An afternoon with the Balinese – Instagram @colindecosta
The Indonesian Consulate in Sydney is a non descriptive building in the eastern suburb of Maroubra. When I was a kid the building used to be squash courts and externally it retains almost the same facade with only a Garuda and an Indonesian flag revealing its new owners to any passer-by who cared to look. Looking in from the street the interior seems to be modeled on the old Ngurah Rai airport terminal with
polished tile floors and dark wood features. The occasional protest appears outside when Australia’s
sensibilities are offended but otherwise the building goes unnoticed by most locals.
My home is nearby and in walking and driving past over the years I’ve seen and smelt functions being held in the courtyard, the smell of kreteks from guards at night obvious in the suburbs of Sydney and recently heard a gamelan from somewhere within. As I drove past last Saturday there was a gentleman in Balinese temple dress standing by the side of what is an innocuous suburban street. Had I seen this in Bali I would’ve noted it and kept going but here this gentleman seemed so out of place and so I resolved that I would find out what is going on in that building! I quickly returned from kid drop off to find the street disappointingly empty and the building quiet and looking as bland as always. Determined not to give up I set to searching on the net which quickly revealed that not only was there a gamelan within but also a Balinese Community and dance groups. Further searching lead me to the history of the gamelan, the Balinese Community of NSW and their having to leave The Old Darlington School at the Sydney University Campus due to campus
expansion. Excited at my detective work I send a hopeful Facebook message to Nyoman the community leader and within an hour I am invited to attend gamelan rehearsals the next Saturday.
My work week rolls through to slowly and I am excited and nervous when Saturday arrives. The short walk to the consulate has me questioning myself whether I’d been foolish and how I’d be received. I feel like I’m going to someone’s wedding who I don’t know. The rear of the consulate is contained within a barred fence and I peered through to catch the eye of someone. “Is Denny here?” I call out over the noise of the plane which has just taken off from Kingsford Smith airport. A typically smiling Balinese face appears and says in perfect aussie lingo “Gidday I’m Denny come in”.
You know when you watch a movie and someone walks through a portal and they’re transported instantly to another place or time? I walked through a set of white barred gate and into Bali. The lilting and rhythmic sound of bahasa, tinny gamelan from a stereo inside drifted out and kreteks. I’m immediately introduced around to the various Gusti’s and Ketuts and offered a warm and genuine
welcome after which I’m shown through what looks like used to be a garage (now filled with a bamboo gamelan and temple umbrellas) but leads to a sun filled room with a dark tiled floor. The room smells like Ngurah Rai.
Around the room parents sit on chairs checking their phones and watching their young daughters dance practice. I sit just outside with my camera trying to be inconspicuous but as always
Indonesians go through their routine, what’s your name? where are you from? are you married? I smile to myself at how familiar and right this feels to me but at the same time it seems absurd to feel so connected to another culture and place where I don’t speak the language, understand their rituals but at the same time I can’t stop smiling.
The girls finish dance practice and I take a portrait of the dance instructor. The kids pile out of the room, the men and boys move in to bring the gamelan forward. Everyone but the musicians leaves the room. There’s no introduction, no pretense. The gongs ring out and in an instant I’m in Bali, I am just enthralled, I cannot believe that this is almost in my backyard. I’m able to sit right next to the musicians and I’m stunned at how beautiful and ornately decorated the instruments are. I take photo after photo trying show their movement and skill.
I shoot for a while but then I simply sit on the floor and let the gamelan wash over me. Watching the men teach the young boys, the way the players interact, there’s no written music it seems to come from somewhere inside them or someone outside them. All too soon an hour and half has passed and with a crash and to the laughter of the musicians rehearsal ends. I profusely thank each of the
men and I’m generously thanked for coming and receive the offer of playing next time. Who knows I may become Maroubra’s first ever kenong exponent.
Thank you to Nyoman and the Balinese Community of NSW