Testimonials from Elizabeth O’Neill Journalism Award recipients

Auskar Surbakti (Australian recipient, 2011)

Before I embarked on the Elizabeth O’Neill Journalism Award trip, I had visited Indonesia several times for work, but never had the chance to meet people outside of the stories that I covered. One of the most rewarding parts of the trip was the opportunity to meet with people from a range of backgrounds and organisations, and have frank off-the-record discussions with them. Since the trip, I have contacted several of those people for stories, and I know I’ll be in touch with them in the future. The award also took me to places I’d always wanted to visit, such as Kalimantan and Bali (yes, I was quickly referred to as the only Australian who hadn’t been to Bali!).

The trip further opened my eyes to the diversity of people and issues in Indonesia. The vast archipelago can’t be defined just by the issues of terrorism, Islam and poverty that often frame news stories outside of Indonesia. I discovered the country is defying the economic slowdown felt in Europe and the United States, it’s committed to rooting out home-grown terrorists, it’s finding different ways to tackle environmental issues, and it’s making progress in raising living standards across Indonesia. Of course there’s still a long way to go in tackling these problem areas, but Indonesia is making progress beyond what’s being reported.

Auskar Surbakti with Indonesian school students during his trip to Indonesia in 2011
Auskar Surbakti with Indonesian school students during his trip to Indonesia in 2011.

Devianti Faridz (Indonesian recipient, 2011)

The Elizabeth O’Neill Journalism Award offered me a great opportunity to observe how the various media covers topics of interest to Indonesia and Australia, particularly on asylum seekers, differently and how it eventually shapes public perception and government policies. The trip also allowed me insight into how Australia’s education system supports Islamic school development and how the country was able to manage a devastating massive flood in Queensland.

I enjoyed the many personal conversations I had with a variety of Australians from different backgrounds among them from the media, arts and politics. But the trip wasn’t all work and no play. One of the highlights of my three week trip was visiting Australia’s Sovereign Hill, a fun place to learn about the country’s gold mining history and the wildlife parks where I got up close and personal with furry koalas and kangaroos.

Josh Gordon (Australian recipient, 2010)

I found the trip to be a particularly rich and rewarding experience. I visited Indonesia in March/April 2011. My primary purpose was to examine the interaction between religion and politics — particularly the rise of fundamentalism — and also to examine how Australia was working with Indonesia to combat the threat of terrorism.

It was a broad topic that brought me into contact with academics, politicians and social commentators in a busy program lasting for two weeks. I began in Jakarta with a series of fascinating meetings, including the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, the Jakarta Post, various business representatives, the Indonesia National Police, the office of the Vice President and Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa.

I then travelled to Semarang, where I spent time at the Jakarta Centre for Law Enforcement Cooperation, before attending the Bali Process Ministerial Meeting in Bali. The trip finished in Yogykarta where, among other things, I met with Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono X and visited villages affected by the 2010 eruption of Mt Merapi.

Overall, the trip was a brilliant experience. In an overarching sense, one of the key things I took away was that while Australia's relationship with Indonesia has at times been fraught, there is a strong sense of optimism, given growing economic and strategic links.

Josh Gordon with Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono X
Josh Gordon with Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono X, Governor of Yogykarta Special Region.

Sondang Sirait (Indonesian recipient, 2009)

Throughout the decades, Indonesia and Australia have come a long way in their roles as neighbours and partners. In 2005, the two countries embarked on a Comprehensive Partnership that aimed to focus more on their commonalities instead of differences. Within five years, that partnership has turned into what President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono called a “special relationship”, when addressing the Australian Parliament in March 2010. The Elizabeth O’Neill Journalism Award program has enabled me to understand what the President meant. Many Australians I met during the program showed an endless extent to where they would go to parlay a mutually appreciative relationship with Indonesia. They were ministers, diplomats, journalists, politicians, business people, regional experts, farmers, as well as ordinary people. I came home enriched and ready to spread a change of mindset. It’s time to move on, and never look back, in our partnership. Terima kasih, Australia.

