Passion for Indonesia culminated

ANNIE Pohlman’s passion and interest in Indonesia started with her first language lesson in Year 5 at Gin Gin State Primary School, and she is now completing her doctorate on controversial aspects of Indonesian history.

The University of Queensland lecturer pursued learning the Indonesian language through to tertiary level, and her interest in her PhD topic developed while studying for her undergraduate degree — a Bachelor of Arts with a double major in Indonesian Studies.

“In 2002, I spent a year studying in Indonesia with the Australian Consortium for In-Country Indonesian Studies program. During that time, I spent some months interviewing women who had been political prisoners under the former political regime,” Ms Pohlman said.

The Indonesian killings of 1965–1966 were a violent anti-Communist purge, following a military coup. The coup led to what is known as the “New Order” in Indonesia and the beginning of President Suharto’s 30-year rule.

“From 1965 to 1966, approximately 500,000 men, women and children were massacred and a further 1.5 million were imprisoned as part of these purges. The women I interviewed were mostly those who had been imprisoned, some for as long as 20 years,” Ms Pohlman said.

She said the period remained a “very taboo topic” both in and outside the country, with few people knowledgeable on the subject.

Ms Pohlman said her thirst for Indonesian knowledge started with her first trip to the country, at the tender age of 15.

“It was a bit of a shock being a little 15-year-old,” she said.

Now 28, Ms Pohlman is in the final stages of seven years of research, where she has given women survivors an opportunity to tell their stories for the first time.

“Even though many of these women had husbands, children and family members die or taken from them, even though many of them were raped and tortured, they are not victims,” Ms Pohlman said of her research interviewees.

“One of the strongest and recurring stories that came out of this research was of women, sometimes with great courage, sometimes out of desperation and fear, who did everything they could to survive and, most often, to ensure the survival of their children.”

The PhD thesis is called Ashes in My Mouth: Women, Testimony and Violence during the Indonesian Massacres of 1965–1966 and has been undertaken through UQ’s School of Languages and Comparative Cultural Studies. It is in its final stages of completion.

“I hope that my thesis can help, in some small way, widen advocacy efforts on behalf of 1965 survivors,” Ms Pohlman said.

“Part of combating genocide denial is collecting evidence of the atrocities committed.”

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