Bold first steps for PAIR research leaders

Countless movies have depicted a crack team gathering to plan how to overcome an enormous and complex challenge. Seven Samurai. Lord of the Rings. Oceans 8. Picture your favourite.

This was the feeling in the room at last week’s first meeting of 11 researchers brought together to solve a challenge that none of them, nor any one expert, could handle alone.

The 11 newly appointed Senior Fellows of the Australia-Indonesia Centre convened in Melbourne for their induction into the Partnership for Australia-Indonesia Research (PAIR), a program they will lead until the end of 2022.

Each from a different university and area of expertise, the team has been selected to solve complex development challenges in South Sulawesi – this project commencing just as the first stage of the province’s historic first train line is being completed. The team will also extend and strengthen people-to-people links between Australia and Indonesia, both personally and through their leadership, and, by conducting PAIR, develop a proof of concept for the AIC’s new research model that PAIR will follow.

At the Induction, the team bonded, learned about each others’ strengths and experience, set goals together and began to shape the way in which they will function as a team over the next three years.


“Very importantly,” reflected Professor Siti Malkhamah from Universitas Gadjah Mada, “and something that is rarely done in Indonesia: we studied how to build a team and understand each other better, [which I found] very impressive.”

Facilitated by PAIR Team Capability Coordinator Dr Martijn van der Kamp, the discussion ranged from individuals’ research interests and a program risk assessment, to preferred messaging apps and what the team’s culture could look like.

“We are bold in our aspirations!” proclaimed Dr van der Kamp, echoing the team’s mantra for the three-day workshop. “It is great to work with this inspiring group and am looking forward to facilitating the team on their journey!”

PAIR Senior Fellow induction - September 2019


The broad aim of PAIR is to improve the lives of local communities in the wake of changes, brought about by the new Makassar-Parepare train line.

Dr Sudirman Nasir, the Senior Fellow representing Makassar’s own Universitas Hasanuddin, compared the significance of this infrastructure to the first train to cross the United States in 1869. He highlighted that along with progress, this brought many negative impacts for locals, including accelerated land dispossession for First Nations people.

PAIR research is place-based, demand-driven, and interdisciplinary. The place is South Sulawesi, and though some direction and goals are already taking shape, the particular demands to be tackled and the process for synergising between four research focus areas are still to be set. One source of guidance here came in an inspiring presentation by Professor Tony Wong, Chief Executive Officer of Water Sensitive Cities.

Professor Wong told the story of this $120-million interdisciplinary initiative. He shared insights on working across more than a dozen disciplines, with over 80 partners around the world, coordinating a broad interdisciplinary dialogue, building business cases to convert outputs into outcomes, and other challenges. His key tips for the nascent PAIR collaboration were on the importance of a shared set of values between all collaborators and stakeholders, and the need for all researchers to take a sincere interest in each others’ fields, or to be ‘T-shaped researchers’ – with great disciplinary depth in one place but some understanding of a wide range of fields.


The ‘Fellowship of the 11,’ as one Senior Fellow described the group, is forged and ready to set forth. “They were a group and now they’re a team,” reflects Dr Martijn van der Kamp.

(Thankfully, a smooth and jovial Induction workshop tells us that this epic journey will avoid the heartache and treachery that we know [and love] from epic team journeys on film.)

This journey will form the continuation of each of their distinguished research histories as well as the culmination of the AIC’s first four years of learning to coordinate collaborative bilateral research.

The Senior Fellows will next come together in Makassar in October when they will travel along the Makassar-Parepare train line, opening a dialogue with community, government and industry stakeholders, and starting to formulate research questions.

We wish them well, and look forward to witnessing and sharing how they take on this challenge.

Read about PAIR Workshop #2 in Makassar

Read more about the PAIR program