The Australia Indonesia Awards celebrate the contributions of those who provide inspiration and enhance understanding between Australians and Indonesians. AIYA is chronicling the achievements of these Career Champions in a series of interviews with this year’s finalists and winners. This week’s first interviewee is resources specialist Mark Pillsworth.

Tell us a little about your early career.

I left high school early to pursue a small business career, but was not always successful. After my second major failure as a business owner over an eight year period, I decided that I wasn’t very good at business and returned to night school to attain my adult matriculation to gain access to the University of Queensland. I had always had an ambition to be a zoologist or marine biologist and at 22 this was the time to give it a go.

Mark in the Segara Anakan villages meeting with government and village representatives. Photo: Mark Pillsworth

What brought you to connect with Indonesia?

Indonesia was a largely unknown quantity in the 1970s, and stories of journalists being murdered by militia were included in the big stories at that time in Australia. Some talk of holidaying on Bali was emerging, but there was no talk of working there. Having said that, from a marine science perspective, the species associations of the Indo-West Pacific were well known, and when working with CSIRO in Torres Strait, it was a case of “Indo is over there…” My dive buddy and fellow research scientist at CSIRO then went to Ambon to map marine habitat and I visited him in 1991… my first travel to Indonesia.

Tell us about your current occupation.

I have my own consulting company and am registered as a Specialist – Impact Assessment with the EIANZ. My first post-doctoral position was Environmental Manager for the Port of Brisbane (1990 – 1993) and I then performed the Baseline Studies for the relocation of the port from the river wharves to the Fisherman Islands. These studies for a seaport were a first Australia-wide and gave me knowledge and skills which were readily applicable in major coastal infrastructure development and mitigation of impact on an international scale.

With further input to the Segara Anakan Conservation and Development Project in Java (1998–2005), and then working on land reclamation in Segara Anakan with the NGO YSBS, and marrying a girl from Yogyakarta in 2005, my life is between Indonesia and Australia and I call them both my home.

I currently act as environmental advisor to YSBS chairman Father Charlie Burrows as we transform the waterlogged areas in the Segara Anakan Lagoon to productive agricultural land and given food security and wealth to around 16,000 previously very poor villagers. Previous extensive fisheries studies now underpin fisheries conservation in the wetlands that will remain after the final reclamation configuration has been achieved.

Father Charlie, Mark and his wife Lusi meeting with the dusun kepala of Pelindukan. Photo: Mark Pillsworth

Working with such a dynamic personality as Fr Charlie has been a highlight of my professional career, and his close relationship with all people of Segara Anakan and Cilicap in Central Java has proven what can be achieved when the community takes ownership of a project.

How did you find your current job?

I made my own position in a small but highly specialised consultancy where I contracted my past professors who were nearing retirement. The results of combining my commercial and industrial experience with their specialisations led to some spectacular success.

What do you enjoy the most — and least — about working in relation to Indonesia?

I think that the overwhelming aspect is the cultural difference, which are sometimes a lot of fun, and at other times the cause of frustration. But this is always highly rewarding in a professional sense.

What are your thoughts on the future of the Australian-Indonesian relationship in the field of resources?

At this juncture, it is very much an export of Australian science and management systems in near coastal environments to Indonesia – but that situation is rapidly changing. As I have said, we are part of the Indo-West Pacific bioregion and Australia must be thought of as an integral part of the Indonesian archipelago with specific reference to conservation and fisheries management.

What advice would you offer to youth interested in working in resources?

Take any opportunity that comes your way! Do your own research, don’t take unnecessary risks, and make some key affiliations – including with universities. You will be well rewarded for life.

Given the opportunity again, what would you do differently?

There is a popular song called “Cast Your Fate to the Wind”, and when coupled with hard work and a thirst for knowledge (and some adventure), such advice can most surely can lead to a very satisfying life. I am at the stage where I am becoming retrospective… and I have few regrets of consequence. Life is a journey that starts with the first step. I doubt if I would do anything differently. What would it achieve?

We would like to thank both Mark and the President of the Australia Indonesia Association of NSW, Eric de Haas. If you wish to email Mark, you can do so here: [email protected].