several relevant institution building and project initiatives.
Governments around the world, including Australia, are increasingly recognising that victims of gross human rights violations have a right to the truth and to dignity. The right articulates their entitlement to seek, receive and impart information on their case and the associated duty of governments to preserve and provide access to relevant official files.
The UN has declared March 24, the date of Archbishop Oscar Romero’s assassination in El Salvador in 1980, an annual day to publicise this right.
The right has many implications for victims (e.g. of sexual abuse in Australia, of violence by the Suharto regime in Indonesia and Timor-Leste) but also for security agencies, archives and related legislation.
Annie and I braved the Melbourne evening rush hour and wet weather on Thursday, 27 February 2013, to travel across the city to listen to Les Murray read and discuss his poetry. It was well worth the effort. Les, who flew down from his home at Bunyah in NSW that day, was the guest of The Carmelite Centre in Middle Park for their Poetry for the Soul series.
Looking every inch the ‘bushie’ he says he is, Les, now 74, is the antithesis of what many might expect of someone who is an Australian living treasure and said to be one of the best poets writing in English. Portly and dressed in a multi-coloured woollen jumper and track-suit pants, he speaks with an uncultivated voice which, together with his way of talking in images, adds to his warm, rustic charm. One sensed that poetry, and what he called the ‘trance’ and ‘ecstasy’ that inspire it, comes first and that everything else is secondary. He was also refreshingly candid about his poetry, volunteering that he was no good at writing religious poetry and that some of his poems weren’t much good. He shared freely about his life, his semi-autism, being bullied at school, tensions in his father’s family, his conversion to Catholicism (because its ethos of forgiveness attracted him more than the narrow Protestant ethic he’d grown up with), and 20 years of depression. During those dark years he found he could write poetry. You can write yourself out of trouble, he said.
Poetry, he told us, is hard work, harder than prose but more satisfying. It’s like jazz, which looks like improvisation but is difficult because both freedom and control are present. Poetry is like dancing with a book on your head. It has an element of play and of lightness about it. A work of art must always exceed its own rules. Poetry is the fruit of three processes – dreaming, reason, body (the rhyme, words, images etc that incarnate the work). It will last if it embodies this tri-fusion, not least the first element. An under-dreamt poem will be flat; one must go beyond intelligence. Poetry is whole speak, the opposite of the narrow speak that characterises, for example, stock exchange reports. The idea that sparks is essential. Usually making it into a poem requires much work and dexterity but sometimes the poem writes itself, comes down your arm and out through your fingers.
As we left I told Les I was originally from a dairy farm and that his poems on cows, butter factories and stock whips (described as ‘thonged lightning’ in Kiss of the Whip which he read to us) resonated with me. He confessed, however, that – like me – he hadn’t done much milking! In his talk he made some references to the Armenian genocide, to Hitler, and to Mao but when I told him I had learned a lot in East Timor about genocide and forgiveness, he said he did not know much about Timor. I also told him that my sister-in-law Paula Keogh has just completed a memoir on the Australian poet Michael Dransfield. He replied that Michael wrote some good poetry and has been neglected.
You can read some beaut samples of Les Murray’s poetry on his website.
My entries in the Your View is Personal Eurostars photo competition, December 2012. Each of my photos was taken in Paris. The competition attracted 770 entries from 28 countries.
I was unsuccessful. First prize went to a young Canadian* for his photo of a Roman aqueduct.
Breaking bread at Musee d’Orsay
Street tango at Notre Dame
* Translated excerpt from citation The winning photographer is Benjamin Tyler Perrin, aged 27 and hailing from Canada. His chosen subject is the Aqua Claudia, a Roman aqueduct dating back nearly 2,000 years. Both the photographer and his winning entry were the stars of the VII Edition of the Eurostars Hotel Photography Award aimed at hotel guests. The jury was swayed by the simplicity of the shot and the perfect arrangement of typically Mediterranean objects, such as the rock texture, the line the aqueduct follows, the olive trees and the setting sun. Benjamin took the winning photograph at the end of July at the Parco degli Acquedotti, on the southern outskirts of Rome, where he was on holiday with his partner Lisa.
