THERE’S an amazing Australian tradition in which our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people perform a “Welcome to Country” ceremony at official openings, conferences and other important gatherings around the nation. Essentially, through dance, music and talk, it’s a message to convey that you are meeting on the sacred land of the traditional Indigenous custodians, and that you are welcome. Last night, arriving back in Australia after a work trip to Fiji, I experienced a very different welcome to country courtesy of our Customs officials.
I had spent five humbling days in Fiji reporting on voluntourism activities being spearheaded by the Outrigger group, and surveying a country still hurting in the wake of the devastation of Tropical Cyclone Winston. Every single moment of every single day, I was greeted with a hearty “Bula”. Arriving in Australia last night things rapidly went from Bula to bullshit. Australian Customs and Border Protection Service have recently been combined into one new entity: Border Force, and it appears some officials are taking this $10 million rebrand seriously.
Despite having “nothing to declare” on my Customs form, I, and several others from my flight, were taken aside for random luggage tests. I secured the grand fortune of meeting Border Force Officer Emma #39308, who, when I asked her why I was being detained, barked: “That is classified information. You are a Person of Interest. If you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about.” Emma criticised the way in which I loaded my bag onto the x-ray machine (despite her male counterpart saying it was OK). And then she pulled me aside after another officer claimed I was carrying an “orange” in my hand luggage. As she started to rifle through my luggage, Emma turned to the line of other travellers whose luggage was also being x-rayed and said: “Do you still think I’m picking on you?” To which I replied: “I don’t think you’re picking on me, I simply asked why I was being detained.”
So intent was Emma on finding the alleged “orange” in my handbag (for the record, I can’t remember the last time I ate an orange and certainly not when I saw one in the South Pacific) that she kept saying “I know there’s an orange in here somewhere.” Unfortunately, for Emma, it was my Revlon face powder that turned out to be the “orange”.
But Emma wasn’t done with me yet. During her search for the catastrophic citrus fruit, she stumbled across something so heinous, she could hardly breathe. She found…a packet of Panadol! A packet of Panadol I had bought off the Coles supermarket shelves in Australia. Emma then proceeded to read me the riot act, and told me that I needed to mark that down on the Customs form in the same area that you tick that you are carrying firearms. “Is this not a medicine?” she barked.
Still not content that she had berated me enough, Emma then went through my checked-in suitcase where she discovered, horror of horrors, half a box of Green Tea, that I had again bought off the Coles supermarket shelves. There were five tea bags in the box. Emma took great pleasure in telling me how that was “food” and that I could face serious fines or jail for this.
Curiously, when Emma stumbled across some coconut sugar scrub that I had, in fact, forgotten all about and had bought in Fiji, she simply looked at it, smirked, and said: “Oh, look, it’s spilled in your bag.” She then told me I was free to go. I resisted the urge to remind Emma that there are young Aussie kids dying from our current Ice epidemic and that she might want to focus on the drug smugglers in future.
Having spent the past 30 years travelling the globe, and returning to Australia, I have never ever faced such scrutiny. At this point let me say, I am the daughter of a grazier in the Lockyer Valley and having seen first-hand the diseases which have been brought into this country, I know the damage undeclared items can wreak on our agriculture industry. I have also spent more than 15 years reporting on the tourism industry and know the struggle that Australia has trying to convince overseas visitors to travel Down Under. Despite our reputation for being a beautiful land, repeatedly we fight the perception that Australia is “too far away” and that it’s a “some day” destination.
What Australia does have above all else, is a reputation that we are a friendly nation. If, what I experienced last night, is an indication of what’s to come under our new Border Force, then this is cause for serious concern. Welcome to Country? I need a cup of Green Tea and a Panadol.
AN item on the menu catches my eye. For around $282 I can partake in a four-course meal featuring some of the most sought-after Chinese delicacies used in traditional medicine for their health benefits, some of which are said to even cure impotency, followed by a collagen-boosting facial and seawater-infusion massage. And I can even enjoy some Birds’ Nest dishes, which, among other things, are said to increase my libido. Lust being the least of my worries, I eschew the exotic eats and treats and head straight to the spa itself where a Balinese life guard stands poolside and encourages me to run against a series of strong currents and be blissfully blasted by a range of other jets for the next two hours.
