'College is a place where you can experiment with what life will be like in the future,' reflects Professor Tim Lindsey from his sun-drenched office in the Melbourne Law School.
'It’s like any sort of incubator experience – college committees and student bodies are a great way to learn about how life operates. A small-scale experiment where you can fail, if necessary, and learn…'
His Trinity College years opened the budding Indonesian expert all sorts of possibilities: he immersed himself in the social life, the arts and student organisation. It encouraged him, he believes, to keep an open mind about a future direction that he admits his 18-year-old self might have struggled to imagine.
Fast forward a few decades and Professor Lindsey (TC 1981) is a leading expert in Indonesian law, his knowledge and experience sought by government, business and courts.
His unique contribution to Australia’s sometimes problematic relationship with its near-neighbour was acknowledged in the recent Queen’s Birthday Honours; Professor Lindsey was made an Officer of the Order of Australia ‘for distinguished service to international relations, particularly in promoting understanding between Indonesia and Australia, as an academic, and to legal education in Islamic law’.
He was, for almost 20 years (eight as chair) on the board of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Australia Indonesia Institute, and he is now the Director of the Centre for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society at the Melbourne Law School. He has more than 100 publications to his name including the new compendium Indonesian Law (with Professor Simon Butt from the University of Sydney), a substantial work eight years in the making. While he still travels to Indonesia, family demands – he has a young son and three daughters – make trips less frequent.
'My hope would be that this honour would, in a very small way, make some contribution to accepting the importance for Australia of understanding Indonesia better,' he says.
His professional trajectory seems all the more remarkable because, by his own reckoning, he was a terrible language student at high school. His parents urged him to try Indonesian, which had a strong presence in Australian secondary education in the 1970s.
'They said, "Why on earth are you going to do French or German? Do Indonesian! It’s the neighbour". I was very lucky that my parents supported it,' he says.
At the instigation of an enthusiastic teacher, he found himself on a life-changing homestay in Java, immersed in the culture and living overseas for the first time since childhood. He returned after two months, able to speak the language and ‘hooked’ on all things Indonesian.
‘Understanding Indonesia’ is an area Professor Lindsey thinks students – and their supportive parents – should be open to when considering future career options. He’s somewhat dismayed by a general loss of general traction and interest in Indonesian Studies in Australia.
'We’re in the Asian Century!' he says. 'Australia might not be aware of it, but the rest of the world is. There may not be obvious and easy jobs floating around in head-in-the-sand Australia right now, but there will be. It’s all going to change.
'Parents should know better than their children that there are no certainties, and the Asia Century is underway whether we like it or not. It’s already beginning to transform our region and our society. None of this stuff is easy; there aren’t any free tickets, but the future is coming to Australia. It’s obvious that the big countries for us in the next 50 years will be China, India and Indonesia.'
If it sounds as though Professor Lindsey’s career came to him as a fully-formed plan, in fact nothing could be further from the truth. He emerged from his studies with Bachelor’s degrees in Law, Arts and Letters, as well as a PhD in Indonesian Studies, picking out a path along the way.
'When I was at Uni I was never quite sure of what I was going to do except that I would qualify as a lawyer because I had done a law degree … My advice is to just keep all the doors open, develop all your abilities, and the future will decide.'
His transition from barrister to Indonesian law scholar is a case in point. His former lecturer and mentor, Professor Malcolm Smith, founder of the Melbourne Law School’s Asian Law Centre, invited him to get involved in an Indonesian law research project.
'I was practising as a barrister and I said, "Why are you asking me about Indonesian law? I don’t know anything about that."
'He took me out to lunch and by the end I’d agreed to undertake his project! I knew nothing at all about this area, so I started doing basic research and found there was almost nothing there in English. I started translating documents and as I tried to find out more about these documents … I was off! Trapped! Hooked!'
QUEEN’S BIRTHDAY HONOURS FOR TRINITY ALUMNI
Officer of the General Division of the Order of Australia (OA)
Professor Timothy Charles Lindsey (TC 1981)
Professor James McCluskey (Trinity Board Member)
Mr Andrew Sisson (TC 1971)
Member in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AM)
Professor Jonathan Rhys Carapetis (TC 1980)
Dr Alastair Robert Jackson (TC 1967)
Dr Godfrey Alan Letts CBE (TC 1946 Non-Res)
Medal of the Order of Australia in the General Division (OAM)
Mr Anthony Edward Sell (TCTS 2008 Non-Res).