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From the carnage in Bali, a new partnership may be possible

By Terry Flew - posted Friday, 18 October 2002

The shocking events in Kuta, Bali on October 12 may cause Australians to retreat from engaging with Indonesia, or with other parts of South-East Asia. A recent ninemsn poll, to take one example, found that 70 per cent of its 10,000 respondents were less likely to travel to South-East Asia in the wake of the Bali bombings. Yet there is also the potential to develop a new partnership between Australia and Indonesia, that focuses not just upon traditional diplomatic and security questions, but which bolsters economic and cultural links, using Bali as a test-bed for such new linkages.

I was in Bali on October 12, but my partner Angela and I had long left Kuta. We first got the news about a bomb in Kuta while watching dolphins swimming at dawn off the northern beachside town of Lovina, and got the grim details of the attacks on the Sari Club and Paddy’s Pub off the Internet at a nearby Wartel (Indonesian telecommunications office). Indeed, it has only been since we returned to Australia that the full impact of the event on thinking in this country has become apparent.

It seemed very hard to adopt the role of disaster reporter or war correspondent in Bali. While there are many parts of Indonesia where the John Pilger-style frontline flak jacket fits very well- Aceh, Ambon, Timor, West Papua, Kalimantan- it does not fit well in Bali. The standard uniform for Australians in Bali, and particularly in Kuta, was more likely to be the Bir Bintang t-shirt or singlet, Billabong board shorts, and fake Nike sandals, bought at a total cost of less than $A20. It was generally considered, both by Australians and Indonesians, that Bali was the one place in the country immune to such attacks.


The fact that an attack on such a scale was launched upon two nightclubs in a place like Kuta, Bali, indicates that it is part of the ‘new terrorism’, more concerned with creating carnage than making demands. Nightclubs in Kuta on Saturday nights are full of Western revellers, and notoriously poorly policed.

While there may have been other factors in the choice of target, such as the Sari Club’s door policy of not admitting Indonesian locals, or particular grievances with Australian foreign policy towards Iraq or East Timor, the attack was clearly the result of long-term planning aimed at a site where the number of deaths would be highest and the resultant fear most greatly felt. The fact that many who died were from countries such as Sweden and Germany, who are not supportive of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, should provide a point of caution to those who want to blame John Howard for the Australian deaths, or Tony Blair for the loss of British lives.

If the attacks have generated shell shock among Australians, they have been a dagger to the heart of the Balinese. Bali is a predominantly Hindu island of 3 million people, with 80 per cent of its economy based on tourism, which is the second largest non-extractive industry in terms of exports for Indonesia after clothing & textiles. The sense of grief in Bali that such an attack had occurred was palpable, as was the awareness that the vital tourist dollars that have tided the island and its people through the 1998 Asian economic crisis and since were drying up, and that the tourists were unlikely to return soon. On our last day in Bali, the question we kept being asked was: "When are you coming back?".

At present, much of the discussion between the Australian and Indonesian governments is focused upon identifying those responsible for the attacks, and future security issues. While not denying the significance of such discussions, two other areas can be identified where cooperation between Australia and Indonesia could be fruitfully pursued in the wake of this horrific event.

One suggestion made in the Australian newspapers, which I believe to be a good one, is that Australia could assist with upgrading facilities at the Denpasar Hospital, perhaps by developing a training hospital or even a unit dealing with burns or other major injuries. The symbolism of such a gesture would be important, and the initiative would no doubt be greatly appreciated.

Perhaps more significantly, now would be a good time for tourism authorities in the two countries to rethink strategies to promote tourism in Bali. Bali has had two foreign-tourism economies: high-cost tourism based around Sanur and Nusa Dua, that is mostly undertaken by Japanese and North Americans, and budget tourism based around Kuta and dominated by Australians, with a significant number of backpackers and other travellers from Britain and Europe.


Figures published just prior to the bombing showed what a particular tourism economy has evolved in Kuta. The Kuta-Legian region had 212,000 hotel rooms, more than 200 bars, restaurants and Karaoke lounges, and was a site where more than 3 billion rupiah ($A60 million) of alcohol was consumed annually, or more than $A1 million a week. Given that not much of this alcohol is consumed by the local Balinese, it does point to Kuta being a place of cheap hotel rooms, cheap beer, even cheaper t-shirts, and myriad annoying street sellers and beachside vendors. In other words, the bargain basement of the South-East Asian tourism economy, and a place where drunken Australians could be found in abundance.

Tourism development in Bali since the 1970s has been strongly shaped by the desire to avoid creating another Kuta, particularly by developing cultural tourism that engages with the island’s culture and traditions, rather than ignoring or negating them. Since there will be a short-term collapse in tourist visits to Bali after the October 12 bombings, and since this will be most keenly felt in Kuta, an opportunity may exist to rethink how travel to Bali is promoted to Australians.

Rather than simply being a place for Aussies to ‘let off steam’ without any worries- an unrealistic aspiration in today’s world, and one that can never be recreated in Bali after this event- a visit to Kuta could be seen as part of a process of engagement with Balinese culture, and be linked to travel to the many other beautiful parts of this island. In other words, the opportunity exists to promote tourism that can be value-adding, in a cultural as well as an economic sense, for both visitors and hosts. The Bintang Beer may not flow as freely as it once did, but Bali may be remembered by its visitors for more than cheap clothes and annoying touts.

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About the Author

Terry Flew is Professor of Media and Communications at the Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia. He is the author of Understanding Global Media (Palgrave 2007) and New Media: An Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2008). From 2006 to 2009, he has headed a project into citizen journalism in Australia through the Australian Research Council’s Linkage-Projects program, and The National Forum (publishers of On Line Opinion) have been participants in that project.

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