Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

February 2009


I was a blonde juror for Gay Seminyak Idol

My affable editor told me recently that “there are more gays in Seminyak than San Francisco”—this made me think that the demographics had sure changed a lot, since the height of the Hippy era, when anywhere North of Kuta was Strictly Heterosexual.
In the 1970s, only the lower/road-side dining terrace of Made’s Warung in Kuta was a ‘gay beat’: young men in tight tee-shirts would bat their eyelids at the he-men—in loose-fitting singlets and sweaty board-shorts—piling into the popular haunt’s middle and upper sections.

Now one can’t move for the Muscle Maryz and tank tops!
Seminyak hotels do still accept heterosexuals, but the real estate industry is now almost completely gay, as evidenced by the proliferation of tragically modernist, Bondi-bondage-style villas for sale.
There are even moves afoot by Gay Seminyak Rotary to have Jalan Dyana Pura renamed Judy Garland Avenue, and to restrict breeder sun-bathing to an area between the Oberoi and the Blue Ocean hotels.
Big, tidy bikini tops will be mandatory.

•        •        •

Apparently Indonesia’s new anti-pornography laws support same-sex affection as long as both parties are in burkhas and are touching only through discreet ‘port hole’ cut-outs in the seats of said garment.
Recently at Ngurah Rai airport a moustached officer squealed “Oh My God” when I presented my passport: he had spotted the Mykonos stamp and quietly slipped in his name card.

•        •        •

Even the Pope commented last month that the Seminyak night life was “more of a danger to the planet than global warming!!”
Now read on!

Friday, 7th November 2008: Back to the Valley of the Dolls
North Legian superstar Bonita, of ‘Bonita’s’ Restaurant and Warung Sulawesi fame (Jalan Petitenget, Seminyak), has tonight invited me, in my incarnation as Widgie Wienberg―surfergirl extraordinaire, star of the low budget, low-brow ‘Beach Bum Bandit’―to be a juror at tonight’s beauty pageant at ‘Nirwana’ (or Buddhist Heaven) in Seminyak’s Gay Ghetto.
The bar is packed as I arrive in abig Mercedes Strassen-panzer, security detail in tow (the theme for the evening is, after all, ‘Divas and Bodyguards’). The barboys are all dressed in skin-tight, Indonesian navy outfits—a nice touch. An ancient Javanese-Chinese drag queen in K-Mart drag—“The scariest queen in the universe,” comments one pundit unkindly—weaves her way around the dance floor amidst the gathered studmuffia. Bonita herself, the island’s sweetest mama-san sans mammaries floats about in one of her signature Kwan Im Goddess-of-Mercy-meets-Carmen-Electra outfits.
I am introduced as ‘Asian-Pacific landscape designer’ to the stars, Made Wijaya. 
The house lights dim.

A spotlight suddenly illuminates the footpath outside.
A giant Sumatran truck-driver drag queen dressed in glittering Folies Bergere drag, with a face only a mother could love, is conveyed down the street on a rough  palanquin by four bare-chested Balinese weight-lifters, to strains of the theme song from  ‘Ben Hur’.
She climbs up onto the bar and gyrates her hulky hips as her jaw drops: she has caught her halo in the over-head projector! The fire brigade are called in to release her and the audience go wild. Teenage cruise vessels ply the dance floor.
The next five acts—Mesdames Calcutta, Nilam, Barbara, Rimmer and Bobsie—are polished, but not a scratch on the Batak truck driver as Theda Bara, and her beefy entourage. There is plenty of quality lip-synching just not enough local flavour for my taste.
It’s all very Cage aux Folle redoux).

Nirwana is tonight packed with Balinese patrons—young, gay and bisexual men looking for love—but the only thing remotely Balinese about the whole evening is the bartenders, yawning, openly, as yet another be-feathered, lady-boy mounts the bar. Ha!

27th December 2008: Legian Lothario  Shane Sweeney dies in Umalas after a long battle with cancer
A true child of the sixties—he had discovered ‘Hippie,Hippie Shake’ heroine Louise Ferrier on his first boat trip to London and dragged her to “every art gallery in Europe”—Sweeney enjoyed a semi-nomadic career path, including stints as a Gentleman Sadhu in Goa, India (Society jeweller Jean-Francois Fichot was his daughters' dresser), lead guitarist and stud-muffin in the band Prophesy (Indonesia's first rock band) in Bandung in 1968; Borobudur artist for Unesco’s Year of Indonesia, 1985; and Legian Father-for-Rent during the 1980s and 1990s. From Bali he ran a successful fine arts business (Myra Oberoi, Angie Vesty and Mick Jagger were amongst his clients);  indeed his impact on the Bali artworld was extensive during the years 1985-2005. He had a huge impact on the decorative art market: the exquisite, painterly, limestone bas relief panels his devoted team of Silakarang carvers executed mostly for export.  It must be said then some misguided fools remember Shane as a pugilistic bullshit artist—he left broken promises all over the planet—but, as romancer and raconteur extraordinaire, he warmed more hearts than he burned bridges.

