Back to Bali, Bali High

March 7, 2009 at 2:18 pm 2 comments

mag1With the lead bombers executed, Australians are partying harder than ever in Kuta. But as well as hedonism, Stephen Fitzpatrick finds guilt, heroism, honour and tenderness twisted into the ties that bind Australia and its northern neighbour.
It must be the heat. I’m in jail, playing tennis under a blazing sun with a Bali bomber and several members of the Bali Nine heroin smuggling gang. Everyone is having a grand time. Jokes are batted back and forth about epic Indonesia-versus-Australia struggles. Life and death; where will you be tomorrow. All that.

Western Sydney boy Matthew Norman and I are losing, badly, to Kerobokan prison governor Yon Suharyono and his head of security, who are mightily enjoying the thrashing they’re dealing out. Norman, a would-be courier in the 2005 smuggling operation, shrugs cheerfully and lines up at the net, again and again. He appears genuinely not to mind my bung shots.

Andrew Chan, the narcotics syndicate’s leader, arrives at the court, clearly having just woken although it’s past 9am. He waits to join the pick-up game, bantering with the others. They include Myuran Sukumaran, another Sydneysider and one of Chan’s accomplices in the operation that scored the pair of them, as well as young Brisbane mule Scott Rush, death sentences.

“How was your sleep, Andrew Chan?” calls Ardamiarti, Suharyono’s wife, as she offers the young Australian a drink and some homemade biscuits.

“Tidur enak, Bu,” Chan grins with his deep growling voice, an affable response in perfectly accented colloquial Indonesian. I slept fine, ma’am.

The heavily tattooed Chan blinks the night from his eyes and jogs across the court to limber up over the net from Bali bomber Andi Hidayat – an acolyte of Imam Samudra, one of the most menacing enemies Australia has known.

“They were all up late last night playing around,” Ardamiarti chides for my benefit, more with the tone of a concerned mother than what she now is: the casual voice of a justice system that plans one day to shoot these men dead. Just as it did Samudra and his fellow Bali bombers, Amrozi and Mukhlas, last November.

The next set has begun and Hidayat, doing 15 years for a West Java gold shop robbery that funded the 2002 Kuta nightclub bombings – the attacks that defined the worst and the best of the Australia-Bali connection in recent years – slots a low forehand drive past Chan. “Australia loses,” Hidayat crows, and Chan, in the way of playground games everywhere, does a brief mock-surrender shoulder-slump, then throws up his hands in protest.

“Bagaimana bisa …” he laughs fluidly. How could I have done anything with such a shot?

The ebullient Suharyono, recently appointed and perhaps the first in his job to recognise fully the importance of this jail to the intricate bonds between Bali and Australia, suggests the daily tennis games are not only about boosting morale but are also intended to nourish that relationship by showing that his charges are being well looked after. For the same reason, he’s considering a request by another well-known Australian inmate, Schapelle Corby, to open a beauty salon. “We’re still examining (the proposal); a salon would involve sharp implements, scissors and so on, so it would require extra security,” he deadpans. Of more immediate interest is a cooking competition for female inmates, in which he hopes Corby will shine. There is no expansion on the issue of well-honed knives at that event.

After Corby’s conviction and 20-year sentence, the prison became such a well-known spot that it was almost required visiting for Australian tourists. A place of pilgrimage: just to say you’d been there, like surfing the mystical lefts beneath the limestone cliffs of Uluwatu, meditating at the mother temple of Besakih or smoking high-quality weed in Ubud.

“But you must register with the Australian consul first,” Suharyono warns. “Otherwise you can’t come in.”

* * *

BALI IS AGAIN FULL OF AUSTRALIANS: surfing, drinking, taking drugs, falling off motorbikes, meditating, practising yoga. Each one living, in their own way, the Bali experience. Chan and Sukumaran were among them, once: they too were tourists. The baggy, bright blue floral shirts the pair ordered their mules to wear were an attempt to blend in better with those around them: sunburnt Aussies with braided hair, newly infected tattoos and singlets advertising Bintang beer.

Kerobokan jail, on the fringe of the action-packed Kuta-Legian-Seminyak tourist strip, plays a key part in the Australia-Bali story. Ever since the arrests that followed the Paddy’s Bar and Sari Club bombings, through to Corby’s 2004 arrest for marijuana smuggling, underwear model Michelle Leslie’s a little while later for ecstasy possession, the Bali Nine’s for their ill-conceived smuggling attempt, the second bombing in 2005 and even the recent execution of Samudra and co, its importance has steadily grown in the Australian imagination.

But there are other obvious loci of the relationship: the still-empty land on the site of the old Sari Club; the nearby monument to the lives lost in the bombing, which has become such a magnet for visitors that it arguably fulfils some of the same mythmaking and national identity role that places such as Gallipoli and the Kokoda Track perform for Australians elsewhere; even the pumping nightclub scene on this strip, which is busier now than it was before the bombing, a post-2002 tourist slump well and truly over.

There are many reasons for Australians to visit Bali, but the traditional sun-sand-and-sex tour to Kuta has, since the early ’70s at least, undeniably been higher on the list than any notion of nurturing a bilateral connection. A night out in this zone of hedonism is everything it ever was and then some: drugs, drink and picking up. Party until you drop – which is exactly the scene the bombers wanted to strike because they knew it would have the biggest impact.

