The thoroughly un-thespian Diary, having been black-listed by the organisers for failing to ring the bell on their weight-o-meter or to perform the required grade of kow-tow, made it to only one Ubud Writers and Readers Festival function this year. It was a reception for Australian writers last Saturday evening and the invitation came from the acting deputy head of mission at the Australian embassy in Jakarta, Michael Bliss, and the acting Australian consul-general in Bali, Brent Hall.
It was an interesting occasion on more than one count. We said hello to Aussie electronic pamphleteer Antony Lowenstein, who blogs furiously on many matters, including on why he blogs; to Australian QC Colin McDonald, late of the Scott Rush case and – in this case – an Ubud local; to Miranda Brown, the festival’s Melbourne-based international publicist, who asked if we thought the UWRF was a good idea (we do); to lawyer and journalist Bob Gosford, who contributes (from Alice Springs generally) to that deliciously scandal-mongering Australian e-paper Crikey!; and (of course; we wuz brung up proper) to Janet de Neefe and her executive assistant Liz Henzell. We spied former Australian ambassador Bill Farmer and his wife Elaine in the crowd (they were here on holiday); but we saw neither hide nor hair of festival associate director Sarah Tooth, so the footballers’-style mouth guard we wore for the occasion was not required. We’d taken it along just in case; you can’t be too careful.
There was one chap who perhaps should have been wearing a mouth guard, or a restraint of some kind. Festival performer Omar Musa, an Aussie hip-hopper with a post-rap penchant for scatology and the copulatory adjective, was put on display as the evening’s stand-up entertainment. In Omar’s defence, he is from Queanbeyan (it’s just outside Canberra; say no more) and gets rave reviews from youthful – and not so youthful – admirers who have been suborned by rap’s defective meter and seem to believe you just have to be coarse to be an intellectual force.
Bliss had his moment, too, in saying his words of welcome. He observed that diplomats were in their own way rather like writers, since they spent their lives scribbling marginal notes for their own readership (their departmental superiors and, in exalted circumstances, their ministers).
The Diary, in a former life, saw a little of this sort of correspondence. Thus, the thought occurred during Saturday evening’s blissful moment that it’s a shame no one nowadays has the cojones (or the humour) to attempt something as to the point as a famously brief but wondrous report from Moscow in 1943, by the British ambassador of the day, Sir Archibald Clark Kerr. (This is entirely beside the point, but Clark Kerr was born in Australia.) In his note, Clark Kerr advised his old chum Lord Pembroke, then head of the British foreign office, of the arrival in the wartime Soviet capital of a new Turkish envoy with an eye-catching name card. A tip: It’s worth Googling Archibald Clark Kerr.
We have a copy of Clark Kerr’s original note, grabbed with glee years ago when it was finally released from 50 years of close detention in the files at the FO. It invariably thrusts a very firm chortle into the greyest of days.
Sadly, it prompts reminiscence of humour past and reminds you that, where popular comedy is concerned, the caravan long ago moved on and all we’re left with is the dogs, barking.
She’s a Fan
Writer Deepika Shetty believes that literary festivals don't have to be big to be beautiful. Well, we’d agree with that. It’s not the size of the serving that’s important, whether in a restaurant or at a book meet; it’s whether it’s digestible.
Shetty, one among the large collective of authors at UWRF 2010, posted a note on her Facebook last Friday saying: “Head to the Ubud Writers Festival in Bali this weekend to find out for yourself. If the words aren't enough, the settings will seduce you. That's my guarantee.”
There’s no doubt Ubud is a seductive setting; especially if the mountains come out to join in the fun.
Clean Them Out
It seems that words are to be followed by action in the little matter of cleaning up the nightspot scene in Kuta and Legian. This novelty, ordered by Bali Police chief Hadiatmoko, is thoroughly commendable. If it achieves its stated object, which is to produce something resembling order after dark in the biff ‘n’ bother precinct, then Hadiatmoko will have performed a significant public service.
He proposes to do so by organising a locally enforced permit system designed to weed out the fly-by-nights and the hard men, and create an environment in which (again a novelty) operators will have to abide by a code of conduct and also keep their ill-tempered toughs who masquerade as security men under control.
