A passion for the bilateral relationship. Remembering Harold Mitchell AC and his work in bringing together the people and cultures of Australia and Indonesia

When Mahendra Siregar, former deputy chair of AIC, reflects on the life of Harold Mitchell AC, he thinks of a decisive leader and a clear thinker.

“I will sorely miss Harold, his sharpness, critical thinking, swift decisions and great wisdom,” said the former Indonesian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and now Chair of Indonesia’s Financial Services Authority.

“In his work, he was instrumental in transforming AIC as an organisation that truly reflected and fostered ever closer relations between our two nations.

“I considered Harold to be a very close friend and he showed so much concern towards Indonesia, always finding ways and means to promote the lives of Indonesians.”

Tributes flow

Other tributes have flowed since Harold Mitchell’s recent and sudden passing.

Aside from his outstanding business career and his philanthropy, Harold Mitchell was the chair of the Australia-Indonesia Centre, a role from which he clearly derived great joy.

The Australian Ambassador to Indonesia Penny Williams said Harold Mitchell brought “a very practical sense” to getting things done and forging relationships.

“He had a genuine love for Indonesia and a genuine commitment to the relationship and he really brought that through. The energy and passion for the relationship really came through in everything,” Ambassador Williams said.

“Personally, he’s been incredibly kind to me for the three years that I’ve been ambassador here, very generous in reaching out, very generous in giving time to me, sort of touching base with me, seeing what I think.”

She said Harold Mitchell made sure the centre’s impact went beyond Jakarta to the province of Sulawesi.

“I think that’s something that’s really important and quite difficult to do, that he’s been able to see things beyond the sort of Jakarta and really push out into regions,” she said.

AIC board member and former trade minister for Indonesia, Dr Mari Pangestu, spoke of Harold Mitchell’s “energy and interest in everything that we did”.

“What I liked about Harold was that he was practical. Even though we were talking about so many ideas, he would always try to bring us down to earth, saying, ‘okay, what can we do here really’?”


People gathered for a video meeting
Board members of the Australia-Indonesia Centre remembered the late Harold Mitchell during their meeting this week. Credit: AIC


Executive director of the Australia-Indonesia Centre, Eugene Sebastian, said Harold Mitchell’s influence was both professional and personal.

“His immense energy and advocacy for the bilateral relationship and his genuine desire to foster stronger connections between our countries have been invaluable,” Dr Sebastian said.

“Harold was not only an advocate in words but also in actions.”

Dr Sebastian noted how Harold Mitchell had “tirelessly promoted” the bilateral relationship, including his advocacy to ministers and senior government leaders and in the media.

“He also made sure that our board meetings took place in various locations across Indonesia,” he said, an effort which strengthened links with local leaders and universities.

“Harold always had our backs, pushing us to do better,” Dr Sebastian said.

“We will miss Harold. We will miss his positive attitude. We will miss his encouraging words and always, always reminding us that our work mattered,” Dr Sebastian said.

“And of course, we’ll miss Harold’s passionate hate for Zoom meetings. So while we miss Harold, his legacy will be remembered.”

Getting things done

Inaugural director of the AIC, Paul Ramadge, said to be with Harold “was to be tutored in how to get things done” and that he came with an endearing mixture of business nous and a genuine affection for the Indonesian people.

“Harold Mitchell played a significant role in shaping the centre’s impact, winning respect at the highest levels in Indonesia and keeping decision-makers in Canberra briefed and on-side,” Ramadge said.

“I know that many well-known Indonesians will reflect positively about Harold’s outstanding contribution to strengthen the Australia-Indonesia relationship.”

Ramadge said there were “many wonderful stories” about how Harold embraced Indonesians.

“I remember when he invited the Sultan of Yogyakarta to Melbourne to attend a performance of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra at Hamer Hall,” he said.

“The fact that the Sultan came, bearing gifts and goodwill, was due to Harold’s genuine warmth and belief in making positive change. He was one of a kind. A force for good.”

The rector of Universitas Hasanuddin, Professor Jamaluddin Jompa, said Harold Mitchell’s “energy, wisdom and not to forget his sense of humour were contagious and enriching”.

“He visited us at Unhas a few times and we are very grateful for that. In our meetings Harold often emphasised the strategic role of academia and universities in strengthening Indonesia-Australia relationship,” Prof. Jompa said.

