I should properly begin my narrative in 1728. This was the year in which a Dutch East India Company officer in Kupang first reported seeing Bajau Laut fishermen, with a fleet of some 40 small boats, gathering trepang on the south coast of the island of Rote. The date thus marks the beginning of recorded trepang fishing in the waters to the south of Timor. Within a few years voyages to Ashmore Reef were a yearly occurrence, and within a few decades Makassan voyages to ‘Marege’ were an established fixture off Australia's northern coast.
These voyages to Australia and in particular to the reefs situated between the mainland of Australia and the islands of Indonesia—numerous, various and for the most part undocumented—have persisted to the present day. They constitute some of the earliest, and still continuing, connections between Australia and Indonesia. Designated as ‘traditional’, these connections have never been properly explored or adequately understood by the policy makers who have shaped formal maritime relations between the two countries, yet they have influenced—and continue to influence—the contemporary conduct of the relationship. They thus provide a context for any discussion of the fashioning of the formal agreements between Australia and Indonesia that were initiated in the 1970s to define and distinguish legal from illegal Indonesian fishing in Australian waters. The early 1970s, it should be remembered, were a period of particular optimism and mutual goodwill in Australia–Indonesia relations. President Soeharto visited Australia in February 1972 and Prime Minister Gough Whitlam reciprocated with a visit to Indonesia in August 1974, where the two held important talks in Wonosobo. It was in this spirit of cooperation that various legal matters relating to Indonesian fishing were agreed upon.
Since this chapter deals with both legal and illegal fishing, it is essential to begin by defining the differences between these two activities in terms of the legislation and agreements between Indonesia and Australia that were initiated in the 1970s.
THE LEGAL CONTEXT FOR INDONESIAN FISHING
An outline of initial agreements
Seabed negotiations between Indonesia and Australia were begun in March 1970 and in just 15 months, in May 1971, seabed boundaries were agreed upon in the Arafura Sea and the eastern part of the Timor Sea.