• NZIA

Leave it to Bill

At the 2019 NZIA AGM, chair Bill Russell stepped down after countless years of service to the cause of improving relations between NZ and Indonesia. His commitment continues through other NGOs. Former NZIA member Duncan Graham posts a personal tribute on his work so far:

When I first met Bill at an Indonesian Embassy function more than a decade ago, someone mentioned his Rotary Club affiliations.

As a young reporter in Perth I covered the club’s Friday lunches addressed by a ‘prominent person’. It was always a man; the only women present were serving the greasy bangers and cold chips.

The club was backslapping blokey. Members contributed generously to worthy causes, but were more into building business contacts than confronting distant needs with passion.

So I made the classic error of tainting one with the perceived faults of others.

Bill rapidly put me right, not with words but action; along with Rotary’s Four-Way Test he also applied the splendid no-fuss Kiwi triple ethos: Can Do, Must Do, Will Do.

To this he added the embarrassing demand: How are you going to help?

Here’s a bit about Bill first published in The Jakarta Post:…/supporting-indonesias-d…

That was back in 2012 and since then my wife Erlinawati and I have been privileged to see Bill in action at education fairs, conferences and remembrances he’s organised for Veterans. Private Russell helped defend the new nation of Malaysia during Soekarno’s ill-fated Konfrontasi campaign.

With Bill we’ve visited centres for disabled children in Bali, Malang and Yogyakarta. We’ve sat in on NZ business meetings and presentations, arranged visits, bothered bureaucrats, squeezed reluctant donors, been bored and been inspired.

There have even been Rotary meetings – now with women in key positions - to get members thinking about starting a Riding for the Disabled Centre in Indonesia.

Bill gets around, but is never pedestrian.

Indonesians don’t read a lot, largely because the 32-year rule of dictator Soeharto saw print heavily censored, so rely more on personal appraisals. Bill doesn’t speak much Indonesian and can be a bit blunt at times. Javanese circumlocution is not his style.

No matter: Those who meet him know he’s fair dinkum, present neither for cash nor kudos, but for them.

That clears the cultural and linguistic divide in one great leap.

Bill doesn’t parade his achievements, but for this nomad his rescue of NZIA from an almost certain demise some years ago to become a respected NGO is one of the many standouts.

Another is seeing monster poster cutouts of multiple-medallist and national hero Ni Nengah Widiasih in her wheelchair. She appeared to be holding up overpasses on Jakarta’s toll roads promoting last year’s Paralympics.

Here’s a story about her visit to N which Bill engineered:…/ni-nengah-widiasih-lifting…

For most of her career Nengah has been supported by the Rehabilim Trust which Bill chairs. The Trust started in 1982, inspired by the late Colin McLennan – another Kiwi who cared. It continues to financially back numerous young disabled Indonesians achieve their potential.

Overall we’ve been well served by our official Embassy and consulate reps. However after three years they’re usually posted elsewhere.

Bill has always been around (he’s lost weight, so that’s not a pun), which makes such a difference in a country where the personal counts more than the position.

Bill is currently conquering the cancer that’s dropped him down to third gear for a while; we expect him back in overdrive soon.

Stay steering, Bro. You’re showing us the way. ##


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