There’s a predictable form to a night out on the strip, with minor variations depending on which establishment you’re in. The Bounty nightclub is a dreamlike Sodom in Kuta’s heart where goblets of sickly sweet pineapple juice mixed with arak or brem – traditional Balinese rice wines – are served up to Australian kids doing a cheaper and more out-of-control schoolies tour than they could ever manage on the Gold Coast. The music’s loud, shirts are abandoned to highlight rippling muscles and the prospects of adventure are high.

Or there’s Double Six, on the beachfront in Legian, a chemically enhanced melting pot where the “ayam” – slang for prostitutes, it literally means “chicken” – work their unsuspecting clients expertly on the dance floor. The scene is repeated at countless clubs and bars across a handful of coastal square kilometres.

Even the fading sophistication of perhaps the island’s best known and most chic restaurant/bar, Ku De Ta in Seminyak – once the exclusive haunt of the white linen-clad Eurocrowd, these days full of Southern Cross tattoos and attitude to match – is part of the party-hard tourist spirit.

But whatever demographic they fit into, Australian tourist arrivals are well above pre-2002 levels, according to figures from the Bali Tourism Board. Slightly fewer than 240,000 visited Bali in 2001. Last year the number topped 300,000. The big difference between pre and post-bombing tourism is that a trip to the Island of the Gods, whether on the good-time trail or with more sedate aims, now invariably includes a stop at the bombing memorial.

* * *

GROUND ZERO, AS THE LOCALS CALL IT, is just a hop down the road from the jail. The bomb site and memorial there reminds the Balinese – who believe deeply in karma and therefore blame themselves, rather than the bombers, for the tragedy – of their vulnerability to hatred. For Australians the emotional cues vary, but strong in the mix is a surprisingly familiar theme of fallen comrades and of drunken bravado. Of war heroes, in fact.

Outsiders might scoff, and traditionalists recoil, but there is something of the Anzac myth being perpetuated daily at this intersection of two Balinese roads, at the precise point on Jalan Legian where Paddy’s Bar and the Sari Club once faced each other.

“It really is a bit like Gallipoli in the ways it has meaning for Aussies,” offers I Nyoman Darma Putra, a lecturer in Indonesian literature at Bali’s Udayana University, with a PhD from the University of Queensland. “There was always a personal relationship between Bali and Australia, with mixed marriages, or Australians putting money into educating particular Balinese. But that was more personal than symbolic. The bombings, on the other hand, created a bond of blood and of grief. That’s a connection that will now always be there.”

The monument marking this new, unbreakable link features the names of the 2002 bombings’ 202 victims carved into black stone, bracketed by the 88 dead Australians at the top of the list, and the 38 Indonesians at the bottom. Twenty-two nations were drawn in directly through death, and the site plays host to a stream of pilgrims from those countries and more, all day long and well into the night. For many – including some Australians – it is a place to be photographed in front of, laughing and waving. The constant shutterbugging can produce a strong sense of disapproval. I’m reminded of seeing, soon after flight GA-200 crashed in Yogyakarta in March 2007, killing 21 people – some of them my friends – the smiling pilots and cabin crew of a subsequent Garuda flight photographing each other standing among the charred ruins in a rice field. The experience jars.

Wollongong woman Georgia Lysaght, whose 33-year-old brother Scott died as the taxi ferrying him and his mates pulled up outside the Sari Club that terrible night in 2002, sees a certain black humour in it all. “There was one time, back during the (bombers’) trials, when I was sitting down in front of the actual bombing site, where there was a makeshift memorial, and I was crying – and some tourists started taking photos of me,” she laughs now. “This dad, I think they were Koreans, he had the kids put their arms around me and make peace signs as they took pictures.”

Even then, when the wounds were raw and real and her capacity to understand the hatred and ignorance that caused them was barely formed, Lysaght knew grief was not something of which she could claim sole ownership. “The fact that it’s become a tourist site, I think that’s inevitable. It’s like people who go to New York, they go to Ground Zero to take photographs,” she says. “Really, I don’t find anything offensive about that, about people taking pictures – if you go to a war memorial you take photos of it.

“But,” she qualifies, “if anyone were to drape an Australian flag over it, that would be a different thing. We have a tendency to look at this as something that Australians suffered the most in, but that’s not the case. It’s good that the memorial allows us to see it as individuals who suffered, not have it so much wrapped up in a nationalist thing.”

The loss spurred Lysaght, now 27, on a search for a deeper understanding of the vast cultural gap that produced the attacks. She graduated in December with a PhD thesis analysing the impact of the International Monetary Fund’s intervention in the Indonesian economy during the 1997-98 financial crisis – a scholarly goal she admits was triggered by her bewilderment at what killed Scott and the rest.

“One of my original assertions was that the reason we don’t interface with other populations is a lack of understanding between ‘them’ and ‘us’,” she explains. “We only get a snapshot of other places and we base a lot of what we feel on fear and resentment. Memorialising (on the other hand) is based on the idea that rather than being an incident, this is a process. It’s a relationship.”

* * *

PERTH SCHOOLTEACHER DARREN DEACON, a regular visitor with wife Julie and teenage daughters Natasha, Hayley and Ebony, is of the view that the more people who come to the monument – driven by whatever motivation they can muster – the better.

