Jamie Mackie

I spoke last night about the great Australian life of Jamie Mackie.
Jamie Mackie
20 June 2011

I rise to pay tribute to Professor Jamie Mackie, who passed away on 21 April, aged 86. Jamie was a key player in the deepening of Australia's engagement with South-East Asia and the campaign to dismantle the White Australia policy.

Jamie's first exposure to South-East Asia came as a 19-year-old gunner on HMAS Warramunga. He was part of General Douglas Macarthur's amphibious landings against Japanese positions. Visiting Manila, he was struck by its heritage, 'a history that almost none of us in Australia then knew anything about'. This spurred a lifelong interest in the region.

He knew interesting people. At Geelong Grammar, his history master was Manning Clark. At Oxford, Jamie got to know Rupert Murdoch, who was then secretary of the Oxford University Labour club. Jamie quipped that perhaps history might have been changed had Murdoch taken up Jamie's offer to go and see Citizen Kane together.

In the 1950s, Jamie volunteered to go to Indonesia as part of the new volunteer graduate scheme launched by Herb Feith. He worked in the State Planning Bureau in Jakarta, and lectured in economic history at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta. These lectures eventually became his first book, to be followed by a spate of articles about the political economy of Indonesia and Australia's foreign policies. His group at Monash University's Centre of Southeast Asian Studies earned the title of 'a second Cornell', in recognition of its concern for human rights in Indonesia.

Jamie's engagement with Indonesia naturally brought him into an active role in campaigning against the White Australia policy. With Ken Rivett, he wrote an influential 1959 pamphlet, Immigration: Control or Colour Bar?, arguing that the policy was not just morally wrong but also against Australia's national interest. In his obituary of Jamie, David Jenkins noted that the values in this argument underpinned much of the modern multicultural Australia we value today.

But articulate pamphlets were not enough. My father, Michael Leigh, a close friend of Jamie's, says that one of the turning points for him came with the Sharpeville massacre in 1960. After the brutal killing of 69 civilians, including 10 children, the Labor opposition called on the Menzies government to pass a censure motion against the South African government. Menzies refused.

My father told me that this was the moment that people like he and Jamie decided that a street demonstration would be necessary to express horror at this brutal manifestation of the consequences of racial exclusivity and of the Prime Minister's refusal to join international condemnation. Victoria Police refused permission for their march and warned that they should not proceed outside the boundaries of Melbourne University. Yet proceed they did with police lining both sides of the road. Australia is a better country for the courage of these marchers.

I had known Jamie since I was a child, and enjoyed the way he would often drop into my ANU office unexpectedly to share an idea or an anecdote. After more than a decade as a professor in the ANU Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, and as co-founder of the annual Indonesia Update conference, Jamie clearly delighted in strolling the halls of the labyrinthine Coombs Building. He would buttonhole me about economic policy, the treatment of refugees or Australian foreign policy. Jamie would hold forth at length until—like the junior academic I was—I would eventually explain that I had to get back and do some research. He always left me with a new idea and, looking back, I wish I had asked a few more questions and been a little less precious with my time. ANU professor Tony Reid wrote:

'Jamie Mackie epitomized the best in the reformist enthusiasm of post-war Australia to open out to its region. For him as for many of that generation, Indonesia pre-eminently represented the Australian 'other', the Asia with which Australia had to come to terms. Because he was himself very much an Australian of that era—warm, open, maverick, visionary, irreverent, unpretentious—he understood better than most how exciting and challenging, but painfully difficult, a prospect it was to get that relationship right. He played his part like no other, and it will be impossible to think of the development of that relationship without him.'

One of the great Indonesian poets is Chairil Anwar, who passed away in 1949 aged just 26. Aku, perhaps his most famous poem, ends with the line: 'Aku mau hidup seribu tahun lagi.' Which translates as: 'I want to live for another thousand years.'

Chairil Anwar did not. Jamie Mackie did not. But their influence might.

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.