Published in the Sunday Jakarta Post, 10 December 2006

A page from Donald Friend’s cartoon series “Revolting Paradise” which detailed goings on at the fantasy “Batter’s Jimbers” in the period 1970 to 1983, published here for the first time.

Berata and the Brazier

At the risk of offending the more ‘ up-tight’ of my readers I write this week of a famous bugger who was also a great man. Australian artist Donald Friend came to Bali, aged 55, in 1969, after colourful and much storied stints in New Guinea, where he was a war artist; in Australia, where he founded, with his friend Russell Drysdale, the famously debauched Hill End Artists colony; in Africa, where he was the guest of a West African king; and in Sri Lanka, where, in the early 1960s, he helped Bevis Bawa – brother of the legendary architect and landscapist Geoffrey Bawa – create that great temple to over 18 boy mischief “Brief”, in Bentota. In his fifteen years in Bali, as the fourth in his series of remarkable diaries (launched at the National Library in Canberra on November 15 th of this year) contests, his artistic achievements, sexual conquests and viperous wit never let up. He created luscious paintings, published amazing books on the island’s fables and foibles and inspired a generation of wannabe arty buggers. His collection of ancient bronzes and Balinese carvings was unrivalled. His house and garden in seaside Batujimbar, Sanur – where he frolicked and feuded – was a  Mecca for lovers of Balinese art and culture, for lovers of poetic tropical gardens and for the art-buyers, whose frenzied purchases fuelled the furnaces of Friend’s dreams, and a few real estate projects on the side.

He was the last of the Great White Rajas in a nice not a nasty way. His neo-colonial airs and graces were shameless and theatrical. He adored the Balinese and documented their character in a way that no-one has since.
To read his Bali diaries is to be transported back to a time when all non-Balinese residents were in love, and Bali was their mistress.
In a May 1973 entry in his diary he writes of an evening at home during this golden age:

“Little Made Berata is my great delight, the youngest of the household, who goes seriously about his work, imbues all his acts with an old-fashioned courtesy.
Unconscious that I am observing him, he brings in a terracotta brazier of charcoal, adds to it a few grains of incense, notes in what direction the smoke bends, moves the brazier so that it will waft toward me. Then he adds a few more grains of the fine Javanese resin, and as the plume of smoke ascends, with a beautiful very Balinese gesture inbred with absorbed gravity, fills his cupped hands with the smoke and washes his face in its sacred perfume.”

I cried when I read this bit in the diaries. Not because Donald is long gone – as has Berata’s great beauty for that matter – but I cried at the beautiful way Donald describes the gentle edge of Balinese perfect-ness of gesture and grace. I cried for a lost age.
The observations on loopy expatriates in Donald's diaries are incredibly astute and humorous. About one visitor to his Sanur home in October 1976 he wrote:  “She spoke much better Indonesian than I do, but with a very odd inflection – ‘Bar-goose, Sir Caley’ etc. (bagus sekali) using it to address everybody with great earnestness, assuming the whole populace to be adepts and initiates of the secret wisdom.”

Australian artist and diarist Donald Friend at ‘Ketut’ John Darling’s pondok hut in Ubud, 1979 ( photo courtesy of John Darling Mediacorp Int’l)

Friend loathed hippies of the beach dwelling variety and none more than Shane Sweeny, who survives in Bali today, as a successful artist,   in outer Legian. An October 1973 entry about Sweeney: “Occasionally in the last few weeks I’ve seen the abominable Shane Sweeney, who has moved into a half-ruined shed on the beach, which stands in the front yard of a government architect. His elected host was upset and alarmed at the invasion, but too naive, too timid to do, or to know what to do, about the unwanted hippy until Shane began dismantling graves in the cemetery next door to make mat and bamboo screens, which he painted with screaming designs in very bright colours.
“They’re very superstitious,” Shane told me. “I’ve stopped taking things from the graves.” The Balinese are horrified by anything taken from a graveyard. It is both unclean and haunted.
So instead Shane began furnishing his pad with stuff taken from the little temple nearby.
If Shane were to remain in Bali one would expect, fairly soon, a little slumming community of these despoilers.”

His writings about his long battle with the wily Wija Waworuntu – Don of Sanur Tourism,  and founder, with Donald and his money  (if we believe the diary), of Batujimbar Estates  – is the most interesting read in the book. “Nothing that happens here is clear cut in outline,” he wrote of his dealings with Waworuntu in a June 1975 entry, “the motives of people involved is simple enough, but the course of their doings very convoluted.” Donald was nothing if not envious and disloyal. Of his great friend and constant companion of the time, Chris Carlisle, he wrote, in the middle of Carlisle’s superhuman efforts to complete the Bali Hyatt in 1972:  “Chris is under considerable pressure. The furniture factory is his responsibility. From what I hear little has been produced. There clings to it all a sort of well-worn theatrical gaiety, the amiable fecklessness of a young Englishman going to the dogs in the tropics in the traditional way. Booze, women and debts etc. The steamy miasma of the jungle closing in etc.” Donald never let the truth get in the way of a good tale!!
He was an unabashed hedonist – in the middle of all of his altruism and artistry – in an era when hedonism was somewhat frowned upon. Lately it has become fashionable. People move to Bali for the “available glamour” and the “lifestyle” (not Donald Friend’s lifestyle, but a lifestyle they see in glossy magazines, like “Tropical Lifestyle,” a real estate industry publication, or Asia Men's Spa, the new testament  for wholesome holistic new age hedonism).

A drawing of legendary Ubud beauty Made Lunas, wife of Bali Art Print (BAP) founder Walter Folle, who published Friend’s book “Bird’s of the Magic Mountain”

“You too can live like a king on the island of the gods” advertisements trumpet in today’s Bali tourism magazines (read “You too can bonk your maid, (or driver as the case may be) in the security of your fortress villa” one local wit recently quipped). Donald Friend was the first and the last foreigner to live like a prince, truly like a prince, on the island of the Gods. His taste in all things was truly majestic, as was his diary style – opinionated, aristocratic (he was nothing if not a horrible snob) and bombastic. He maintained and respected (in his own way) a vast swathe of serfs; he was a prince of passion, who loved his subjects and his surroundings.
 I was shocked to read in “Tropical Lifestyles” last week an essay on “My life in Bali” by a 14 year old Western girl who has lived in Bali for four years, studying at the International school. In a whole page of her diary, reproduced in handwriting, she did not mention the Balinese or the Balinese culture. “ Bali's great,” she wrote, “because you can ride your horse four times a week on the beach.”

You can’t blame the poor girl, she's only 14, or the International school, because the whole idea might just be to hermetically seal off foreign children from their host culture.  But what sort of message is Tropical Lifestyles trying to send? That they've now bred a second generation of culturally-insensitive villa aspirants?

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