During the heydays of white male peacock fashion in Paddington and Kuta, he pioneered  ‘Beau Bodgie’  mens’ couture: his trademark Sawu Ikat vest (coconut buttons), bare beer tumour and shorty sarong, often affecting a bandana or teatowel (vintage) turban and hoop earrings were an inspiration  to all New Age fashionistas.
His signature Sydney Beau Bodgie verbiage, spat through partial dentures, was unique....and is believed to have inspired at least one
Keith Richard's song (Richard's was his idol and sometime buddy, were one to believe all the tales).
Shane's seminal pivotal research on the early 19th Century Kuta trader Mads Lange—done  with John Darling, and later with Lorne and Lawrence Blair—inspired a generation of adventure seekers.


Shane, Putu and Maya in Ubud 1973

Shane with second wife Michaela in Bali in 1999

Hippie, Hippie Shake—Shane with Jason in Kathmandu in 1969 at the Sri Saraswati Bakery cum commune on vulture hill next to Swoyambhu Hill.

One of the artist’s popular mural Designs

Despite his good works Sweeney was slagged off in Donald Friend's diaries no end, and rather unfairly (Donald would have been jealous of Sweeney's youthful beauty and hypocritically suspicious of his free-willy-free-wheeling ways).
In later years his antics were celebrated in the Stranger in Paradise where he enjoyed Gay Icon status on a parr with other Stranger ‘ozzie-icons’ Lorrae Desmond, Valerie Taylor and film-maker John Darling.
Sweeney lived hard but died quietly, keeping his dire condition secret from all but his immediate family for the last six months, so as not to cause a fuss.
All his life he prayed for miracles, played to the crowd and chased dreams.

•        •        •

Shortly after Christmas another expat legend had a ‘cosmic’ change of address’ too.
In the 1970s Bali’s expatriate population consisted of a mixed bag of restauranteurs, hotel managers, artists, antique dealers, anthropologists, two Australian architects, numerous handicraft exporters and a slightly suspect German doctor. There were a couple of rag trade pioneers—Milo, a designer, and Sandy Stephens and Roger Jones who opened Bali’s first Tee-Shirt boutique, called Matahari, on Beach Road, Kuta, a few hundred metres west of Made’s Warung—and there was a tribe of sweet semi-nomadic hippies and less-sweet surfies.
Amazingly, there were no expatriate real estate developers, immigration lawyers or nutrionists at that time!
For a few years in the late 1970s, the undisputed King of Alternate Expatiate Seminyak was one Terry Stanton—bamboo designer extraordinaire—and his sensual Australian actress wife Arna-Maria Winchester. Stanton’s day job was as the make-it-up-as-you-go-along residential manager of The Kayu Aya hotel (The Oberoi). Kayu Aya was for three glorious years  Crash City  for the bright young,  beautiful, and stoned people, and official venue for wild parties sans panties, with magic mushrooms etc. etc. (I read this in Readers Digest).


Arna, Putu and Terry (1978)

While Terry Stanton was playing hotel manager, Arna Maria opened Bali’s first bamboo luxury boutique selling sexy silk clothes on the beach in front of the La Taverna hotel, in Sanur, which was then the  preferred East Coast venue for the in crowd. (Arna was pivotal in the rise and rise of Mama and Leon, the Sanur sewing czars in 1980).
Around this time Arna then pregnant, was bitten by a rabid dog in Makassar and underwent a series of dodgy injections which left her in middling to poor health for the rest of her life. Miraculously she had a boy, Putu Sugiartha Winchester in Sanglah hospital later.

In 1982, the same year she sang “Sad Movies Always Make Me Cry” at Bali’s first ever Film Festival and then moved back to Sydney. Sadly the marriage did not survive the move: Terry and Arna embarked on 25 years of hostile relations.
Neither ever achieved the heights they had reached as Bali’s first New Age Bantam-weight Australian celebrities and first owners of a real home in Seminyak (it was called ‘Kantor Bingung’ (confusion office)).
Shortly before Christmas, Arna-Maria died at her dome in Byron Bay, surrounded by her son, and grandson Ryder and a good gaggle of New Age Bali-o-philes. (That night, her son, knocked out his father, by mistake, at the wake: the drama that was always a part of her life in Bali, and Australia, was to continue beyond the grave!).

 



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