It may be a tall order, given the predisposition of many in the nightspot sector to act like unskilled extras in a bad Mob movie. But we shall see. And we can certainly take heart, on the evidence to hand thus far, from the fact that Hadiatmoko says what he means – and means what he says.
The detention in Bali last week of Erwin Arnanda, editor of Indonesian Playboy (the world’s only version of the smutty mag for sad old adolescents that you actually have to buy for the articles, there being no photographs to speak of) is a sorry comment on many things, including the risible – and unfortunately also dangerously divisive - anti-pornography law.
Not only does it represent a victory (pray that it shall be Pyrrhic) for the meddlesome minority of Wahhabi-fuelled Islamists who want to put all of Indonesia in Purdah and who number in their ranks antediluvian men who apparently believe women are not actually fully functioning people. It is also a victory (ditto) for creaking and fearfully acquiescent police-state bureaucracy.
Playboy (in any of its versions) is not a magazine The Diary would ever bother buying. But that’s not the point. Columnist Novar Caine has more to say on the Perspective page, Pg 9.
Such a Treat
A very dear friend brought The Diary a lovely gift when she came to stay at The Cage last week as a school holiday refugee from Perth. (The escape was entirely understandable: she’s a school principal.) It was a CD of Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu’s 2008 solo album.
The Diary had been after a copy for ages, but sadly acquisition had always proved elusive. Gurrumul’s music might be pigeonholed as folk in the false convenience of today’s one-size-fits-all computer-driven archive, but it’s much more than that. When he sings – in his own Yolngu language or in English, which he barely understands – he evokes the spiritual substance of Australia. This has almost physical form, as if an ectoplasm, and is not often captured even by the most attuned of visitors; shamefully it is still denied, or ignored, by most Australians.
It’s the sort of thing that pulls powerfully at the heart of any sentient exile, even one who lives away by choice. Listening to Gurrumul transports you instantly to the warm, flavoursome and slightly scary essence of the Australian bush; it sends you searing, imagined olfactory waves of hot eucalyptus and baked red earth; it evokes the intensely mystic nature of the land; and it makes you cry.
Gurrumul, who was born on Galiwin’ku Island (it’s on the maps as Elcho Island) off the Arnhem Land coast in the Northern Territory and has been blind since birth, used to perform with the fabulous Yothu Yindi. The name means Mother and Child in the Yolngu language. The band included balanda players.
That word might pique the interest of Bahasa speakers. Balanda in Yolngu means non-Aboriginal. Its origin in a likely adaptation of Belanda (Dutch) from Indonesian languages long after Europeans reached the archipelago and long before any of them “found” Australia has always been a fascination, at least to your Diarist.
There’s a Facebook campaign to get Gurrumul on Oprah when she’s in Australia in December. Hope it happens: That’s one YouTube item The Diary would definitely download.
A House in Brooklyn
Colin McPhee’s homage to Bali, now created as an opera by the American clarinettist and composer Evan Ziporyn, has just had an outing in New York City – well, Brooklyn, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival. It played in Boston earlier this month.
McPhee’s 1946 memoir A House in Bali helped put the island on the post-war map, drawing as it did on a rich melange of experiences, artistic and otherwise, that befell McPhee, a Canadian, on the island in pre-war years.
New York Times writer Matthew Gurewitsch, reviewing the Ziporyn opera (which “premiered” in Ubud in June last year and then went to California), repeats the argument that without McPhee it is possible the world would have forever lost the Balinese gamelan. Perhaps the Balinese would argue with that. But it cannot be denied that its wonderfully discordant harmony – fundamentally inimical to “western” composition – is now a major force in world music.
Dancers Kadek Dewi Aryani and Desak Made Suarti Laksmi have the leading roles in A House in Bali, produced by Jay Scheib.
Hector's Blog appears as The Diary in The Bali Times print edition, out Fridays, and on the newspaper's website www.thebalitimes.com. Print edition copies are available worldwide through NewspapersDirect.