Saturday, May 14, 2011

Art Becomes Village Becomes Art

Jan Cornall at Perfurbance#3, Yogyakarta, Java

view original article at
by Jan Cornall

I Gede Made Surya Darma (Indonesia - Bali) I Gede Made Surya Darma (Indonesia - Bali)
photo Dolly

Organisers: The Performance Klub, a group of local artists committed to bringing art out of conventional art spaces into public places. They have developed a close relationship with the people of Gemblangan since carrying out volunteer relief work there.

Performance Map: The tiny village is a circular island surrounded on all sides by rice paddies. A path follows the small river (irrigation channel) around the perimeter of the circle. Only two roads cross in the centre of the village. The mosque and cemetery guard the back road into the village. The Jamu House (jamu is a traditional medicinal drink) stands at the main entrance. (This village is also famous for cobra-snake medicine). Rebuild-ing is going on all around but many families are still living in the ruins of their old houses in bamboo shacks provided by aid organizations.

Program: Artist performances, traditional local performances, seminars on organic farming, recycling, first aid, cultural and spiritual values, an excursion to Borobodur Buddhist temple, a dangdut concert finale (popular sexy Indo-Arabic music).

Village Hosts: House and feed over sixty artists and volunteers for five days. Mr Gyanto (Mr Jamu) is the main mover and shaker. Plus the women’s food collective, security, other volunteers, billets.
W. Christiawan (Indonesia - Bandung) W. Christiawan (Indonesia - Bandung)
photo Dolly
day 1
11am. Traditional Welcome:Local dignitaries including Bantul Regent, Mr Idam Samawi and guests arrive. Villagers in traditional dress line the roads. Village men sing and play traditional Islamic songs. Mr Samawi gives a passionate speech - Bantul says no to malls and globalisation!. Visiting artists are brought to teh stage and given plain coloured flags to use in their performances
1pm. Traditional Performance: Jathilan—young boys in gaudy costume, makeup and riding toy horses perform traditional trance dances that go on for several hours. The whole village attends. The trance master is particularly fascinating. One of the international artists accidentally goes into trance. The trance master is called away to assist. A crowd follows. She recovers, with a bad headache.

5pm. Location Meeting: Artists decide on location and time of performance. Volunteers draw up map and timetable.

9pm Gejong Lesung: Traditional music shows about the history of the land by women from a neighbouring village.

Day 2
11am. Seminar: Importance of cultural and spiritual values in maintaining independence/autonomy in a global world. The head of local Islamic boarding school, Mr Djawis, a former Minister for Culture, Mr Marzuki and myself discuss spirituality, tourism, economics and performance.

3pm: Art Performances begin. Lewis Gesner, USA, 2 hours, all around the village. Arrives with a ball of string and a pair of scissors, walks, collects objects, ties them to string, ties other end to his leg, walks slowly again, collecting and dragging objects behind him.

3.20pm. Maya Pasternak, Canada/Tel Aviv, video interviews with villagers as they work, continuous over 3 days. Begins in southeast part of the village.

3.45pm. I Gede Made Surya Darma, Bali, walks into the fallow rice paddy near Jamu house carrying bunches of plastic flowers. On closer examination we see they are small toy soldiers, tanks and planes on long stalks. He plants each stalk slowly and methodically in lines. After a while others wade into the water to help. When all are planted he “plants” himself by standing on his head on the paddy bank.

4.10pm. Harumi Tereo, Japan, south end of village, places coloured squares of paper on the low wall next to irrigation channel. Rearranges them, using only her toes. Lies down on them and performs “a feet, arms and hand dance”, changing position from front to back and side to side.

4.30pm. Mayumi Ishino, Japan/New York, on the west side of the village in the cow and sheep corral. Draws a self-portrait on a mirror hung on a tree trunk. Animals baa and moaaah in chorus. When she has finished the portrait she takes out a hammer and smashes it. Then walks away with it under her arm. She repeats this every day in different locations with a finale of four or five in a row in a central location near the kitchen.

4.50pm. Bruno Mercet, France, next to a villager’s house on south west corner. Bruno wears only his flag around his waist. It doesn’t quite cover all of him. Organisers go into a slight flurry. It’s not kosher to be naked in a Muslim village. But no one is bothered. He’s a westerner after all. He plays with an old door, climbing in and around and through it then writes a greeting to his host on the top of the door. His host, a tiny old lady, laughs a toothless smile.

5.00pm. Huang Ming Chi (Mickey), Taiwan, at a house near the crossroad gives a massage to a village woman. She waits at the door telling the audience she won’t start until exactly 5pm. She sets her timer and leaves it outside the house. She enters, gives the massage for allotted time and leaves when timer goes off. She does an activity like this each day with a villager; helps in rice fields and in the collective kitchen.

And So On Into The Night, followed at 9pm by a Dzikir Saman—a religious show of song and dance.

Days 3, 4, Continue As Above: same daily schedule with works from other international and local performance artists: China—ShaoYan Xin, Qing Sheng Ming, Wang Jian; Surabaya—Illham J, Bidai, Aye Ko; Jakarta—Santo Clingon; Bali—I Kadek Dedy Sumantra Yasa; Japan—Shinya Misawa, Seiji Shimoda, Makoto Maruyama, Sakiko Yamaoka, Yoshie Baba; Yogyakarta—Sindu Cutter, Emilia White, Bocor Alus Group, Buyung Mentari, Ronald Apriyan, Lepan, Rachel Saraswati, Yudha Coklat, Iwan Wijono, Arahmaiani; Australia—Patrick O’Brien, Jan Cornall; Bandung—Ferial Affif, Isa Perkasa, Deden Sambas, W Christiawan; Singapore—Lee Wen, Jeremy Hiah, Kai Lam, Agnes Yit; Solo—Choiri, Satriana Didik, Ozy; Myanmar—Aye Ko.