Professor Abid Khan, the former Deputy Vice-Chancellor Global Engagement at Monash, remembered that as the inaugural and continual chair of the AIC, Harold Mitchell worked hard to emphasise the importance of a “diverse, knowledge-led relationship between Australia and Indonesia”.

Professor Khan also noted that it was Harold Mitchell’s drive that ensured many board meetings were held outside Australia.

“[In that way] Harold helped the AIC members learn more about each other’s countries and their people,” Professor Khan said.

AIC Indonesia director Kevin Evans said Mitchell was passionate that more Australians should know more about Indonesia.

“He was always proud that his own children studied Indonesian,” Evans reflects.

“Harold also believed that our countries should be much more active in trade, investment and wider commercial partnerships.”

Two men shaking hands and holding a certificate
The late Harold Mitchell (right) pictured with the Sultan of Yogyakarta Sultanate, Sri Sultan Hamengkubawono X. Credit: AIC


Mitchell was never shy in sharing his thoughts.

“One point with Harold is that you always knew his mind. He spoke directly, especially on a one-on-one basis,” Evans said.

“I recall my very first meeting with him. The advice I was given in speaking with him was to also be direct.

“I recall countering one of his clearly well held positions. To his credit he happily accepted the views of this upstart and we grew to have a great range of exchanges over the following years.”

Mitchell believed in confronting difficult issues, for example in sharing key findings from a report into the attitudes and perceptions of Australians and Indonesians towards one another.

According to the AIC’S chief operating officer, Helen-Fletcher Kennedy, Harold Mitchell was naturally astute and curious and an energetic chair of the board.

“He connected with Indonesia early on, he understood this was a huge country right next door and one with which we had to strengthen ties,” Fletcher-Kennedy said.

He was also a ‘people person’.

“One thing we loved about Harold was he understood that any organisation is made up of people — it was typical that he kept on his staff during COVID-19 — and he made time to get to know you.

For Evans, it was this ‘people’ element that made Mitchell a natural fit for Indonesia.

“As has been the experience of so many people, Harold saw the people of Indonesia as warm and optimistic,” he said.

“He also believed that, together with these characteristics, the relative youth of the Indonesia population was a great asset to the nation.”

A love of culture

Evans recalls Mitchell’s love of culture and the arts intersected with his passion for Indonesia, being pivotal in working with the AIC to introduce the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (MSO) with the Royal Yogyakarta Orchestra (RYO).

A key early milestone was the joint performance between Melbourne and Yogyakarta players in front of the majestic Prambanan Temple in 2017.

Andrew Parker, an AIC board member and the ASEAN senior trade and investment commissioner for Investment NSW, recalls Mitchell as “generous with his time” but also “had a wonderful sense of humour and a great talent for storytelling”.

“He was no stranger to adversity, both in his personal and professional life. Not one to take a backward step and occasionally undiplomatic, Harold always spoke with a smile and good intent,” Parker said.

Indonesia Eximbank co-founder and AIC board member, Felia Salim, said Harold Mitchell’s “kind and disarming presence” allowed him to easily develop relationships with Indonesians.

“He took the AIC board to Sulawesi and other parts of Indonesia to demonstrate that there is a lot more to Indonesia than meets the eye, not unlike Harold himself,” Salim said.

AIC board member Professor Mark Considine of the University of Melbourne said for someone with a powerful business background, Harold Mitchell was “genuinely curious and interested in the academic process”

“His habit of having short meetings was then complemented by having long discussions afterwards and invariably in my interactions with him there was a great curiosity and respect for the research process, but also to then use what he learned to weave back into the AIC story,” Prof. Considine said.

Managing director of Baldwin Boyle Group Indonesia, Daisy Primayanti, said Harold Mitchell’s “dedication and commitment” resonated notably among the Indonesian academic community and more specifically in east Indonesia where supported “pioneering research” in science, culture and education.

“His legacy embodies the spirit of cross-cultural collaboration, strengthening bonds and nurturing progress in both nations,” Primayanti said.

Senior vice president at Bukalapak, Stefanie Herlie, said even in her limited time as a board member of the AIC, Harold Mitchel had had an impact.

“He was a remarkable and inspiring leader, leaving an indelible mark on all of us who had the privilege to work alongside him,” Ms Herlie said.

“His presence will be sorely missed.”


