The Conversation: What will the West Papua flotilla mean for Australia-Indonesia relations?

Jim Elmslie

Given the extreme sensitivity with which the issue of West Papua is viewed in Indonesia, the “Freedom Flotilla” heading from Australia to the Indonesian-controlled territory is sure to create tension.

The question now is how much tension and how it will be handled by all involved.

West Papua refers to the western half of the island of New Guinea that has been under Indonesian rule since 1962. Indigenous Melanesians living there have continued to call for self-determination. Recently, Australian Aboriginal political activists have entered the fray. One result of this is the Freedom Flotilla, which is aimed at bringing this issue into the mainstream.

The Aboriginal link is important. The genesis of the Freedom Flotilla was in the Aboriginal Tent embassy in Canberra in 2000, when the newly-arrived West Papuan exile Jacob Rumbiak met with Aboriginal elder “Uncle” Kevin Buzzacott and explained the dilemma facing the West Papuans.

This struck a chord with Buzzacott. It resonated with the long history of Aboriginal occupation, dispossession and marginalisation. Buzzacott saw the connection as deeper than shared victimhood. He traced their ancient historical and cultural relationship back to prehistoric times with its common past and ancestry.

Read the Full Story in The Conversation

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