Who Weekly Australia, October 1999


Made in Bali
He was born Michael but the Balinese know him as Made Wijaya, the Australian behind the lush gardens of the island paradise’s luxury hotels

Photography by Andy Baker

"Bali is a very fertile place where everyone has a very fertile imagination," says Made Wijaya (with onlookers in friend Wendy Whiteley's Sydney garden)

A young Wijaya in Bali

Made Wijaya runs a freckled hand through ginger hair and lets out a laugh that rubles like a tropical thunderstorm, having just confessed that he once wanted to be a legong dancer. A man with the build of a retired footballer performing a role usually taken by elegant and tiny Balinese women is an image as incongruous as a redhead with an Indonesian name. Wijaya likes both jokes. “Theatrical nature,” he shrugs, ”is my middle name.”
In truth, his middle name is Richard. Michael Richard White, a Bondi-born 46-year-old, adopted Bali as his home more than 20 years ago and conjured a career by letting his sense of drama blossom and grows. The young drifter who odd-jobbed and coached tennis in the drop-out haven that was Bali in the mid-‘70s fluked a job as a hotel-garden designer.

“It happened by chance, but it was a calling,” he says, “shaping nature into art, ordering the jungle.”

More than 400 gardens later, Wijaya is a world-renowned tropical garden designer whose company, P.T. Wijaya Tribwana International, has a 500-strong team of artisans and “garden commandos,” as he calls them. He travels between his Bali base and Singapore, Malaysia, Hawaii, Australia and California to weave his magic. Images and descriptions of the dreamy results are collected in his new coffee-table book, Tropical Garden Design.
Wijaya conceived the gardens of some of the palace-of-indolence hotels that Bali Hyatt in Sanur, the Amandari in Ubud and the Four Season Resort Jimbaran Bay, all in Bali. He has even been celebrated as “the man who invented Bali” by The Australian Gardener magazine. While that’s a little overblown, it is true that Wijaya’s garden design for the Hyatt in 1980 was so successful in capturing our fantasies of tropical paradise that it seeded a whole new Bali – one where luxury resorts are surrounded by lush gardens and ponds of lilies and lotus.

“People who live in the tropics are less enamored of leafy fecundity,” explains Wijaya, who has made his home – a mini village of courtyard gardens, ponds and open-air pavilions called Villa Bebek – in Sanur.

Back in his youth in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, Michael pored over The Guinness Book of Records, thrilled to the adventures of Ulysses and was so good at tennis that “he could have played Davis Cup,” recalls his mother, Mavis (who still calls him Michael). It’s her love of gardening that Wijaya cites as his inspiration. He says he got his deep broadcaster’s voice from his father, Dick, a TV meteorologist who came from a long line of Lancashire vaudevillians and theatrical entrepreneurs. A scholarship to Sydney’s upper-crust Cranbrook school exposed Michael to the arts and “I stopped having aspirations of being a professional tennis player. “After dabbling in architecture study and coasting for a few years after school, he sailed to Bali and found his true home. “ Bali is the most theatrical place,” says Wijaya, who is single. “It’s not just the costumes, the offerings, the processions.”

His oldest friend, Carol Muller-an anthropologist, interior designer and fellow Bali-phile – says the Balinese acceptance of eccentricity is also a good fit for Wijaya, “one of the most extraordinary people I’ve ever met.” And in the absence of doing the legong dance, he’s found the perfect outlet for his “theatrical nature” in his swaying palms and flamboyant flowers.

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PT. Wijaya Tribwana International
Jln. Pengembak No.9B Mertasari, Sanur 80228, Bali - Indonesia. Ph: (62-361) 287668, Fax: (62-361) 286731
Email: ptwijaya@indo.net.id

Copyright 2010 PT. Wijaya Tribwana Internationa