The 2022 Makassar International Writers Festival (MIWF), a literary festival to spread joy and increase community interest in reading and writing from Rumata ‘Artspace, began and passed last week Thursday from the 23rd-26th of June. The longstanding annual festival (beginning since 2011) to celebrate literature returned this year bringing together several established and emerging writers in-person and online from across Indonesia, especially East Indonesia, as well as writers from abroad. This year, MIWF raised the theme ‘Awakening’ and was committed to being a pioneering low carbon and no-waste event.
MIWF Founder and Director Lily Yulianti Farid highlighted this year’s festival theme meant ‘Awakening’ towards diversity, including new understandings, ways of thinking, determination, perspectives on life, and following lessons we have all learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic. After all, the pandemic has disrupted several aspects of life, including education and literacy across the globe since it began in 2020.
Hence, authors from overseas such as from countries like Singapore, India and Malaysia attended to discuss and share with their Indonesian counterparts. Of course, there several Australian authors also took part in MIWF 2022. Authors from Indonesia’s South Pacific neighbour have already been attending the festival for several years since it began.
Among the Australian writers who attended this year was Omar Musa, an author famous for several poetry books touching themes of migration and race in Australia as well as his award-nominated novel ‘Here Come the Dogs’. Furthermore was Beth Yahp, award-winning author and teacher of creative writing at the University of Sydney. Yahp is famous for her short-fictions and memoirs such as her latest work ‘Eat First, Talk Later’, which also highlights issues of diaspora and migration in Australia, where she describes her family’s former home of Malaysia.
Other notable writers from Australia, or who write about Australia, include sports and pop-culture writer Andy Fuller as well as Harvard Human Rights Review Editor in Chief Kieren Salazar who often writes about refugees in the Pacific region.
All of the authors mentioned above and more appeared on the first day of the Makassar International Writers Festival this year on a panel titled ‘Connecting Indonesia and Australia Through Literature and Translation Initiatives: How Can We Improve the Partnership’.
In fact, this year’s festival in Makassar was very significant, beginning only two weeks after newly elected Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese visited the city and Hasanuddin University on the 8th of June along with Ministers Penny Wong, Ed Husic, Don Farrell, as well as several other government delegates.
PM Albanese’s visit to Indonesia and Makassar displays Australia’s increasing interest in deepening Australian ties with Indonesia compared to the previous administration under Scott Morrison.
Many observers have even compared Albanese’s interest in Indonesia to former Prime Minister Paul Keating’s time in the 90s, who also emphasised developing bilateral links with Australia’s closest neighbours.
For Makassar, PM Albanese may be among the first of few state leaders who have ever visited the South Sulawesi Capital, and visiting one of the biggest cities in Eastern Indonesia outside of Jakarta is symbolic of his government’s recognition of the importance of diversity.
PM Albanese’s cabinet has been largely praised for including 10 women, 2 Muslims and 1 indigenous Australian, making it more clearly representative of Australia's people.
The Australian PM’s Makassar visit and this festival has shown the potentially bright future of cooperation between Indonesia, Australia and the region in the next few years to come.
As seen at the 2022 Makassar International Writers Festival, the people-to-people relationship between these South Pacific neighbours is also strong and can be further strengthened, not only the relationships between our governments. As the COVID-19 pandemic situation in Indonesia, Australia as well as in other countries continues to improve, our potential to ‘Awaken’ together also grows.
- - Rifqy Tenribali Eshanasir is a Junior Researcher at the Center for Peace Conflict and Democracy, Hasanuddin University, and an Alumnus of International Relations and Peace Studies at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Japan. He also studied in Moreland Primary School, Melbourne Australia.