“Geography has made us neighbors. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners. And necessity has made us allies. Those whom nature hath so joined together, let no man put asunder.” 

– John F. Kennedy, 1961

On the afternoon of January 8, 2020 wildlife park owner, Sam Mitchell carried the charred corpse of a kangaroo on one hand and the lifeless body of a koala on the other. A tsunami of fire consumed 27 million acres of land. To put that into perspective, that’s the size of Denmark. Now imagine living in an area with the size of Denmark, except everything is on fire – that was Australia only 8 months ago.

Many countries stepped in to offer aid, one of which was Australia’s neighbour, Indonesia. On February 1 2020, Indonesian Foreign Minister, Retno Marsudi, confirmed this via a letter stating that Indonesia will send troops to aid in fighting the bushfire and also in its recovery process. With orders from the House of Representatives, Indonesia sent 40+ soldiers, called the Tentara Negara Indonesia or colloquially known as the TNI to Australia. 

The platoon consisted of 26 foot soldiers, 6 navy seamen, 4 air force troops, 6 license officers, 2 disaster management personnel, 2 health team personnel, 1 member from the Indonesian consulate in Sydney, and 3 more officers. Most were deployed to Australia’s more rural areas, where the local firefighting team would need more support, specifically in the Blue Mountain region in New South Wales. Both the Indonesian task force and Australian firefighters worked in unison to fight a common enemy. 

Indonesian troops arrive at RAAF Base Richmond February 2020. Courtesy of Department of Defence Australia, published on 2 February 2020 on YouTube.com. 

The fire devastated both human and natural infrastructure. 

An Indonesian soldier cuts a log during the Australian bushfire of 2020 in New South Wales. Courtesy of Department of Defence Australia, published on 2 February 2020 on ikahan.com.

But the teamwork and assistance actually started many years before the bushfires had even started. It was thanks to 16 years of military cooperation and friendship between Indonesia and Australia that we are where we are right now.

A closer look at Indonesia and Australia’s military friendship

It’s not the first time both countries have helped each other. One of the earliest examples of this friendship was during the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami that devastated Aceh, off the west coast of Sumatra. A total of 227,898 people lost their lives – that’s enough to fill the Melbourne Cricket Ground twice. Australia contributed the astronomical sum of A$122.8 million dollars – this included construction, food, water, shelter and other relief efforts. Australia’s funding and assistance also helped redevelop the surrounding infrastructure, restarting schools, village communities and helped get Aceh back on its feet. 

The cooperation between the two, was formally declared in the 2006 Lombok Treaty. As neighbours, allies, trading partners and friends, the two countries rely on each other for goods and services. You can walk inside a supermarket in Indonesia and you will no doubt see a carton of Australian milk, a familiar brand of cereal or an Aussie ribeye steak. Vice versa, you can walk into a supermarket in Australia and find a packet of Indomie or even a sachet of Tolak Angin. The Lombok Treaty was signed to ensure security cooperation between the two countries and it served as the foundation for long term companionship between the two countries.

The treaty has so far been enforced quite successfully and yielded results. Earlier in the decade, a training pact called Ikatan Alumni Pertahanan Indonesia-Australia (IKAHAN) was established. Its main aim was to help train soldiers of both sides, so Australian soldiers could share their knowledge and train Indonesian soldiers and vice versa. A website was also created. There, cadets can look up news regarding military training, register and join, attend seminars and meet new people to expand their network.

If you’re curious to learn more, you can visit their website www.ikahan.com

Talks about military strategy reemerged in 2018, when President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo met with Prime Minister Scott Morrison to discuss issues with regards to the Indo-China sea. Since then, the two leaders looked more akin to distant buddies than presidents or prime ministers. Every few years, President Jokowi visits Australia to renew expired defence pacts and treaties. 

It’s not just bushfires. A lot happens in the background that normal civilians don’t know or think about very often, such as sharing intelligence, anticipating and defusing terror attacks and patrolling open waters, just to name a few and these happen everyday. 

On 30 August, 2020 the Australian Air Force sent more protective COVID-19 gear to the Indonesian ministry of defence. The delivery was Australia’s gift to the TNI, as a show of thanks for helping out during the bushfires and for being by Australia’s side.

Australian Air Force successfully sent PPE aid to the Indonesian army, August 30, 2020. Courtesy of the Australian Embassy Jakarta, published on instagram.com.

Come hell or high water, both countries are ready to support one another

From bushfires to tsunamis, both countries’ geography and climate have put them in a rather unfortunate position. But some might say that it is thanks to these circumstances that the bond and friendship between the two are stronger than ever before. What we can learn from this is that the key to building friendship isn’t to treat it like a sprint, but rather like a marathon. It takes time and effort to build and maintain companionship. Natural disasters aren’t going away anytime soon, thus we will be expecting to see more shows of friendship between Indonesia and Australia. Even AIYA plays a small role in building and maintaining this relationship through our annual programs with the Australian Defence Force School of Languages (DFSL) Indonesian Studies students. 

AIYA Victoria Committee members with DFSL students for our Malam Trivia in 2019. 

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