“Look, there’s a lot of Australians here who absolutely embarrass me,” Deacon says, earnestly. “They’re louts. You see them, with half their clothes off, and the Balinese here, half of them have come in from the farm and they don’t know what to make of it – but it’s not going to stop us also coming here.

“This is absolutely a site of pilgrimage: I would say that every Australian who comes to Bali comes (to the monument). We make a beeline for this place every time we come here, at least once, maybe twice.”

A geography and science teacher, Deacon includes a unit on the bombing in his curriculum at Duncraig Senior High School. “We cover the context of it all: when it happened, what it means, how Australian kids might be able to act in ways that can stop this kind of thing happening again – and how they can try to make sure it doesn’t come to Australia.”

The teenage Deacons speak with ease about the growing understanding of cultural difference that their trips to Bali have produced. All three study Indonesian at school; the oldest, 17-year-old Natasha, says one thing she’s learnt from her visits is the need to “speak up, be proactive (and) discuss with friends” situations that don’t seem right.

The affable Deacon has been photographing his family in front of the monument; they do so on every visit “because I want to be able to show the girls how the place is changing. Look, that wall over there (he points to the vacant land where the Sari Club once stood, with a sad breezeblock wall staggering along one perimeter), that would probably be the only bit of structure still remaining. People should know that.”

Deacon’s school includes in its catchment area the Kingsley Football Club, one of several sports organisations savagely hit by the fact that there was a rugby tournament on in Bali the weekend of the 2002 attacks, as well as Kuta having been the location for the end-of-season festivities of many Australian clubs.

Kingsley lost seven members; its captain, Phil Britten, was so severely injured that, without the help of expatriate Australian and New Zealand couple Tansen Stannard and Mira Star – themselves reeling from the blasts, but sensible enough to bundle Britten into their car and get him to a nearby clinic – it’s doubtful he would have survived.

These days, Britten is the driving force behind a newly revived plan to go one step further in the monument stakes. He wants to establish some sort of permanent green space where the Sari Club once stood, before economic forces take hold and erect yet another surf shop or – worse, in Britten’s view – a nightclub. “I can see how the (current) memorial pays respect to those who died, but really it’s been a bit disappointing that the Sari Club land has been left to become a bit of a derelict wasteland,” Britten says.

The tussle between peace park and development proposal, which has gone on for years, includes a sensitive design by Australian expatriate landscape architect Made Wijaya, one of the clique of long-term Bali residents who have for decades directly moulded the neighbourly relationship.

“Personally, as a survivor, I see the existing memorial as it stands as a bit more of a tourist attraction,” Britten says. “Initially the amount of people photographing each other there bothered me, but after doing a lot of travelling I realised this was something that’s gone down in history; it’s something that defines the relationship between Australia and Bali and, after all, the terrorists were attacking Westerners, they were attacking Australians.”

The couple who Britten credits with saving his life, Stannard and Star, have joined the lobbying to get the peace park proposal through – although 71-year-old Star, an internationally renowned midwife specialising in water births, a budding film-maker and self-described “original hippie from Nimbin”, jokes that “it’s just as likely to become a piss park, I suppose”.

Star laughs at her own crack but is immediately reflective, describing Britten as “an absolutely inspirational character” and recalling the shocking moment she and Stannard saw him, silhouetted in their car’s headlights that night as they tried to escape the carnage. “There was a sheet of flame, then, as we tried to get away, the headlights picked up Phil,” Star recalls. “He was standing in the street, skin hanging off, covered in blood.”

Stannard and Star have publicly petitioned Bali’s new governor, General I Made Mangku Pastika, to get behind the peace park as something that would complement the memorial without hindering the kamikaze development that increasingly characterises modern Kuta and its surrounds.

* * *

IT SEEMS THEIR PLEAS, and those of Britten and others, could finally be bearing fruit. Pastika, well known to Australian audiences through his service as Bali’s chief of police since shortly after the first bombings, says he has reached an agreement with the head of Badung district – the administrative zone that includes Kuta and Legian – on the proposal’s merit.

“I would like to think Bali could stop being a destination for Australians who come just because it’s cheap, but that they can come because they want to see deeper into what Bali is. Like the Europeans do. Not just coming to Kuta for the nightlife, enjoying the drugs,” Pastika says.

The peace park deal could present something of a difficulty, however, for the so-called King of Kuta, Balinese businessman Kadek Wiranatha.

Wiranatha has long been credited as the man behind many of the area’s most successful tourist ventures, lending his name, influence and capital to a string of hotels, nightclubs and other entertainment ventures, as well as the short-lived Air Paradise airline that serviced the Australian budget tourist market until the post-bombing downturn put it out of business. He refused to be interviewed for this article, finally replying, after persistent pressure, with a text message reading: “Sorry … if you don’t mind, seek out (my) colleagues who are more senior and more successful. I am currently looking towards retiring. Sorry.”

The notoriously media-shy Wiranatha was, in fact, deferring to his older brother: the brash, talkative Gede Wiratha, head of the Bali chamber of commerce, Wiranatha’s partner in a raft of business ventures and self-declared close friend of every important Indonesian from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono down.