Letter to the editor, The Age (Published 5 Jan 2013)
Christopher Bantick (Comment & Debate, 3/1) is right that Australia, and Melbourne in particular, should give poetry more exposure. Churches like St Paul’s and St Patrick’s Cathedrals would make excellent sites. St Pat’s, where in fact James McAuley is quoted in the cathedral’s water feature, would be further enhanced if the sterile orange glass in the windows down each side of the nave were replaced with poetry in stained glass.
But the idea should be not to box poetry in a corner but to get it out in the open. Given Australia’s multi-cultural makeup, the public should not have to go to church to read poetry. Poetry also belongs in pubs (the Chloe room in Young and Jackson’s would be appropriate), airports (like Dublin in Ireland), footpaths (like Circular Quay in Sydney) and other places where people gather and would benefit from verse.
By the way Christopher, PM Gillard recently instituted a poetry prize and quoted Dylan Thomas in Parliament following the death of her father a few months ago.
On 5 and 6 November, thanks to the International Center for Transitional Justice, I was privileged to join a workshop in Bali on historic violence against women in Indonesia and East Timor entitled Repairing the past, building our common future.
The workshop was informative, inspirational and moving. I am still processing the compelling documentation on crimes committed by state agencies against women in 1965, then in Aceh, Timor-Leste, and Papua; the legal case for redress by the Indonesian government; and what can be done to ensure the victims are heard and that the state ends the official denial that lies at the heart of continued discrimination against victims and its refusal to provide the reparations women’s organizations are now calling for in keeping with international law.
Advocates for justice are not optimistic. Commenting on women victims in Aceh, one speaker declared that ‘the only thing that has advanced for these victims is their age’.
Over the two days it became clear to me, however, that real progress is being made. This is principally due to three factors: (a) the collection and exposure of hard evidence of crimes that would have been unthinkable a few short years ago; (b) advances in relevant international standard setting (e.g. the 2006 UN principles on the Right to Reparations) and law; (c) the institutional engagement of official but independent bodies represented at the workshop like Indonesia’s National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan, established in 1998 in response to sexual violence against Chinese women committed during the May riots that year) and East Timor’s Provedor (National Commission) for Human Rights, and some very committed NGOs and women activists.
Working together these three factors are a powerful force for change, not least that it is women who are pushing the envelope. The workshop, however, added two other factors: it included policy-makers in the process by inviting several MPs from both the Indonesian and East Timorese Parliaments to join the workshop, and second, it provided these women MPs with an opportunity to meet and work together on what is a common cause.
These are not easy issues, least of all politically. For the sake of long-suffering victims, however, it is sincerely hoped that the participants will continue to collaborate on these matters that are vital for both past victims and to prevent recurrence. The valuable information provided and the involvement of Indonesian organizations and MPs should also help timid East Timorese policy-makers to move forward in 2013 and adopt pending legislation for a national reparations program and Institute of Memory.
Indonesian organizations have declared 2013 the year of truth (Mari Bicara Kebenaran, Let’s talk truth). This is designed to encourage Indonesians to open their minds to the dark and hidden history of their country through listening to the voices of women survivors and to mobilise public support for the rights of these victims.
Nearly 200 students and their lecturer attended the launch of my book Di Tempat Kejadian Perkara (At the Scene of the Crime) at the University of Padjadjaran (Unpad) in Jatinangor near Bandung on 24 October 12. It was the best book launch I’ve ever attended.
I have four organizations to thank for that: Layar Kita (film society); KPG (the publisher); the Unpad International Relations Students Association and their lecturer Dr Viani Puspitasari; and Batu Api (community library).
Strumming on his ukulele like Tiny Tim, a student kicked off proceedings with a couple of songs. Tobing (Layar Kita), the best agent one could hope for, introduced me and I reminisced about my first visit to Bandung in 1968 when I was 27. Dr Viani, who lectures in international relations, spoke knowledgeably about Timor’s history and two students, backed by guitars and violin, performed a musikalisasi of my poem Sinar Malam (Night light – about blackouts in Dili, both the electrical and cosmic varieties).
After a break and ‘door prizes’ (during which students won a copy of my and other books in response to questions from Tobing), we launched into a good hour of Q and A on East Timor and human rights. Questions included: why had Indonesia invaded, why was so little being done about historic crimes, how did Timorese feel about Indonesians, how did I get involved in human rights. Following the Q and A, which was conducted without a hint of defensiveness or hostility, I posed for photos with students and had a number of one-to-ones about issues such as human rights in Papua, Burma (Rohingya Muslims), and courses in human rights.
