Dear Peaceful Inhabitants of an Ancient Island,
There are several things you should know about the hordes of young Australians visiting you this week who are collectively known as “Schoolies”.
The first thing is, some of them actually own shirts. Sure, they haven’t worn them much this week, but they do own them.
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The commemoration of the 10th Bali bombing anniversary was demonstration enough that the occasion should be formally recognised. It should become a fixture of the national calendar.
Bali Day would never rival ANZAC Day, but rather become its parallel. It is needed to mark the pain and sacrifice and loss on a field other than that of military engagement.
Aunty Jannette (Phillips), a Ngunnawal woman who gave the welcome to country at Canberra observances today put it well: “Once in a while we have to hold our breath.” She was referring to the need to acknowledge shattering loss.
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In the wake of horror people always want to talk about lessons learned. It’s a way of finding some sort of meaning, I suppose, although it often seems like a desperate longing for hope.
You could say after Bali we learned about how we cope with tragedy (with kindness, strength and integrity, mostly). We learned how to forge a new and deeper relationship with Indonesia. On a practical level, those incredible people on the ground helping learned about how to treat burns, how to catalogue the dead, how to go on doing their jobs despite the horror.
We learned about the amazing people who survived, and the heartbreak of those left behind.
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One of the nicest blokes I have ever met is an Indonesian journalist called Agus Diatmika with whom I did a six-month newspaper exchange in Jakarta in 1994. Agus was born in Kuta Beach, Bali, in 1964, when it was a tiny fishing village attracting nothing in the way of tourism.
The Indonesians love creating comical acronyms. They say the name of their national airline Garuda stands for “Good And Reliable Under Dutch Administration”. In a similar vein Agus explained that, in Indonesian, Kuta stands for “Kampung Untuk Turis Australi” – “Village For Australian Tourists”.
When he made the gag I became somewhat apologetic about the fact that his little slice of paradise had been overrun by us all, and asked whether he felt that tourism and, in particular, Australian tourism had ruined places like Kuta and Sanur. Hell no, he replied firmly. Tourism was the best thing that happened to Bali, lifting the standard of living to levels unseen elsewhere across the archipelago.
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Australia has a longstanding affair with the steamy Indonesian island of Bali, but things are about to got a whole lot steamier with the world premiere of the musical Rhonda and Ketut.
Rhonda and Ketut is a triumph. Director James Cameron of Avatar and Titanic fame has cast aside his renowned array of special effects in his stage debut, delivering a show with a surprisingly light touch which is heartwarming, melodramatic and several other theatre adjectives.
Originally intended as a sequel to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, the Rhonda and Ketut script lay idle in a dusty bottom drawer of the Bali Repertory Theatre Company, only to be uncovered by an employee of an ad agency working for a car insurance company who needed to use the bathroom.
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Schapelle Corby has served more than seven years in Kerobokan prison for attempting to import 4.2 kilos of cannabis into Bali in 2004.
That’s enough. If she did the crime, then she has done the time. By Australian standards at least.
Last night News Limited reported that the Indonesian President had granted her clemency, cutting her sentence by five years. This has led to speculation that she will be out by August. Corby was charged with 20 years behind bars in March 2005.
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After two years of waiting Schapelle Corby has been granted clemency. That’s legalese for asking for mercy. Or, in Corby’s case a more lenient sentence.
It’s believed today’s judgment will cut her 20-year sentence short by up to five years. According to Sky News: “Under Indonesian law, she would be eligible for parole after having served two-thirds of her sentence, meaning that the five-year cut to her prison term could see her released later this year.”
News.com.au reports Corby sought appeal back in 2010 after suffering significant physical and mental health issues since being behind bars.
The so-called Bali Boy is back in Australia. It is only a matter of time before he turns up on the idiot box for an exclusive tell-all interview, promoted by whatever ratings-hungry network shells out the cash, as a cautionary tale which no parent and no teenager can afford to miss.
It is of course a story which most Australian parents and teenagers can very much afford to miss. Most Australian parents and teenagers would not be so breathtakingly foolish as to land in a country renowned for executing the most minor of drug offenders, and immediately shell out the requisite rupiah for a bag of Balinese dope.
Outside of this majority there is a disturbingly large subculture in Australia which has been brought into focus by this case. It’s a subculture which has two notable features. The first is the extent to which cannabis use has been normalised, where it is barely regarded as a drug at all but as something which most people will smoke without consequence from a young age. So much so that we wind up with the spectacle of a 14-year-old boy standing before an Indonesian court revealing that he has become addicted to the drug, right under the nose of his parents.