Sitting in his office at Bounty Cruises, which runs luxury jetcat jaunts between Bali and the neighbouring island of Lombok, Wiratha says: “Kadek is money-oriented – I’m not, I’m community-oriented.” He says his brother is no longer a player: “He’s finished.” It’s a candid claim, and one that hints at the divisive impact of the vast sums being made in Bali’s tourist market – much of it by these two men and their associates across the southwest coastal strip.

The pair owned Paddy’s Bar – the bombers’ first target that October night in 2002 – as part of a consortium involved in several sectors of the market. It also has several of the main nightclubs, including Double Six and Ku De Ta, as well as the sophisticated Gado Gado restaurant in Legian, and much more.

A new bar has been opened in recent weeks on the old Paddy’s site by the same old owners, though Wiratha claims to have nothing to do with it. The club is called Vi Ai Pi – a direct stylistic reference to Ku De Ta. But Wiratha, backing away as fast as he can from any association with the new venture, says the site is haunted and should not have been built on so quickly.

“We had dinner in Vi Ai Pi,” he relates, arms flapping to illustrate the startling claim that’s about to come, “and someone was there without a body, only hands waving. When the sexy dancer came in there, in a trance, someone saw a beautiful girl without a head; some mystical things.”

Wiratha’s apparently genuine belief in the mysticism inherent in Balinese culture extends to insisting the Sari Club site should be completely free of all development, at least for now. What Britten and others see as squalid neglect and the disrespect of an overgrown lot used only to park motorcycles, Wiratha sees as a necessary part of the cleansing process.

“A cemetery cannot become a peace park, not just like that,” he insists. “Maybe we need to sit together to explain to them. There is a processing (required); according to the normal calculation it’s going to take 30 years. A memorial park isn’t what we need, because inside there are still so many ghosts.”

Britten agrees on that score, although it’s for the same reason he’s working so hard to prevent a nightclub being built – especially one that might be part of the Wiratha-Wiranatha brothers’ empire. “I don’t want people dancing and throwing up and drinking beers where my mates died,” he says, simply.

* * *

ONE AFTERNOON IN KUTA, watching the ebb and flow of visitors to the memorial, I’m struck by the complexity of the tourism story in Bali, and of Australia’s links with the place, and the danger of ever assuming all is as it appears.

A mint-condition two-tone EH Holden sedan – the classic ’60s surfer’s car – threads its way slowly along Jalan Legian past the bombing monument, tweaked exhaust note growling above the splutter of everyday traffic: a scene played out daily in practically any Australian seaside town. The young couple inside are almost certainly boardriders, with their long hair and relaxed air; they’re probably even stoned on some of the finest local mull, for all I know: but they’re definitely Indonesians and, given that the old Holden sports Denpasar licence plates, I’m reckoning they almost certainly own this little bit of four-wheeled Aussie history. It’s a truly arresting cross-cultural moment.

And then my eye is caught, at almost the same second, by a bronzed Aussie, probably in his late 20s, wearing boardshorts and nothing else, standing alone in silent contemplation, perfectly still at the foot of the monument, surrounded but unmoved by the pulsing crowd.

An aggressive “Cronulla Sharks” tattoo in bold Old English script down the right arm gives him away, and maybe at another time, maybe even later tonight, he will be drunk and obnoxious, confirming for all Balinese what they already know about all Australians. But right now this is as religious and sacred a scene as one could witness from the outside. I am unable to speak. Words would not do him justice anyway.

For Georgia Lysaght, the apparent contradictions of who and what Australians are when they are in Bali make some sort of sense. “It’s something that I’ve heard said repeatedly about that demographic – that white, middle-class male demographic – that they were just good men, having a drink and enjoying themselves, not doing anything wrong,” she muses. “And the interesting thing is that I think all of this brings out an element of tenderness in this (Australian male) culture that’s usually in other circumstances very … robust.” She chooses the euphemism carefully. It’s her late brother and his mates she’s deploying it against, and on behalf of. And it’s the Cronulla Sharks guy in silent prayer, just metres in front of me.

Lysaght continues, after a brief pause: “Although then my concern is whether that sympathy and tenderness is extended to others, to Indonesian people for example. My initial response would be no, it’s not, but then I’ve been surprised by some stories I’ve heard. You hear of people making efforts to travel to other parts of Bali that aren’t Kuta, making donations to non-bomb-related charities.”

*

PERTH GIRLFRIENDS LAINE BECKER, 23, and Amy Brien, 22, have no direct personal connection to the tragedy, but they represent the passing-on of a tradition that dissolves naturally into memorialising and eulogising. It’s their first trip to Bali, and the two young professionals simply want to feel the atmosphere at Ground Zero.

“We’ve walked from the other side of Kuta just to see it (the monument),” Becker says, “and it makes me feel good. Just to read those Australian names. It gave me goosebumps.”

Brien, already planning for the night ahead, says with a wink: “Now I think I want a glass of wine.”

They leave, after a few heartfelt moments. They have taken no photographs.

Stephen Fitzpatrick is The Australian’s Jakarta correspondent.

source: With the lead bombers executed, Australians are partying harder than ever in Kuta. But as well as hedonism, Stephen Fitzpatrick finds guilt, heroism, honour and tenderness twisted into the ties that bind Australia and its northern neighbour.

The Weekend Australian Magazine February 7-8 2009
It must be the heat. I’m in jail, playing tennis under a blazing sun with a Bali bomber and several members of the Bali Nine heroin smuggling gang. Everyone is having a grand time. Jokes are batted back and forth about epic Indonesia-versus-Australia struggles. Life and death; where will you be tomorrow. All that.

