In 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 we 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.