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The Indonesian courts have, to an extent, belied their reputation for handing down extreme sentences. They have sentenced the 14-year-old Central Coast boy to two months in prison; of which he has already served about seven weeks.
The courts also showed their softer side earlier this year when they reduced Abu Bakar Bashir’s sentence on humanitarian grounds.
But Australians are still on death row for drug smuggling.
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Life can be very cruel sometimes, particularly when it comes to middle class white people and their admirable struggle to find somewhere exotic and worldly where they can just relax while enjoying some budget cocktails and the occasional Unique Cultural Experience™. Poor Carolyn Webb learned that the hard way this week when The Age published her thoughtful, well considered and entirely well researched travel piece on Bali, a place she’s never wanted to go to.
You know how it is. You work tirelessly all year round, saving enough pennies so you can board a budget airline to one of the cheap, tropical paradises dotted around Australia in the hope that you can just let it all hang out, catch some rays and for one brief moment forget how hard it is back home with a stable economy propping up your solid income.
Of course, you don’t want to go to one of those shitholes like Bali or Thailand, because you know from fourth hand anecdotal experience that other people have been there and hated it, plus got bum sick in the first three days because the natives didn’t bother posting signs reminding them not to drink the tap water. Rude.
Welcome to this, the first piece in The Punch’s Festival of Obvious Ideas, which will be running all week. The festival is our salute to those ideas which are so bleedingly obvious, you’ll wonder why someone didn’t write these pieces ages ago. First up this week, why we should all avoid Bali.
Australia has an ongoing romance with the small Indonesian island of Bali dating back to at least the 1970s. But all romances turn mundane and predictable over time. Or worse, they turn spiteful and malicious. When that happens, it’s time to end things.
In recent years, Australians have been detained, poisoned by dodgy drinks, rocked by earthquakes and killed by militant Islamists in Bali. In some cases, we’ve arguably put ourselves in harm’s way, but in the vast majority of cases, we have been innocent victims. Yet like the woman who stays with her abusive partner, we somehow can’t stay away from Bali.
There is a perfectly good argument that Bali is a tropical paradise. You can go there and have a wonderful escape without stupidly buying drugs or going to bars where ugly Australians carry on like sambal pork chops. You can also do that in, oh, about a million other places in south east Asia.
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There is something enticing about the idea of life in the foreign service, with the promise of exotic travel, dealings and double-dealings with diplomats from the dodgiest regimes, cocktails on the lawn at lavish ambassadorial residences.
We have been reminded this week, however, that a very large part of the role of the foreign service is to lend a helping hand to ratbags who get themselves into strife overseas, and believe that it’s the job of the Government to get them out of trouble.
You would imagine that any Australian diplomat posted to a place such as Phuket would spend most of their time arranging ambulances for guys called Wazza who ploughed their Vespa into the back of a tuktuk after 14 bottles of Singha, safe in the knowledge that our Government can save them from their own stupidity.
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This week a 14-year-old boy became the youngest Australian ever to face drug charges in Indonesia after being arrested for allegedly possessing 6.9 grams of marijuana.
It’s believed he bought the drugs because he felt sorry for a man who claimed he hadn’t eaten for a day and needed money. (Note to other overseas-bound teens: by all means give generously; under no circumstances accept the drugs.)
The boy had apparently just received a massage in the popular tourist hub of Kuta and was on his way back to the family’s resort when arrested.
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On the dirty, sweaty streets of South East Asia, you will be offered rickshaw rides and marijuana, ecstasy, or heroin; sex and sunglasses; young boys, young girls, and crappy jewellery; novelty lighters and nudie pics, and a range of other stuff you may or may not want.
In Asia, you are rich. The rupiah, dong, and baht overflow from your wallet, and you wade through districts of poverty, where the amount you’ve just spent on a night in a villa with a candelit pool is more than someone’s monthly wage. You are rich, and you can buy almost anything imaginable.
Even as a 14-year-old, in Bali for the first time – overseas for the first time - I was rich, and the locals knew it; they wanted to bargain, to barter, to plait my hair. Wanted to overcharge me for water, to shortchange me on fake cassette tapes (Google them, kiddies), and to sell me drugs.
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Bali has moved on from the bomb: Indonesians don’t really dwell on disasters.
In the eight years since the tragedy, the Sari Club site has become ground zero for a different sort of terror - that of extreme ugliness.
The memorial built there in 2005 in the Gianyar Gothique style is surrounded by girly bars of the Bangkok type and, on most days, by lots of yobs in Bir Bintang T-shirts brandishing stubbies. A community park anywhere in downtown Kuta would be a godsend.
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