THE IS­LAND OF THE GODS

THAT FIRST TRIP TO BALI IN 1975.

Tracks - - Land Camp -

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

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