The Healer of Bali
In the late 1960s before bombs, rabies and over-development, Bali was a rich territory for Western artists and academics, seduced by the islanders’ creativity and spirituality.
Among them was Australian John Darling, later to be described by American anthropologist Clifford Geertz as Bali’s ‘most innovative cinematographer’ ranking him alongside other international scholars for his ‘definitive studies’.
And that was long before John produced The Healing of Bali, his measured response
to the 2002 Kuta nightclub bombing by Islamic fundamentalists that took 202 lives.
When the bomb exploded John was in Canberra and unwell. He was working as an academic and suffering from hereditary haemochromatosis, a debilitating condition that creates an overload of iron in the blood. He’d also had a heart attack.
“I’m grieving in two cultures,” he told his wife Sara as they headed back to Indonesia. At
first using their own money the couple recorded Balinese reactions to the tragedy, restoring tolerance and balance amongst the grieving and anger – doing so by calling down their ancient cultural values of cosmic harmony.
It was John’s last film and it was screened on national television on the first anniversary of the outrage. Although he continued academic researching, his illness affected his other organs and he was later diagnosed with leukaemia.
John Darling died late last year in Perth aged 65.
His ashes will be returned to Bali by Sara in July to be scattered during the Bali in Global Asia Conference.
“The funeral in Perth in December included elements of traditional Aboriginal culture, Christianity, Hinduism and Balinese rituals,” said Mrs Darling.
“In the last weeks of his life John applied the same processes he used to produce his films – he planned, created and visualised his entire funeral. He also organised all the materials covering 40 years of his professional life.”
One of his earliest works, which has become a classic, is Lempad of Bali, winning
the documentary award at the 1980 Asian Film Festival. The film is a tribute to one of the island’s greatest artists who died in 1978 when he was believed to be 116. He was also curiously responsible for the Australian settling in Bali.
John Darling was born in Melbourne in 1946, the only son of an establishment family. His English father, later to become Sir James Darling and chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, was headmaster at Geelong Grammar, one of Australia’s most prestigious schools. His mother Margaret had Scottish ancestry.
Young John’s road seemed set as an academic specializing in British history, but fate had paved another path. After graduating with honors he went to Oxford to continue his studies
but soon lost his way.
His academic colleagues then suggested he focus on Indonesia, a land most Australians knew only through the windows of Boeings heading to Europe.
Black rope and bamboo
make my house,
I have a mouse in my
Frogs make comforting
music through the night.
My lamp casts shadows
on the plants
Dim in my distance a
cat stalks quietly by:
I can see a few stars
But they are of another world.
Tjokorda Gde Mahatma Putra Kerthyasa from the Ubud Royal Family said the only outsiders who could live in Ubud (the artistic heart of Bali) were those who loved the island for what it was – not for what they could get out of it.
“John was a man who lived his truth and spoke it,” he said when officiating at the funeral. “He
didn’t choose an easy life in Bali, he chose a Balinese life.
Despite his weakening
state from the undiagnosed illness, over the next two decades John produced ine films and directed, wrote or researched many others. He became the Go-To for Western anthropologists
and artists trying to understand the mysteries of the Archipelago.
Apart from Indonesian ohn learned Balinese and Kawi, the ancient high-level poetic language based on old Javanese. He became known as ketut (fourth child) and ‘Johndarling’.
His films were shown on mainstream television in Australasia and Europe included Bali
Hash, Slow Boat from Surabaya, Master of the Shadow and Bali Triptych.
Equally memorable was Below the Wind, shown around the world on small and large screens,
though apparently not on Indonesian television.
It tells of the Sama Bajo, the sea nomads of South Sulawesi who spend weeks alone in tiny craft fishing for shark fin. Their visits to Australia pre-date Captain Cook, and their cultural practices are earlier than Islam but their way of life has been capsized by the harsh interpretation of Australian fishing regulations.
“All John’s films were a labor of love,” said Mrs Darling. “You don’t make money with documentaries.
John’s work recorded and celebrated Balinese beliefs. He did this because he was totally immersed in the culture. He sought to share his knowledge and love.
“John was a peaceful man who promoted harmony. He related to everyone, from priests to farmers. His films have helped make Indonesia accessible to the world, particularly Australians who so frequently distrust and misunderstand their northern neighbor.”
John's widow Sara has set up a film fellowship to honour her late husband's work;
The John Darling Fellowship is supported by the Herb Feith Foundation and will commence in 2013. This fellowship is designed to provide training opportunities for young and emerging Indonesian documentary filmmakers in Australia to enhance their film-making skills, commercial knowledge and awareness of archiving principles.Application information can be accessed through Ronin Films from 5 October 2012.
The deadline for applications is 12 November 2012.
Application forms must be received by the Project Manager by the due date (12 November 2012). In order to be considered, applicants must submit all accompanying forms as listed on the Application Forms Checklist by the due date.