story of Australia's war with Indonesia over West Papua told
and the Demise of Ibu Pertiwi" by Kerry B.
Collison "is undoubtedly fictional but by
no means improbable" says Johannes Nugroho
in his review of this unbelievable story written
by an Australian about his country's war with
Indonesia over the independence of West Papua
The disappearance of Michael C. Rockefeller off the southern
coast of Dutch Western New Guinea, Indonesia in 1962 was followed
by the invasion and annexation of the territory and the systematic
slaughter of Papuans
By Johannes Nugroho
First published in the Jakarta Globe, December 28, 2017
US Embassy had officially informed the Indonesian government
an unspecified number of B-2 bombers flew from Darwin over to Ujung
Pandang where the Indonesian Air Forced based Hawk 19s and F-16s
the HMAS Stephenson launched two of its 20 Mark 48 ADCAP
torpedoes directly into Kampung Mas Port, where the Indonesian warship
KRI Yos Sudarso was anchored."
The dire-sounding passages come from Kerry B. Collison's latest political
thriller "Rockefeller and the Demise of Ibu Pertiwi,"
a history-based fictional account of how Australia and Indonesia come
to blows over the question of a UN-sponsored referendum in West Papua
and Papua, which will determine whether the two provinces remain in
the unitary state of Indonesia or secede to form an independent country.
While the main storyline revolves around West Papuan activism, its leaders,
Indonesian politics and international geopolitics, the book like any
good TV show today, incorporates a few sub-plots, one of which is the
1961 mysterious disappearance of Michael C. Rockefeller, heir to the
familys fortune, off the southern coast of Papua, hence the title.
The Rockefeller theme offers the reader escapade into historical sleuthing
as the book seeks to explain an event that remains a mystery of our
time, simultaneously weaving it into the West Papuan narrative seamlessly.
Collison's choice of subplot is interesting, given that there are a
fair few conspiracy theories surrounding Rockefeller's presence in Papua
and the subsequent gold and copper mining at Grasberg by the American
mining giant Freeport McMoran.
On a personal level, the book follows the lives of characters like Bennie
Tabuni, the de facto leader of the West Papua's government in exile,
his name echoing that of Benny Wenda; Jules Heynneman, the half-Dutch
Papuan who was raised alongside Bennie by the Tabunis.
There is also Alice Heynneman, officially Jules' daughter but in fact
the offspring of Bennie, whose character matures as the story unfolds.
On the Indonesian side, the country is governed by the democratically
elected President Abdul Moewardi, whose libertarian political outlook
on West Papua is reminiscent of Indonesia's fourth President Abdurrahman
Wahid's, better known as Gus Dur. Abdul's daughter is married to Indonesian
Military chief Gen. Sumantri, who harbors political ambitions for himself
and his son mercurial and egocentric Col. Didi Sumantri, who
may have been partially inspired by the figure of Prabowo Subianto.
In the meantime, Collison has Australia under the leadership of Prime
Minister John Gorton, a somewhat uninspiring figure who then surprises
us with his decisiveness and a touch of ruthlessness, qualities which
remind us of the former Prime Minister John Howard.
What is noteworthy, the author presents us with less colorful and more
predictable characters on the Australian side.
In doing so, he inadvertently highlights the difference between Indonesian
and Australian democracies, the former still dependent on strong figures
who dare cross boundaries that are taboo in more developed democracies.
Even though the storyline outlined in the book is undoubtedly fictional,
it is by no means improbable. In an age where political and economic
projections are constantly made, Collison's well-crafted scenarios do
not strike as outlandish, given the right circumstances.
As an ex intelligence officer and a former diplomat, he no doubt has
the credentials and experience as both an insider as well as an observer.
Immensely readable, the book also makes us cognizant of the infinitely
more complex geopolitical realities of today than those, for instance,
when Timor Leste embarked on its path to independence. It takes into
account the rise of China as a regional hegemon and an active player
in international politics.
China's new found assertiveness, Collison ably shows, also impacts and
complicates the old alliances between Anglosphere nations such as the
United Kingdom, the United States, Australia and New Zealand.
The book is also full of subtle warnings for Indonesia.
It exposes the weaknesses in the country's dogged and "non-negotiable"
stance on the integrity of the Republic of Indonesia ("NKRI
Harga Mati") when geopolitical realities experience fluxes in real
It also shows that the hyper-nationalism taught to all Indonesians from
an early age could ultimately do disservice to the future of the nation.
More importantly, it shows us the irony of Indonesias occupation
of West Papua, given that Indonesia was once a victim of colonialism.
The atrocities committed by Indonesian military against local West Papuans
and the exploitation of their natural resources are a potent reminder
that, as in the case of East Timor, the West Papuan "problem"
is too far gone for Jakarta to wish away.
Papuan "separatism" is no doubt one of the most current
vexing questions in Indonesian international diplomacy.
The recent questions at the United Nations General Assembly particularly
by several Pacific nations, New Zealand and EU countries about the continued
human rights transgressions in West Papua were another wake-up call
for Jakarta that the "noise" may get louder in the
Kerry B. Collison's Rockefeller and the Demise of Ibu Pertiwi is essentially
an essay on how not to conduct international diplomacy on a thorny issue
like West Papua.
He is no stranger to Indonesian themes, having previously written a
number of histo-fictional novels on Indonesia such as "Indonesian
Gold" and "The Asian Trilogy: Jakarta, Merdeka Square"
and "The Timor Man."
In exploring less than ideal scenarios between two neighbors like Indonesia
and Australia, the author may well be suggesting that we can basically
do better to foster trust between ourselves, and the futility in suppressing
the yearning for freedom and human dignity.
Asian Times, January, 1, 2018