Western Sydney boy Matthew Norman and I are losing, badly, to Kerobokan prison governor Yon Suharyono and his head of security, who are mightily enjoying the thrashing they’re dealing out. Norman, a would-be courier in the 2005 smuggling operation, shrugs cheerfully and lines up at the net, again and again. He appears genuinely not to mind my bung shots.

Andrew Chan, the narcotics syndicate’s leader, arrives at the court, clearly having just woken although it’s past 9am. He waits to join the pick-up game, bantering with the others. They include Myuran Sukumaran, another Sydneysider and one of Chan’s accomplices in the operation that scored the pair of them, as well as young Brisbane mule Scott Rush, death sentences.

“How was your sleep, Andrew Chan?” calls Ardamiarti, Suharyono’s wife, as she offers the young Australian a drink and some homemade biscuits.

“Tidur enak, Bu,” Chan grins with his deep growling voice, an affable response in perfectly accented colloquial Indonesian. I slept fine, ma’am.

The heavily tattooed Chan blinks the night from his eyes and jogs across the court to limber up over the net from Bali bomber Andi Hidayat – an acolyte of Imam Samudra, one of the most menacing enemies Australia has known.

“They were all up late last night playing around,” Ardamiarti chides for my benefit, more with the tone of a concerned mother than what she now is: the casual voice of a justice system that plans one day to shoot these men dead. Just as it did Samudra and his fellow Bali bombers, Amrozi and Mukhlas, last November.

The next set has begun and Hidayat, doing 15 years for a West Java gold shop robbery that funded the 2002 Kuta nightclub bombings – the attacks that defined the worst and the best of the Australia-Bali connection in recent years – slots a low forehand drive past Chan. “Australia loses,” Hidayat crows, and Chan, in the way of playground games everywhere, does a brief mock-surrender shoulder-slump, then throws up his hands in protest.

“Bagaimana bisa …” he laughs fluidly. How could I have done anything with such a shot?

The ebullient Suharyono, recently appointed and perhaps the first in his job to recognise fully the importance of this jail to the intricate bonds between Bali and Australia, suggests the daily tennis games are not only about boosting morale but are also intended to nourish that relationship by showing that his charges are being well looked after. For the same reason, he’s considering a request by another well-known Australian inmate, Schapelle Corby, to open a beauty salon. “We’re still examining (the proposal); a salon would involve sharp implements, scissors and so on, so it would require extra security,” he deadpans. Of more immediate interest is a cooking competition for female inmates, in which he hopes Corby will shine. There is no expansion on the issue of well-honed knives at that event.

After Corby’s conviction and 20-year sentence, the prison became such a well-known spot that it was almost required visiting for Australian tourists. A place of pilgrimage: just to say you’d been there, like surfing the mystical lefts beneath the limestone cliffs of Uluwatu, meditating at the mother temple of Besakih or smoking high-quality weed in Ubud.

“But you must register with the Australian consul first,” Suharyono warns. “Otherwise you can’t come in.”

* * *

BALI IS AGAIN FULL OF AUSTRALIANS: surfing, drinking, taking drugs, falling off motorbikes, meditating, practising yoga. Each one living, in their own way, the Bali experience. Chan and Sukumaran were among them, once: they too were tourists. The baggy, bright blue floral shirts the pair ordered their mules to wear were an attempt to blend in better with those around them: sunburnt Aussies with braided hair, newly infected tattoos and singlets advertising Bintang beer.

Kerobokan jail, on the fringe of the action-packed Kuta-Legian-Seminyak tourist strip, plays a key part in the Australia-Bali story. Ever since the arrests that followed the Paddy’s Bar and Sari Club bombings, through to Corby’s 2004 arrest for marijuana smuggling, underwear model Michelle Leslie’s a little while later for ecstasy possession, the Bali Nine’s for their ill-conceived smuggling attempt, the second bombing in 2005 and even the recent execution of Samudra and co, its importance has steadily grown in the Australian imagination.

But there are other obvious loci of the relationship: the still-empty land on the site of the old Sari Club; the nearby monument to the lives lost in the bombing, which has become such a magnet for visitors that it arguably fulfils some of the same mythmaking and national identity role that places such as Gallipoli and the Kokoda Track perform for Australians elsewhere; even the pumping nightclub scene on this strip, which is busier now than it was before the bombing, a post-2002 tourist slump well and truly over.

There are many reasons for Australians to visit Bali, but the traditional sun-sand-and-sex tour to Kuta has, since the early ’70s at least, undeniably been higher on the list than any notion of nurturing a bilateral connection. A night out in this zone of hedonism is everything it ever was and then some: drugs, drink and picking up. Party until you drop – which is exactly the scene the bombers wanted to strike because they knew it would have the biggest impact.

There’s a predictable form to a night out on the strip, with minor variations depending on which establishment you’re in. The Bounty nightclub is a dreamlike Sodom in Kuta’s heart where goblets of sickly sweet pineapple juice mixed with arak or brem – traditional Balinese rice wines – are served up to Australian kids doing a cheaper and more out-of-control schoolies tour than they could ever manage on the Gold Coast. The music’s loud, shirts are abandoned to highlight rippling muscles and the prospects of adventure are high.

