bali bombings, bali, ubud

memorial on the site of the 2002 Bali bombing

On the 12th October, 2002 a violent Islamic sect detonated two bombs in a crowded nightclub on Kuta, Bali, killing 202 people and injuring 240 more, many of whom suffered horrific burns.

88 of the people who died were Australians like me, targeted because of our country’s role in the liberation of East Timor (one of the few recent foreign policy decisions for which we can feel proud.)

The irony was that the Balinese are Hindus; it was Islamists from outside the island who perpetrated this obscenity.

bali, ubud, writer's festival

opening ceremony: photo courtesy URWF

But the effect on tourism, the island’s lifeblood, was devastating. And for a time Bali’s reputation seemed irretrievably marred by what had happened.

The first Ubud Readers and Writers Festival was organized the year following the bombings to try and heal the damage. The brainchild of Janet de Neefe, a Melbourne woman who had married a local Balinese and lived on the island for more than 30 years, the festival took as its theme After the Dark, Light is Born, a title ofa book authored by Indonesia’s national heroine, R.A. Kartini.

bali, ubud, dancers

Balinese dancers: courtesy URWF

This year’s event was organized by the inimitable festival director Jeni Caffin who turns her passion for books and music into brilliant international events year after year.

I was honoured to be invited this year and found myself surrounded by Nobel peace prize winners (Jose Ramos Horta) Pulitzer Prize winners (Jeffrey Eugenides) rock stars (Nick Cave) as well as Oxford dons, leading international journalists and writers from around the world.

Colin Falconer, Faramerz Dabhoiwala, Jill Dawson, Hernán Lara, Rosemary Sayer  When Saturday, 06 October 2012 09:00 - 10:15 Where Neka Museum Jl. Raya Campuhan, Ubud Bali - Indonesia Buy Ticket Get 1 Day Pass  Get 4 Day Pass Map

photo courtesy URWF

It was, at times, intimidating. One night I found myself at a dinner and discovered I was the only one among the six people at our table never to have been imprisoned for my writings or my political beliefs. I never mentioned my one night in the slammer for public drunkenness. It was a long time ago, and I didn’t think that it would really cut it with these guys.

But it made me appreciate, once more, those freedoms we sometimes take for granted; it is a reminder that in places like Egypt and Burma and Somalia and elsewhere in the world writers are often feared and persecuted. Freedom of speech should never be taken for granted. Extremists, regardless of their nationality, religion or political persuasion do not like writers.

Colin Falconer, bali

photo courtesy: URWF

Which is why this festival was such a joy to be part of. I do love writers and I love readers; they laugh a lot, and they love books and bars with often equal passion. I made great friends and came away inspired and invigorated.

After the Dark, the Light is Born.

It is the best way to answer murderous people with small minds: with laughter and with hope and with great, great books.

So now it’s back to work and back to my badly neglected blog …

For more information on Bali’s Ubud Readers and Writers Festival, see here

About colinfalconer

author of bestselling historical novels like Anastasia, When We Were Gods, Aztec and Harem. My books have been published in the UK, US and ANZ and translated into seventeen languages.
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  1. Debra Eve says:

    Two weeks after 9/11, my best friend and I touched down in London (we’re American). We’d planned the trip long before and were determined not to cancel. We experienced an amazing outpouring of friendship and solidarity. Extremists should never be allowed to win. Good for Janet de Neefe. Sounds like a fantastic festival. Welcome back, Colin!

    • I agree with you, Debra. A lot of my friends went to Bali for the same reason. And yes, Janet did an amazing job and she attracts writers from every nationalist and religion to the festival. It’s inspiring.

  2. Liza Perrat says:

    As a fellow Aussie, I recall only too well the horror of the Bali bombing. A friend of mine lost two close friends. A few writer and reader mates have attended the Ubud Writer’s festival in the past and really enjoyed it. I’d love to go sometime!

    • Thanks Liza. It’s a very well organized festival and attracts some very big names – and the reason for it is close to all Australians’ hearts. They attract huge crowds now, it’s a credit to them.

  3. What a wonderful event to be part of. I’m glad it reinvigorated you and I’m sure you were equally an inspiration to others. Have a great rest of your week. 🙂

  4. Shannon Esposito says:

    Wow, thank you for the reminder, Colin. It is easy to take free speech for granted, but it helps to remember those who have to fight and die for the priviledge. What an honor to be involved in a celebration of that magnitude.

    • Thanks Shannon. I see the question of freedom of speech as an issue we will have to confront again and again in the next few years. The Bali Festival is one of the events that points the way.

  5. Just the other day I was wondering where you had gotten yourself to. Glad to see it was such a marvelous place. And I will second Shannon’s comment. Thanks for the reminder that we should not take freedom of speech for granted.

  6. lynettemburrows says:

    Wow. Powerful post, Colin. I love this “the best way to answer murderous people with small minds: with laughter and with hope and with great, great books” because it is so right.

  7. The violent acts of small minded bigots just never ceases to amaze me. They should never be allowed to win, and it’s events like this that will show them they can’t. It’s just too bad that people have to be hurt and die at the hands of any of them. Freedom of speech should be something everyone cherishes. I’m going to steal what I’ve come to think of as an Australian-ism…Good on you for participating in this event. 🙂

  8. Pingback: I Wonder When the Withdrawals Will Start? | Kristy K. James

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