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Mackie, James Austin (Jamie) (1924–2011)

by Hal Hill and Chris Manning

from Australian

James Mackie, by Andrew Long, 1998

James Mackie, by Andrew Long, 1998

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23637831

With the death of James Austin Copland (Jamie) Mackie late last month, Australia has lost one of the pioneers of its post-war engagement with Asia.

In the history of Australia's sometimes volatile relationship with Indonesia, for more than a half century no voice was clearer or more insistent on the need for a deeper understanding of our near northern neighbour and its region.

After war service and study at Melbourne and Oxford universities, graduating with first-class honours from both, Mackie's first big work assignment was with the Colombo Plan in Jakarta from 1956 to 1958, working with the newly established National Planning Bureau.

There he came into close contact and developed enduring friendships with many Indonesian intellectuals, several of whom were to chart the country's economic development for decades. These experiences set the stage for his lifelong academic commitment to the study of Indonesia, and Asia more generally.

Mackie returned to his alma mater, the University of Melbourne, to establish one of the country's first Indonesian studies programs. In 1968 he moved to Monash as foundation director of its Centre for Southeast Asian Studies, and with colleagues established that university as a leading world centre on Southeast Asia.

His third academic appointment was in 1979 to the Australian National University, where he established the department of political and social change as a professor, and remained afterwards as a very active emeritus professor.

Mackie's academic interests were broad, reflecting his deep curiosity about the world and attempts to comprehend the highly complex development challenges of newly independent Indonesia.

While academics were increasingly encouraged to specialise, even among his generation he was Jamie Mackie with former Indonesian president Gus Dur a rare individual whose work crossed disciplinary divides.

Although he worked mainly in political science and international relations, his interests extended to economics, history, entrepreneurship, demography and anthropology. His publications reflected this breadth of interests, with publications on Indonesia's hyper-inflation late in the Sukarno era, Indonesia's konfrontasi towards the new state of Malaysia in the early 1960s and the lives of Indonesia's ethnic Chinese.

He also wrote influential papers on Indonesian politics, rural development in Java and Australia-Indonesia relations.

Although focused mainly on Indonesia's politics, Mackie saw enough of the disastrous economic mismanagement of the Sukarno era, and the country's grinding poverty partly engendered by decades of colonial neglect and overpopulation, to convince him of the importance of rapid economic development.

While he understood the human rights implications of the country's bloody regime change in 1965-66, he also comprehended the importance of dramatic reductions in poverty for ordinary Indonesians under president Sukarno's authoritarian regime.

Mackie then occupied the middle ground for the next few decades in debates about Indonesian development. He was quick to remind his economist colleagues of the regime's downside, including its lack of democracy, its suppression of human rights and worsening corruption. But he also pointed out to sceptical political scientists the broad-based improvements in living standards.

Mackie saw it as his mission to educate the broader Australian community about the country and to develop deeper bilateral relations. It was often an uphill battle. In the late 50s and early 60s, Sukarno's apparently erratic behaviour, partly motivated by increasing political tensions at home, perplexed a largely European and parochial Australia. Drawing on his extensive friendships fyith academics, bureaucrats and political figures made early in life at Geelong Grammar and at University, he pursued this goal with great skill and tenacity.

A pro-Western regime in Jakarta after 1966 made his job easier, but the mid-70s Timor debacle complicated the bilateral relationship, which did not warm again until the early 90s.

Mackie's advocacy occasionally attracted conspiratorial commentary, to the effect that there was a secretive Canberra-based "Indonesia lobby" of senior diplomats, academics and journalists running Australia's policy towards the country. This drew his disdainful remark that "if there is a lobby, I've never seen it".

Mackie's life off-campus was equally hectic and broad-ranging. His tireless advocacy of causes resulted in frequent media appearances and contact with community groups and politicians of all persuasions. He was an early founder and president of the Asian Studies Association of Australia. A passionate advocate of a liberal immigration policy, in the 60s he was one of the founders of the Immigration Reform Group, which articulated the case for a multi-racial approach to immigration including in its influential monograph, Control of Colour Bar.

In the late 90s he was a key figure in establishing Racial Respect, a national group urging greater racial tolerance to counter Pauline Hanson's One Nation movement and its anti-immigrant overtones. His legacy extends not just to the institutions he helped to establish but also the many students, academics and intellectuals whose careers he helped foster.

For a period, almost every Australian academic and most journalists who worked on Southeast Asia had a close association with Mackie. He was a most engaging and modest man.

Original publication

  • Australian, 14 May 2011

Other Obituaries for James Austin (Jamie) Mackie

Additional Resources

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Citation details

Hal Hill and Chris Manning, 'Mackie, James Austin (Jamie) (1924–2011)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/mackie-james-austin-jamie-13754/text24566, accessed 25 September 2017.

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