Review by Peter O’Donnell from Australian Bookseller & Publisher Magazine

Refugees and Rebels: Indonesian Exiles in Wartime Australia provides a fascinating account of a unique and important part of Australia’s social and wartime history. Between 1942 and 1947, around 5500 Indonesians came to Australian shores because of the Japanese invasion of the Netherlands East Indies (NEI).

Lingard examines what happened next: the development of personal friendships, the gradual mobilisation and organisation of the Indonesians as their independence movement gained momentum, the changing motives of Dutch administrators, and the evolving relationships between the NEI, Australian and Indonesian governments.

Although perhaps aimed at an academic audience familiar with Australian-Indonesian relations or military history, it is an engrossing story and should not pose great difficulty for those without previous knowledge in the subject area. Lingard’s previous publications have all been in the field of literary translation. Meticulously researched, Lingard’s narrative comprises personal interviews, media reports, official and unofficial records, and secondary academic literature. Her arguments are persuasive, and the book is academically rigorous. It is surely the culmination of many years of research and interaction with the subject.

Lingard’s analysis of the souring relations between the Chifley Labor government and the NEI is particularly compelling. In addition to the previously unheard Indonesian voices, the telling of several personal stories, particularly the stories of Australian wives of Indonesian ‘refugees and rebels’, is a fascinating addition to the literature.

The influx of Indonesians to Australian shores (including ‘boat people’) was uncharted territory for Australia, a country isolated from Asia by the Immigration Restriction Act, more commonly known as the White Australia Policy, and as Lingard argues, largely racist and xenophobic. Through the forced interaction, however, friendships soon developed and eventually support for the Indonesian independence movement was forthcoming from various Australian sources. The official ‘neutral’ position of the Australian government at the time is shown to be increasingly sympathetic toward the Indonesians-a situation quite inconceivable when the Indonesian refugees and rebels first arrived considering the White Australia Policy and the alliance between the NEI and Australia. The government’s actions also marked the first time Australia’s foreign policy was divorced from the British ‘mother country’.

A slight criticism of the book is that without previous knowledge of the larger context of the story (Lingard only provides brief commentary on what is happening in Indonesia at the same time), the reader might be tempted to over-exaggerate the importance events in Australia played in the larger independence movement. But regarding Lingard’s main focus--the people-to-people relationships, and the political game the ‘refugees and rebels’ were participants in-the book is admirable. Refugees and Rebels deserves a wide audience. As Lingard argues, it was an unprecedented situation, and was the beginning of the Australia-Indonesia relationship.

Peter O’Donnell is a PhD candidate at the Australian National University, ACT

This review from Australian Bookseller & Publisher Magazine is reproduced by kind permission of Thorpe-Bowker, a division of R R Bowker LLC. © Copyright 2008, Thorpe-Bowker

Book Launch
29 October 2008

49 Glebe Point Road
Glebe, NSW
6.00pm for a 6.30pm start

To be launched by Hamish McDonald, Asia Pacific Editor of Sydney Morning Herald.
Where to Buy the Book
Click here to find out where you can purchase the book.