Prof. Jamie Mackie, a forceful advocate for close Indonesia-Australia relations

By: Thee Kian Wie,

Professor James Austin Copland (J.A.C.) Mackie, Jamie to his friends, passed away peacefully on Thursday, April 21, 2011 at his home near Melbourne at the age of 86.

Mackie was born in Kandy, Sri Lanka, which enabled him to joke about being Asian by birth. As the second son of an Australian manager of a tea plantation, Mackie was raised in a colonial society which placed him on the other side from those people who later became his particular concern.

After graduating from Geelong Grammar, Mackie took an Honors course at the School of History at the University of Melbourne. Mackie’s university study was interrupted by the Pacific War when he joined the Australian Navy in 1943. While serving in the navy, Mackie got a first glimpse of Indonesia from the deck of an Australian destroyer of Hollandia (now Jayapura, Papua, Biak and Morotai), but at that stage his attention was focused toward participating in the war against the enemy, Japan.

After the war, Mackie resumed his history studies at the University of Melbourne where he graduated with First Class Honors. Thereafter, Mackie went to The University of Oxford where he extended his history training by studying PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics) which gave him a broad training which provided a good basis for an inter-disciplinary study of Southeast Asia.

Upon graduation from Oxford, Mackie wanted to work for a time in Southeast Asia. Under the Volunteer Graduate Scheme formalized by an Australian-Indonesian intergovernmental agreement in 1953, Mackie worked at the National Planning Bureau (Biro Perancang Nasional) for two years, analyzing economic data and discussing with his Indonesian colleagues the turbulent politics of that time.

At the Planning Bureau Mackie’s boss was Ali Budiardjo who, together with his wife Miriam Budiardjo, and her brother Soedjatmoko, became Mackie’s mentors and close friends. Two of the Bureau’s economists, Widjojo Nitisastro and Benjamin Higgins, a United Nations economic adviser to the Bureau also gave Mackie a better understanding of the Indonesian economy.

However, Mackie’s greatest sense of satisfaction came from a part-time position at Gadjah Mada University where he taught economic history and where he came in close contact with Indonesian students and colleagues teaching at the university.

During his time in Indonesia, Mackie became convinced that Indonesia should receive greater attention from Australian academics and intellectuals in general who were mostly still focused on Western Europe and the US. During his time in Indonesia, Mackie very much enjoyed his discussions with other expatriate intellectuals about the vigor and refinement of Indonesian culture and the subtleties of Indonesia’s society and politics.

The two years Mackie spent in the Planning Bureau and the subsequent two years at Cornell University, the then outstanding Centre for Southeast Asian Studies, and particularly its Modern Indonesia Project under the headship of Professor George Kahin, and his friendship with Daniel Lev and Benedict Anderson, provided Mackie with an even better understanding of Indonesian society and politics.

Mackie was particularly impressed with Professor Kahin’s willingness to become involved in important causes and his attempts to influence American foreign policy.

Mackie’s own active and reformist tendencies were evident when he joined the Immigration Reform Group in Melbourne in 1960, which provided a forceful proposal to change in Australia’s immigration policy, specifically by abandoning its racist “White Australia” policy.

Although this document was not the only factor which led Australia’s Labor government under Prime Minister Gough Whitlam to officially abandon its “White Australia” policy, it did play a role in fostering public debate in Australia about “the nonsense” of race superiority. Anyone visiting contemporary Australia, with its hundreds of thousands of Asians in Australian cities may not be aware that the “White Australia” was only officially abolished less than half a century ago.

Mackie’s reformist tendencies were again evident in his subsequent academic career as the founding Head of the Department of Indonesian and Malayan Studies, University of Melbourne, then as Research Director of the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies, Monash University, and finally as Professor and Head of the Department of Political and Social Change at The Australian National University.

In various papers, most recently his Lowy Institute Paper Australia and Indonesia — Current Problems … Future Prospects, Mackie eloquently put forward his views on Australia’s national interests regarding Indonesia, as follows:

• Australia must take care to avoid sliding into military conflict or serious antagonism toward Indonesia;

• Australia has a basic national interest in assisting Indonesia to become a stable, prosperous and steadily developing nation;

• It is in Australia’s national interest to uphold the maintenance of a unified Indonesia, provided it is in accordance with the wishes of the majority of Indonesians and the consent of the people concerned;

• It is in Australia’s national interests to try to help Indonesians maintain their uniquely tolerant, moderate and eclectic version of Islam as well as preserve their acceptance of a diversity of other religions in accordance with the five principles of Pancasila;

• It is very much in Australia’s national interest to achieve the closest possible degree of engagement with Indonesia at the people-to-people level through a building of bridges that will span the cultural differences between Australia and Indonesia and put as much “ballast” into the relationship through personal, institutional and cultural links. Successful engagement with Indonesia along these lines will also help greatly toward achieving deeper engagement with Asia in due course.

Mackie’s many friends and admirers in Australia, Indonesia and other countries mourn the passing away of a great scholar, a very good man, an enlightened visionary and a warm and generous friend.

The writer is a senior economist at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI).


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