Or there’s Double Six, on the beachfront in Legian, a chemically enhanced melting pot where the “ayam” – slang for prostitutes, it literally means “chicken” – work their unsuspecting clients expertly on the dance floor. The scene is repeated at countless clubs and bars across a handful of coastal square kilometres.

Even the fading sophistication of perhaps the island’s best known and most chic restaurant/bar, Ku De Ta in Seminyak – once the exclusive haunt of the white linen-clad Eurocrowd, these days full of Southern Cross tattoos and attitude to match – is part of the party-hard tourist spirit.

But whatever demographic they fit into, Australian tourist arrivals are well above pre-2002 levels, according to figures from the Bali Tourism Board. Slightly fewer than 240,000 visited Bali in 2001. Last year the number topped 300,000. The big difference between pre and post-bombing tourism is that a trip to the Island of the Gods, whether on the good-time trail or with more sedate aims, now invariably includes a stop at the bombing memorial.

* * *

GROUND ZERO, AS THE LOCALS CALL IT, is just a hop down the road from the jail. The bomb site and memorial there reminds the Balinese – who believe deeply in karma and therefore blame themselves, rather than the bombers, for the tragedy – of their vulnerability to hatred. For Australians the emotional cues vary, but strong in the mix is a surprisingly familiar theme of fallen comrades and of drunken bravado. Of war heroes, in fact.

Outsiders might scoff, and traditionalists recoil, but there is something of the Anzac myth being perpetuated daily at this intersection of two Balinese roads, at the precise point on Jalan Legian where Paddy’s Bar and the Sari Club once faced each other.

“It really is a bit like Gallipoli in the ways it has meaning for Aussies,” offers I Nyoman Darma Putra, a lecturer in Indonesian literature at Bali’s Udayana University, with a PhD from the University of Queensland. “There was always a personal relationship between Bali and Australia, with mixed marriages, or Australians putting money into educating particular Balinese. But that was more personal than symbolic. The bombings, on the other hand, created a bond of blood and of grief. That’s a connection that will now always be there.”

The monument marking this new, unbreakable link features the names of the 2002 bombings’ 202 victims carved into black stone, bracketed by the 88 dead Australians at the top of the list, and the 38 Indonesians at the bottom. Twenty-two nations were drawn in directly through death, and the site plays host to a stream of pilgrims from those countries and more, all day long and well into the night. For many – including some Australians – it is a place to be photographed in front of, laughing and waving. The constant shutterbugging can produce a strong sense of disapproval. I’m reminded of seeing, soon after flight GA-200 crashed in Yogyakarta in March 2007, killing 21 people – some of them my friends – the smiling pilots and cabin crew of a subsequent Garuda flight photographing each other standing among the charred ruins in a rice field. The experience jars.

Wollongong woman Georgia Lysaght, whose 33-year-old brother Scott died as the taxi ferrying him and his mates pulled up outside the Sari Club that terrible night in 2002, sees a certain black humour in it all. “There was one time, back during the (bombers’) trials, when I was sitting down in front of the actual bombing site, where there was a makeshift memorial, and I was crying – and some tourists started taking photos of me,” she laughs now. “This dad, I think they were Koreans, he had the kids put their arms around me and make peace signs as they took pictures.”

Even then, when the wounds were raw and real and her capacity to understand the hatred and ignorance that caused them was barely formed, Lysaght knew grief was not something of which she could claim sole ownership. “The fact that it’s become a tourist site, I think that’s inevitable. It’s like people who go to New York, they go to Ground Zero to take photographs,” she says. “Really, I don’t find anything offensive about that, about people taking pictures – if you go to a war memorial you take photos of it.

“But,” she qualifies, “if anyone were to drape an Australian flag over it, that would be a different thing. We have a tendency to look at this as something that Australians suffered the most in, but that’s not the case. It’s good that the memorial allows us to see it as individuals who suffered, not have it so much wrapped up in a nationalist thing.”

The loss spurred Lysaght, now 27, on a search for a deeper understanding of the vast cultural gap that produced the attacks. She graduated in December with a PhD thesis analysing the impact of the International Monetary Fund’s intervention in the Indonesian economy during the 1997-98 financial crisis – a scholarly goal she admits was triggered by her bewilderment at what killed Scott and the rest.

“One of my original assertions was that the reason we don’t interface with other populations is a lack of understanding between ‘them’ and ‘us’,” she explains. “We only get a snapshot of other places and we base a lot of what we feel on fear and resentment. Memorialising (on the other hand) is based on the idea that rather than being an incident, this is a process. It’s a relationship.”

* * *

PERTH SCHOOLTEACHER DARREN DEACON, a regular visitor with wife Julie and teenage daughters Natasha, Hayley and Ebony, is of the view that the more people who come to the monument – driven by whatever motivation they can muster – the better.

“Look, there’s a lot of Australians here who absolutely embarrass me,” Deacon says, earnestly. “They’re louts. You see them, with half their clothes off, and the Balinese here, half of them have come in from the farm and they don’t know what to make of it – but it’s not going to stop us also coming here.

“This is absolutely a site of pilgrimage: I would say that every Australian who comes to Bali comes (to the monument). We make a beeline for this place every time we come here, at least once, maybe twice.”