Sondang Sirait with then Foreign Minister Stephen Smith
Sondang Sirait with then Foreign Minister Stephen Smith

Kieran Gilbert (Australian recipient, 2009)

I was privileged to meet Elizabeth O’Neill at the 2003 memorial service in Bali, a year after the first bombings.

Elizabeth was an absolute professional and a delight to work with, so to win the award was an honour.

The two weeks I spent in Indonesia as part of the program were crucial to my understanding of our northern neighbour at two important levels.

The opportunity to have discussions with community leaders, officials and senior members of the Government including Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa gave me an insight into the culture, challenges and uniqueness of the most populous Muslim nation in the world.

And on Australia’s engagement with Indonesia — the Department of Foreign Affairs, Federal Police and AusAid gave me some valuable insights into the multi-faceted work our officials do in fostering closer ties and helping our northern neighbour with some of the complex issues facing that vast and diverse archipelago.

The experiences I had from Jakarta to Lombok and from Kupang to Semarang have informed my reporting as an Australian journalist over subsequent years and added depth to my knowledge of a nation so important to our region and our future.

Kieran Gilbert
Kieran Gilbert

Sophie Morris (Australian recipient, 2008)

My visit to Indonesia in early 2009 has left many lasting impressions — from the glitz of Jakarta's shopping malls, to visiting subsistence farms in South Sulawesi and lunching with fishermen on Lae-Lae island, off Makassar.

Travelling outside the capital gave me some understanding of the diversity within Indonesia and the challenges for a government in responding to the needs of a population stretched over so many islands.

The Indonesian government was already championing the cause of self-sufficiency in food production. This has since gained momentum and become a bigger factor in the relationship with Australia, following disruptions to the live export trade. For me, it has been helpful to understand some of the background and political imperatives behind this push as well as the challenges of achieving it.

Meetings with Indonesian and Australian officials in Jakarta also gave me insight into how closely the two countries were working together on a range of issues, including trade, aid, education, illegal foreign fishing and reducing carbon emissions.

At that time, there was much goodwill and optimism on both sides that a strong foundation was being laid for an enduring and close relationship that would weather any differences that might arise.

Kartika Sari (left) and Sophie Morris (right) holding Elizabeth O'Neill Journalism Award 2008 certificates together with then Australian Ambassador to Indonesia, HE Bill Farmer AO.
Kartika Sari (left) and Sophie Morris (right) holding Elizabeth O'Neill Journalism Award 2008 certificates together with then Australian Ambassador to Indonesia, HE Bill Farmer AO.

Kartika Sari (Indonesian recipient, 2008)

Thank you very much for giving me a chance to share my experience as one of the Elizabeth O’Neill Journalism Award recipients. It was a great honour to be selected to win this award. I think I was just lucky. I would like to share how the Award shaped my understanding of Australia. I got a chance to visit Australia for three weeks. I went to Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane and the Gold Coast. It was an amazing experience and an unforgettable moment.

I think it was a really great experience for me as a journalist. During my visit program, I met and talked to different people from various backgrounds, like (then) Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, (then) Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, (then) Trade Minister Simon Crean, (then) House Speaker Harry Jenkins, Australian businessmen, some professors like Professor Virginia Hooker from the Australian National University, Chairman of the Australia Indonesia Institute (AII) Professor Tim Lindsey, local government officials, Australian media and Indonesian university students.

From this visit, I understand more about Australian culture, politics, society, lifestyle, and local people, include the way of life and traditions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait people. We had a good discussion, sharing information and ideas. This trip was effective and very useful. I wrote a series of article from the visit to Australia for our newspaper, Rakyat Merdeka Daily, so our readers and subscribers could read them too. I got a lot of positive responses and feedback from my friends and our readers.

Based on my experience from the trip, I think this program is very good and effective at improving people-to-people contact between Indonesia and Australia. Because in fact, even though geographically Australia is close to Asian countries, especially Indonesia, many Australian people still don’t know much about Indonesia, our culture, traditions and Islam here. Example: many Australians don’t know that Bali is part of Indonesia. When I asked them: Have you ever been to Indonesia? They said, “No, never. But we have been to Bali several times and we liked it.” I was very busy explaining to them that Bali is part of Indonesia.