Locals told me that a small community of East Timorese live near Jatinangor. Called Yayasan Lemorai Timor Indonesia, the community mainly comprises orphans and is led by Pak Arif Marzuki (formerly Martino Balera), a survivor from Matabian in the late 1970s who has since converted to Islam. Pak Arif was invited to the launch but declined.
Di Tempat Kejadian Perkara is now on sale in Gramedia shops throughout Indonesia for Rp 40,000.
A grieving PM Julia Gillard quoted Dylan Thomas in Parliament after the death of her beloved dad, John, aged 83, in Adelaide on 7 September. Her dad, who grew up in a small Welsh mining town and left school at 14, loved poetry and often quoted to her the famous Welsh poet’s Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.
Dylan Thomas wrote the poem for his dying father. Its last verse, desperate and defiant, reads: And you, my father, there on the sad height, Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray. Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
The celebrated poem is featured in a back-lit panel displayed in the Dylan Thomas museum in Swansea, where he was born. Put a visit to the museum on your bucket list. Annie and I ticked it off in 2007. Exquisite.
Equally exquisite was hearing, on 1 September, Thomas’s Under Milk Wood performed by the Whistling Vicar Theatre at the Melbourne Welsh Church. I mention the date because the play is about a glorious spring day in the eccentric, but fictional, Welsh town of Llareggub (bugger all backwards!).
The play epitomises Thomas’ love of words. It is enchanting (‘the fields go down to the hazed town, rippling like a lake, to drink’), funny (‘throw away your little bed socks and your Welsh wool knitted jacket, I will warm the sheets like an electric toaster, I will lie by your side like the Sunday roast’), sometimes cruel and probably misogynist, but nevertheless pure music to the ears (‘Listen. It is tonight in Donkey Street, trotting silent, with seaweed on its hooves, along the cockled cobbles, past curtained fern pot, text and trinket, harmonium, holy dresser, watercolors done by hand, china dog and rosy tin tea caddy. It is night neddying among the snuggeries of babies’.)
For that reason, it’s best listened to read out loud. The Whistling Vicar players were terrific. You can also listen to it on line, done by Dylan himself or another Welshman Richard Burton.
Receiving Honorary Doctorate of Letters, University of Southern Queensland.
Last Saturday, Chancellor Bobbie Brazil awarded me an honorary Doctor of Letters (honoris causa) at the University of Southern Queensland in beautiful Toowoomba. The award was for my work in human rights but as I pointed out in my acceptance speech I also consider it testimony to the importance the USQ places on social justice and recognition of the extraordinary people who make up the proud human rights sector and the global code of conduct called the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that is their inspiration. Prodded to explain the genesis of this singular distinction, Vice-Chancellor Professor Jan Thomas would only comment that ‘God works in mysterious ways’, even if assisted by a committee of rigorous academics.
With my wife Annie at the USQ award.
It was a splendid, colourful occasion, steeped in ancient ritual and symbolism, all undertaken to emphasise the solemn status attached to learning. Robed and hatted like a medieval cardinal, I joined hundreds of students graduating in the arts, sciences, engineering, nursing, education and business and an impressive number of PhD’s. USQ specialises in on-line distance education and many of the graduands travelled from different parts of the world for the occasion.
In the morning session, Andy Gourley, Director of the Red Frogs Chaplaincy Network, gave an entertaining account of his work with schoolies events on the Gold Coast that has now gone national and international.
My theme to the afternoon graduands was achieving against the odds based on the extraordinary contribution of civil society to the liberation of East Timor. The talk is called Achieving Against the Odds (click title to read).
With USQ Vice-Chancellor Professor Jan Thomas.
USQ Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Jan Thomas, personally and warmly hosted our visit on top of her many duties. Supported by her wonderful staff, she treated Annie and I like visiting royals. We are both now enthusiastic ambassadors for USQ and Toowoomba.
We were also delighted to meet, amongst others, Deputy Vice-Chancellor John Dornbusch, Professor Peter Terry, the new Bishop of Toowoomba, Mgr Robert McGuckin, Mark Copeland, head of the Diocesan Social Justice Commission and Professor Gerard Fogarty who was made an Honorary Professor Emeritus the same day for his services to USQ and psychology.
