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A lesson from Indonesia: You never know

Back in the Stone(d) Age - actually 1957 - I took over from Ian Stewart, who has just died, as AAP-Reuter correspondent in Djakarta, then a chaotic and sometimes dangerous city striving to stay capital of divided Indonesia, that ramshackle, beautiful nation. The story seemed low-key, obscure wrangling among the leadership.

"It looks to stay quiet," he said at a farewell before flying out. “But you never know."

A few weeks later, knowledge came like a nuclear blast. "Brothers and sisters," declaimed fiery nationalist President Sukarno, repeatedly announcing a series of mainly-disastrous campaigns, including "the year of living dangerously”.

Under martial law, the army seized the property of all Dutch residents and expelled them by the tens of thousands, collapsing the economy. A civil war flared as outer islands rebelled against control from Java. Then came a major crackdown on influential Chinese traders, angering Peking which flew to the defence of these embattled true-blue capitalists in a show of racial solidarity. Sukarno, a superb orator, did succeed ultimately in a barnstorming drive to get control of Dutch-held West New Guinea.

Stewart and I never crossed paths again but his "you never know" axiom became a career-long watchword for me. ■