A geography and science teacher, Deacon includes a unit on the bombing in his curriculum at Duncraig Senior High School. “We cover the context of it all: when it happened, what it means, how Australian kids might be able to act in ways that can stop this kind of thing happening again – and how they can try to make sure it doesn’t come to Australia.”

The teenage Deacons speak with ease about the growing understanding of cultural difference that their trips to Bali have produced. All three study Indonesian at school; the oldest, 17-year-old Natasha, says one thing she’s learnt from her visits is the need to “speak up, be proactive (and) discuss with friends” situations that don’t seem right.

The affable Deacon has been photographing his family in front of the monument; they do so on every visit “because I want to be able to show the girls how the place is changing. Look, that wall over there (he points to the vacant land where the Sari Club once stood, with a sad breezeblock wall staggering along one perimeter), that would probably be the only bit of structure still remaining. People should know that.”

Deacon’s school includes in its catchment area the Kingsley Football Club, one of several sports organisations savagely hit by the fact that there was a rugby tournament on in Bali the weekend of the 2002 attacks, as well as Kuta having been the location for the end-of-season festivities of many Australian clubs.

Kingsley lost seven members; its captain, Phil Britten, was so severely injured that, without the help of expatriate Australian and New Zealand couple Tansen Stannard and Mira Star – themselves reeling from the blasts, but sensible enough to bundle Britten into their car and get him to a nearby clinic – it’s doubtful he would have survived.

These days, Britten is the driving force behind a newly revived plan to go one step further in the monument stakes. He wants to establish some sort of permanent green space where the Sari Club once stood, before economic forces take hold and erect yet another surf shop or – worse, in Britten’s view – a nightclub. “I can see how the (current) memorial pays respect to those who died, but really it’s been a bit disappointing that the Sari Club land has been left to become a bit of a derelict wasteland,” Britten says.

The tussle between peace park and development proposal, which has gone on for years, includes a sensitive design by Australian expatriate landscape architect Made Wijaya, one of the clique of long-term Bali residents who have for decades directly moulded the neighbourly relationship.

“Personally, as a survivor, I see the existing memorial as it stands as a bit more of a tourist attraction,” Britten says. “Initially the amount of people photographing each other there bothered me, but after doing a lot of travelling I realised this was something that’s gone down in history; it’s something that defines the relationship between Australia and Bali and, after all, the terrorists were attacking Westerners, they were attacking Australians.”

The couple who Britten credits with saving his life, Stannard and Star, have joined the lobbying to get the peace park proposal through – although 71-year-old Star, an internationally renowned midwife specialising in water births, a budding film-maker and self-described “original hippie from Nimbin”, jokes that “it’s just as likely to become a piss park, I suppose”.

Star laughs at her own crack but is immediately reflective, describing Britten as “an absolutely inspirational character” and recalling the shocking moment she and Stannard saw him, silhouetted in their car’s headlights that night as they tried to escape the carnage. “There was a sheet of flame, then, as we tried to get away, the headlights picked up Phil,” Star recalls. “He was standing in the street, skin hanging off, covered in blood.”

Stannard and Star have publicly petitioned Bali’s new governor, General I Made Mangku Pastika, to get behind the peace park as something that would complement the memorial without hindering the kamikaze development that increasingly characterises modern Kuta and its surrounds.

* * *

IT SEEMS THEIR PLEAS, and those of Britten and others, could finally be bearing fruit. Pastika, well known to Australian audiences through his service as Bali’s chief of police since shortly after the first bombings, says he has reached an agreement with the head of Badung district – the administrative zone that includes Kuta and Legian – on the proposal’s merit.

“I would like to think Bali could stop being a destination for Australians who come just because it’s cheap, but that they can come because they want to see deeper into what Bali is. Like the Europeans do. Not just coming to Kuta for the nightlife, enjoying the drugs,” Pastika says.

The peace park deal could present something of a difficulty, however, for the so-called King of Kuta, Balinese businessman Kadek Wiranatha.

Wiranatha has long been credited as the man behind many of the area’s most successful tourist ventures, lending his name, influence and capital to a string of hotels, nightclubs and other entertainment ventures, as well as the short-lived Air Paradise airline that serviced the Australian budget tourist market until the post-bombing downturn put it out of business. He refused to be interviewed for this article, finally replying, after persistent pressure, with a text message reading: “Sorry … if you don’t mind, seek out (my) colleagues who are more senior and more successful. I am currently looking towards retiring. Sorry.”

The notoriously media-shy Wiranatha was, in fact, deferring to his older brother: the brash, talkative Gede Wiratha, head of the Bali chamber of commerce, Wiranatha’s partner in a raft of business ventures and self-declared close friend of every important Indonesian from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono down.

Sitting in his office at Bounty Cruises, which runs luxury jetcat jaunts between Bali and the neighbouring island of Lombok, Wiratha says: “Kadek is money-oriented – I’m not, I’m community-oriented.” He says his brother is no longer a player: “He’s finished.” It’s a candid claim, and one that hints at the divisive impact of the vast sums being made in Bali’s tourist market – much of it by these two men and their associates across the southwest coastal strip.

The pair owned Paddy’s Bar – the bombers’ first target that October night in 2002 – as part of a consortium involved in several sectors of the market. It also has several of the main nightclubs, including Double Six and Ku De Ta, as well as the sophisticated Gado Gado restaurant in Legian, and much more.