Audience Response: Many of the villagers are quick to engage with the performances—joining in and helping out with props and logistics. Audience from Yogyakarta come and go—more there in the evenings. A moving feast of press and avid documenters follow like a paparazzi pack.

day 4

An Unexpected Performance Event. On Day 3 an elderly lady of the village dies. We go to pay our respects. On Day 4, prayers are sung across the village all morning. Masses of people arrive from other villages. We are invited to take part in the funeral procession. Lewis and Bruno help carry the coffin and myself, Mickey, Agnes and Maya, with young village women, carry flower petals, flower water, stakes and banana leaf parcels to the grave side.

day 5

Excursions to Borobodur and Parangtritis Beach

2pm. Final Session. Villagers and artists agree it has been a valuable and unforgettable experience. Visiting artists thank their hosts and promise to return.

5pm. Performance by Sangar Rumah Kardus & Andi O. Earthquake Victims Kids Group.

9pm. Dangdut Concert Finale. Draws an audience from surrounding villages. Westerners learn some sexy moves from the Dangdut Divas. Retire to the Green Room (Jamu House) when they can dance no more and see in the dawn over the rice paddies before catching flights home.

post festival

In an email a few days later from the USA, Lewis Gesner summed it up beautifully. “Placing performance art in a cultural setting of traditional music and dance and a physical setting of a village on the cusp of globalisation was a brilliant construction...for moving forward positively as people and neighbours in a world that is becoming an increasingly smaller village, for better, or worse. Perfurbance#3 pointed to a better village, and hurray for that!”

Perfurbance #3, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, April 25-29
RealTime issue #79 June-July 2007 pg. 14

Realtime arts is a print and online arts magazine:

Perfurbance Performance Art Festival is ongoing:

Jan has taken part in Perfurbance #2, # 3,#4 and Open Arts Festival in Beijing in 2009
and continues to support the Performance Klub.

A Whisper Louder than a Scream

Review by Elizabeth Bell of the play;
Hanging Onto The Tail Of A Goat - A Tibetan Journey.
Published in RealTime issue #43 June-July 2001.
View original article at: 
(Tenzing's name is incorrectly spelt as Tsering in the original, but corrected here). 

Hanging onto the Tail of a Goat was written by Jan Cornall from the life stories of Tenzing Tsewang,
directed by Brian Joyce, and produced by Sabina Lauber.
Performed by Tenzing Tsewang in 2000-2003 at The Performance Space, Sydney Opera House Studio(two seasons), Gasworks, Melbourne, Woollongong Arts Centre, Penrith Theatre.
Tsering Tsewang, Hanging onto the tail of a goat. A Tibetan Journey Tenzing Tsewang and his goats.

Hanging onto the Tail of a Goat - Tibetan Journey is not just another migrant story. Tibet has been decimated. Its people scattered. Its beliefs increasingly embraced in the West. To be Tibetan has a certain cachet and thus, with great anticipation and generosity, the full house at the Gasworks Theatre received Tenzing Tsewang’s poignant but playful solo work.

The senses were delighted. On entering the space I could smell the fragrantly acrid presence of incense; hear the near, far, approaching ring and clang of bells—a different tone for each goat in the herd; and hear also their bleats and cries and stampings. Around the stage a circle of instruments and effects: a Tibetan lute, a drum hanging in space, cymbals, a flute, banners suspended and emblazoned with that eternal knot, ritual beakers, a small silvery white shawl. Towering behind, a huge greenish projection of the sacred Mount Kailash. The form of a man appeared in the core of the mountain, moved slowly towards us as a deep chant of invocation—“May Tibet be a Zone of Peace”—emerged and filled the space.

Writer Jan Cornall has worked with Tenzing’s stories to produce a cyclically anecdotal (perhaps overly long) reflection of this man’s life. The tale loops between recollections of a happy child on the cold desert plateau of Tibet, to a refugee fleeing the Red Chinese, to the student of Buddhism and musical monk in Dharmsala, to migrant and factory worker in Australia. Serene and profoundly distressing visual imagery accompanies the narrative, crafted with fluidity by director Brian Joyce. Tenzing Tsewang moves between each instrumental site offering us a suite of traditional and modern Tibetan folk songs, chants, invocations and dedications. He is a truly beautiful musician and it is clear that this is where his talent lies. Tenzing is also an excellent mimic who amuses us with witty and no doubt accurate portraits of his beloved grandfather, an assortment of Aussie work mates and the Dalai Lama.

Hanging onto the tail of a goat uses humour and lightness to tell a story redolent with loss, injustice and suffering. As my companion observed, “A whisper can be louder than a scream.”

The jaded postmodern eye is surely confounded by this ingenuous, peaceful and honest work. There is very little theatrical drama, no tension or angst. With all the injustices and atrocities, hardships and disappointments that this man has suffered you’d expect to see anger, grief, resentment or questioning in the face of the loss of his country, wife and child. But there is none. Instead, a gentle recount delivered with respect and equanimity. Tenzing Tsewang demonstrates rather than tells the practice of Buddhism and refuses hectic and exhausting emotionalism. Under floating video clouds he allows us to contemplate the paradox of happiness, injustice and impermanence. Almost infuriating, but not.

Elizabeth Bell practices yoga as both student and teacher and has recently been introduced to Buddhism. An artist exploring the relationship between the viewer and the viewed, she is currently teaching life drawing from the position of the model at RMIT in Melbourne.

Tenzing Tsewang  was a Tibetan/Australian performer and musician who sadly passed away in 2007. He is remembered fondly by all who were lucky to know him and see him perform. His CDs are still available at: 

For more info:


Setting Boundaries Combatting Fear

First published in Realtime Arts April/May 2007. View original review:

Jan Cornall on Martin del Almo's new work.

Martin del Amo, Never Been This Far Away From Home Martin del Amo,
Never Been This Far Away
From Home
photo Heidrun Löhr

The work of the solo performer is always risky. What if the telling fails, what if the audience doesn’t get it, what if they fall asleep—“what if they want me to shut up and just dance?” Del Amo doesn’t falter over such concerns, but methodically carries out his set task—to share with us the journey of his explorations: notions of home, the void of fear, danger and the unknown, where the edges of dreaming and reality meet.

