Following our visit to Bone we drove to Sidrap via the weaving town of Sengkang (capital of Wajo regency) in the morning. Sengkang is famous for its hand-made Bugis-patterned silk sarongs, although the hand-made products are getting harder to find and more expensive as fewer women are prepared to work for low wages on the old wooden looms.
Driving around Lake Tempe towards Sidrap it was obvious how rich this agricultural area is. Rice fields stretch as far as you can see, and fruit trees are abundant.
Our first task was a visit to PT Berdikari United Livestock, a government company that runs the Bila River Ranch, 6,600Ha of prime cattle ranging land about 40 minutes out of Sidrap’s capital of Sidenreng. This is a lovely property with great views north towards the mountains. The Director of Operations Pak Mahfud met us and briefed us on what has been happening at the ranch.
PT Berdikari began importing cattle from Australia for fattening on the ranch in 1975. The most recent import was 3,000 head of Australian Brahman cows in 2010. A small herd was kept for fattening but most were distributed to local farmers and now only 200 head are left on the ranch, mostly “inbred and of no commercial use”.
Bila River Ranch has the capacity to carry 10,000 or so Brahman or cross-breed cattle. There are extensive paddocks of elephant grass, and other grasses good for cattle. There is also a quarantine yard capable of handling 1,700 head. We saw the yard was in fair condition considering it hadn’t been used for several years – a bit overgrown, but cows would soon solve that problem. Pak Mahfud said that they were waiting for another delivery of Australian cattle: he expects 3,000 to be delivered sometime in 2017.
View from Bila River Ranch, Sidrap
These cattle will be distributed to local farmers after they have gone through a quarantine and fattening period. Pak Mahfud has been in the cattle business for 35 years so has seen a lot of Australian cattle come and go, but he says it is always difficult to get the farmers trained to be able to properly care for large Australian cattle. This is complicated by the fact that local politics always comes into play in determining who gets the cows.
In the early afternoon Putri and I arrived at the Bupati of Sidrap’s new and well-built office where we received a traditional welcome: Tarian Paduppa, danced by young women. We were then shown into a very well-appointed reception room and chatted with Pak Sudirman, the head of the Regional Planning Agency (Bappeda).
Paduppa welcome dance, Sidrap
After a while we moved into a meeting room where I briefed a friendly group of senior regional officials on the benefits of studying in Australia for Masters and PhD degrees (S2 and S3 degrees). I highlighted the Australia Awards scheme. Several of them were also interested in holidaying in Australia. They told me that they generally only go to Singapore and Malaysia for holidays because of proximity and everyone there can speak Malay or Indonesian. Now I hope I have convinced them that Australia might be a good place to go: clearly income levels among the elite of Sidrap are good.
The Bupati of Sidrap, Rusdi Masse, was the youngest Bupati in Indonesia when he was elected. He is also chair of the Nasdem (National Democrats) party in South Sulawesi. When we visited he was on a roadshow around the province, recruiting new members for the party.
Pare-pare and Pangkep
We overnighted in Pare-pare, a small town on the north coast of South Sulawesi, and the gateway to Tanah Toraja. It has a small port where cruise ships occasionally berth for tours to Toraja, and where cattle can be unloaded for the Bila River Ranch. The hotel, Pare Beach Hotel, was on a busy road leading to the port but had a great view out to the sunset and across the bay of Pare-pare. We got a room with windows at the front of the building, but the traffic noise kept us awake. Most other rooms in the hotel had no windows.
The following day we drove south along the coast and it began drizzling. We stopped at a lovely seafood restaurant that sits on stilts over the sea and served fair coffee: restaurant Arung Pala in Barru. It is a popular stop for foreign tourists on the long trek up to Toraja from Makassar.
We had lunch in Pangkajene, capital of Pangkep regency, and then called on the Wakil Bupati (Deputy Regent) of Pangkep, Syahban Sammana. Also in the meeting were a range of senior regional government officials, including a young man called Sayafruddin, a Masters in Education from Flinders University. I told them about our activities in the Spermonde islands: Pangkep Regency includes 110 tiny islands stretching north towards Kalimantan, and south towards Bali, of which some 70 are populated. Pak Syahban was well aware of the Sekolah Perempuan and Kompak projects supporting women and fisher communities in the islands, but not that they were Australian-funded projects. I also talked about the Mars Symbioscience project on Badi island run by an Australian, and the two schools that were built on that island with Australian funds. I said I had visited the island the week before but I had noticed there were no teachers present at the schools – the children had come out in their little canoes to greet us and when asked, said all their teachers had gone. Teacher absenteeism is a major problem in the islands because very few teachers can cope with the isolation of living in an island community, far from their families on the mainland.
Promoting Australian Awards to Wakil Bupati Pangkep
Pak Syahban and his colleagues mentioned a tourism project the local government has developed on Camba-cambang island, about five minutes by boat from Pangkajene. They are looking for investors to take it over and invited me to check it out some time. It is a coral atoll that has been built up with little bungalows on stilts and they said it had its own “waterboom” slide which shoots you straight out into the clear waters of the Makassar Strait. Probably a lot of fun for young folk from Makassar, but not the quiet little hideaway older persons like me would prefer!