Meet the Intern – Iven Manning

We consider ourselves lucky to have the pleasure of collaborating with and working alongside such talented and dynamic interns at the Centre for Stories. Over the course of 2019, a number of interns made their mark at the Centre in some way—so let’s celebrate them!

Meet Iven Manning.

Don’t let Iven’s fun button-down shirt and wild-child moustache fool you, he’s a hard worker with a multitude of high achievements—and frankly, we don’t know how we scored such a good intern. Throughout his time with us, Iven worked closely with the Centre’s Arts Director, Robert Wood, on a series of projects. Like many of our interns, Iven has gone above and beyond to support the Centre, and his work has had a great influence on our focus. The least we can do is share a little about him.


Tell the readers about yourself.

I’m a 28-year old unemployed student who has just completed an arts degree. Reaching such dizzying heights of human performance entails a not-insignificant journey. Growing up in Albany, postponing adulthood in Melbourne, thriving like a tropical plant in Indonesia and now existing in Fremantle/Walyalup, I have been a butcher’s assistant, sports shoe salesman, cadet journalist, grocer, Coles shelf-stacker, baker, scaffolder, farmhand and lighting technician, roughly in that order. Interning with the Centre for Stories represents the latest panel on the motley tapestry of my life.

In your time interning at the Centre for Stories you’ve been working on a project with Robbie (AKA Dr Bobert) Wood. Tell us about this work and what has surprised you.

Robbie (AKA Wood Panelling) and I have been working on a couple of Indonesia-related projects. The first is a series of interviews entitled Bincang Buku (talking books), where we chat to Indonesian writers both emerging and established, hailing from Aceh to Timor and everywhere in between. The second project is an event called Spotlight in Indonesia, a collaboration with PEN Perth, which will feature readings of Indonesian literature, discussions with people of Indonesian background and Indonesian food.

It is accepted fact among those with an interest in Australia-Indonesia relations that the two countries don’t know each other like they should. Lately, I’ve been thinking this is at least partly because of a fundamental inability to tell each other our stories. The aim of these projects is to lean over the neighbour’s fence, to encourage a little sharing, to start or progress the conversations that will hopefully one day contribute to better rapport, understanding and friendship between Australians and Indonesians. The fact that here at the Centre we are closer to Timor, Flores and Sumba than we are to Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane both deserves and demands this.

What has surprised me about this work so far is how energising and inspiring it is to come into the Centre every Friday to throw around ideas and talk about life with Robbie, Caroline and whoever else might be passing through on a given day. Intellectually, I get an incredible amount of it and oftentimes when I get home I am humming with energy. Robbie has a great ability to coherently frame ideas and intuitions which orbit your mind but remain frustratingly abstract. He’s also a good and generous person, and I like the way he sees the world. I think that’s what makes the Centre such a great environment to be in – genuine, thoughtful and funny people who make you feel part of a family. Yeah, I’ve drunk deeply of the Kool Aid.

A young man wearing a dazzling shirt and a strong mo smiling at the camera.

You have spent some time in Indonesia and studied the language (and speak it fluently!). Tell us what draws you to the region? 

The first time I experienced Indonesia was in 2013 as a roadie for my friends’ punk band. This was long before I began studying Indonesian and I knew so little about Asia on that trip that I asked someone in Singapore if they spoke “Singaporese”. So, when the band played a wild, sweaty show in Lhokseumauwe, Aceh and were treated to an unbelievably raucous reception from the local kids, I had no idea that this was the very same province where punk kids have been rounded up, shaved, degraded and “re-educated” on religious grounds, simply for their choice of self-expression. It certainly makes me reflect on that show in a different light and, in one way, it accounts for the raw energy and vibrancy in the room. I digress, but the point is that tour played its part in sowing seeds of curiosity and affection for Indonesia which took years to germinate, but prospered once they did.

I’ve always been drawn to Asia but when I began to study Indonesian language and culture, I think it marked the start of a shift from a superficial, transactional relationship with the region, to one increasingly informed by curiosity and affection and, in time, love. However, working out and expressing the ‘why’ of these feelings is more challenging, and I think there is a danger of straying into stereotype and exocitization when talking about South-East Asia. In my limited experience, Indonesia makes a mockery of such lazy generalisations, given the hundreds of ethnic groups, cultures, belief systems and languages scattered across its 17,000+ islands. I think this diversity is part of what draws me to Indonesia – it has the depth of oceans – but it’s also about the many personal connections I’ve been lucky to experience there, which transcend identity and speak instead to a shared humanity. For me, that is the point of learning the language – it opens up whole new worlds to you, and you to them.

Why did you decide to intern at the Centre for Stories, and was it what you expected?