At the same time, I also got a chance to attend a Bilateral Conference in Sydney. It was a big event, attended by 400 people. Two hundred delegates from Indonesia and 200 delegates from Australia, include myself. They came from different and various backgrounds like top government officials, members of parliament, businessmen, NGOs, Indonesians, economists and think tanks from the two countries.

Another good experience from this trip was attending Question Time at Parliament in Canberra. As a journalist, I was curious and excited to see and hear Question Time at Parliament there. I have learnt that hearing in our parliament and Question Time in the Australian Parliament is very different and it was a new experience for me.

Last but not least, I have another unforgettable experience and best moment to share: I have climbed Sydney Harbour Bridge. Wow… it was a really great and fun moment. Climbing Sydney Harbour Bridge, an Australian landmark, was one of my sweet dreams and I was very happy because finally my dream came true. I told my family, friends and colleagues about how fun this adventure was. I told them that Australia is a beautiful country with multi-ethnic people and various cultures, very modern, good infrastructure, with many international universities and a good destination for tourists or university students. I also told Australian people I met that Indonesia is a very beautiful country, with friendly people, unique culture with hundreds of local ethnicities and languages. Plus yummy authentic foods of course. I told them please visit Indonesia, see and explore our beautiful country. It was fun because at same the time I was acting like an “Ambassador” for my country. Oh well, as long as I can improve people-to-people contact and relationships between our two countries, why not? Now I feel like Australia is my second home and I always want to come back there again and again.

Joanna McCarthy (Australian recipient, 2007)

The opportunity to spend three weeks reporting in Indonesia helped deepen my understanding of the country and its people. I had the chance to interview a number of prominent Indonesians in politics, academia and the media and cover stories on the economy, environment and climate change, aid and development and international relations (especially the bilateral relationship with Australia). I learnt about the country's rapid transition to democracy in the post-Suharto era and had the chance to interview witnesses to the 1998 fall of Suharto and the emergence of the reformasi movement. I also had the chance to visit Aceh and report first hand on the reconstruction efforts after the devastating 2004 tsunami and the government's subsequent peace process with separatist GAM rebels in the region. These experiences allowed me to better understand both the huge strides Indonesia has made and the complex challenges it still faces. I also learnt more about the Australia — Indonesia relationship — on the one hand, its deepening diplomatic and trade ties and on the other hand, the ongoing misunderstandings and distrust between its people. I believe that the media in both countries has contributed to these misunderstandings and needs to work on broadening their coverage beyond the narrow stereotypes. For me, the visit led to a lasting interest in Indonesian affairs and hopefully improved my own reporting. My lasting memory of the visit was the generosity and hospitality of the people I met and the richness of the country's history and culture.

Joanna McCarthy

Meutya Hafid (Indonesian recipient, 2007)

Australia has always been a country close to my heart. I did my engineering degree in Manufacturing Management at University of New South Wales, Sydney, from 1996 to 2000 and had thousands of memorable moments living in a friendly atmosphere with students/friends coming from different parts of the world.

Being the first recipient of the Elizabeth O’Neill Journalism Award is both an honour and a great privilege to me, especially because Elizabeth was a very dedicated diplomat who never tired of promoting better relationships between Indonesia and Australia. And it was a great privilege because this award also re-connects my relationship with Australia as I was given a chance to once again visit this amazing country.

My visit back to Australia was at the most exciting moment for perhaps all journalists, the 2007 Election. The award gave me access to witness closely one of the tightest elections Australia had ever had. On other days during the visit I busied myself visiting places and people who have stirred a positive atmosphere of multiculturalism in Australia. Multiculturalism in Australia has always interested me and thus I made it one focus of my visit.

I'm very thankful — the award and experience has inspired me a lot and gave me different perspectives to look at the world.