I’m at RIMBA Jimbaran Bali, the new 8 hectare resort nestled within the award-winning AYANA’s 77 hectare grounds overlooking Jimbaran Bay. And in typical form, I’m looking for love. Guests at both properties can use all facilities, so I figure two resorts are better than one, and divide my time on the hunt for erotic experiences. While RIMBA’s “Beyond Skin Deep” package at the renowned Ah Yat Chinese restaurant is indeed tempting, I consider instead stopping at AYANA’s L’Atelier Parfums and Creations where for $80 and 45 minutes of my time, I can create my own perfume. Or, in my case, a love potion. Unfortunately, the island is all out of eye of newt, so I head on to my next destination, a cocktail at the world-famous oceanfront bar Rocks. I follow this up with a seafood dinner plucked straight from the ocean before me under a beautiful Southern Cross sky at Kisik. This is feet-in-the-sand romance at its finest, a concept not lost on a fellow female yoga friend and me as we gaze at the stars and ponder our lack of love.
Back at RIMBA, ardent admirers of conservation will adore what this resort has created. Opened last November as a sister property to the luxurious AYANA, RIMBA is named after the Indonesian word for “forest”. This resort, which overlooks the Uluwatu Hills on one side and the Indian Ocean on the other, has embraced integrity through its design and razor-sharp environmental principles.
The ark-shaped lobby ends in a giant pond which resembles the shape of a ship which is fitting, as the lobby itself is made of recycled wood from three old fishing boats from Sulawesi and driftwood gathered by hand along a stretch of beach. On the walls you’ll find handmade bricks, in the roof-top bar recycled glass bottles, and in the rooms, furniture crafted from old packing crates. Sustainability is king here, with a rainwater harvesting and water recycling plant plus an on-site greenhouse and organic fruit garden.
When it launched, a traditional “rainstopper” was enlisted to seek the blessings of the Gods for a dry event to ensure the perfect sunset. It worked and the proverbial sun has been shining down on this property ever since which is just as well, given there are six pools alone here.
So with so much good, where is the bad as the title of this piece suggests? Well, I actually agonised over how to start this piece. You see, the day I arrive at RIMBA a Queensland man has been detained upon arrival at Denpasar Airport after trying to enter the plane’s cockpit during a Virgin flight. Even worse, he’s from my hometown of Brisbane and the incident makes headlines around Asia/Pacific. I am embarrassed and ashamed of my fellow countryman. Bali has become a divisive destination in the past decade or so following the Bali Bombings, Schapelle Corby’s detention and recent release, and the Bali 9, who still ponder their fate in Kerobokan Prison. And while these headlines are surely show stoppers, they have one common denominator – they have little to do with the average Balinese.
In his book Bali Raw, Australian expat Malcolm Scott spells out in detail some of the unsavoury aspects of Bali. He talks of emerging crime and culture clashes among gangs from some of Indonesia’s other islands. Add to that recent reports of rubbish on some of this island’s beaches and it would be all too easy to avoid Bali altogether. Don’t. Boycotting Bali due to Bintang bogans is like avoiding the entire Gold Coast because of some of the strife in Surfers Paradise. Or New York because of the World Trade Centre bombings.
And then there’s the Bali. My Bali is one of beauty, peace, culture and coconuts. Of colourful characters, crooked smiles, frangipani flowers and food, glorious food. And you’ll find plenty of these elements at places such as RIMBA which is doing its best to remind the world that Bali is indeed the Island of the Gods.
Bali may not be big – it’s only about 100km wide and long – but it’s huge of heart. You’ll rediscover this heart at Rimba and at her sister AYANA through the people, the properties, and the professionalism. Take another look at one of Australia’s nearest neighbours. You might just fall in love all over again.
The Global Goddess was a guest of Rimba Jimbaran Bali. For more information go to http://www.rimbajimbaran.com