Having lived in diaspora away from South Purrumbete for most of my life, I have regularly had to explain where it is, that it’s not the Burrumbeet near Ballarat and why there is no North, East or West Purrumbete.
Well, here it is in all its glory centred on the volcanic lake from which it takes its name.
Some of the photos were taken from Mt Porndon looking west across Lake Purrumbete (thanks to Sue Seabright for allowing us the privilege to climb her mountain) or on the shore of the lake as the day ended. The silhouetted figure is my brother John. The others were taken in the early morning from Mt Leura in Camperdown looking east across the lake to Mt Porndon.
Though not strictly Purrumbete, also included are a profile of the Benedictine Abbey of St Mark near Camperdown (the landscape calls for hymns of praise) and, a short distance away, my late grandfather Albert Agustus Forster’s derelict milking shed. A former Station Master, Grandpa Forster had a quaint sense of humour and used to tell us kids his full name was Albert Agustus Loftus Smartsteel John Bull Doctor Leeda de Forster. It stuck. My sister and brother can reel it off like parrots at family gatherings.
Picking my way up Dago Rd during a recent visit to Bandung, I suddenly found myself in a cul-de-sac. It was just on 6 pm, a busy time with local Muslims breaking their fast. The footpath had been temporarily sealed off with a bench rigged up to serve dinner to hungry customers and the go-around alternative on the side of the road was blocked by a stationary angkot parked tight against the curb.
Noting my predicament, the stall owner suggested I squeeze through a narrow gap between the bench and his mobile stall, but as this would require me to remove my back pack, duck under head-high steel rods holding his make-shift roof and step down over the curbing onto the busy road, I declined. Sensing I was tired and a bit frustrated, he kindly offered me a seat and then served me a syrupy banana drink in a plastic cup.
It’s a sort of red bull, I observed after a sip, just the thing to get you going after fasting all day, like tennis players use at the change of ends. Delighted with my endorsement, he and his two customers then launched into the prying but polite interrogation that customarily opens encounters in Indonesia. Where had I come from? Where was I going? How old was I? Why on earth was I walking, up hill to boot? Didn’t I have a car? Was I alone? Was I married, how many kids, what was I doing in Bandung?
Things suddenly became serious, however, when I said vaguely that I was in Bandung publishing on human rights. What did I think of human rights in Indonesia post-Suharto, one of the three immediately asked. Sensing a loaded question, I mumbled something about the situation being far improved on paper and vis-à-vis political freedoms but economic rights were seriously lagging. That was all my interlocutor needed. Shifting closer, he launched into a strong, but persuasive, critique of inequity in Indonesia. Chinese dominated the economy, rich people from Jakarta were buying up big in Bandung, corruption was rampant, and poor people like them were not benefiting from democracy. Australia they volunteered politely was, of course, far different.
Digging in my right hip pocket for small rupiah to pay for the drink (I carry big denominations elsewhere to avoid the embarrassment of displaying a wad of notes in public, not least after an exchange like this), I insisted on paying. The owner wouldn’t hear of it. What about something for his kids. No way, it was enough that I had shared their company at an auspicious time.
May the reward for his sedekah be generous and not-long coming.
As there is a general tendency to associate gross human rights violations and repression with parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America rather than the West, it was both surprising and sobering to take part in a symposium entitled Transitional Justice after War and Dictatorship: Learning from European Experiences (1945-2000). The gathering was convened by the Belgian Centre for Research and Documentation on War and Contemporary Society (CEGES-SOMA), funded by the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and held in Brussels 23-24 May 2012. Its purpose was to get comments from five practitioners with experience of transitional justice in the South, including myself, on a study of ten cases of transition to democracy in the following European countries: Belgium, France, Germany, and The Netherlands after World War II; Greece, Portugal and Spain in the 1970s, and Germany, Hungary and Poland in the post-1989 era. The study and seminar also set out to identify lessons learned.
Inter alia, my presentation on East Timor concluded that official policies on justice for historic crimes changed significantly during the first two phases of post-conflict government in the new nation. Under the UN, 1999-2002, East Timor engaged with the issue but since full self-government in 2002 East Timor has chosen not to pursue the issue. Interestingly this finding matches several of the European experiences. My presentation also pointed out that several of the countries in the European case studies, e.g. The Netherlands vis-à-vis Indonesia, were victims at home but perpetrators abroad and suggested that this contradiction should also be examined in the study.