Professor Presley and the life-long community of College

Professor Tim Lindsey (TC 1981), recently recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for his contribution to international relations, remembers his Trinity years as a time to develop talents, pursue creative interests and make lifelong friends and colleagues.

The bright, welcoming office of Professor Tim Lindsey (TC 1981), high in the Melbourne Law School building, perfectly reflects his career and character. 

Bookshelves stocked up with resources you’d expect of one of the nation’s leading Indonesia experts, made an Officer of the Order of Australia in the recent Queen’s Birthday Honours for ‘promoting understanding between Indonesia and Australia, as an academic, and to legal education in Islamic law’. 

A student’s PhD thesis has appeared on his desk and Professor Lindsey acknowledges it with pride and delight. On the walls are vivid paintings, a nod to his interest in Asia - more specifically, Indonesia - and passion for art.

And then there’s a life-sized picture of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll: ‘Professor Presley’, laughs Professor Lindsey. ‘I was infected by Elvis Presley in College. And I’ve infected my children.’

His Trinity years clearly evoke memories of good times and golden opportunities to follow the diverse trails of his interests before committing to a career. As a student, he developed his creative skills to produce posters, cartoons and artworks, some of which were published in the Fleur de Lys magazine.

‘One of the great things about College is that it’s a microcosm community and people’s different skills find a place,’ he reflects. ‘I was part of a group of like-minded people who set up an art room and created an art society…

‘At College, people have the chance to pursue their interests, and they should do so because it’s very difficult afterwards. You can’t just put these interests off if they’re part of your character. If they’re important, you have to pursue them and see what happens.’

As well as the freedom to fly, Professor Lindsey says the Trinity experience helped forge an enduring network of friends and colleagues.

‘College is a place where you can experiment with what life will be like in the future. It’s like any sort of incubator experience – committees and student bodies are a great way to learn about how life operates.’

Professor Lindsey graduated with degrees in the subjects that engaged him most: Arts (Indonesian), Law and Letters (Fine Arts). He went on to attain his PhD in Indonesian Studies and was a practising barrister when his career took an unexpected twist. His former teacher and mentor Malcolm Smith, the founding director of the Asian Law Centre at the University of Melbourne, invited him to be part of a research project on Indonesian law.

He tried to wriggle out of it, he admits, knowing little about the subject. But he agreed to lunch and a chat, and by the end of the meal he was on board with the project that has since directed his career.

Fluent in Indonesian after a life-changing village homestay in high school, Professor Lindsey has built a body of research in most aspects of Indonesian law, with more than 100 publications to his name. His compendium Indonesian Law – written with Professor Simon Butt from the University of Sydney and eight years in the making – has just been published. He is also a Redmond Barry Distinguished Professor and the Director of the Centre for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society at the Melbourne Law School. Although in high demand as expert witness in Indonesian law, he admits that family demands mean he spends less time overseas these days.

Professor Lindsey’s Queen’s Birthday honour recognises his contribution to improving the often-problematic relationship between near neighbours. He spent nearly 20 years with the Australia Indonesia Institute and is proud of achievements that include advancing youth, inter-faith, and cultural ties and working to re-establish Indonesian Studies as a force in Australian schools; it disappoints him that, despite population growth, it has no more presence here now than it did in the 1970s – in fact, maybe even less.

While many Australians are active in trying to enhance this most important regional relationship, Professor Lindsey thinks the problem is scale.

‘There’s a lot of really good work being done, but we’re talking about a country of 270 million or thereabouts, and to have an impact requires a huge level of expenditure. None of our great programs are really big enough to have a significant impact. They're excellent, but drops in the ocean.’ 

Australia, Professor Lindsey laments, has a blind spot about the importance of Indonesia to its future. 

‘Can anyone get their head around what this region is going to be like when Indonesia is one of the top five economies?’ he says. ‘By 2030 its economy will be bigger than the UK or Germany; imagine if you’ve got that absolutely right next door. It will completely transform everything.’

Find old friends and stay in touch with the College community through My Trinity Connect.


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).

28 Aug 2017
Category: People