THE ISLAND OF THE GODS
THAT FIRST TRIP TO BALI IN 1975.
Although I was on the Tracks payroll before I first went to Bali, I was really just a part-time dogsbody and the editor-in-waiting. It was David “Mexican” Sumpter who got me there, when I helped him promote his surf film, On AnyMorning.
The Mexican was delighted when I used my contacts at the SundayTelegraph to get them to run a feature article they titled, ‘Surfie filmmaker lives on dog food and yoghurt to finance new movie.’ We hit the road up and down the coast, with him gluing posters all over towns while I chatted up the local papers and radio stations. After the Melbourne premiere he handed me two hundred and fifty dollars in cash and advised me to give it all to a photographer named Rennie Ellis, who was a partner in Bali Easyrider Travel Service. “You need to go to Bali,” The Mexican said. “It’ll fix your broken heart and you’ll get some perfect waves all to yourself.”
I visited Rennie Ellis at his Prahran office, thus beginning a friendship for life, and he said he could squeeze me onto a Rip Curl trip, leaving in a few days. With the return airline ticket, three weeks’ bed and breakfast and a motorbike thrown in, it cost forty nine dollars more than The Mexican had paid me, but I was in.
On the third day of my first trip to Bali, someone advised me to cycle across the cow paddock behind our losmen to a place called Arena Bungalows to see a man named Dick Hoole, who could organise a fake student pass for me so that I could buy airline tickets at a discount. Dick distractedly called for me to come in when I arrived at his door. I was somewhat shocked to find him stretched out on the floor of his room stuffing Thai marijuana sticks into the hollowed-out balsawood stringer of his surfboard. “Won’t be a sec,” he said. “There’s a thermos of tea on the porch, help yourself.”
At the time, Dick was a struggling surf photographer who needed to subsidise his lifestyle in whatever ways he could. He wasn’t the only one. Practically every long-termer or regular visitor I met in Bali that year had some kind of a scam going on, some comprehensively illegal, others just a little bit dodgy. Cheap clothing made from colourful local fabrics seemed to be low-hanging fruit, so Brian Singer and I and a couple of other Torquay likely lads travelled overland to Yogyakarta, Java—a horrendous bus and train journey in those days—to buy batik print shirts to smuggle back into Australia. I had no idea, and barely made my money back on the hideous shirts I bought, but if it was good enough for the boss of Rip Curl, it was good enough for me.
When I returned from Bali, editor John Grissim told me he had contacted a faith healer in the Philippines and booked a ticket for his departure. I would be taking over as editor of Tracks from the first issue of 1975. I was so grateful that I used the money I’d so far made from the batik shirts to buy him a slap-up dinner at The Scullery in Avalon Beach. We drank far too much and I backed the FJ into a lamp-post on the way home.
During my first year as editor of TracksI travelled to Hawaii and California for the first time. I had only been back at work for a month or so when it was time to go to Bali again. A big influx of leading surfers was underway and I convinced Albe that since he’d virtually invented it, we needed to keep covering the island of the gods.
In those early days of surfer settlement, everyone tried to be “Bali-er than thou”. Considering I’d only been there once before, my own contribution to the argument over whether we were indeed destroying the Bali we came to enjoy was as naïve as it was trite. However it speaks of the times, so I include a taste of it here:
The Ku ta re se, the hippies will tell you, are prime examples of what the tourists are doing to Bali–these people who live close to these a and the devils within, far from the gods who guide the mountain people. It’ s hard to tell just what the Ku ta locals think of us. They realise that tourism has brought them wealth that much of the population will never know, but they cling to their family traditions, make their offerings to the gods, respect authority at every level and generally shun the freedoms of western life .“They’ re funny little people ,” my girl said, watching them take breakfast of tea and toast to a statue in the garden. But no doubt they think we’ re funny big people, giving them enough money for a week’ s rice in exchange for clothes we’ ll never wear and paintings we’llneverhang.
That season I worked with Jack McCoy and Dick Hoole, who had formed a business partnership called Propeller, and together we documented the return of Gerry Lopez, fast becoming the surf god of Bali, and the performances of the young Australians Tony “Doris” Eltherington, Larry Blair, Peter “Grub” McCabe and Terry Richardson. At Uluwatu I noted that changes were already happening apace: “The track has been improved and you can motor-cycle halfway in and park at the village.”
Surfers were arriving from all over. From Japan and Brazil, for god’s sake. It was the beginning of the end of the beginning. It was 1975.
PHIL JARRATT HANGIN' WITH THE LOCAL CREW IN BALI BACK IN 1975. PHOTO: DICK HOOLE