Balinese Tourism, the Australian Media and National Identity

The Australian media revels in stereotyping Australian tourism to Bali. It’s an annual event, always bound to get a heated reaction. Fake news and generalisation usually does. The story follows the same old path: find a group of poorly behaved Australian bogans ¹, make sure they are shirtless or dressed in gaping singlets; a few tattoos help magnify the picture. Film them at a bar or nightclub in Kuta or Legian, with sound grabs of their loud, appalling behaviour. Beer swilling scenes and expletives complete the picture. This minority group is an easy target for the media. It’s an historic one too, recalling in recent times, the singlet wearing, fag in mouth, ‘ocker’ of the 1980s, and before that, the yobbo, the larrikin and the ‘wild colonial boy’. Australians have a love -hate relationship with their own working class. Often despised, they become symbols of our national cultural cringe. At other times in history, they’ve been employed to boost patriotism ( Ned Kelly, WW1 diggers, Henry Lawson characters). We either love or despise our famous bogans. A few random modern examples include Dawn Fraser, Paul Hogan, Shane Warne, Lleyton Hewitt and his wife Bec ( Australia’s answer to the Beckams), Kath and Kim, and Pauline Hanson. I have included Pauline Hanson, the Kabuki masked racist, in this list as she might be considered the bogan queen.

‘It can be argued that the larrikin tradition of disdain for authority, propriety and the often conservative norms of bourgeois Australia, are two sides of a self-reinforcing dynamic; the social conservatism of the mainstream fuels the undercurrent of larrikinism and rebellion, which, in turn, is seen as demonstrating that a firm hand is needed. This is sometimes referred to as the “larriken- wowser nexus”, ‘wowser’ being an Australian colloquial term for a person of puritanical mores.’²

A few more Australian stereotypes might be added to this time-honoured clichéd portrait of the Australian tourist in Bali. Enter the CUB family (cashed up bogans). The media portrays this group as a wealthy but poorly educated sub- class of ‘tradies’³, who have no time for Balinese culture or culture in general. The successful ABC television drama Upper Middle Bogan milks this stereotype to the hilt. Add to this the media’s obsession with the Corby family and the vacillating portrayal of Schapelle Corby as innocent victim or guilty bogan drug smuggler. The annual media focus on ‘Australian young lad caught with a stash of marijuana gets caught up in the Indonesian prison system’ amplifies this stereotype. The media’s dramatisation of these sad stories suggests a deep distrust of the Indonesian legal system, resulting in untold damage to Australian- Indonesian business and political relationships.

Older and younger lads get dressed in sarongs for a temple visit. Photo by daughter in law, Maxine Hartin.

A quick look at the annual tourist arrivals to Bali is of interest here. The figures for 2016 reveal Australian visitors leading the way at 1.137 million visitors per annum. This year, 2017, the figure has been surpassed by the Chinese.

Bali Arrivals 2008-2016, courtesy of http://www.balidiscovery.com

The Balinese will be the first to tell you about their impressions of tourists. They love Australian tourists because they spend money on local products and services and engage with the locals in an open and good-humoured way. They pump money into the local economy.  The Chinese, according to the Balinese, don’t spend any money in the markets or on transport and don’t engage with the locals. Their tours are usually packaged; as a result, very little money flows directly to poorer Balinese people. My own observations of Malaysian and Japanese visitors, if I may generalise a little here, suggests they have a preference for large internationally owned hotels which effectively insulates them from Balinese people. European visitors prefer to eat in Western restaurants, and are far more hesitant with the locals. They do, however, spend money on transport, water sports, hired sun baking chairs, and tours.

Some members of my family in Bali. Australians love to use bemos. I have never met a passenger from India, China or Europe in these beaten up old vans. Most foreigners use taxis. Australians often express a love of the underdog.  Bemos are disappearing from the suburban areas of Bali. Photo by son-in-law, K. Bradley.

The following is a summary of the makeup of Australian tourists in Bali based on my own observations over the last 39 years.