A man in a white suit seems to hover in the space. As our eyes become accustomed to the dim light we see he is moving towards us across a white floor, his slight frame strangely trapped in the formality of his dress (aptly designed by Virginia Boyle). Carrying his polished brown shoes, he is barefoot, as if he has escaped—crept away from somewhere. Behind the white performance square, sitting at a table, sound artist Gail Priest ‘plays’ a laptop, feeding the buzzing soundscape into the air. To his left, also just outside the square, lighting designer and technician Clytie Smith watches intently for his next move. In darkness, barely noticeable around the square, the shapes of large crates and scaffolding loom. Mirabelle Wouters’ set is deceptively simple—speakers, back stage gear, and on the edge of the mat, 10 microphone stands, like metallic one legged birds, wait to take flight.

The man makes himself tall and puts his shoes down at the edge of the white floor. He walks back to a microphone and begins to speak. “What most people are afraid of is the void, nothingness”, he tells us, “but the void can be taken literally—take silence for example.”

The series of tellings begins, punctuated by voiceless dance pieces and slow, deliberate placings of microphone stands about the square. Following him all the way, the under pattern of electronic sound and subtle lighting supports the progression of his journey.

He walks to the edge of the white square and brings a microphone stand onto the space, placing the chord carefully in a straight line. Speaks. Brings in another—its chord in a diagonal line meeting the first at a triangle point.Then another, and another. Gradually, the performance square is crisscrossed with chords like lines on a map—countries perhaps, or sections of a brain. At each microphone he tells us of his fascination with expeditions and the failures of explorers; of danger and of a torture witnessed by a friend in a childhood forest. There’s the story of the philosopher Walter Benjamin who committed suicide at the French/Spanish border during WWII when he really didn’t need to, and a retelling of how to use word association to escape the recurring dream of a white room with no windows and doors. There are tips on how to survive a crocodile attack and the tale of a friend, Sylvia, who went off to play Russian roulette with women she met on the net and hadn’t been heard of since. “If someone doesn’t speak to you it’s as if a void opens up. It reminds you how disconcerting silence can be.” Back to the silence.

Slowly, the man unplugs all the microphone chords and reels in the leads. Released from its criss-cross of lines and sections, the soundscape soars as del Amo runs, skips, twirls and skates his euphoric dance across the white—fearless, borderless and free.

If the structure of story/movement/story/ movement feels a little predictable at times, by the end it seems to fit the setting of boundaries needed to combat fear. Breaking free requires courage, strength, skill—all of which del Amo displays in his choreography and in the execution of Never Been This Far From Home. And yet there is a vulnerability in the performance of his man/boy stage persona that you sense his creative collaborators (all women) have encouraged and made possible. With their help, it seems Del Amo’s refugee from other worlds, other feelings, behaviours and longings, has finally arrived home.

Never Been This Far From Home was devised and performed by Martin del Amo, sound design Gail Priest, set design Mirabelle Wouters, lighting design Clytie Smith, Performance Space, CarriageWorks, Redfern, Sydney, March 7-17 2007.

Jan Cornall is a Sydney-based novelist, playwright, lyricist and writing

Welcome to Indonesian Hospitality and an International Literary Roadshow!

First published on  October 13 2005

Performance writer Jan Cornall, a guest of the Utan Kayu International Literary Biennale in Indonesia in 2005, tells us about a side of Indonesia we won't see on TV. Jan was one of three Australians invited to take part in this year’s Utan Kayu International Literary Biennale, held from Aug 25-Sept 3 in Indonesia. Jan talks about the unique features of this festival.

Eight international writers, 30 Indonesian writers, a published anthology of all writers work, three venues in three Indonesian cities, seven nights of reading/perfomance, ten mins per writer, visual translations, no panels (well only one), no formal discussions, instead informal mingling every night with food, Bintang, music and dancing. A veritable literary roadshow!

The non–Indonesian writers came from Australia, Turkey, Suriname, Curacao, The Nederlands, South Africa, and the USA. Along with our hosts, some of our fellow Indonesian writers, two festival administrators from the Winternachten Festival (Nederlands), and one from Darwin Writers Centre, we bonded as we travelled together in our charming Bluebird bus. Through rice paddies, tea plantations, mountain passes, via hot springs and the slopes of a volcano, across an aqua sea by ferry to Sumatra and back again, eating in roadside warungs, padang restaurants, and being fed delicious jajanan (snacks) in little boxes, we swapped seats, stories, information and got to know the sound of each others laughter.

In each place we arrived; first Bandung , then Lampung and finally Jakarta, we were warmly welcomed with speeches, food, hand woven scarves, traditional drumming and dancing, songs of oral tradition and traditional musicians. In the evenings local writers, and some from other parts of Indonesia ; Surabaya , Makassar, Solo and Yogya karta, joined us to read or perform their work.
We stayed three nights in each place with two nights of readings in Bandung and Lampung and three nights of readings in Jakarta. Over the seven nights of performance the international writers read four times, intermingled with local writers who read once. As a result no one evening performance was ever the same. As the order changed, the hierarchy of fame that often exists at writers festivals could never get a grip. Each writer shared their work in the true spirit of inspired exchange and were appreciated on the merits of the work they presented.

A ten minute limit on each reader meant the evening moved along swiftly and never bogged down. With a consistently high standard of writing, and at most only ten readers per night, there was plenty of energy left for informal discussion and enjoyment with our audience and hosts.
Many of the Indonesian writers of both prose and poetry dramatised their readings physically or vocally. As one Indonesian chuckled at me when I commented on the experimental nature of some of the work: “Oh, everything we do in Indonesia since Suharto is an experiment!”
Humour was a common element in all the work, with the most popular reader/performer s eliciting loud vocal comments from the crowd.

