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In her new book chapter on the Indonesian and Australian women bridging the divides between their cultures, Virginia Hooker devises a metaphor centred on the concept of the Green Turtle. Just as green turtles share the coasts of northern Australia and Indonesia, so too, the women of these countries inhabit a shared space between separate cultures. The professor emerita at the Department of Political & Social Change draws this comparison in the new book Strangers next door? Indonesia and Australia in the Asian Century.
Going to the origin of her metaphor, Professor Hooker cites the example of a community art project entitled ‘Green Turtle Dreaming’. The project identifies the endangered turtle as central to the traditions of Indonesia, East Timor and northern Australia. The Australian women who designed the project took the Green Turtle concept to communities along the coasts of the three states, in a traveling exhibition. They recorded their understandings of the turtle – in oral, art or dance forms. It is creative spaces like these, Hooker suggests, where the future of the bilateral relationship between Australian and Indonesian women will occur. “They have the confidence to step into the unknown and create new, shared areas that will form the basis for the future of the bilateral relationship,” she says. According to Hooker, these creative spaces can be seen as “intercultural,” a view of culture that is dynamic and the product of the processes of interaction, not isolation.
Professor Hooker’s chapter provides a cross-section of what could be an entire book on women’s contributions to improving the understanding between Australia and Indonesia. The chapter tells the stories of women contributing to the bilateral relationship in fields like diplomacy, human rights, economics, scientific research and interfaith dialogue, among others. “It proves that when women are motivated to assist and support each other, even across borders and despite a lack of funds, they persist until they find a way,” Professor Hooker says. It is in the final section of her chapter that she suggests artists and performers are often the first to recognise the interactive nature of collaboration on projects – like ‘Green Turtle Dreaming’. For Professor Hooker, building enough momentum from these relationships to influence policy can be tough, but it is also key.