Different Paths

8 October 2008

Each year, nearly 15,000 Indonesian students make the short journey across the Indian Ocean to study in Australia - and between 200 and 300 of them choose Sydney University as their destination. Chusnul Mariyah and Darma Putra both made the decision to study in their neighbouring country during the 1990s, and have since gone on to successful careers in both Indonesia and Australia.


Each year, nearly 15 000 Indonesian students make the short journey across the indian ocean to study  in Australia.
Each year, nearly 15 000 Indonesian students make the short journey across the indian ocean to study in Australia.

Reaping rewards:  Chusnul Mariyah


Chusnul Mariyah admits that the decision to come to Australia was not an easy one, but it led to one of the most rewarding chapters of her career.

Leaving her position as a lecturer in the Department of Political Science at the University of Indonesia, she enrolled in a PhD program at Sydney University with no idea of what topic she might do her research thesis on and a niggling fear that her English would not be sufficient.

"My goal was to open my horizons and my knowledge by studying Australian politics," she says. "I didn't have any background in the subject but I had the courage and conviction that I needed to study abroad."

Almost seven years later, in 1998, she graduated with a PhD for her thesis on urban political conflict in Australian communities.

"I had a very enthusiastic supervisor, Dr Martin Painter," she recalls. "He helped me develop my thoughts, my ideas and my analysis when I lost my track. The student and supervisor relationship was the most important factor for the success of writing the thesis."

After contemplating staying in Australia to teach, she felt compelled to return to her teaching post in Indonesia and share her expertise with students in her home country.

As the first Indonesian woman to receive a PhD in political science, opportunities came knocking.

She has since become a prominent women's activist, a media commentator on politics and democratisation in Indonesia, president of the Indonesian Election Commission and the founder of several non-governmental organisations campaigning for democracy, justice, women's rights and conflict resolution.

"As a scholar and activist, and as a woman who holds a PhD in political science, I have had the opportunity to share my knowledge and analysis about contemporary politics," she says. "I used the Australian political experience in many of my political activities."

Her time at Sydney University is never far from her thoughts as she has been teaching Australian politics for the past ten years.

"I teach with my heart and with my knowledge about the importance of being a neighbour," she says. "And my networks from when I studied are still very important in my work today."

Thinking back to her time at Sydney, Chusnul remembers her colleagues, friends, classes, endless hours at Fisher Library and cherished Australian experiences.

"The more than six years I spent at Sydney University were the best in my life," she says.

"We had many students from different parts of the world so we developed our own small 'United Nations'. We learnt not only for our PhD topics but also about life. I learnt a lot from the other students and the people of Australia: about culture, politics, multiculturalism, the food from different countries, and the Opera House with its classical music and plays."

She returns as often as she can, visiting Sydney almost every year for conferences or to catch up with friends from her days as an eager PhD student.


Publish or perish:  Darma Putra


Darma Putra defied the political and intellectual repression of the Indonesian New Order government when he enrolled in a masters degree in the Department of Southeast Asian Studies at Sydney University in 1992.

During the New Order period, political approaches to literary works were discouraged in Indonesia and many books and texts were banned. So Darma decided to move from Bali to Australia to study the textual, political and historical approaches to studying Indonesian literature and culture.

"It might sound strange for an Indonesian to study Indonesian literature in Australia, but it is actually not," he says.

"The University of Sydney has many experts in Indonesian studies, and its library has vast resources which were and still are unavailable in Indonesia for mainly financial and political reasons."

He was encouraged to come to Sydney University by Professor Peter Worsley and has found it hard to leave after graduating in 1994. He returned briefly to Bali to apply for another scholarship enabling him to return to Australia, and obtained a PhD from the School of Languages and Comparative Cultural Studies at the University of Queensland. He now holds a postdoctoral research fellowship investigating the politics of representation of Balinese identities in literary works, mass media and performing arts.

"When I finish in January 2010, I may go back to Bali. I love Bali as much as Australia," he says.

But whatever he decides, his time at Sydney University will hold him in good stead. "My study at Sydney University provided me with a good international network which is very important for my job and career," he says.

These contacts proved useful soon after the Bali bombings in 2002, when a colleague from Sydney passed Darma's contact details to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). He gave several interviews in the weeks after the bombings and went on to become a researcher and translator for the ABC for four years, covering major events like the Schapelle Corby case, the Bali Nine and the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004.

Contact: Claudia Liu

Phone: 02 9351 3191

Email: 124a16084511371b0d351c31340d740f3b