Our audiences, predominantly young people, in strong contrast to older audiences at most Australian writers’ festivals, were never shy to talk to us about their art . One young man noting from my biog that I was a screen writer, wanted help with his film idea. In 15 minutes with the help of a translator, I gave him a quick tutorial on writing for the screen.

Others befriended us, danced with us, took us sight seeing, shopping, to their favourite cafes and brought us gifts, so that saying goodbye was a genuinely sad occasion.
Back in the hectic pace of Jakarta our cosiness dissipated a degree, but returned when our faithful bus ferried us to and from KUK. (Komunitas Utan Kayu.) This is the compound in central Jakarta that is home to a theatre(TUK), a bookshop, gallery, café, fm radio station, and offices of the TUK team (our hosts) and other organizations like JIL, a liberal Islamic group who has been recently under threat from Islamic hardliners.

Set up originally as a centre of resistance under the repressive regime of President Suharto, the spirit of  commitment to freedom of expression is still strong. All their events, including our festival are free of charge.

The TUK theatre is quite small, so they had set up a large video screen in the courtyard with other monitors dotted about, so a larger audience could take part. And we were off again on a new round of performances in a new place.

On day two in Jakarta we attended the only panel of the festival - a discussion between poet Antje Krog, who worked on the Truth and Reconcilation hearings in South Africa, and poet and short story writer Azhari , from Aceh, who is working to collect the stories of his people caught up in the conflict there.

Interesting questions were raised about the cultural differences and history of both conflicts, but it was clear by the end, that while solutions may be difficult to find, it is vital that the victims of such conflicts have a voice.

On the last night after our final reading, on a low stage in the court yard, a North Sumatran band of men and women in gold and white jewelled satin, traditional dress, played and sang the most extraordinary array of dance tunes. Writers, organisers, audience, onlookers, danced as they had never danced before.

It was only then I could articulate what was different about this festival experience.We had not just been invited to a festival, but had been welcomed into a vibrant community of writers, thinkers and artists used to supporting one another against all odds. The generous hospitality they extended to us during our stay came naturally to them, and provided an example of how Living Together (the theme of the festival) is possible. We, the invited guests, came away with an impression of a country and it’s people that runs counter to the dramatic media grabs usually presented to in our living rooms. Back home we will write and talk about our impressions for some time. We will invite our new friends to visit our countries, take part in our festivals and continue to be excited by the possibilities our connections can contribute. In spite of the alarming self destructive trends, on so many levels, of our our current world climate, we simply remind each other that people, and the words they write, do matter and do make a difference.

The writers were

  • A.S Laksana, short stories, Jakarta

  • Afrizal Malna, prose, poetry, Solo

  • Antlie Krog, poetry, South Africa

  • Arswendo Atmowilito, prose, Solo

  • Asli Ergodan, novelist, Turkey

  • Azhari, poetry, prose, Aceh

  • Budi Darma, fiction, Surabaya

  • Dinar Rayayu, novelist, Bandung

  • Eka Kurniwan, prose, graphic novels, Jakarta

  • Ellen Ombre, novelist, Suriname

  • Frank Martinus Arion, novelist ,Curacao

  • Godi Suwarna, Sundanese poetry , prose, Bandung

  • Gunawan Maryanto, scripts, short story, Yogyakarta

  • H.U.Mardi Luhung, poetry, East Java

  • Hamsad Rangkuti, short stories, Jakarta

  • Inggit Putria Marga, poetry, Lampung

  • Isbedy StiawanZS, poetry ,Lampung

  • Iswadi Pratama, scripts , poetry , Lampung

  • Jan Cornall, song, poetry, Australia

  • Jimmy Maruli Alfian, poetry, Lampung

  • Kurnia Effendi, poetry, short stories, Jakarta

  • Landung Simatupang, poetry, novellas,Yogyakarta

  • Lauren Williams, poetry, song, Australia

  • Marharlam Zaini, poetry, scripts, Nth Sumatra

  • Martin Aleida, short stories, Jakarta

  • Mona Sylviana, short stories , Bandung

  • N Riantiarno, theatre/ film scripts, Jakarta

  • Nir Wahida Idris. poetry, Yogyakarta

  • Radhar Panca dahana, poetry, short story, Jakarta

  • Ramsey Nasr , poetry, Nederlands/Palestine

  • Robert Olen Butler, novelist, USA

  • Saini KM, scripts, poetry, Bandung

  • Shinta Febriany, scripts , prose/poetry, Makassar

  • Soni Farid Maulana, poetry, Bandung

  • Tan Lioe Ie, poetry, Bali Australian poets’ Jan Cornall and Lauren Williams’ attendance at the biennale was made possible by the Australia Indonesia Institute and Australian Embassy, Jakarta.
    Thanks to Our Hosts - The TUK Team: Director -Sitok Srengenge
    Deputy Director -Nirwan Dewanto; Curator and Editors - Goenawan Mohamad, Hasif Amini; Tour 0rdinator – Indah Maharukmi; Secretary –Veronique Rompas Admin- Asty Leonast; Foreign affairs –Juliana Wilson; and Tony Prabowo, Mulawarmansyah, Eko Endarmoko, Wican Satriati, Rusdi Rahinggrat, Waryo, Selo, Santo. And teams at Bandung and Lampung.

  • Rejuvenate Your Arts Practice In The Tarkine

    Published on Tuesday, October 09, 2007


    Take a break at New Years and walk into The Forest of The Giants. Meditate beside ancient aboriginal middens on the wild Tarkine coast of north west Tasmania. Reflect on your arts practice, rejuvenate your spirit, return with new energy to create your best work!

    TASMANIA, 28 DEC – 3 JAN.

    IMAGINE walking into an old growth forest and making friends with trees 400 years old; sitting among the moss covered undergrowth, meditating in the pin drop silence of clear forest air and writing, writing.

    IMAGINE taking all the questions that trouble you in this mad, self imploding world of ours
    and finding answers, not from books or theories or teachings or gurus, but from walking gently
    on the earth, following the footsteps of Traditional Owners who have walked this way thousands of years before.

    IMAGINE four days before New Years Eve, making a pilgrimage into a rain forest hermitage, meditating, writing and reflecting on the year gone by and the year to come; swimming in a wilderness river, exploring the intricate detail of the forest floor and surrendering to the deep relaxation of inspired fireside readings in the still forest night.

    IMAGINE singing your lungs out around a camp fire at a New Years Eve party you will never forget; emerging from your hermitage on New Years day and floating down the Pieman River in an old Huon pine launch, to the welcome in the New Year at the wild Tarkine Coast.

    IMAGINE meditating on waving forests of kelp, pounding surf, rocky outcrops and ancient
    aboriginal middens; breathing fresh salt air into your skin, swimming in secret bays and hidden coves, basking on smooth warm rocks; watching spectacular west coast sunsets and
    writing, writing.

    IMAGINE you can change not only yourself, but other people, with your arts practice. That if we all took time out, just once in our busy lives to walk into a wilderness like Tasmania’s
    Tarkine to record our experience, to tell others of the profound insights we receive into our own lives and the life of the planet; imagine how powerful that would be.

    Writers, artists, poets, sculptors, photographers, administrators, any art practice welcome!

     Join us this New Years. Change yourself and your arts practice forever.

    Relaxed easy walking with day packs. Medium fitness required.

    Walking Guide, Raymond Hawkins
    Writing and meditation facilitator, Jan Cornall
    The Pleasure Of Writing, Bali.

    First published on Sept 22 2004

    'Through darkness to light' - the 2004 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Bali ran from October 11-17.   

      Sydney Playwright, Jan Cornall talks about her Bali Writers Retreat, still going ahead despite the recent Jakarta Bombing, and the first Ubud Writers Festival, at which she is a guest writer.

    When I was in Bali in June 02 I stayed at a small family run guesthouse called Ketut’s Place in the beautiful hill town of Ubud. I was so entranced by the experience of Ketut’s I had the idea to come back within 6 months and run a writer’s retreat there. In October, tragically, the Bali bombing happened, and with it, my and many others dreams for returning were put on hold. Last year after reading Janet De Neefe’s Bali memoir and cookbook Fragrant Rice, I contacted her and discussed the idea of a writer’s retreat in Ubud. She loved the idea and told me she and a Tasmanian writer Heather Kurnow were organising a writers festival in Ubud in ’04. I asked if they needed any help. I joined an advisory committee and twelve months down the track, the festival and retreat are happening!
    For four days before the festival a number of writers (both beginners and experienced), are joining me, at Ketut’s peaceful family compound, for 4-5 hours a day of workshopping, focused on the pleasure of writing.

    With simple relaxation and visualization techniques we will learn how to use the senses to evoke imagery, content and atmosphere, in the telling of our most powerful stories, how to tap into the deep source of our creativity and bring pleasure to the process of writing.
    If this sounds indulgent, it is! But the idea is to take the struggle out of our writing, to remember the joy and pleasure it can give us, rather than seeing it as a great weight and burden.
    In between workshopping we will journey into the beauty and inspiration of Balinese culture on afternoon and evening excursions, bringing the richness of our experiences back to the group and learning how to transform them into good writing.

    Now if that wasn’t enough pleasure for a writer to endure, you can stay on when the Ubud Writers Festival kicks off on the last day of our retreat, with a welcome dinner and traditional performance for guest writers and participants at the Ubud Palace.
    Janet De Neefe, Heather Kurnow and the Festival Committee have lined up an impressive list of guests and venues. They are expecting over 1500-2000 people to attend and last minute bookings are being encouraged.

    Heather Kurnow gives the following update:
    So far, the Festival has attracted over 70 writers and cultural workers from Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, India, Europe and the USA.
    The Festival will focus on several key themes: These are: Through Darkness to Light, Indonesian and Western perceptions of Bali post 2002; Pressing Concerns, which will include discussions by and with Southeast Asian book and magazine publishers; From Page to Stage [Writers and performance]; The Long Way Home [Travel writing and identity]; Children of the Gods [Children’s and young people’s literature]; with one day being devoted to lifestyle, coffee and tropical cuisine.

    Highlight events will include: Keynote addresses by Goenawan Mohamad [Indonesia]; the attendance of prominent Australian media personality George Negus; a poetic drama using life-sized puppets from Singapore, composed by the poet Felix Cheong; a wayang kulit [puppet drama] in English, based on ancient Balinese literature, by one of Bali’s famous dalang (puppet master); a new dramatic collaborative work by Darwin dramatist Sandra Thibodeaux and a Balinese writer [to be announced]. The Threads of Life Textile Arts Center of Ubud will present a program of dance and music from the island of Sumba, together with a unique textiles exhibition.


    There will also be cooking demonstrations and discussions by culinary and restaurant experts from Southeast Asia, and an East Coast Palm Sugar and Sea Salt Tour for writers, who will entertain each other with poetry and narrative readings over a café lunch.

    Writers of and specialists in children’s and young people’s literature will attend from Australia [Dr Virginia Lowe, Ron Brooks, Anita Heiss], Bali [I Made Taro] Jakarta [Dr Murti Bunanta] India [Arup Kumar Dutta] and Hong Kong [Nury Vittachi]. There will also be a well-developed program of activities for the local Ubud primary schools, with the aim of encouraging the love of reading and creative writing among Bali’s younger generation.

    Janet and Heather and their helpers are to be applauded for their determination and hard work in getting the festival up and running with little capital or local arts funding to work with.
    While my work on the advisory committee was simply to give suggestions every now and then, I’m hoping to be more useful at the festival site. As well as being a guest writer on the Writing For Performance panel and running a workshop or two I hope to be volunteering in a very hands on way: pouring drinks, giving directions, welcoming and greeting as many people as possible.

    I’m very excited to have the opportunity to make contacts with writers and readers in the region. Australia is so close to Indonesia and until now our literary exchange has been limited.
    After the Bali bombing so many of us wanted to do something to help. Since the recent Jakarta bombing, the main response of those already booked to go, is a renewed determination to be present in Bali, in defiance of the scaremongers (terrorists, governments and the media), who want to keep us at home with our teeth chattering.


    In a time when Government leaders make decisions that serve their political agendas rather than their people, it is the role of the artist to provide a vision for the future. And all the more reason, I feel, to build a solid bridge of communication between artists who have so much to contribute to one another, and to encourage a stimulating exchange of ideas and inspiration between Australia and our close Asian neighbours.

    So why not join us? Combine your passions for writing, reading, travel, holiday. There are a few plane seats left I believe, so book now.

    Ubud Writers and Readers Festival has gone from strength to strength and is now in its seventh year. It takes place every October in Ubud Bali. www.ubudwritersfestival

    Jan still leads writers retreats in Bali. For info about this years Backstage Bali Writers Retreat, July 24 -30, go to:

    Delicious, delicious, delicious! The First Ubud Writers' Festival.

    First published on
    Friday, November 26, 2004
      Arts Hub members will remember Jan Cornall’s feature on the Ubud Writers’ Festival. Written in anticipation of the big event, there was a sense that this was going to be a writers festival like no other. For one thing it was set in Beautiful Bali! Well this year’s festival is over and Jan is back in Australia. And for those of us who didn’t get to Ubud, the bottom line it seems is that we well and truly missed out. Find out what happened at this year’s Ubud Writers’ Festival.

    Jan Cornall attended the Ubud Writers’ and Readers’ Festival as a guest writer in 2004. She also ran a four day writers’ retreat for writers prior to the festival.

    Delicious, delicious, delicious! If you weren't there, I'm sorry to tell you, you really missed out! This was an experience so special, so unique in the world of writers’ festivals, that you had to pinch yourself several times a day to see if you were dreaming, or if you had in fact died and gone to Writers and Readers Heaven!

    Let me try to recap some of the highlights for you. Sunday afternoon, October 10, 2004. Security arrangements had caused a traffic jam at the busy intersection Jal. Raya and Monkey Forest Rd. as a crowd of tourists and locals, gathered to get a look at the arriving VIPs. Unless they recognised someone from a book jacket they happened to be carrying, they would be mystified as to who this unusual looking bookish bunch were!

    The spectacular opening, as the sun went down, in the court yard of the Ubud Palace, with speeches by dignitaries, and a performance of the magical kecak dance, set the sensual aesthetic for our week to come.
    As we sipped our cocktails, adjusted our name tags, and mingled under the stars, we knew the famous were among us, but refreshingly, fame bought no privilege at this festival. You were a writer or a reader, and even that line was blurred and forgotten. In the end, as the week progressed, we were just a crowd of people inspiring one another, but the venues, the events, the thoughtful attention to detail, the generous hospitality and rich culture of the Ubud people, made us all feel luxuriously famous.

    There were a few hiccups of course for first time festival organisers, Janet de Neefe, Heather Curnow and their tireless team of volunteers. But when times and venues changed at the last minute, confusion about where to meet for a walk with Lonely Planet's Tony Wheeler, or a market excursion with recipe memoirist, Janet de Neefe, simply meant you bonded for life with new friends and ended up with more precious material for your Ubud travel memoir.

    And while fame was not played upon, the stars of this festival undoubtedly, were the Indonesian writers. Riding a resurgent wave in the post Suharto era of new literature, they are vibrant, articulate and, regardless of age, incredibly sexy people.

    ‘I have fallen in love here every day’, said an Australian man in tears as he responded on the last afternoon to the inspired stream of consciousness rave of novelist and playwright Putu Wijaya. And it was true!

    We fell in love with Ibu Toeti Heraty, Indonesia's first lady of literature, in her opening speech and later when she read her poems in her soft, halting voice; with novelist Dewi Anggraeni's witty and probing interview with writer, editor, and activist Goenawan Mohamed ; and with General Pastika, the Chief Commissioner of Bali's Police Force,who led the Bali bomb investigation, for the compassion, intelligence and insight with which he openly discussed the hard tasks he faces as a responsible (and widely read) community leader.

    I fell in love with the young poets from different islands: Kalimantan, Aceh, Sulawesi among others. Men and women who read their work with such force and passion, that my heart called for no translation.

    At the Katulistiwa Literary Award ceremony for Indonesian writing we were charmed by the friendly warmth of the Jakarta push; publisher and novelist Richard Oh, writer and editor Arisitedes Katoppo, poet Sitok Srengenge, as we watched the haka like performance of Balinese poet Tan Lioe le and the wild Gus tf Sakai.

    We fell in love again at the poetry slam, when around 20 poets, myself amongst them, slammed off against each other in a spirit of warmth, camaraderie and mock competition, the diehards ending up in a Reggae bar, dancing the night away.

    And we all fell seriously, on the second last day, in the most popular session of the festival, for four young female writers; Ayu Utami, Dewi Lestari, Djenar Maesa Ayu and Fira Basuki, who are burning a path through the Indonesian literary scene with their frank and open writing, dubbed "Fragrant Literature". These wonderfully articulate young women explained how they didn't care for fame or labels as long as their writing was being read, and intelligently fielded tricky questions from the floor about their "babes-of-the-media " status.

    We fell in love with people from other countries too; poets and writers from Ireland, Denmark, Holland, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Singapore, the US, even our own home towns, as we arrived at yet another venue with its marigold strewn stairs; yet another dinner down long candle lit paths in palatial poolside surrounds; yet another book launch in a cocktail bar with toilets that had more style and feng shui than my whole house will ever have.

    How could we not fall in love with everyone in this place!

    And on the last day as we sadly left, wallets bulging with calling cards and promises to stay in touch and meet again, same time, same place next year, we knew in our hearts we would. For while all is calm for the moment in paradise, in the global media beat up, where fear of "the other" is encouraged and difference is used as a profile indicator for potential terrorists, the sense of urgency to forge new connections with fellow artists, to understand and celebrate our differences and our commonality has never been stronger.

    And from one, who has been a bit slow off the mark in discovering this rich Indonesian literary culture boiling away a little north of our north western shores, I say to those like me, don't miss out next year! Start saving your pennies now. The next Ubud Writers and Readers festival October 10 -16, 2005, will feature even more Balinese, Indonesian and Asian artists.

    And definitely don't miss this opportunity to defy all subliminal and overt warnings that the world is scary place. World leaders are scary! The world is full human beings like you and me. And getting to know our neighbours has never been so exciting! See you in Ubud next year.

    For more info:

    Walking With Legends

    First published December 20, 2007
    on via AAP

    THERE is a quiet revolution going on in Australian tourism. 
    Small boutique operators catering to specialist needs are nudging their way into the market place.
    They don't take out expensive ads in glossy magazines and may never be featured on Getaway. They don't need to. Their buzz happens via word of mouth and spreads like wildfire through niche communities hungry for the thinking man and woman's call to adventure.

    One such company is Into The Blue Creative Walks, an operation run by ex rock and roll production manager, Raymond Hawkins. Raymond has toured the world with some of our best – Cold Chisel, The Angels, Midnight Oil, and luckily for us, has survived to tell the story.
    It was walking that saved him, Raymond will tell you, as you follow him single file along a rocky track atop a ridge with spectacular views stretching across the West MacDonnell Ranges near Alice Springs.
    When he knew his wild days of sex, drugs and rock 'n roll were numbered, he headed out bush and just walked – along the Great Dividing Range, all the way from Melbourne to Sydney, and he hasn't stopped walking since.

    Big Fat Desert Walks
    Into The Blue now offers a number of tailored trips per year to iconic Australian locations; along the Larapinta Trail in Central Australia; across the sands of Lake Mungo in NSW; and into the old growth forests of Tasmania's west coast Tarkine Wilderness (among other exotic locations).
    Collaborating with guest workshop facilitators, Raymond designs each trip around the requirements of the group. Already this year on The Larapinta Trail in the West MacDonnells, Raymond has led photographers, writers, a men's lifestyle group and two Big Fat Desert Walks (for more advanced walkers).

    In August there was a tai chi walk into Lake Mungo and at New Year's writers and meditators will head for the cool mossy greens in the north west wilderness of Tasmania's Tarkine.
    Raymond's skills are many, but his attention to detail and artistry in orchestrating the perfect walking trip, ensure you arrive at breathtaking vantage points just in time to see the sun rise or set, or simply to have a civilised cup of tea (he carries the thermoses, we carry the cups), in the most stunning valley, mountaintop or gorge you have ever been in. (Except for the one you saw yesterday and the one you will discover tomorrow).

    Laugh like never before
    We've all been told walking is beneficial to our physical and mental health, but when you add the extra feature of walking through uplifted landforms millions of years old, or stepping through ancient old growth forests where trees have been growing tall for 400 years, something else happens.
    While your senses absorb the tastes and textures of nature's brilliance, your blood stream is flooded with walking endorphins. The result is a euphoric feeling of wellbeing that lasts all day, into the night and lingers long after you return home.

    When you add laughter into the mix, the level of deep relaxation is complete, for when you walk with Raymond Hawkins, you laugh as you never have before.His intelligent and irreverent wit leaves no sacred cow untouched, yet never detracts from his serious on-track talks on flora, fauna and geographic history, as he stops to point out the subtle colour of a desert mulla mulla flower, the sculpted bark of a corkwood tree or ripples in rock thrown up from an ancient sea.

    As for Indigenous history, Raymond leaves that to the experts. Into The Blue's collaborations with traditional landowners bring authentic contact with Indigenous Australians and the stories of the country you walk through.

    Women lead the way
    This year Raymond has been working with Jungala, a talented artist, educator and Arrente man, who has set up an independent cultural tourism operation with his family just outside Alice. At Lake Mungo, Into the Blue walks with Garry Pappin, a local Mutthi Mutthi man with permission from Mutthi Mutthi, Barkindji, and Nyiampaa elders, to travel into traditional country no commercial walking operation has gone before.

    Sounds like a baby boomers heaven – meaningful adventure for mid-lifers who refuse to grow old! But teenagers through to the over 70s sign up with Into The Blue.
    Medium fitness, required for all trips is not restricted by age. One of Raymond's strongest walkers is a woman approaching 70 who he says, "outwalks the big men, hands down".
    Back in the city, post desert – writers, artists, photographers, meditators and walkers feel positively enlivened by their contact with an earth that still breaths inspiration in through the soles of their feet.
    Reunions are filled with the sharing of photos, art works and writing. The photographers have their photos published in a coffee table book and the writers, photographers and artists contribute their work to a DVD.

    Touch the earth in a new way
    This year ABC radio's The Book Show featured the work of writer Rowena Harding-Smith who has joined the Desert Writers two years running and this year's Mungo Trip.

    In 2008 as well as the usual trips, there will be a Capella singers in the desert, and artists, photographers and writers will join in a combo intensive based at a desert homestead.
    There will also be an Outback Characters tour, based around Broken Hill, where writers and photographers meet real live characters as subjects for their work.

    For those who love the idea, but are not sure they are fit enough, Raymond provides training advice and training walks throughout the year and except for the "Big Fat" category for serious walkers, trips are supported daily by a back up crew, so only day packs are carried.
    The care taken by Into The Blue's in designing and leading you through your wilderness experience is worth every penny. Where else can you learn how to touch the earth in a new way every day?

    Read original article at:

    More info:

    Catching Fish In The Desert

    Published Friday, June 15, 2007 on Arts Hub, news analysis and comment.

    Jan Cornall admires an Alice Spring family's paintings at an informal art sale that took place over a dinner of barbequed kangaroo and billy soup. 
    In 2006 with walking guide Raymond Hawkins I took a group of writers from the NSW Writers Centre, along the Larapinta Trail in the West MacDonnell Ranges near Alice Springs and wrote about it for Arts Hub ( ). Desert Writers has since become an annual event taking place at the end of June.

    “Writing requires courage and effort. Each day is like going to catch fish in the desert.”

    I am ashamed to say this was my first trip to the centre of this country we call our own. But I am happy to say to all those like me, “It’s never too late! If there is one thing you must do before you die, it’s go to the desert!”

    To arrive in Alice Springs and walk across the sandy Todd River is significant enough. And to witness the red hills standing guard all around the town, tall against the blue, blue sky is also. But when you go in country and walk around – this is when the magic really begins.

    The first few days we are doing it soft – taking day trips and coming back to the hotel in Alice at night. We have writing workshops in the morning at the hotel or in the evening after we get back. But our favourite place to write is on the track. Our guide Raymond, a former lighting and production manager from the Sydney Opera House, is a master at planning for us to arrive at the right time in the right place for optimum inspiration.

    Like Fish Hole - a stunning water hole a good two hours’ stroll from Hamilton Downs, an old cattle station converted into a school camp. We walk in silence, a towering rainbow ridge of ochres and pale olive greens travelling alongside us. Coming across a classic Namijira ghost gum we want to bow down, kiss the ground and hug its smooth white skin. We become obsessed with textures of bark, rock and sand, bending down with our cameras and notebooks to capture every minute detail - the same textures are repeated all around us on a grander scale in the landscape we humbly travel through, as we begin to feel as insignificant as ants.

    When we get to Fish Hole, along a dry riverbed leading into a narrow canyon, we still don’t wish to speak. We want to stay in this rock orange canyon forever and we spread ourselves about with our note pads and pens and watch the wind painting superb cubist compositions on the surface of the water hole, erasing them at a whim. We stay long enough for the shadows to mutter, “time to return”, and make our way back along the riverbed to our bus.

    One evening Raymond organises for us to meet Betty Pierce’s family. Betty, an Eastern Arrernte woman in her 60s, has returned home to Alice after years of living and working for her people in coastal towns and cities, to help her immediate family set up a tourist business. We are some of their first customers.

    We meet Betty on the side of the road at sunset. She jumps in and takes us to her country - a scrubby bit of land facing a low rounded rock formation.“This is snake rock,” she explains, telling us stories of the rock, and shows us a small cave where the old snakes normally live. As the sun disappears into the red earth we drive further on to another bit of scrub on the other side of the main road. A fire is blazing and we are asked to step through a smoking ceremony. “Now you are part of my family,” Betty says as we pass through the invisible gateway.

    We are invited to sit by another fire where damper and billy soup is steaming as the desert night temperature plummets towards zero degrees. Betty’s daughter and her husband have laid out a feast of barbequed kangaroo, sausages, and salads. Betty is worried the other family members who are coming to show us their art might not turn up. But they do – a combi van full of big, tall, dark handsome women, kids and shy men. They sit with us around the fire and under Betty’s guidance tell us a little about their way of life.

    The art show happens over a table with Rosemary and her sister selling their work – bright gaudy paintings of bush tucker – wild passionfruit, native tomatoes, and paddy melon. It’s not what we were expecting but we all want one to take home. When I ask Rosemary when she painted the one I like, she thinks for a while and says slowly, “Before the big rain, yeah before the big rain.”

    One day we do an all day walk. Starting out at Serpentine Gorge we climb up onto a ridge and follow it along to Counts Point. On each side of us other ridges and mountain ranges layer back for as far as we can see. We come across sand ripples moulded into rock – evidence of an inland sea disrupted by the great upheavals of long ago. We are in awe of the greatness of this place, but never wordless. At each opportunity we sit and take it in, then start to write. Some of us write about the landforms, some about darkness within. One has a novel beginning to pour out of her; another is able to return to a memoir begun in another desert – the Sahara, sixteen years earlier. We collect images and impressions – smells, sights, sounds. Trees whisper as we pass, birds call out to us, wind dances across our skin and we feel like we could walk forever until tiredness reminds us we are mere mortals.

    In the last days we head out to our writers’ camp. We walk the spectacular Ormiston Gorge, swim in the Finke River at Glen Helen and then head for camp. The sun is on its way down as we leave the bus and carry our bags a short way down a sandy track. As we round the bend a low didge sounds out across the valley. We descend into the dry riverbed as the didge player, Tommy Crow, tones our welcome. The fire is leaping, the sun dying. We pitch our clear view tents in the sand of the riverbed. Feels like home, so comfy, we never want to leave. The rounded peaks of Mt Sonder watch over us and that night we see stars, as we never have before.

    We walk again from this location but mostly we hang around camp, workshopping and drawing our stories in the sand. Plenty of time for campfire musing, songs and deadly jokes. Our walking guide Raymond has a wicked sense of humour. No cows are sacred. Nothing escapes his pointed wit. Walk, write and laugh and laugh.

    After two days we are sad to leave the warmth of our river bed camp and the sense that the earth was looking after us.  The earth as mother is an old cliche, but out here she is stripped bare. Having weathered every extreme element, every calamity and still she is there for us, supporting us, guiding us and inspiring our writing.  Not harsh and dry as I expected but a place of softness, pastel hues and exquisite tones and changing moods.

    There’s so much more to this trip than walking, writing and laughing. You can come alive here, like a desert flower blooming after years of no rain in this air so clear and blue. It’s like travelling to a part of yourself that you had forgotten, like finding tenderness in a heart so old and ancient you can’t believe it belongs to you.

     Desert writers heads out each year in June. Now we spend only the first and last nights in Alice  Springs, the rest in supported camps in the West MacDonnell Ranges with Indigenous guides and meeting with Traditional Landowners. Starting at the Beanie Festival and finishing at Hermannsburg Community. Medium fitness required.     click on creative/lifestyle