  • Younger tourists travelling overseas for the first time. Bali is an affordable destination for them. Some have studied Bahasa Indonesian at school and have a smattering of the language. This group spends money on sporting activities, transport, cheap clothing, sarongs and nicknacks. They tend to stay in budget or family run accomodation, and eat in cheaper, family run warungs.
  • The Bogan- Ocker tourist who usually base themselves around Kuta/Legian and Seminyak. They don’t take much interest in Hinduism or Balinese culture generally. They come to Bali to party. This is the group which gives Bali a bad name. They spend money on alcohol, transport and accommodation.
  • Family groups who travel to Bali during the Australian school holidays. They tend to stay in bungalows and small family run middle of the road Balinese owned hotels with swimming pools and proximity to the beach.
  • Older, retired couples or singles. This is a growing market and one that the Balinese are very happy to accommodate, by providing more flexible visa extensions, reliable health care and on site massage. The main attraction for this group is the climate and the affordability of food and services. Many in this group often stay in the same accommodation for a month or more at a time and are treated almost as family by the managers. This option is particularly appealing to older, single women, who feel much safer and more comfortable in Bali than in Queensland, for example. This group spends money on massage, pedicures, local warung food, drivers and accommodation.
  • Active travellers who enjoy watersports such as surfers, divers, snorkelers, wind surfers, bikers, cyclists, trekkers.
  • Cultural tourists interested in women’s’ textiles and ikat weaving, language, meditation and yoga, Hinduism, cooking, art, landscape design, and history.
  • Those travelling to Bali to attend the annual Jazz festival and Writers’ Festival, a growing market.
  • Business tourists who open franchises or restaurants. Whilst these operators are making big money in Bali, they do also provide hospitality training to the Balinese.

    Eating locally at family run restaurants, not International hotels. And yes, it’s chicken, not dog, as some of the idiotic media love to suggest! The chicken here is free range.

I’ve just spent two weeks with 15 members of my own family in Bali. In many ways we are a typical Australian family. We have different interests, different occupations, ages, educational levels and aspirations. I can happily say that we all have a high respect for the Balinese culture and people. I would also argue that most Australian visitors to Bali do.

Four of my family members, ( right) with two others on the tour with their deaf tour guide. They are all signing ‘Love you’. they wanted to learn about Bali from a deaf perspective. Photo courtesy of Bali Deaf Guide.
Son, Jack, goes for a jungle cross-country bike ride with his son Noah in Tabanan. Photo courtesy of tour leader.

Thanks Eha for alerting me to this latest nonsense about Australian tourism in Bali.

¹”The term bogan is a derogatory Autralian and New Zealand slang word used to describe a person whose speech, clothing, attitude and behaviour exemplify values and behaviour considered unrefined or unsophisticated. Depending on the context, the term can be pejorative or self deprecating. Since the 1980s, the bogan has become a very well-recognised subculture, often as an example of bad taste. It has antecedents in the Australian larriken and ocker.’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bogan

² https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larrikin

³https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/tradie

I also acknowledge David Marr’s essay, The White Queen, for that Kabuki make up image above. See, https://www.quarterlyessay.com.au/essay/2017/03/the-white-queen/extract

Monkeys and the Australian Media have a lot in common. Monkey mischief at Jalan Bisma, Ubud, Bali.
Underwater Bintang for thirsty non boganesque swimmers.

 

12 thoughts on “Balinese Tourism, the Australian Media and National Identity”

  1. Are ‘Bogans’ the Australian version of America’s ‘Rednecks’? Are they the people depicted in Animal Kingdom (only Australian movie I’ve seen I think!)?

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  2. I went to Bali twice, once before the bombing and once after. I was there to buy textiles for my shop. I absolutely loved the local restaurants and found some fabulous old batik sarongs which I turned into garments.
    I was ashamed of the badly behaved Australians on the first trip, but on the second trip the mix of tourists was much more diverse.
    It is quite a while since I was there. I hope Australians are better behaved now, the Balinese deserve better.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Australians in Bali are very well behaved and always have been. The minority, of whom I speak, who congregate around Kuta, are not. Generalisations about a nation, based on then bad behaviour of a few, is my point here. all countries have them.

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  3. It sounds like the the equivalent of our term “redneck”. The “ugly American” had a lot of bad press a few decades ago as well, usually the entitled and rude new wealthy class. I think there is less of that these days. Interesting post, I have never been to Bali but would love to visit.

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  4. Your post. more than any other communication I have seen, should be printed wherever any of us can and do reach. Never have I been quite so thrilled by the comprehensiveness of just one piece of writing! As the years have passed, I too have read many articles on the subject: no one answering has put ‘the case’ and ‘the information’ as clearly and compactly and correctly as you have – to me, this will be the quintessential part of what any of us, Australian or world-wide readers, should know and understand . . . . [OK – going out on a limb and having a number of Estonian > US citizen friends , ‘redneck’ also comes to0 mind!’ ????]

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    1. Good morning Eha, I read your wonderful comment a few days back when I got some free wifi in the Singapore airport, then forgot to get back to you. Your comment made my day. I sometimes worry a little when I go out on a limb like this, and so I am pleased that one of my very discerning and well read readers –
      you, my dear- enjoyed it.

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