Mark Bowling on ABCCoast FM interviewed by John  Stokes

3 May 2007-05-02

ASILE Conference in July

Mark Bowling said his bahasa Indonesia is pretty good, he studied in Indonesia as an exchange student over many years and goes back back to Bali and East Timor intermittently. He now works as state director of the ABC in Darwin and so is close to Indonesia. The biggest story he covered was in the first week of his arrival in Indonesia in 1998. President Suharto fell after 32 years which sent tremor waves throughout Asia and Australia. There were then three presidents in three years, Habibie, Gus Dur and Megawati. Habibie allowed East Timor the option of a vote for independence. Power struggles went on through Gus Dur’s tenure and the media opened up [allowing widespread public debate for the first time in 32 years].

Asked about the relationship between Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and his Indonesian counterpart Hassan Wirayuda, (recently featured on ABC TV’s Australian Story) and whether the Howard government “gets Indonesia”, Mark Bowling replied that there is now a different landscape of terrorism and post-Bali Bombings to confront. But the two countries are geographically tied. We live and breathe the same air. We must understand each other.”

Howard cut the funding for Asian language studies in schools so that the deeper focus derived from study and travel is missing among Australians. We have a more superficial understanding,  to our great loss. The Conference will discuss all these issues and strategies for increasing language studies and cultural awareness.

His book Running Amok implies two kinds of chaos. The chaos Indonesia was going through which eh covered as a journalist. And the chaos he and his wife and young family had to tolerate during his four years of constant travel, leaving his wife and little children alone in Jakarta. There was a backlash against Australia at the time and he worried about car-jacking in Jakarta. His book describes the life of an expat in a hostile city. He recommends it as a primer for those who will need to live there.

Now back in Darwin his family is safe and secure as against the precarious existence of those days.

John Stokes invited Mark to take part in an extended discussion in “Coastal Conversations” in the near future.

[Transcribed from notes by Dr Phillip Mahnken. I take responsibility for any errors of recording. Permission granted by Mark Bowling to quote as is. ]

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