In a country ruled by soccer and badminton, an Aussie rules football club has quietly been operating for nearly 30 years now.
For the last 27 years, the Jakarta Bintangs have been organising games of Aussie rules football in Indonesia for both locals and homesick expats alike. What once started as a group of Australian’s bonding over AFL games has now turned into a fully fledged team which travels throughout Indonesia and Southeast Asia to play other clubs. They train fortnightly, and their playing group is made up of Australians, Americans, Indonesians, and even some European expats.
They create scenes in Indonesia which are common throughout Australia during footy season: a group of players, matching guernseys, practising handballs, kicking the footy and running drills to train for an upcoming game. However, what makes their training sessions a little different is that they take place in Jakarta – the capital city of Indonesia. The overbearing Indonesian humidity, the Jakartan smog and the language barrier between the locals and expats are all just another hurdle the Bintangs have skillfully navigated throughout their club’s history.
In a country with no Aussie rules infrastructure, the club have been making do with bamboo posts for goals and plenty of the namesake beer to keep the foreign players hydrated throughout the season. Often training at soccer or hockey grounds, they’ll turn the net into the standard goalposts Australians across the country take for granted when going for a kick.
The last few years have seen the Bintangs’ turn from a majority expat club into having Indonesian players outnumber the westerners. Ben Giles, Club President of the Bintangs, says a big part of this has come from the junior development the club has invested in over the last few years.
Giles is proud of the Bintangs’ junior development program, which the club started 15 years ago. They work closely with an orphanage called Mamasayan, located just outside of Jakarta, and give young kids a chance to learn a new sport while joining a close-knit community.
“We’ve developed some great footballers. I think the club can be very proud that we’ve also developed some very strong young men and young women as well,” says Giles.
“There wasn’t a lot of opportunity for these kids to get out and play sport.”
One of these players is Micheal Latupeirissa, who worked his way up the club to become the director of development at the Bintangs. He’s now spent 12 years with the club.
Before joining the Bintangs, Latupeirissa had never seen an Aussie rules football game, let alone understood how it was played. In Indonesia, the most popular sports are soccer and Badminton. But compared to those sports, it was the tackling aspect that got him hooked.
“I really love the midfield, because there is a lot of body contact,” he says.
Tackling is also Alvina Sianturi’s favourite part of the game. She’s the women's co-captain, and has been with the club for five years now. But for her it’s not only the tackling that she loves, but the community surrounding the club.
She and the Bintangs welcome everyone to come and play, and “it’s not boring,” Sianutri says.
“We have a great community, and we have great support,” she adds with a smile.
The Indonesian players that have joined the club and developed a passion for Aussie rules, are what stand out most to Club President Giles.
“There’s a rich fabric in this club, there really is,” he says.
Kalen Iselt is the captain of the men’s team and admits there are challenges playing Aussie rules in Indonesia. He says the heat is the first thing a player needs to adjust to, before then adjusting to the hybrid footy they play. But he says once that hurdle is crossed, the Bintangs provide a really good outlet for when an Aussie misses kicking a footy around with likeminded people.
Iselt is also proud of how many Indonesians are involved with the club. He says seeing them grow a genuine passion for an unfamiliar game is incredibly rewarding.
“Without them, to be honest, the club would be in a lot worse place,” he says.
Giles says while the game is still viewed as an oddity within Indonesia, locals look on with amazement as they watch the Bintangs run around with a sherrin and tackle each other. He says they’ve adapted the game to suit their conditions (i.e lack of goalposts), but that hasn’t stopped new recruits – both local and international – from signing up.
“It’s a game that creates a bit of wonder, like ‘what are these people doing? – let me try that…,’” he says.
The AFL provides some help to the Bintangs through its AFL Asia initiative, supporting 20 clubs throughout the region. But Giles and Iselt say they are mainly left up to their own devices when promoting the game. In the future, Giles wishes to formalise AFL Indonesia and become a recognised sport within the country.
Currently there are four Aussie rules clubs in the country, with the Bintangs being the oldest. There’s also the Bali Geckos, the Borneo Bears and the Batam Bats. All frequently play each other, but Giles says once the sport becomes formally recognised within Indonesia it will be easy for the Bintangs and other clubs to receive some much needed funding and sponsorship.
However, until then, the Bintangs will keep welcoming new players, and promoting Australia’s much loved sport in its closest neighbour and abroad.