Welcome to this, the first piece in The Punch’s Festival of Obvious Ideas, which will be running all week. The festival is our salute to those ideas which are so bleedingly obvious, you’ll wonder why someone didn’t write these pieces ages ago. First up this week, why we should all avoid Bali.
Australia has an ongoing romance with the small Indonesian island of Bali dating back to at least the 1970s. But all romances turn mundane and predictable over time. Or worse, they turn spiteful and malicious. When that happens, it’s time to end things.
In recent years, Australians have been detained, poisoned by dodgy drinks, rocked by earthquakes and killed by militant Islamists in Bali. In some cases, we’ve arguably put ourselves in harm’s way, but in the vast majority of cases, we have been innocent victims. Yet like the woman who stays with her abusive partner, we somehow can’t stay away from Bali.
There is a perfectly good argument that Bali is a tropical paradise. You can go there and have a wonderful escape without stupidly buying drugs or going to bars where ugly Australians carry on like sambal pork chops. You can also do that in, oh, about a million other places in south east Asia.
The upshot of all this is simple. Don’t go to Bali. Get over it. Bali is just not worth the risk. That’s hardly fair for the tens of thousands of good-natured Balinese who have built livelihoods servicing Australian tourists. Tough. A lot of things that happen to Australians there aren’t fair either.
I have never been to Bali. That’s an admission which may prompt some to say I have no right to pen this column. Don’t care. Just as you don’t need to read Eat, Pray, Love to know it’s a steaming pile of horse manure, you don’t need to go to Bali to know you don’t want to go to Bali.
Fact is, we have been inundated for decades with samples of Balinese food, architecture, trinkets and god knows what else. Redgum’s famous song “I’ve been to Bali too” lampooned the fact that there is precious little in the way of a unique cultural experience for any Australian in Bali, and that was 27 years ago.
Suffice to say, there has been no rich seam of undiscovered Balinese culture unearthed since then. Indeed, the place has just gotten more Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi.
You have to wonder if many Australians even realise Bali is in another country. A friend who went there once was told by a customs official that he was the first person of an entire planeload of Aussies to write “Indonesia” in the box marked Country of Arrival.
There is another reason not to go to Bali, and it’s the most blindingly obvious reason imaginable. We have beaches in Australia. Fantastic beaches. Surf beaches and flat beaches. Hip beaches with a beautiful crowd and wild empty beaches with no one in sight. Beaches, beaches, beaches.
Just two weeks ago I was on a quiet NSW north coast beach where the water was warm, the sands empty and the children happy. Twice on this beach I saw a sea eagle catch a large silver fish and carry it back to its nest in its talons. Personally, I find that kind of encounter far more enticing than the prospect of sharing the sand with a horde of hungover 20-somethings.
But let’s be totally honest here. The main reason so many of us travel to Bali is that we’re all instant millionaires the minute we get there, due to the purchasing power of the Oz dollar versus the Indonesian rupiah.
At home, life is a struggle and the bills keep rolling in. In Bali, we unshackle ourselves not just from the daily grind but from our economic circumstances. For a few hundred bucks on Jetstar flights and the same again on hotels, we’ve got all the spending money in the world for a week of piss and trinkets. You don’t get that in Australian beach towns. Not unless you camp.
So sure, if you want to see Dazza pashing Shazza while Khe Sanh blazes in the background in some Kuta nightclub, good luck to you. But if you ask me, that sounds like the sort of thing you can do at home.
Why take the last plane out of Sydney all the way to Denpasar for the dubious privilege? Especially when it might be the last plane you ever catch.