Special tributes

Professor Dwia Aries Tina Pulubuhu, former rector of AIC partner Universitas Hasanuddin (Unhas)
I am tremendously saddened by the loss of Bapak Harold Mitchell. The memory of working with Pak Harold Mitchell in AIC was a great one for me. I pray for an eternity of happiness for him in the hand of God.

Professor Jamaluddin Jompa, rector Universitas Hasanuddin
Harold was a dear friend for us at Unhas and in Indonesia. He was a guiding force for the Australia-Indonesia Centre and an excellent advocate for the bilateral relationship and the partnership between universities from both countries. Harold was a great philanthropist and a warm human being, a true Australian. His energy, wisdom and not to forget his sense of humour were contagious and enriching. He visited us in Unhas a few times and we are very grateful for that. In our meetings Harold often emphasised the strategic role of academia and universities in strengthening Indonesia-Australia relationship.

Felia Salim, Indonesia Eximbank co-founder and AIC board member
Harold was a remarkable individual whose open, enthusiastic and down-to-earth nature left a mark on the Australia-Indonesia relationship. His kind and disarming presence allowed him to easily develop relationships with fellow Indonesians. I’ve had the privilege of witnessing Harold’s leadership firsthand. It was characterised by efficiency, ease and laser-like focus, which reflected his commitment to progress. As the AIC chair, it was notable that he’s always insisted in showcasing Indonesia in its entirety, beyond just Jakarta. He took the AIC board to Sulawesi and other parts of Indonesia to demonstrate that there is a lot more to Indonesia than meets the eye, not unlike Harold himself.
While we mourn the loss, we celebrate the enduring influence of Harold’s values and vision in bringing together Indonesians and Australians.

Daisy Primayanti, managing director Indonesia, Baldwin Boyle Group and board member of the AIC
Harold Mitchell leaves an indelible mark as the Australia-Indonesia Center (AIC) chair. His dedication and commitment resonated notably among the Indonesian academic community and more specifically in east Indonesia where he brought and enabled pioneering research in science, culture and education. His legacy embodies the spirit of cross-cultural collaboration, strengthening bonds and nurturing progress in both nations. In honouring Harold Mitchell, we celebrate a life dedicated to fostering bilateral relations and nurturing cultural understanding. I feel privileged to have served as a board member under his leadership.

Professor Abid Khan, former Deputy Vice-Chancellor Global Engagement at Monash
It was with the deepest sadness that I learned of Harold Mitchell’s recent passing. He was a friend, a colleague and a mentor to many of us in academia and my condolences go out to all those who knew and worked with him.

Alongside his many and well documented accomplishments, Harold was a particularly strong advocate for the building of closer academic ties between Australia and Indonesia. He was instrumental in initiating, exploring and supporting innovative forms of bilateral engagement, providing those around him with the courage to explore new ways to work across borders. To this he brought the maturity and insight to recognise that relationships will evolve and grow, that lessons will be learned through long-term dialogue, and that intercultural and intergenerational voices can help drive deeper understanding between nations.

Harold believed that working together was better than working alone, and he proved this with his actions and his open leadership style. His work and dedication are evidenced by a deep, broad and enduring relationship between Australia and Indonesia. Harold’s leadership and friendship will be sorely missed by us all.

Vishnu Shahaney, former president director at PT Bank ANZ Indonesia and former AIC board member
Harold Mitchell was a unique leader and a visionary who was strategically very sharp and clinically focused on outcomes. I had the pleasure of being on the board of the AIC which he chaired and saw first-hand his passion, commitment and importantly his belief that Australia and Indonesia had much to gain from being closer economic neighbours, not just geographic.

Ross Fitzgerald, CEO at Spectrum Venture Management
Harold was a great man. He was an inspiring example to all of us. He lives on in our hearts and he leaves a wonderful legacy. We were fortunate to have worked with him and to have shared so many fond memories with him. Thanks Harold.

Jennifer Howell, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Global Engagement)
Very sad news and I was shocked when I heard. His advocacy and support for the AIC was remarkable and I always enjoyed meeting with him and hearing his ideas. Condolences to all who are grieving him.

Allaster Cox, High Commissioner
I join others here in expressing sadness at the death of Harold Mitchell AC. He was always a great enthusiast for Australia-Indonesia relations – specifically for the AIC at Monash – a real loss.

Digital Communications Coordinator,
The Australia-Indonesia Centre

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