temple near ubud lighter

Chapter 1 Our Northern Neighbour


Cloud hung along Bali’s shore line: a white rim of sand, a dark line of palms. In the distance, somehow reptilian, an iron grey peak thrust its head from the cloud. ‘The plane circled low over a landscape wonderfully delicate: green light and wet rice fields shining like panes of glass, the fretted texture of dark palm trees, small clusters of thatched roofs. This was even more than we had expected of the land described as a paradise. This was the magic of Bali.

Our interest in Indonesia came from a realization that most Australian people, including Betty and me, knew very little about our nearest neighbor. Words tell us something but show nor can photographs convey the feel and fibre of a country. Even when we had studied the language, Bahasa Indonesia, eaten Indonesian food, sung Indonesian songs with people who came from Indonesia; we were not  prepared for what we night find in that island nation so close to ours. One Sumatran man told us, in his forthright, Sumatran way: “You can call us an underdeveloped nation, a developing nation or a third world nation, whatever you like;  what you will find is a green land, full of smiling children”. And that was good enough for us.

At Ngurah Rai Airport, long grass grew between the runways and an old man who wore  a conical hat and held a sickle stood still as stilland didn’t turn an eye towards the line of hot and sweaty tourists that straggled across the tarmac. ‘Selamat datang’ (‘Welcome.) the customs man said and he waved us on without inspecting our baggage. Jostling boys, who hoped to carry our baggage, assailed us, with fingers  jabbing at chests:  Me! Me!’. It was hot, we sweated in a long queue, to change crisp travellers’ cheques into wads of many soft little banknotes.  A driver pounced and almost dragged us to his taxi and, once we had paid the boy who dragged our baggage, we were on our way to Denpasar, fast, with the car’s horn blaring.

The road ran between rice fields and lines of coconut palms, through villages where, thatched family dwellings and tiny pagoda-like  temples could be seen over thatched, high walls of clay.

Farmers in rice fields guided ploughs behind pretty Balinese oxen and women walked beside the road with grace and  easy rhythm. They wore sarongs about their thighs, turbans on their heads, hair pulled back in chignons, and they balanced great baskets on their heads  Colours were muted; ochres blended with umbers and greens.   We swerved around great a pig that snuffled the road and the driver blared his horn.

To our surprise, a slight and urbane young man had slid easily into the car beside us as we left the airport. He laid a gentle hand on my arm. ` Kecak dance tonight,’ he began, ‘you will see it.  Must not miss Kecak. Tonight!  Only  3,000 rupiah each, You must see… tonight.’


`Yes, tonight, you must see.’

‘No other night?’

‘No., tonight you must see! Three thousand rupiah. Good price! Good price.’  .

At our hotel the same young man followed us right into our room, still insisting that tonight was the night and the price was right. he wore me down, in the end, I was tired. ‘Oh well, why not? I counted out  twice three thousand rupiahs.

That was when Amos, the hotel manager, arrived. He, a small, slim, gentle man, bowed politely, took hold of my elbow in a kindly way ‘Tuan, is “rip¬off” an expression you have heard?’ The seller of tickets vanished, like Balinese magic. We had arrived.

Compact Discintroduction to Indonesian musicIn 1975, Betty and I were lucky enough to be awarded a travel grant by the Literature Board of The Australia Council (an innovation of the Whitlam era). We went, wide eyed with innocence and curiosity, to explore the islands of Bali and Java.

We had no definite objective, no planned publications, we would just allow, even encourage, things to happen and then work out what to do. We had learned as much of the Indonesian language as we could, enough to get by, and of course we would be forced to learn quickly as we went on our way. We had no very clear picture of what we would find, photographs and books give you only a vague overview.
There was one description, however, that remained clear in our minds: A Sumatran gentleman we met at a party for Indonesian students told us, a little defensively, ‘You can call us a third world country, a developing country, whatever you like; what you will find is a green land full of smiling children.’
Because Betty is a composer and a pianist and I am a story teller and illustrator, we were naturally drawn to the arts of Indonesia and as we encountered those arts and the artists who created them, a strong desire developed to tell our own countrymen about the riches Spice-and-magic-book-coverwe were discovering. In Jakarta the Indonesian Department of Education and Culture made things easier for us by supplying us with letters of introduction to some of the leading Indonesian artists, but then plain luck led us to other fine creators and led also into some very good friendships.

We shall always be grateful to the Literature Board of The Australia Council and to The Schools Commission, who commissioned a music drama for children. We went back, quite a few times to Indonesia, and we did achieve results: Betty set to music the work of several of Indonesia’s leading poets and also wrote much orchestral and instrumental music using Indonesian themes and scales; together we wrote a music drama for children, THE RAJA WHO MARRIED AN ANGEL (Playlab Press, Australia) set in Bali; I wrote and illustrated two children’s picture books, MISS BUNKLE’S UMBRELLA, set in Java, (The Bodley Head, UK, and Crown Books, USA) and AYU AND THE PERFECT MOON set in Bali (The Bodley Head, UK, Curtis Brown, USA, Walker Books, Australia).
As I go on with this blog, I will refer to the work that came from this research, especially our travel book SPICE AND MAGIC (Boolarong Press), and a compact disc, MUSIC AND MUSICIANS IN BALI AND JAVA (Beath-Cox Art Enterprises). Both of these works are obtainable from Beath-Cox Art Enterprises.

Ayu and the Perfect Moon
AYU AND THE PERFECT MOON,  Published by Walker Books, Australia


Betty and David welcome you to our new website. In these pages we intend to make some of our work available: music scores and discs as well as books and music dramas.

We will make available Powerpoint videos which may be used as visuals to accompany performances of Betty’s music and we intend to write our own blog on various topics, mostly to do with the arts. We will change these articles every couple of weeks. We do hope you will enjoy our site.