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The History

Early links to Indonesia

English language assistance

When NZ joined the Colombo Plan in the 1950s, its main form of technical assistance to Indonesia was in the participation in an English-language teaching project, under this plan New Zealand experts worked in Indonesia and Indonesian students trained in New Zealand. Gordon McDonald and his wife Geraldine spent time in Medan, Sumatra teaching English.

Establishment of NZIA - 1964

At the suggestion of our Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Gordon McDonald established NZIA (Wellington) in 1964 and was asked to become its first president. When he and his wife had returned to NZ, they were appalled at the NZ ignorance of Indonesia and decided to do something about it by agreeing to the setting up of NZIA. They felt there was a “black hole” when it came to our knowledge of Indonesia. We know about Malaya [Malaysia] but the former Dutch East Indies were a complete blank to them, in spite of Indonesia’s huge size and economic importance, and being our nearest Asian neighbour.

In the early 1960s, Indonesia did not have formal diplomatic representation in NZ to dispel that black hole. It was handled from Canberra. The diplomatic mission in Wellington was established in 1968 and the first Ambassador Major General TNI Sutikno Lukitodisastro was appointed in 1973. Once the Embassy had been opened, it took a while before the close collaboration between NZIA and the Embassy staff was consolidated. But I can firmly state that without that support from the Indonesian ambassadors and the Embassy staff over these 50 years, this association would have folded, just like the Auckland NZIA did. The Auckland NZIA was always a bit envious of this strong support.

Keeping NZIA alive

To increase the understanding and appreciation of Indonesia in NZ, the NZIA has arranged many exhibitions over the years, some were quite large and lasted several days. In 1974 when Peter Graham was president and Geraldine McDonald vice president, an “Indonesian Cultural Exhibition” was arranged in Queen Margaret College with music, dance, cooking demonstrations and a fashion show. Embassy staff and Rieke Graham, Peter’s wife gave cooking demonstrations. We all know that music and food open paths to people’s hearts and minds. Such major activities were repeated roughly every five years and are the reason that NZIA has healthy financial reserves. These major activities took a lot of planning and risk-taking but thanks to the generosity of various volunteers and impressive organisational talents, rarely resulted in a financial loss.


Thanks to intensive lobbying from NZIA, both in Wellington and in Auckland, Indonesian was taught at both universities, and some of you may remember the diminutive Dr Eva Vanicek who taught Indonesian at Victoria University for many years until she retired to Australia’s Gold Coast. In Auckland was also an effective Indonesian department, and I still have contact with Dr Uli Kosok who now teaches Indonesian at the University of Hawaii. But both departments have been abolished during cost-cutting and “restructuring”.

NZIA has requested that Indonesian be taught in secondary schools, but there seems to be a deep-seated negative attitude towards Indonesia among various government agencies.


The various functions that NZIA has organised over the years have been strongly supported by the Indonesian Embassy, but also by individuals such as Prof Jack Body whose interest in and encouragement of Indonesian music he passed onto his students through compositions for the gamelan that was donated by the Embassy to Victoria University.  However, against the odds, the gamelan group at Victoria University is alive and well and it worked enthusiastically with Jack Body on its promotion at every opportunity. The current leader of the group is Budi Surasa Putra who has also been seconded from the Embassy.

When Garuda Indonesia introduced direct flights to NZ in November 1988, NZIA also arranged a special performance “Magic Indonesia” in the auditorium of the National Library. The company has supported NZIA on many occasions, possibly even with a special raffle prize of a trip to Bali!

NZIA activities

NZIA has also maintained good relations with ASIA 2000, now the Asia NZ Foundation, to promote Indonesia in NZ.   For its members, NZIA has arranged talks, film evenings, outings, cooking demonstrations, and the annual dinner such as this one in the extremely pleasant surroundings of the Embassy. The annual dinners to celebrate Indonesia’s Independence Day always drew big gatherings. At one stage, our newsletter was called “Berita Kita”, and produced by Richard Valentine. Now we get the very professional newsletters from Australian born journalist Duncan Graham, who spends as much time as his NZ pension allows, in Indonesia with his wife Pauline. As you will have noted in the newsletters, that’s how we get such wonderful insight into what is happening in Indonesia.

In 1996 there was an NZ Indonesia Business Council because one of our committee members Lloyd Parkin was also on that Council.  At times there have been Indonesian programmes on ACCESS Radio that NZIA used to support financially, and sometimes with speakers who had recently been to Indonesia. NZIA still supports financially the annual gamelan prize, open to beginner-level gamelan students at the NZ School of Music at Victoria University. As you no doubt know, the Embassy supports the prize for gamelan students at a senior level. NZIA has also supported the gamelan students when they attended the International Gamelan Festivals in Yogyakarta. When such a festival was held here, NZIA again provided substantial financial support. At the NZIA dinners, its raffles helped the Rehabilim Trust, which was set up to support Pusat Rehabilitasi Yakkum near Yogyakarta for the rehabilitation of poor physically handicapped young people. Close links between NZIA and the Rehabilim Trust have existed for many years, and I wish to say a special thanks to Bill Russell, chairman of the Rehabilim Trust for his energetic support of NZIA as well.

Terima kasih banyak kepada Bapak Dubes dan staff KBRI atas kemurahan hati dalam membantu NZIA selama bertahun-tahun. 


Dr Nick Lambrechtsen QSM

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