Bali’s Australian expatriates are outraged. At terrorists for bombing their beloved adopted island. At Jakarta for letting it happens. And at Canberra for insisting they come home.
“It’s criminal neglect,” says Made Wijaya, a former Sydneysider called Michael White who has lived in Sanur and Ubud for 30 years.
“We are very, very angry.” Wijaya’s use of the world neglect is directed at Indonesia’s central Government, which he says takes Bali’s votes and money for granted. And his use of “we” is revealing. He’s referring to his fellow Balinese, more than Australians. It shows how Balinese he has become.
Bali has always had an allure for Australians. In the 1950s and ‘60s, when Australia was a stiff Anglocentric if not philistine outpast in the South Pacific, Bali was a retreat for eccentries such as the gay artist Donald Friend. In the ’70s, it was the arty hippy trailers, led by people such as Brett Whitely. Then the mass tourism arrived in the ‘80s, making Bali cheaper than the Gold Coast for a holiday. Redgum’s cynical 1984 hit I’ve Been to Bali Too said it all. Still, about 5000 Australians call Bali home. It’s become Australia’s exotic northern state, with Kuta its capital, sumptuous Sanur its Sydney and the arty centre of Ubud its Byron Bay.
To call Wijaya a magazine publisher would be to deny his skills as a resort designer would be to overlook his skills as a culture critic. And party planner. And Balinese scholar.
And to call him Made Wijaya would be to ignore the fact that he’s actually a Sydneysider who arrived in Bali on a yacht in 1973 – “We had to swim ashore in those days” – got a job as tennis pro at Bali’s first international hotel and has lived, loved and prospered on the “island of the Gods” ever since.
James Murdoch is another from Sydney who made a home on Bali 30 years ago and also decided to stay.
From his tranquil estate high above Bali’s sacred Ayung River, outside the Bohemian colony of Ubud and an hour from the Kuta hubbub, Murdoch manages an international arts consultancy.
Music consultant to the Australia Council during the heady Whitelam ‘70s, when he’s not advising governments from Europe to Australia on arts polices, aesthete Murdoch writes books about friends such as famous French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson and writer Colin McPhee. He has just completed a biography of the Australian composer, critic and feminist Peggy Glanvile-Hicks.
His study in Ubud groans under a lifetime of collecting. Murdoch’s archive is so important to the development of Australian music and arts that his papers have been bought by the National Library of Australia as a national treasure.
Wijaya and Murdoch are the antithesis of the popular image of boozy, druggie, surfie party-animals in Australia’s favourite holiday destination. Murdoch hasn’t been in a nightclub like the Sari Club for 30 years. Wijaya designs $1000-a-night resorts patronized by Mick and Jerry, kings, queens and princesses. “I know lots of queens,” he winks.
There are 5000-old permanent Australian residents in Bali. Some run restaurants, cooking schools or surf shops; others export clothing and bric-a-brac.
Two of the better known expatriates, Wijaya and Murdoch insist they remain proudly Australian but equally, and without contradiction, are also Balinese patriots weeping for their adopted home after last week’s bombings.
“This place has been dealt s very severe blow,” says Murdoch, ” but I never cease to be amazed by how extraordinarily resilient this culture is. It won’t just survive it, it will prosper out of this and Australians will be very welcome and very, very safe.”
Wijaya agrees. ”You can’t just wipe 70 years of intimate associations. Bali is our exotic little northern state. There’s Bali style and a funny hat in every suburban house in Australia.”
At times, Wijaya and Murdoch can be more ethnocentric about Bali then even the Balinese. Murdoch is one of the world’s leading authorities on Balinese and Hindu music, a man who even advises the Balinese on their own musical traditions.
Temple of mind: A Balinese dancer
It’s impossible to categorise Wijaya, which is precisely the way he likes it. He’s a little bit Barry Humphries, a little bit Robert Hughes and a little bit Leo Schofield, with a dash of Frank Thring and smidgen of Phillipe Starck. He’s also a shocking gossip with a wicked turn of phrase in English, Balinese or Bahasa – who’s at once thoughtlessly glib and deeply thoughtful. He’s the type of engaging dinner party guest who will make the meal memorable because he’s either captivated the table with tall stories of Bali’s beau monde or offended it with piercing home truths. Wijaya, “son of the ABC’s first male weather girl”, was a naughty boy when he was running around Sydney 30 years ago and he’s still one today, a self-styled Stranger in Paradise in Sanur.
With his intimate knowledge of the Balinese language, Wijaya tends to play cross-culture policeman. He writes a month column Stranger In Paradise: Diary of an Expatriate in Bali published in his own magazine Poleng, a kind of bitchy Hello and named for the black and-white checked skirt that covers the base of every Balinese temple.
When he’s not designing five-star hotels, contradictions are his literary stock in trade.
“The waiter in full Balinese costume who serves the average Aussie tourist her breakfast with the full supposedly Balinese servility thing is probably a Muslim blow-in from Sulawesi who got lucky with a job,” he says.
“But it works, and there’s nothing really wrong with that. The clueless Aussie goes back home to Perth or the Brisbane suburbs or wherever they’ve come from and tells his mates and family how lovely the Balinese are. And then they come next year.”
Talk like that could easily offend Balinese, Indonesians and Australians. But Wijaya gets away with that, in part because of his flamboyant high campery but because her knows his stuff and he’s famously the best foreign Balinese speaker on the island. At its root is a deep affection for Bali. “The Balinese always read what I write and I’m still getting the invitations,” he says.
Wijaya’s latest target is the massive Garuda Wisnu Kencana culture park, Bali’s Mt Rushmore-Disneyland hybrid, taking shape at Uluwatu, in the island’s south. “GWK has added a new restaurant called De Memedi,” writes Wijaya. ‘Memedi in Balinese means to consort with demons. It’s an extremely spooky word, used only in black magic circles. When used for a restaurant next to a giant statue of Wisnu [ Bali’s water god and one of Hinduism’s holiest deities], is akin to opening an Exorcism Juice Bar inside the Sistine Chapel.
“I shudder to think what will follow last week’s outrage.”
Wijaya is also offended by a new restaurant called KuDeTa. The part Australian owned restaurant, one of Bali’s most expensive, is a word play that evokes the main tourist centre of Kuta, targets Bali’s fashionable Eurotrash subculture and, complains Wijaya, 1965’s “ year of living dangerously” coup d’etat that toppled Indonesia’s part-Balinese first president Sukarno.
Like his daughter, President Megawati Sukarnoputri, Bung Karno was much loved in Bali. The coup that ousted him led to as many as 500,000 Balinese massacred by Suharto’s goons in the purges and programs that followed. Its memory is seared into the Balinese psyche on an island the tourist brochures would have travelers believe is renowned for its peacefulness.
“There’s no stopping the juggernaut of tacky mass tourism and its effect on modern Bali,” he says. “Old architectural trends and time-honoured values are being replaced by international commercial hogswallop.
“But Bali is reeling today. Is it paradise lost or will the forces of light preserve the words’s most gorgeous culture?”