Australian Consulate-General
Makassar, Indonesia

Sixty Years of Hasanuddin University - and Ebiet

This month Makassar’s leading university, Universitas Hasanuddin, celebrated its sixtieth anniversary. Opened by the Indonesian Republic’s first Vice President Drs Mohammad Hatta as a full university on 10 September 1956, it is one of the oldest universities in Indonesia. One of its first faculties was medicine, followed by engineering, then arts and letters. It now has a broad range of faculties catering to the needs of communities across eastern Indonesia. Among its famous graduates are the current Vice President, the current Governor of South Sulawesi, numerous ministers and senior lawmakers, and major business figures in eastern Indonesia.

We attended the national alumni gathering at Hasanuddin University (known as Unhas) on Saturday evening at a function set around a lovely little lake on the campus near the science and technology faculty.

Unhas is renowned for its green campus: one of the delights of calling on, Prof Dr Dwia Aries Tina Pulubuhu MA, the current Rector and first women to lead the university, is to enjoy the fantastic view from her 8th floor office over the campus, looking east to the mountains of South Sulawesi. This is a rare sight in crowded, growing Makassar, so I never miss the opportunity of joining visiting Australian university leaders on a visit to Unhas.

Prof Dwia welcomed Putri and I to the evening gathering, which included a display of the talents of students and staff. Two comedians (uni students) MC-ed the show, which included jazz and traditional Indonesian music performed by lecturers and former students, and a performance by the Unhas student choir. This choir, which has performed in numerous international events, presented a mix of local folk songs with a modern touch. Perfect pitch, lovely to watch, it took me back to my university days as a chorister (but I still cannot sing…).

The evening wore on and we chatted with Governor Syahrul Yassin Limpo, an Unhas law graduate; Pak Alwi Hamu, owner of the Fajar group and an Unhas graduate; and Prof Jamaluddin Jompa, Dean of Unhas’ Faculty of Marine Science and Fisheries, and also an Australian alumni. Other senior Indonesian graduates were from the central government in Jakarta, including Pak Abdul Wahab Secretary-General of the Ministry of Manpower and Pak Guntur from the Constitutional Court. If it looks like I am name-dropping here, it is only to show how influential and important Unhas graduates are in Indonesian national life!













Prof Jamaluddin Jompa, Prof Diwa Palubuhu, Pak KonJen, Ibu KonJen, Pak Alwi Hamu (l-r)


Prof Dwia was also very proud of the fact that on Indonesia’s recent Independence Day celebrations, Unhas was recognised by the Minister for Research, Technology and Higher Education as rising three rankings up the list of the top 12 universities in Indonesia. It is now ranked 8th behind the likes of Universitas Indonesia and Gajah Mada University for the quality of its teaching, research, facilities, student achievements and accreditation standards.

The evening was fun but we began to tire so took our leave of Prof Dwia and company. But then something magical happened.

As Putri and I were getting into our car I heard a very familiar voice begin singing from the distant stage. I asked Pak Andi Amri, Unhas’ Director of International Relations who had escorted us to the car, if that was the voice of Ebiet? Indonesia’s famous singer-songwriter whose music had influenced a generation of young people in the 1970s through to the 1990s?

Yes, Pak Amri said, we invited him to our 60th anniversary.

I got back out of the car. This was not to be missed. I walked towards the stage and stood transfixed as Ebiet G Ade, now aged 61, sang strumming his guitar, in the same clear and tender tones I recalled from the 1980s when I often listened to his music on cassette. I still have his first ever album – Camellia 1 released in 1979. His music was important to me, and to many young people at the time: his poetry was about love, and the suffering of the poor and those forgotten by society. During the Soeharto era his music was the soft side of protest music – Iwan Fals sang from the hard side.

I also found Ebiet’s poetry accessible, as a learner of Bahasa Indonesia. His language wasn’t too complicated, and I enjoyed the imagery he conjured up in his songs.

As Ebiet sang I heard older members of the audience – the lecturers and others closer to our current age – sing along to some of those lilting melodies from the 1980s. Putri and I sat and listened as he announced his last song of the evening. He said this was for the young people in the audience, it held meaning that many would relate to. It is a great song: Berita Kepada Kawan, news for a friend, about a disaster that happened in central Java in the 1970s. But it is a song that captures the hopelessness of many, of the poor and those who struggle to survive, farmers, herders, simple villagers.

Berita Kepada Kawan

Perjalanan ini

Trasa sangat menyedihkan

Sayang engkau tak duduk

Disampingku kawan


This journey

Saddens me

Pity you cannot sit

beside me friend

Banyak cerita

Yang mestinya kau saksikan

Di tanah kering bebatuan


Many stories

You should witness

In this dry stony land

Tubuhku terguncang

Dihempas batu jalanan

Hati tergetar menatap

kering rerumputan

My body is shaken

Rocked by the broken road

My heart shivers as I look

At the dry grassland

Perjalanan ini pun

Seperti jadi saksi

Gembala kecil

Menangis sedih ...


Even this journey

Is a witness to

a little goatherd

Crying heartbroken

Kawan coba dengar apa jawabnya

Ketika di kutanya mengapa

Bapak ibunya tlah lama mati

Ditelan bencana tanah ini


Friend just listen to what he said

When I asked him why

His mother and father had long died

Swallowed by this land’s disaster

Sesampainya di laut

Kukabarkan semuanya

Kepada karang kepada ombak

Kepada matahari


Reaching the sea

I told it all

To the coral, to the waves

To the sun

Tetapi semua diam

Tetapi semua bisu

Tinggal aku sendiri

Terpaku menatap langit


But all were quiet

But all were dumb

Just I remained alone

Transfixed looking at the sky

Barangkali di sana

ada jawabnya

Mengapa di tanahku terjadi bencana


Perhaps there

Is the answer

Why disaster has hit my land

Mungkin Tuhan mulai bosan

Melihat tingkah kita

Yang selalu salah dan bangga

dengan dosa-dosa


Maybe God has become bored

Watching our conduct

Always so proud

of our sins

Atau alam mulai enggan

Bersahabat dengan kita

Coba kita bertanya pada

Rumput yang bergoyang

Or nature is no longer willing

to befriend us

Let’s ask the swaying grasses.


The music is sweet, gentle, like a lullaby, and Ebiet’s voice diamond clear. Yet it is a sad song: no-one listens to the sadness, maybe not even God or nature. Only perhaps, the swaying grasses.

We left to return to our car. But then more magic happened. As we were about to leave a group of people headed up the car park. It was Ebiet surrounded by his crew and a crowd of journalists. I got out again. Nervously I approached him. People around stopped and watched as I shook his hand and told him how much I loved his music, how I had listened to his albums as a young man. He said, graciously, “you are still young”, and agreed to a photo – here attached although it is a little over-exposed. The media scrum took lots of photos and perhaps they have a better one to share.











That was it. Another special moment in Makassar.