The view from Australia

The view from Australia

Is Indonesia leaving us behind?

Extract

“Flares, flares everywhere, in the flatland darkness, where gabled villas with orange-tiled roofs hid behind crumbling walls, and a dark, drain-like canal moved with evil slowness. On an area of muddy ground beside the highway, the lights from the pasar [market] burned uncertainly: kerosene and gas pressure-lamps set on the counters of many little stalls under tattered awnings … All the brown faces, floating in flatland dark, were theatrically lit from below, by the brazier, by the flares; and all seemed to smile. Young men in white shirts and sarongs walked by hand in hand. Doorless huts gave glimpses of public privacy, frozen in yellow frames: a table with a candle on it; a small, naked girl playing on a straw mat; a middle-aged woman in a sarong and incongruous brassière, heating water in a discarded can over a little fire. The rooms were so small they were little more than boxes, and could not be stood up in: children’s playhouses.”

This is Jakarta as described by C.J. Koch in The Year of Living Dangerously, the most (read: only) well-known Australian book about Indonesia. Koch was writing in 1978 – a time when political tempers and the country’s economy were badly fraying, not yet even halfway through then president Suharto’s long years of autocracy.

Cover image of AFA3

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