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Melanie Morrison: Australian Indonesia Association

Melanie Morrison was born in Canberra but eventually settled down in a multicultural suburb of Sydney, her hometown ever since. In her early years she spent long periods traveling in Asia, the Middle East, Europe and the US with her family. After completing a post-graduate degree in Indonesian studies at Sydney University, Melanie worked for a time in Australia on international educational aid projects. In the early 1990s she worked in Indonesia for five years in print and television journalism and later as an international investor relations manager before returning once again to the media industry. Since 2002 Melanie has worked for SBS TV Australia as a producer/researcher in the international current affairs program Dateline. She joined the Australian Indonesia Association in 2002 when a friend enlisted her as the editor of the AIA newsletter, ‘Kabar,’ and presently serves as a committee member for the association.

What are your hobbies?

Right now playing dress ups and doing crafts with my kids. When there’s time I swim, dance, travel and climb mountains if there are any about.

Why did you become interested in the Malay world?

Some say that scent is the oldest of our sensory memories. I only lived in Australia a few weeks before my family moved to Malaysia where we lived for several years. I distinctly remember the sticky, sweet smell of Asia. In 1977 we traveled to Indonesia on a family holiday. I knew I would return and did, in great style, when my father was appointed Australian Ambassador in Jakarta. While I was at university in Sydney studying Indonesian and Malaysian studies during his posting, I deferred a year and spent the time as an English lecturer in Aceh and studying dance and music in Yogya. The ‘Indonesia bug’ well and truly dug in during this time. I returned in 1991 and spent the next seven years working for both local and international news outlets. I was incredibly fortunate to get to know an array of fascinating people from activists to government ministers.

What’s the concept behind AIA?

The association was established in 1945 by people who were previously associated with the Australian union movement which played a key role in supporting Indonesia after WW II. Founded one month before Indonesia declared its independence in August 1945, the AIA was the first social organization to recognize the new nation, so it has a quite unique place in history. The AIA was established to foster and promote friendship, understanding and good relations between the peoples of Australia and Indonesia. These continue to be its guiding principles.

What makes AIA different from other Australian-Indonesian associations?

Most other organizations represent a particular group of people or single interests. The AIA is an independent organization that brings together people from all walks of life with varying interests and affiliations. There are no qualifications for membership apart from an interest in Indonesia. Some members are Indonesian, some are expatriates who have lived in Indonesia and some just want to learn more about the country. AIA is totally non-profit, surviving on volunteer work and membership fees and funds raised through social activities. We now have independent associations in Victoria, Canberra and South Australia.

Could you give us some examples of charities that AIA supports?

In recent years we have supported educational projects like the Bali Hati School in Bali and the Nusa Tenggara Association which provides small-scale economic and social development in some of the poorest areas of Indonesia’s southeastern islands. The association also sponsors the Seymour Hersh Foundation to promote the study of Indonesian at Australian schools.

What are the most popular social events that AIA sponsors?

The Spring Fair held in October is our best-attended event. It’s normally held at the residence of the Indonesian Consul General in Sydney where there are cultural performances, workshops, arts and crafts and food stalls. All proceeds go to selected charities in Indonesia. We also host regular quarterly dinners and work with other Indonesian community groups on a number events and functions. We also have an annual history walk planned for September where participants are shown places of historical significance in the early years of Australia-Indonesia relations.

What do you consider the most urgent issues facing the relationship between Australia and Indonesia?

Australians need to move beyond outdated images of Indonesia. As these impressions stem largely from ignorance, education is central to promoting better understanding. Sadly, the number of Australians studying Indonesian has fallen over recent years. Shortsighted government policies have contributed to this, so there now needs to be a better policy framework to encourage Australians to learn more about our neighbor. The current Rudd government is at least making some noises about expanding educational opportunities after years of neglect under John Howard’s leadership. So things will hopefully get better.

What do you think are the most important actions that citizens of both countries can take to promote better understanding?

Citizens in both countries need greater exposure to each other’s cultures, which can be achieved through education and more open communications. As a media professional, I see a need for more in-depth - even if at times critical and provocative coverage - of Indonesia. In turn, Indonesia, as an increasingly robust democracy, needs to be more open to constructive criticism and from that will arise a greater appreciation of the truly dynamic and changing nature of Indonesia.

What do you like best about being involved in AIA?

It keeps me in the loop of Indonesia related events and in contact with the always warm and welcoming Indonesian Diaspora in Sydney. I also feel that I’m contributing – albeit in a very small way - to enhancing some sort of understanding and appreciation of Indonesia.

How may interested readers learn more about AIA?

Through our website or email me at

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Copyright © 2009 Al Hickey

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