Brides & Bali
Bali is the gateway to paradise, especially for the throngs of Aussies who come to surf, party, relax or – in increasing numbers – say “I do”. But this tropical isle is now battling with its fame. Are we loving it to death?
WHEN AUSTRALIAN writer and surf nut Phil Jarratt landed in Bali in 1974 he must have thought he had arrived in heaven. On his first night, Jarratt watched the sun set over a largely undeveloped Kuta Beach, drank Bintang beer bought from “a pretty girl in a sarong who seemed to glide along the sand with an ice bucket balanced on her head”, and then walked up the dusty beach track to the night fish markets where he ate a whole fish with his fingers. Paradise. The Indonesians call it the Island of the Gods, and no Western tourist would argue with that. Whether you’re a working-class family looking for a cheap beach holiday with a touch of the exotic, a former Miss Universe in the market for a luxurious photograph-worthy location for a wedding, or a retiree looking for a tropical paradise where your superannuation dollar goes further, then Bali has something for you.
It’s no surprise then that Indonesia’s biggest tourism hotspot became the new No.1 choice of travelling Australians booking overseas hotels in the first half of this year, according to Hotels.com, bumping New York off the top spot.
But Bali today is a very different place to that which Jarratt first visited.
Increasingly this island paradise is battling with its fame – running out of electricity, struggling with sustainable water supply, selling its arable farmland to developers, losing its culture and choking in the fumes of too many gridlocked cars and buses.
The tourists adore it, but the purists and many locals fear Bali is being loved to death; its cultural charm and natural beauty impossibly squeezed by increased demand for resorts, restaurants and bars.
And some think Australians must take a big chunk of responsibility.
Back in May, SA Weekend columnist Susie O’Brien caused a mini storm among readers with her answer to the island’s problems: make Bali a “bogan-free zone”.
Berating the “16,000 rude, lewd Aussies and their badly behaved children” heading each week to the island, O’Brien argued they were not only a disgrace to Australia but damaging the local culture. Hundreds responded online, pummelling or praising the columnist.
One thing is for certain, Bali’s plight is a sad state of affairs given it is home to some of the friendliest people on the planet and, beyond the nightclubs of Kuta and endless rows of resorts, is steeped in a rich and spiritual culture.
When my fiancé and I got engaged last year, our discussion immediately turned to whether we might get married in Bali. Beyond the apparent cost-saving benefits, there’s the promise of perennially warm weather and the opportunity to keep the guest list compact.
Yet, despite it being a favourite holiday destination of ours and a great opportunity to launch into a group holiday with our nearest and dearest, even we obsessed as to whether such a move might be a bit “bogan”. Moreover, as enduring fans of the island paradise, we too realised that