The Newsletter 91 Spring 2022

Indonesian Studies in Melbourne: Honouring the Past, Celebrating the Future

Edwin Jurriëns

Australia has a history of more than 65 years of formal tertiary education in Indonesian language, culture and society. The University of Melbourne has played a foundational role in this area of studies. On 28 and 29 September 2021, the University’s Indonesian Studies program organised a public lecture and international conference to celebrate and reflect on the development of Indonesian Studies in Australia.

The two-part program aimed at generating international dialogue, intergenerational knowledge transfer and interdisciplinary discussion by bringing together Language, Culture and Area Studies experts as well as the broader Indonesia and Southeast Asia-interested community. A central focus point and source of inspiration was scholar, public intellectual and Foundation Professor of Indonesian Studies at The University of Melbourne, the late Arief Budiman (1941–2020). The event marked the start of an annual Arief Budiman Public Lecture series.

Indonesian language teaching commenced at The University of Melbourne in the mid-1950s. This development took place in a dynamic era of regional cultural diplomacy, in which Indonesian cultural activists and intellectuals declared themselves ‘heirs to world culture’. These were also the formative years of Budiman, who became a signatory of the so-called Cultural Manifesto in 1963. This manifesto, which emphasised creative and intellectual freedom, was subsequently banned by the government. In Budiman’s spirit, the Indonesian Studies program at The University of Melbourne today aims to educate a new generation of world citizens: cosmopolitan, socially engaged, and with a deep understanding and appreciation of cultural and linguistic diversity.

The inaugural Arief Budiman Public Lecture, titled ‘Arief Budiman and His Family: Cultural Politics under Guided Democracy’, was delivered by Prof. Charles A. Coppel, who himself has played a key role in the development of Indonesian Studies at The University of Melbourne. Coppel explained how national politics under President Sukarno’s Guided Democracy (1959–1965) was polarised between the ‘progressive revolutionary’ forces including communists and radical nationalists on the one hand and those opposed to them including anti-communists in the military and religious parties on the other. Opposing views about ethnicity, literature and culture in general were caught up in the hothouse of national politics. In his lecture, Coppel showed how Arief Budiman and his family illuminated this process in Indonesian modern history.

The international conference in the second part of the program, titled ‘Citizens of the World: Indonesian Studies in Australia’, steered discussions about past, current, and future directions of Indonesian Studies along the various types of border-crossing epitomised by Budiman and his students: between various disciplines, between academia and activism, and between Indonesia, Australia and the World. Consisting of four panels, each with their own subthemes, it sought to address the following key question: how to respond to the challenges of teaching and researching languages, cultures and regions in the context of late capitalism?

The first panel, titled ‘Border-crossing Literature and Language’, had presentations by Dr Intan Paramaditha (Macquarie University), Dr Lily Yulianti Farid (Monash University) and Ms Dewi Anggraeni (independent author). The second panel, with Dr Irfan Wahyudi (Universitas Airlangga), Dr Hellena Souisa (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) and Mr Tito Ambyo (RMIT University), discussed ‘The Digital Turn in Media and Communication’. The participants in the third panel, titled ‘International Relations and Development in the Anthropocene’, were Dr Poppy Sulistyaning Winanti (Universitas Gadjah Mada), Prof Nyoman Darma Putra (Universitas Udayana) and Dr Ina Hunga (Universitas Kristen Satya Wacana). The fourth and final panel, with Dr Inaya Rakhmani (Universitas Indonesia), Prof Bernard Arps (Universiteit Leiden) and Dr Seng Yu Jin (National Gallery Singapore), specifically focused on ‘Area Studies under Late Capitalism’.

Overall, the conference confirmed that Indonesian Studies is much more than a pragmatic, external tool for communicating elsewhere defined solutions in the international arena. Instead, it is at the very core of generating complex approaches to the difficult issues of our times.


Edwin Jurriëns
Convenor, Indonesian Studies
The University of Melbourne