I first became aware of the Centre for Stories in 2017 when it published a series by Agustinus Wibowo, an Indonesian writer, and then when I moved back to Perth in 2018, someone close to me suggested I apply for an internship. I had admired the Centre afar for its mission and vision without knowing a great deal about the programs, projects and events of which its important work is comprised. I have enjoyed learning more about the power of storytelling, which I guess I expected to be the case. One particular moment was hearing Caroline share a story from the Roaring Nineties series as part of a presentation in the city one day after work. It was the story of Michael, a migrant of Greek heritage who fought for Australia in World War II, carrying with him a cross wrought from silver that his mother collected from all the people in their village back in Greece. It was incredibly moving. I’d encourage readers to seek this story out on the Centre for Stories website to hear the whole tale, I can’t do it justice.

However, as I mentioned earlier, I didn’t expect to encounter so many new and great ideas here at the Centre, and nor did I expect to make new and great friends.

We love a good story. Tell us a short story about a time when you encountered something remarkable.

This one is called ‘Encounters with a Javanese Ghost’.

It was a dark and stor

 

I moved into a new place in the south of Jogjakarta around six months into my stint in Indonesia. Located in an old neighbourhood close to the Sultan’s palace, the former hostel turned share house was only sporadically occupied by other foreign tenants, and I found myself the sole occupant for the first few weeks. On the first night, I woke up around 3, 4am to the sound of something moving in the tiled hallway which spanned the length of the house, knocking cupboards. Roused from sleepiness, I got up, opened the door and went out into the hallway, where I initially saw nothing of note. All the shutters and doors to the other rooms and outside were shut and locked. Then I noticed the home phone on top of a cabinet was no longer on top of its cabinet, but hanging down from its cradle towards. I approached and thought, this is like a horror movie – I’m going to put that phone to my ear and “7 days…”

But there was only the tone of the disconnected line. I went down the hall to the door leading to the two outside bathrooms, opened it and checked for any sign of an intruder, animal or otherwise. Then I heard movement in the hallway again, and a knot of fear coiled in my stomach. But when I looked, once again, there was no sign of the source. Back in my room, doors checked and locked, it took me some time to get back to sleep as I lay in the dark, breathing quietly, listening.

After a number of nights of sound sleep without incident, I woke once again in the early hours go to the toilet. Upon entering the hallway, I saw two things. The first was that all three doors out of the house were open. The second was my wallet on the floor in the middle of the hallway. I know I had left at least one door open when I went to bed, but I was certain that I hadn’t unlocked all three, and I was also certain that I hadn’t left my wallet in such a strange spot. I’m a forgetful person, so I couldn’t be sure, but in light of the previous hallway incident the whole situation felt odd.

The responses of my local friends and acquaintances to these occurrences provided both great mirth and insight. Without exception and with absolute certainty they felt I had a ghost for a housemate. Some felt spooked and saw the presence as malevolent, while some were completely blasé, asserting confidently that it was just curious and that I merely needed to introduce myself before going about my business. So this is what I did. Conjuring up my politest High Javanese, I stood and spoke my introduction to the empty hallway, stating that I meant no harm and just wanted to share the space.

From that point on, nothing else happened. However, when I told this story to one of my Australian friends, she lit up with excitement and told me “my friend Eddie used to live in that house and he had the same thing happen to him!”. She told me Eddie was sensitive to ghosts and the like, and that he had even seen something in the house. But the strangest thing was, Eddie felt the ghost had disturbed or tampered with some money he had in his room. My skin prickled as I thought about my wallet sitting in the middle of the hallway.

The majority of Indonesians are deeply religious and spiritual people and, as such, the supernatural is accepted far more widely and openly there than it is here, in an increasingly secular Western society which tends to be skeptical and even scornful of such matters. In Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, he poses the idea that the presence and power of the supernatural depends on the strength of people’s convictions, which act as their existential fuel. In a place like Indonesia, the environmental conditions for the spiritual and supernatural are fertile, which could explain why most Indonesians seem to have stories like mine. And that wasn’t the last time I had such an encounter – but that’s a story for another day.

What’s on the horizon for you?

For most of July I’m doing an English language teaching accreditation course which going forward will hopefully keep me afloat while I’m doing other cool stuff that capitalism doesn’t support. That includes, but is not limited to; studying Tetum, the language of Timor-Leste; brushing up on my Javanese and Indonesian, translating some literary works from West Timor, learning more about East Indonesian ikat textiles, collecting the stories of Indonesians living here in WA, bushwalking, learning how to play my Korg minilogue synthesizer properly, reading many books, watching the Ashes, getting it together in a general life sense, and continuing to work with the Centre for Stories to celebrate the art and craft of storytelling in the beautiful communities of Perth, Western Australia, the Indian Ocean and the Asia-Pacific region – if you’ll have me <3

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