Jusuf Wanandi pays tribute to Dick Woolcott, former Ambassador to Indonesia and Secretary of the Department of FOreign Affairs and Trade, on his 90th birthday. Throughout his long career Woolcott has been a friend to Indonesia.
Richard ‘Dick’ Woolcott, who turned 90 years of age on June 11, is an Australian friend of over 40 years who contributes to Australia-Indonesia relations to this day.
I first met Woolcott on Oct 3, 1973, when accompanying the late Gen. Ali Moertopo on his first visit to Australia and the South Pacific. My group landed in Perth in the wee hours and we were welcomed by the news of the outbreak of the Yom Kippur war in the Middle East.
When we arrived at Melbourne Airport in transit to Canberra that evening, the handsome Woolcott, then Director General for East Asia in Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs, was there to meet us.
More than that we really appreciated his efforts to assist our group all the way during our first visit to what seemed a European or Western outpost in our region. He was calm, open and friendly to the group and to Pak Ali, and since then he has been a good and trusted friend of Indonesia.
He had many able assistants during his tour as Australian ambassador to Indonesia, such as Malcolm Dan, his deputy, Dennis Richardson his political staffer, as well as the late Jeffrey Forester, who tried very hard to immerse himself in Indonesian culture, particularly in Javanese beliefs and traditions.
Together they ensured as much as possible during our ‘escapade’ in East Timor that bilateral relations were correct and friendly, despite differences over the importance of the issue to the region, to Australia as well as to Indonesia.
It was Woolcott who stuck his neck out as ambassador to advise the Australian government to maintain the good working relationship with Indonesia. This was despite differences over the steps taken by Indonesia following the unilateral declaration of independence by Fretilin in November 1975. After the tragedy of the five Australian journalists killed in Balibo, Australia took the correct decision not to downgrade bilateral relations despite the negative Australian public opinion against Indonesia.
Woolcott kept his cool in the face of the Australian public opinion against Indonesia, and was able to prevent a complete break in the relationship. This showed how he was aware of both the Indonesian political situation and at the same time of public opinion in Australia, and how he was able to strike a balance between them. That showed us in Indonesia what a real friend he was, and how he was aware of the mood in the wider region, and how important Indonesia was for him.
Indonesia reciprocated his friendship when he was the special envoy of then Prime Minister Bob Hawke, and former Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, by giving full support to the launch of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in 1989, and by to getting ASEAN going under the leadership of late foreign minister Ali Alatas. APEC could get off the ground only if ASEAN gave its support, and minister Ali Alatas succeeded in garnering the necessary support at the foundation meeting held in Canberra. Of course it was also in our interest to create a forum such as APEC.
And so the relationship continued, even after Woolcott left the Department of Foreign Affairs. We occasionally met and discussed our respective countries’ policies, political situations and the latest internal developments, which enriched our mutual understanding. Sometimes we even helped each other to explain our policies when receiving criticism from our domestic constituencies.
Now he is 90 and still going strong. Happy birthday and many happy returns Dick. May you be blessed for your friendship with Indonesia.
Jusuf Wanandi is vice chair of the board of trustees, Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Jakarta. He has dent this article from Jakarta.
This article first appeared in the Jakarta Post, 14 June 2017. Jusuf Wanandi is vice chair of the board of trustees, Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) , Jakarta.