In the first KYD No. 17 teaser, Jim Della-Giacoma provides an insightful and timely look into the state of Australian-Indonesian relations.
In December 1991, the Australian government sent me to shit in an Indonesian river. It was called a cultural exchange. From the perspective of the rice farming families of the isolated Sumatran village, we stayed briefly, and then floated downstream to work in the provincial capital. For a month we were entertaining and a distraction; we sung a few songs and dug some holes. When we left, they never expected to see us again.
That year, there were thirty-two of us sent to Pungut Hilir village by the Australian–Indonesian Youth Exchange Programme (AIYEP), equal parts Australian and Indonesian; men and women. Our stay in this village was not necessarily meant to benefit the community. Through the shared endeavour of its youth, our governments were playing a long game. They were trying to lay the foundation for greater understanding and better bilateral relations between our two countries.
Typical for the group, I was middle class, university educated, and a city dweller. Most were still students, but I was a 25-year-old reporter for the Australian, living in Adelaide, and one of its oldest members. Thrown together with minimal prep, we had to quickly learn to get along with our compatriots, Indonesian counterparts, and the villagers.
A simple saying that I had learned days earlier from an Australian colleague with an Indonesian mother defused the situation: Lain lubuk, lain ikanya. Different pond, different fish. In the Indonesian archipelago it was used to explain that each region had its own customs or rules. This was the first of many times that I deployed it. We were different countries and different people; always destined to be so.