Champion of Indonesian ethnomusicology Professor Margaret Kartomi (Feature)

Margaret Kartomi is an ethnomusicologist, researcher and Professor of Music at Monash University. She is also a finalist in the Research category at the Australia Indonesia Awards 2018, organised by the Australia Indonesia Association (AIA) in NSW. An expert on the music of Sumatra, Margaret has received an Order from the Government of Lampung for her Sumatra research, was given the title Ratu Berlian Sangun Anggun (Beautiful Queen Jewel), and kindly has offered to share her journey as a Career Champion.

Where did you begin your career?

Source: Monash University

I first became interested in Indonesia at age nine in Adelaide, where my Quaker parents invited Adelaide’s first Indonesian Colombo Plan students to our home for lunch on Sundays. I fell in love with Javanese gamelan music when, as a music student aged 18 at the University of Adelaide, I wrote a thesis for my BA on that wonderful musical tradition.

After obtaining my doctorate of philosophy in ethnomusicology at Humboldt University in Berlin in 1968, I was employed in the Department of Music at Monash from 1969, first as a Research Fellow, then as a Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, Reader, and from 1989-1999 and 2001- 2003 as Professor and Head of the Department of Music.

What brought you to connect with Indonesia?

I connected with Indonesia due to my family’s interest and my meeting with Indonesian Colombo Plan students in Adelaide, one of whom – Hidris Kartomi of Banyumas – I married. My interest deepened as I wrote my doctoral thesis at Humboldt University in Berlin and I accepted an Indonesian-oriented teaching and research job at Monash from 1969.

My husband and I carried out Australian Research Council-funded fieldwork almost every year from 1971 in different parts of Indonesia, and over the decades I published five books and hundreds of academic articles on aspects of Indonesian music and dance. With Javanese gamelan lecturer Poedijono we presented annual concerts attended by the general public and thousands of primary and secondary students throughout Victoria. I realised that I and my students and colleagues needed an archive in which to house all the field recordings, musical instruments, and other artefacts that we collected on our field research trips.

So in 1975 I established the Music Archive of Monash University (MAMU), which contains many musical instruments, puppets, masks, textiles and other artefacts. Many of my students as well as other collectors donated their Indonesian music and dance recordings and videos and other collected items to MAMU, which became a substantial archive of Indonesian and other cultural artefacts.

How do you use your Indonesia experience in your current work?

I am still a Professor of Music at Monash (now in my 48th year) where I supervise graduate students’ theses and interns. Each intern spends a semester in our Archive learning archival and museological skills which are useful to them in the workplace later on. I also remain Founding Director of MAMU, which is located in a suite of eight rooms on the fourth floor of the Menzies Building (68) at Monash Clayton, where we welcome visitors, including AIYA readers, if interested.

Why do you think you were successful in getting the position?

I likely succeeded in obtaining my job at Monash because I have always been enthusiastic about the marvellously varied music culture of Indonesia, and because my husband and I enjoyed travelling around the islands of Indonesia photographing, videoing, recording and researching the music, dance and theatre and collecting the musical instruments and textiles. I have also always enjoyed teaching and supervising students’ research.

What do you enjoy most about Indonesia?

I love the warmth, politeness and generosity of the Indonesian people of all ages, especially in the villages, and talking to them about their fascinating arts and life achievements and problems. I also love durian and all the other fantastic fruits of Indonesia, the tremendous variety of lauk pauk, the tropical weather, and the beautiful scenery of the islands.

Thoughts on the future of the bilateral relationship?

Monash is planning at this moment to convert the Music Archive of Monash University into Australia’s first Gallery of Musical Instruments and Artefacts, most of which are from Indonesia and other parts of Asia. It will comprise special displays of musical artefacts from Lampung, Aceh, Riau Islands, Java, Bali and many other parts of Indonesia, serve as a gateway to Monash Clayton, and welcome Indonesian and other Asian students to Monash.

From 2018, the Monash Faculty of Arts will fully fund annual trips to Indonesia for thousands of Australian students as part of the GIG – Global Immersion Program – in order to introduce them to Indonesian culture and boost their interest in learning Indonesian language and culture. This mass program will not only impact university students and their families but will boost the relationship between Australians and Indonesians at a national level.

What advice would you offer youth?

Young Australian students should feel free to study the HASS/arts subjects related to Indonesia as well as the STEM subjects when they come to university, for there are bound to be jobs in the future for committed students as they graduate and enter the job market. Australia and Indonesia are close neighbours and both governments and peoples are increasingly realising how necessary we are to each other, how we can benefit from collaborating in many fields of endeavour, and how Indonesia’s economy is predicted to be one of the five top world economies by 2030.

Indonesian students who want to study in Australia should study the English language well in order to gain a place in an Australian university. You may wish to study Australian society and promote better relations between our two countries, or study the other HASS or STEM subjects and work to improve Indonesia’s economy and cultural opportunities in future.

Given the opportunity again, what would you do differently?

Nothing! I have enjoyed and expect to continue to enjoy a wonderful life, enriched by my involvement with the people and the arts of Indonesia and Australia.

Discover more about music at Monash here, and keep an eye out for more Career Champion interviews with AIA finalists in the coming weeks.