A new bar has been opened in recent weeks on the old Paddy’s site by the same old owners, though Wiratha claims to have nothing to do with it. The club is called Vi Ai Pi – a direct stylistic reference to Ku De Ta. But Wiratha, backing away as fast as he can from any association with the new venture, says the site is haunted and should not have been built on so quickly.

“We had dinner in Vi Ai Pi,” he relates, arms flapping to illustrate the startling claim that’s about to come, “and someone was there without a body, only hands waving. When the sexy dancer came in there, in a trance, someone saw a beautiful girl without a head; some mystical things.”

Wiratha’s apparently genuine belief in the mysticism inherent in Balinese culture extends to insisting the Sari Club site should be completely free of all development, at least for now. What Britten and others see as squalid neglect and the disrespect of an overgrown lot used only to park motorcycles, Wiratha sees as a necessary part of the cleansing process.

“A cemetery cannot become a peace park, not just like that,” he insists. “Maybe we need to sit together to explain to them. There is a processing (required); according to the normal calculation it’s going to take 30 years. A memorial park isn’t what we need, because inside there are still so many ghosts.”

Britten agrees on that score, although it’s for the same reason he’s working so hard to prevent a nightclub being built – especially one that might be part of the Wiratha-Wiranatha brothers’ empire. “I don’t want people dancing and throwing up and drinking beers where my mates died,” he says, simply.

* * *

ONE AFTERNOON IN KUTA, watching the ebb and flow of visitors to the memorial, I’m struck by the complexity of the tourism story in Bali, and of Australia’s links with the place, and the danger of ever assuming all is as it appears.

A mint-condition two-tone EH Holden sedan – the classic ’60s surfer’s car – threads its way slowly along Jalan Legian past the bombing monument, tweaked exhaust note growling above the splutter of everyday traffic: a scene played out daily in practically any Australian seaside town. The young couple inside are almost certainly boardriders, with their long hair and relaxed air; they’re probably even stoned on some of the finest local mull, for all I know: but they’re definitely Indonesians and, given that the old Holden sports Denpasar licence plates, I’m reckoning they almost certainly own this little bit of four-wheeled Aussie history. It’s a truly arresting cross-cultural moment.

And then my eye is caught, at almost the same second, by a bronzed Aussie, probably in his late 20s, wearing boardshorts and nothing else, standing alone in silent contemplation, perfectly still at the foot of the monument, surrounded but unmoved by the pulsing crowd.

An aggressive “Cronulla Sharks” tattoo in bold Old English script down the right arm gives him away, and maybe at another time, maybe even later tonight, he will be drunk and obnoxious, confirming for all Balinese what they already know about all Australians. But right now this is as religious and sacred a scene as one could witness from the outside. I am unable to speak. Words would not do him justice anyway.

For Georgia Lysaght, the apparent contradictions of who and what Australians are when they are in Bali make some sort of sense. “It’s something that I’ve heard said repeatedly about that demographic – that white, middle-class male demographic – that they were just good men, having a drink and enjoying themselves, not doing anything wrong,” she muses. “And the interesting thing is that I think all of this brings out an element of tenderness in this (Australian male) culture that’s usually in other circumstances very … robust.” She chooses the euphemism carefully. It’s her late brother and his mates she’s deploying it against, and on behalf of. And it’s the Cronulla Sharks guy in silent prayer, just metres in front of me.

Lysaght continues, after a brief pause: “Although then my concern is whether that sympathy and tenderness is extended to others, to Indonesian people for example. My initial response would be no, it’s not, but then I’ve been surprised by some stories I’ve heard. You hear of people making efforts to travel to other parts of Bali that aren’t Kuta, making donations to non-bomb-related charities.”

*

PERTH GIRLFRIENDS LAINE BECKER, 23, and Amy Brien, 22, have no direct personal connection to the tragedy, but they represent the passing-on of a tradition that dissolves naturally into memorialising and eulogising. It’s their first trip to Bali, and the two young professionals simply want to feel the atmosphere at Ground Zero.

“We’ve walked from the other side of Kuta just to see it (the monument),” Becker says, “and it makes me feel good. Just to read those Australian names. It gave me goosebumps.”

Brien, already planning for the night ahead, says with a wink: “Now I think I want a glass of wine.”

They leave, after a few heartfelt moments. They have taken no photographs.

Stephen Fitzpatrick is The Australian’s Jakarta correspondent.
source: http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25016059-5012694,00.html

The Weekend Australian, 7-8 Februari 2009

Entry filed under: Hello Bali. Tags: , , .

Puisi untuk Korban Kebakaran Australia Prosesi ‘Melasti’ Masyarakat Bali di Australia

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Neville Wright  |  March 8, 2009 at 8:26 am

    Hi Steven
    You really were tongue in cheek with your comments about Corby, weren’t you?
    I am just wondering why respected journalists still keep on with Corby bashing or in your case, satire. Surely, after 5 years this girl deserves some sympathy and respect from the Australian press for a crime that that is well and truly in doubt in the minds of many Australians and now world wide.
    Regards
    Neville Wright

    Reply
  • 2. Cerri  |  May 14, 2009 at 11:38 am

    No mention of Dallas Finn the driving force behind the peace park
    who has been thru hel and back but then again Australians are good at taking down there people.

    Reply

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