Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Ten Years After

Ah yes.. May 21st 1998.. and Indonesians were stunned as Suharto stood before TV cameras at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta and announced he was standing down as leader. His speech to the nation was covered live on Indoneisan TV and there was instant jubilation across the archipelago.
On that day, as this drama unfolded, I was reporting from the ABC's office in central Jakarta. It was a mad scramble writing radio news stories and crossing for TV News interviews describing events as they unfolded. Later in the day I joined the celebrating crowds of students at Indonesia's parliament as they sang and danced beneath the fountain in the forecourt.

You can read about this day and the massive change of REFORMASI that engulfed Indonesia in my book RUNNING AMOK.

I had the privilege to host and "In Conversation" session this last week with one of Indonesias's leading writers and intellectuals Goenawan Mohamad. He remembers those days very well too. The magazine he helped found TEMPO was banned during the Suharto years.. for daring to criticise the state.. only to re-emerge as reforms including press freedom took shape.

Pak Goenewan reckons the greatest issue facing Indonesians in 2008 is the rise and rise of radical Islam.

What do you think?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

New Website Explores North Australia

It's amazing how little most people know about Australia's deep north.

Check out this website newly created to foster a conversation about North Australia and to promote a free public forum organised by the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) in Darwin on 24 June.

The website contains news and features about North Australia and you can register for the Forum.

Oh.. and you'll see that there's a feature on the front page about moi.. here's a taste:

Heads up: for great yarns, go north
With its proximity to Asia, North Australia is the jumping off point for some of the biggest stories in our region. But the ABC’s strong connection to local communities means some of the best gets can be a lot closer to home.
When ABC journalist Mark Bowling was asked if he wanted to swap the Sydney newsroom for Darwin, he jumped in his yellow Torana and hot-footed it to Australia’s northernmost capital.
Two decades and various job descriptions later – including North Australia Correspondent and the ABC’s Indonesia Correspondent - Mark is now ABC Director Northern Territory and is in a good position to know what it takes to make it as a journalist in the region.
“You need to be pragmatic, (you need) a sense of humour, flexibility and a good ability as an all-rounder,” Mark said.
“In the big cities you get dedicated to a particular round and you might be on it for a long time. You might be in an air-conditioned court system for months and months or years and years.
“But in Darwin or Cairns, Broome or Townsville, there’s more chance than not you’ll get the chance to work in lots of different areas.
“I like to think of it as a centre of excellence. There are many journalists and broadcasters who have cut their teeth in the north for the ABC and have gone on to all sorts of careers – foreign correspondents, leading broadcasters, key technicians – right around the ABC network.”
Communities in North Australia rely heavily on ABC content through
105.7 ABC Darwin and 783 ABC Alice Springs, news, current affairs, sport and entertainment – as well as its emergency broadcasts during times of flood, fire and cyclone.
The close connections forged by this relationship put the ABC in a position to uncover local stories that appeal around Australia.
The upcoming documentary feature In a League of their Own, which follows the first Indigenous football team to join the NT Football League in their first season, is just one example.
Filmed by Steve McGregor, who worked most recently as Indigenous acting coordinator on Baz Luhrmann’s new movie Australia, the documentary chronicles the first season of the Tiwi Bombers as they move from being the new kids on the footy block to passionate participants in the nail-biting finals.
Mark, the Executive Producer of the feature, said he was keen to capture the importance of football in North Australia, particularly in remote communities.
“In a place like the Tiwi Islands and in many remote Indigenous communities, it is not a cliché or stretching the truth to say that boys grow up bouncing plastic water bottles along the street like footballs until they get a real football in their hands. They end up with incredible skills.
“On the other hand, the situation they are living in, in some cases can only be described as third world. For instance, living in the Tiwi Islands community is in many ways precarious, with the highest youth suicide rate in the country and is struggling to find male role models.”
These harsh realities, set against the backdrop of the Northern Territory Federal Intervention, combine with the rollercoaster ride of the team’s football season to make compelling drama.
At the start of the season the Tiwi Bombers create their own code of conduct and commit to stick to it. It means no ‘ganja’ (cannabis) and reduced alcohol consumption – no drinking before games, a celebratory drink afterwards, but tapering down as the week wound toward the next match.
The documentary explores how the players handle this challenge, as well as the many other logistical barriers the Tiwi Bombers face in their first season.
Team members fly from all over the Tiwi Islands, or drive over rough dirt roads to Nguiu on Bathurst Island just to train, while game day involves flights to and from Darwin for all players.
“We film all these challenges. It becomes a journey of the season, a journey of week to week and then it is a journey of a new club,” Mark said.
In a League of their Own will be screened on ABC1 and there are already plans for an accompanying DVD, which will include footy tips and health and lifestyle advice from the players, to be distributed among Aboriginal communities.