When Ahmad Hasyim came to Flinders University to study for a Master’s degree in nursing, he expected to learn about many new things. His own culture, however, wasn’t one of them.
Yet just three semesters after arriving in Adelaide with little interest in Indonesian culture, Mr Hasyim will be one of its most passionate advocates at Rymill Park on Sunday, where he will perform traditional ‘rebana’ music in front of thousands of people at INDOfest 2014.
Describing how he developed a passion for playing rebana, a form of devotional music which is an integral part of Indonesia’s Islamic culture, he seems as surprised as anyone that it has happened in Australia.
“When I first arrived at Flinders I have to admit that I didn’t really have much interest in Indonesian culture, but this has changed a lot since I’ve been here,” Mr Hasyim said.
“It still seems strange to me, but I think it reflects how friendly and accepting South Australia is, and how supportive the Indonesian community is here.
“Since learning rebana, I have performed at many events, including at primary schools in front of hundreds of students, which has given me the opportunity to show some of the most positive elements of Indonesian culture.
“This is something that I have become very passionate about doing.”
Mr Hasyim’s cultural awakening began when he was introduced to the traditional Indonesian Pendopo building at Flinders University’s Bedford Park campus.
Pendopo is a variant on the Sanskrit word mandapa or hall. It is a fundamental element of Javanese architecture and constitutes a large pavilion-like structure built on columns.
The Flinders Pendopo is used by a wide range of people, from Indonesian and Australian students, to local community groups.
It is particularly important to gamelan musicians because it houses the variety of instruments such as metallophones, xylophones, kendang (drums) and gongs, bamboo flutes, bowed and plucked strings that make up a gamelan ensemble.
Gamelan, which is traditionally played across Indonesia, is performed there every Wednesday, and Mr Hasyim is often among the musicians.
He has, of course, also discovered much about Australia – and believes Indonesians can take many positive lessons from Australian culture.
“In Australia I have found there is a much simpler, more direct way of doing things than is the case in Indonesia, and I think this is very effective,” Mr Hasyim said.
“I also think there is a lot of interest in and acceptance of other cultures, which I have seen in how Australians have welcomed and enjoyed my rebana performances.
“I think this is a great part of Australian culture which has made me feel safe and secure to come here and learn about Australia but also to be able to develop my own cultural identity.”
With a Flinders Symposium due to meet on Monday to discuss opportunities for greater cooperation in the areas of soft diplomacy and education between Australia and Indonesia, Mr Hasyim said he would love to see the relationship between the countries developed.
“I’m not a politician,” he said. “But my personal experience of being in South Australia and at Flinders University has been so positive that I think it is a great place for Indonesians to build strong relationships and to come and learn about Australian culture.”
In July, Mr Hasyim’s time in Australia will come to an end, but he has big plans for when he returns to his home town of Malang City in East Java.
“My specific area of study at Flinders has been diabetes management, which is something that is not currently at the same level in Indonesia as it is in Australia,” he said. “Mostly, diabetes is treated only with drugs.
“When I go home I would like to take my new knowledge and experience of holistic treatment, including lifestyle management, and one day establish a clinic that will deliver world class treatment for Indonesians.”
He also wants to continue to develop his new-found musical skills and share his passion for rebana with his local community.
“There is already a gamelan group in my neighbourhood, but it’s very informal. I’d like to establish a rebana group that will perform regularly and improve its skills so that my friends and neighbours can develop a new level of enjoyment of the music.
“By doing this, hopefully I can teach them to appreciate it as much as I have learned to.”