In this edition:
- Festive Glamour: When the festive season throws you an occasion, you need to glam it up.
- Andrew McUtchen looks for fun in cricket with former Australian cricketer Damien Fleming.
- Take a look at our Christmas Gift Guide.
The last time I saw Jason Childs, a former colleague at The Age, was when I bumped into him one night at the Sari Club in Bali. It was, as usual, packed with Australians and people from many other countries. With its big SC sign towering over the streets of Legian it was easy to find and a well-known meeting spot. Childs and I had a chat over a Bintang beer a bit about life at The Age, a bit about his life in Bali and said goodbye.
So amid the deep shock of hearing about the 2002 bombing of the Sari Club and Paddys Bar I remembered that night with Jason Childs. The Sari Club where wed chatted was now a smoking ruin where many tourists including 88 Australians had died. And Bali was a changed place that would forever bear the deep scars of that terrible night.
Ten years later we meet again, this time at the house in Legian that Childs shares with his partner, Michelle, and two sons, Jackson, 5, and Tom, two.
The Childs household is a study in how many of us would like to live. Childs, a world-renowned surf photographer, shoots for the prestigious American magazine Surfer and sells the surf images in his extensive library.
His website, www.jasonchildsphotos.com, will be up soon. Michelle works as the chief executive officer for a fashion company. The boys are at school and have a strong relationship with two local Balinese women who have been helping the family for 12 years.
Both of us work, Childs says, and in your downtime youre not doing the cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing. Jackson needs extra help.
Last November Jackson was diagnosed as a high-functioning autistic. The beauty of living here is that we can put so much more time into him, Childs says. And the beauty of living back in Legian is that Mich is five minutes ride on a scooter to work, school is 10 minutes away and we can still go down the beach at 6 oclock and have a beer and still be home by 8.30.
Bali is a gift for his work. As a photographer, living in Bali visually is amazing, Childs says. Ive been re-inspired by digital. Because I could never get films processed in Bali, except for black and white or colour neg, for a news job. So Id have to shoot film, send it to Singapore, send it to the magazines and wouldnt see it until the magazine came out.
Childs has had access to a Bali many havent seen. At a ceremony several years ago Childs met a Balinese sculptor and painter who also takes photos. He rings me a couple of times a week and takes me to another world, the spiritual world of Bali. Sometimes we go to ceremonies where were the only photographers. I get to see an amazing side of Bali.
His day job is tough now, though. The options for surf photographers have tightened up. Its really tough to sell images for ads. You can still sell for ads but its got to be a pretty amazing image. Everyone wants to be a surf photographer. There are that many guys here now. Im lucky that Im staff shooter with the No.1 surf magazine in the world.
In April, Childs had an opportunity to spend five days with his friend Kelly Slater, possibly the greatest surfer in history. Slater invited him to Java to stay in a house on the beach. I got to shoot all the lifestyle of Kelly in this old Javanese house right on the beach for Surfer. There were images of Kelly you never ever get if you were on a trip with him when hes in his hotel room and youre in yours. It was amazing lighting, great surf. They are lifelong bonds you have. Thats where Ive been lucky.
At 45, Childs is considering his future as a surf photographer. In my industry Im working with 15-year-old kids. You come to a point where you have to ask, Do I want to be going on trips with 15-year-old kids, and do 15-year-old kids want to be coming on trips with me?
His photography and indeed life have been largely unaffected by the loss of his left eye after a surfing accident two years ago. I was surfing at Canggu and duckdived a wave, hugged my board, and it pushed up against my face and perforated my eye. Id had two detached retinas as a six-year-old I had a stick thrown at my left eye. It was 30 years of no issues. Out of the blue I had a couple of detached retinas. The eye was shrinking and shrivelling and getting ugly and I was having chronic pain with it. I remember standing on the beach after the accident wondering if it was still in there.
Childs flew to Australia to see an eye specialist. They did a biopsy and it had an ulcer in it, which explained what the pain was. He had the eye removed and now wears a prosthetic eye. He wore a patch for a while that, with his once-wild long hair, gave him the look of a pirate. Two weeks after the operation he was back surfing again. I pop it out now when I go to the beach and go surfing and wear a patch if Im on the jet-ski.
