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Linda in a canoe with a fisherman and his catch, Porara Swamp

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Porara Swamp and limestone cliff

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Rawa Kehidupan movie cover

In 2011 while an Australian Youth Ambassador for Development (AYAD) volunteer, my daughter Linda McRae visited the village of Tapanggaya in Konawe Utara, Sulawesi. The destruction of this community’s fresh water, fishing and fertile land as a result of nickel mining shocked her. While visiting the nearby villages of Linomoyo and Bendewuta she heard of a proposal for mining the limestone cliffs that edge the nearby Porara swamp, their main source of income and food. She could not stand by and allow a similar event to happen in this healthy and relatively prosperous community so she started a project: creating a movie to educate the villagers on the need to retain their land.

On 27 January 2012, before the movie could be finished, Linda died from a brain tumor.

I went to Indonesia in June 2012 to retrace a little of Linda’s path in the country by visiting some of the places and people she knew in Sulawesi, and helping her non-government organisation LePMIL (The Institute for Coastal and Hinterland Community Development) finish her project.

The movie Rawa Kehidupan (Swamp Life) has been created as Linda envisaged it; a story of the fishermen of Linomoyo and Bendewuta and their reliance on the freshwater fish of Porara Swamp to provide food and economic prosperity for them and their families. Linda wanted to show the villagers their own story to prevent them selling land for mining or other development, such as palm plantations, that may threaten the swamp’s future.

In August I visited Bendewuta and Linomoyo with LePMIL staff for the screening of Rawa Kehidupan, which inspired a discussion about sustainability of the fishing industry and economic prosperity for the area. Sumardin, Kepala Desa (Village Headman) of Bendewuta, is aware of the appeal of short term wealth over long term sustainability. Thanks to Linda’s movie the villagers are also alert to the issues. I am confident that with Sumardin’s strong leadership and advocacy for the village with local government, longterm protection of the swamp is now assured.

When the movie was screened in Kendari for the local film industry and NGOs, most feedback suggested adding to the movie to tell the story of the ecosystem; how the swamp, forest and mountains are integral and essential parts of the whole. Yasril (LePMIL’s Director) and I believe the movie has achieved what Linda wanted, but has the potential to do far more than just educate local villagers. With research and more filming, it could become the story of an ecosystem, to be used as part of an environmental campaign, regionally and nationally; perhaps even internationally. So Linda’s legacy to LePMIL could become an important item in the Indonesian armoury of environmental tools and also encourage collaboration between local NGOs.

$800.00 remains of the $4,000 total donated to Linda McRae Dreaming, including $500 from the generosity of Earth Garden magazine. We have been waiting for other money that Linda had in her Indonesian bank account under the name of a trusted friend. Unfortunately it seems her trust was misplaced. As a result we are currently unable to replace LePMIL’s old and unreliable movie camera with a more up-to-date model to go with the Apple computer and Final Cut software purchased by Austraining. However Yasril plans to write a proposal to attract funding that will ensure research and filming will go ahead.

Linda made 2 trips to Linomoyo and Bendewuta, staying only10 days in all, but she made such a strong impression that she had many close friends; all were shocked and saddened to hear of her sudden death. Sumardin still has the measuring stick, used by Linda and the LePMIL crew to measure water levels for a potential hydro project, which Linda asked him to look after till she returned.

Ekeng, LePMIL’s movie director, asked his friend Risa for help with Linda’s memorial movie. After looking at the material, Risa chose “Another Day” by Dream Theater as the background music to inspire others to fulfil Linda’s dreams. Lack of a translator has caused delay in completion of this second story.

The Community leader of Bendewuta, Mr Taufik, challenged me to learn Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian) so I can return to talk with the community. I hope I can achieve a reasonable standard in the language so I can do that; also assist LePMIL staff to learn Bahasa Inggris (English) and develop Rawa Kehidupan to it’s full potential. Another project that is important to me is having Linda’s thesis, Resistance, questions of governance and development in an East Javanese forest community (2009), available in English and Indonesian on LePMIL’s website.

In these ways I can be sure that Linda’s name will not be forgotten in the country she embraced as her second home.

Jo McRae

To donate to the Linda McRae Dreaming Fund
see Heaven Address http://www.heavenaddress.com.
All donations will be used to benefit the environment of S. E. Sulawesi.

Attached photos: