Indonesian ambassador's reception sets new standards in chic

Issue 

By "Michael", "Jonathon" and "Rupert"

CANBERRA — The Indonesian ambassador's August 19 reception (commemorating the proclamation of the Republic of Indonesia) was shaping up to be just one more ho-hum event on the diplomatic cocktail circuit — and clearly in need of a creativity uplift.

Leo Schofield being unavailable, those wacky, imaginative people at ASIET (Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor) came to the rescue. And how!

First they put on a whiz-bang little picket to greet the guests arriving at the opulent residency's gravelled driveway. Those slogans of theirs, what a giggle! Not just old faves like "Indonesia out of East Timor" and "Suharto is a butcher", but gorgeous newies like "Free Budiman! Free Dita!" and "End Australian military ties now!" Wonderful! The stretch limos just lined up to get a good listen.

But then came the big coup de théâtre! ASIET's creative director thought: "Hey, why not put on the glad rags, go inside and party, party, party?".

And that's how we, accompanied by our wives "Wilhemina", "Sarah" and "Bertha", found ourselves shaking Ambassador Wiryono and Madame's hand, feasting on excellent satay and prawns, and drinking the, well, mediocre champagne.

And what a boost we gave the show! Handing around our dear little ASIET business cards with those nicely typed slogans, "Death to the Suharto dictatorship of butchers and murderers!", "Free all PDI and PRD prisoners!" and "End Australian military ties now!" The crowd just buzzed!

Of course, at these things everyone enjoys the action in their own way. At one extreme was the grizzled military attaché from a Scandinavian country who grinned: "Ah, doing a bit of underground work. Reminds me of the old days in the Resistance."

The Germans and Austrians were very polite: "We appreciate information from all sources", they told Wilhelmina.

Then there was the chap from Foreign Affairs and Trade, who pretended to get really angry. "How the f— did you get in?", he seemed to choke, turning bright red.

The Bosnian charge d'affaires though it was terrific fun, but advised us not to try such an approach in his country. Funnily enough, the counsellor from the embassy of the "Republic of Yugoslavia" said exactly the same thing!

But not even the gayest party is just fun: "Jonathon", in his role as a "representative" of the Australian Mining Industry Council, managed to set up four separate lunchtime dates with Indonesian people in uniforms interested in helping nice Australian companies like CRA acquire some $3-a-day Indonesian mining labour.

And "Michael" found some Indonesian import-export people really keen to expand their paper-recycling outfit.

Still, there are some people you can never please. After a while, "Sarah" was asked to leave by someone from the Australian Federal Police: she was told she was "abusing the ambassador's hospitality". Which was really a bit rich, considering the sparkle she'd added to what would have been a truly boring party.

Of course, there were some aspects of the show that couldn't be changed: they still went ahead with a toast to "the president" and "her majesty the queen", and they made a point of announcing the presence of silly old Tim Fischer.

But these were minor blemishes on an otherwise thrilling evening. Surely the highlight was when Alexander Downer arrived with his entourage of minders, to be greeted by a vivacious Ambassador Wiryono brandishing ASIET's little card. "Not much I can do about it", burbled Alexander in his best private-school boofhead manner, before joining the ambassador in a photo opportunity with smiles that were, we thought, just a trifle false.

Other brilliant moments? Al Grassby thanked us for the ASIET card, but didn't have his glasses on to read the words; and Laurie Brereton seemed too busy blaming the CFMEU for the other big social event in Canberra that day — the workers' party at Parliament House — to take in the message on ASIET's card.

After a few drinks, the Indonesian people in uniforms really got into the swing of things: they followed "Wilhemina" around the room (ruining the chances of a chargé d'affaires from a Middle Eastern country who had taken a shine to her), and got so over-excited by the whole thing that they finally asked her to leave to spare their nerves.

As for "Jonathon", he eventually attracted the interest of a nice young man from Foreign Affairs, who just wouldn't leave his side! And a military type, on being asked by Jonathon the meaning of an Indonesian phrase he had just hissed, obligingly translated: "F—ing c— ." Such poise!

Finally, once those little cards were in everyone's hands, those of us who were left decided that we didn't want to excite our hosts further. You really can have too much of a good thing. So we left, ushered through the ASIET demonstrators outside by a concerned and deferential police officer, anxious to guard us from the rabble.

We joined the picketers to give the other guests a rousing send-off. The police officer did look surprised!
["Michael" is a "representative" of the Sydney Chamber of Commerce. "Jonathon" is a "representative" of the Australian Mining Industry Council. "Rupert" is an incorrigible party animal.]