Childs worked at The Age for 10 years from 1983. In 1993 Michelle secured a position at the surf brand Stussy in Bali. Childs saw work opportunities for him there too. The Indonesian partner of Stussy was a good friend of ours. Michelle said, If I come, will you sponsor Jason? So I came along too. I cant claim it as my great idea.
They arrived in Bali in 1993, and after some time living in Legian in the heart of the action they moved out to Jimbaran Bay, a 30-minute drive away.
He says there is a big difference between the expats who arrived 20 years ago and those making Bali their home now. The only option then was to rent off a Balinese person and automatically you got Balinese staff and whether you wanted to or not you learnt a little bit about where you lived and whether you wanted to or not, you were involved in the community, Childs says. Now people get online and rent their villa from another Western person; they wouldnt know whether their staff was Balinese, Javanese or Sumatran.
Childs was at Phillip Island in Victoria when he received news of the first Bali bombing in 2002. A mate rang me at 6 oclock that morning. I came back to a deserted Bali. The only time that the reality of it came back even though Id been to the bomb site and Id done the cleansing ceremony was when I was shooting for The Age and I heard [survivor] Peter Hughes speak at the trials. Then it was real.
The bomb forced some changes. Friends of mine packed up and left. Some who had been here too long who didnt have a reality left.
The second bombing, in Jimbaran Bay in 2005, occurred 200 metres from their house. We had a party at the house that night. We ran to the beach. We didnt have kids. Friends with kids were hesitant. Mich grabbed a whole heap of towels.
Michelle helped a lady through the last half an hour of life, talked to her, held her hand, called her family. Her husband survived. He couldnt see. He told us where the kids were staying so we could ring them and let them know dads OK and mums going to be at the hospital. I photographed that night. I looked at some of the images the other day; really looked at them properly. I sent those images around the world and that night I was really removed from it because when youre behind the camera theres a distance. Im probably lucky that I dont carry the scars of it. But if anything drops, if someone drops a glass around me, I jump.
People say, Oh youre so lucky to live in Bali, and we are, but the highs are so high and the lows are so low.
Tourist numbers took time to recover but soon the crowds were back and life went on, for tourists and locals.
Three months ago the family moved from Jimabaran Bay back to the more central Legian because they were spending too much time in traffic snarls. If Michelle left work at 5.30pm, the traffic congestion meant she would get home too late for a proper family life. She was working crazy hours. Now shes a general manager for a smaller company called Atticus and works four days a week.
We were getting to the stage where we were the grumpy expats, the ones who would start complaining about everything and we thought, OK, what are we going to do about this traffic? Is it time to pack up and leave Bali?.
That was the first time wed looked at each other and thought, Is it time to leave? We didnt see any of our friends. And the kids didnt see their friends.
I asked Childs for his thoughts on the reputation many Australians have for being alcohol-swigging party animals.
A lot of people can write [them] off, but theyre the people who will give the Balinese the time of day. The Balinese really love the openness of the Aussies and that the Aussies will have a laugh and a joke with them. A lot of the Balinese here have lifelong Australian friends. Its pretty easy to go The Ugly Aussie but you know what? Theyre having a good time and the money is going back into the Balinese community.
Childs misses his closest friends in Melbourne. Ive always worked really hard at keeping those friendships. I dont mind the [Melbourne] cold. I miss the footy, Ive always been lucky enough to go back to grand finals and big games. The plan is the boys will do high school back in Oz.
The life that we all came to live here changed. And for some people that means Lombok or other parts of Indonesia. But theres no other Bali. People are kidding themselves if they think Lombok is another Bali. Ive documented all the beaches and the beautiful landscape of Bali and Ive got the images to show how beautiful Bali is.
Its been a great 20 years on the island. Childs used to indulge his passion for AFL by playing for the Bali Geckos Australian rules team. He loves the laid-back atmosphere and the surf in Bali, some of the best in the world.
We came here for lifestyle, he says. We didnt come here to make a million dollars.