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Australia Day in Indonesia

Words and Photos by Michael Roddan

Outside the Krystal Hotel in Jakarta’s south, I can hear the cover band from across the street. Even though the sound desk has the bass turned up too high, I can just make out the fumbled words coming from an obviously Indonesian singer: “I Still Call Australia Home”.

Given that this band only heard the song for the first time a week ago, they’ve managed to pick it up lightning quick, Allen says. Allen helped organise this Australia Day BBQ fundraiser, which seems to be a welcome escape for 40 or so mostly male, mostly overweight, mostly Australian expats living in Indonesia. They’re mostly involved in mining, shipping and having Indonesian wives.

Allen looks like he’s trying to look like a member of the Palmer United Party. He’s sitting with his mate Clive, who is dressed head to toe in his best Driza-bone and Harley-Davidson gear. Later, he takes out the prize for best dressed.

Allen explains to me that the Australia Day BBQ offers the expats a chance to feel comfortable for once. It allows them, he says, to spend time with their own kind. “The Koreans do it. The Vietnamese do it. It’s a language thing – people [of different nationalities] don’t mix very well,” he reckons.

Although Allen and Clive made the choice to move to Indonesia to start families, both men still feel that there’s something irreplaceable about Australians spending time with other Australians. “We take the piss out of ourselves,” says Clive. “It’s about having a few beers, a laugh and some self-deprecation.”

“But the Indonesians have a sense of humour,” I interject. To prove this, I tell them a joke: “What is the biggest sushi in Indonesia? Sushi-lo BambangYudhoyono”. Their opinion remains unchanged.

Across town at De Hooi bar in Jakarta’s glamorous Pondok Indah neighborhood, Paige and Tegan are counting down the Hottest 100, jugs of beer in hand. They want me to know, straight off the bat, that the Bintang singlets they’re wearing are “ironic”. They’re from Brisbane, but I still give them the benefit of the doubt.

A few weeks before, the girls crashed their motorised scooter in the Gili Islands, a destination which is fast becoming Australia’s new Bali. Now unable to surf or go hiking, they’ve been spending the remainder of their holiday drinking with Tom from Wollongong, who is also in the bar. He raises a plastic hip flask full of homemade honey-vodka, and salutes loudly to Australia: “The land of inclusion and racial tolerance”.

He then brainstorms brand names for his homemade liquor out loud: “Domestic Violence – everyone has an angry dad!” Everything is ironic, sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek or self-deprecating. But—I start to wonder—if Australians identify themselves by their ironic Bintang-wearing, self-professed detachment, why do we all seek out other Australians to talk about Australian things on Australia Day?