Saturday, November 02, 2013

Ubud 2013

The Bali flight from Perth was full of screaming children and parents trying to look cool and be cool. Some made it. Other didn’t. Me? Can’t remember. I was so tired it was all a blur. All that remains in memory are the screams.

Denpassar Airport is new, very new. We got off the plane and gathered in a huge barn and lined up in long queues that seemed to take a week to reach the immigration desk, where I received a smile, which was nice.

Outside in the flurry of names held up by eager taxi drivers I could see no name that looked like mine, so I chose one at random and finished up in Kuta with a group of chartered accountants attending an international conference on global money transfers. 

Sorry, I made that up. What happened was someone up the back yelled at me because they remembered me from last year and because they once had a farm in Denmark, just down the road from Albany, and they knew me by face.

There were other faces in the Ubud cluster and one of them belonged to Julian Burnside, so I told him the name of my face and he told me the name of his. I reminded him we were in a session together, People of Letters. He asked me if I knew what it was about. I pretended I had no idea because he said he didn’t and I didn’t want to embarrass him in front of the others. Later, I realised I had no idea too, but the realisation helped me to discover the secret, to adapt, and make a good fist of it. Something similar must have happened to Julian because his fist turned out all right too.

That sorted I got in a taxi with Ian Burnett and his delightful partner whose name sits in my memory as a sound but I have no way of knowing how it looks as a word and so will not write it as a word in order to save embarrassing both of us. Mainly me. Ian wrote a book about the spice trade with all its murder, mayhem and romance and called it Spice Islands.

The long drive up the hill to Ubud with Wayan (first born man) was a lot of fun and full of lively discussion, most of which I can no longer remember because of the floating cloud in my brain and the constant battering from the lack of sleep drums and the residual screams.

On arrival in Ubud we drove around for what couldn’t have been a day but felt like it, trying to find a way through the road works to Ian’s resort. I never saw him again. But I did get to Honeymoon Guest House No 1, owned by the wondrous Janet DeNeefe, Festival Founder and Director and the master of cool, Ketut Suardana, Chair of the Mudra Swari Saraswati Foundation, the not-for-profit organisation behind the festival.

And so it all began, one mad rush through sumptuous feasting, thrilling panelling, intense, lively and intimate conversations with people you know, people you never met, then did, and loved in an instant, and people you have admired for decades who suddenly appear in front of you with your book in their hand asking for your signature and you want to refuse because they don’t seem to understand that you are not worthy because of the image you hold of them in your mind’s memory of fine and great people.


Here are a very small collection of highlights. The true and honest list is too long and I would have to live it all again and not sleep again and my doctor has given me instructions I must obey if I am to live longer than my father.

Catching half of the David Vann – Legend of a Suicide - and Jennifer Byrne conversation. David was funny, sad and behaved like an American who has left his country for New Zealand, which he has. If he talks in a place near you, go listen.

The Richard Flanagan – The Narrow Road to the Deep North - Michael Cathcart chat was engaging and insightful. All about war and love and family and fragility.

Laki Laki Yang Lucu was a session all about comedy and a pleasure to be sitting beside Tom Doig, Morris Gleitzman and Ernest Prakasa and the hilarious Khairani Barokka. If you look them all up you will notice they all carry credentials and I’m pretty sure each and every one of them hit me with theirs at least once during the discussion.

Jalan Jalan meant a long walk on a wonky ankle but I met others worse off and the lush paddy fields filled our souls with hope and when we arrived at Sari Organik we were tired but ready for another sumptuous feast and travel tales and who better to yarn with than two seasoned walkers and talkers, Jan Cornall and Claire Scobie. 

The Second Sex Debate was full of lies and cons and featured a stand up stoush between the champion on my team, on any team, Olin Monteiro, and a woman in the audience. It was a thrilling encounter and reminded us all that Indonesia is, in practise, a democracy. Others on the team were Wayan Juniatha, who last year took me to West Timor and left me there, Florence Williams, a rare American presence, Tom Doig, an insane and funny New Zealander, and Clementine Ford, an hilarious feminist from Adelaide. We were all chaired with charm and wit by Chip Rolley, once director of the Sydney Writers’ Festival.

My personal highlight was a gripping session with Ben Quilty and Augustinus Wibowo. Both men spoke with quiet intensity about their experiences in Afghanistan. Ben won the 2011 Archibald with his painting of Margaret Olley and was in Kandahar as the Official War Artist for the Australian War Memorial. Augustinus is an Indonesian travel writer with a fascination for the Afghanistan most of us know nothing of. Both men spoke from deep places about their experiences but what struck me was the startling revelation that rape was an issue on both sides of the security fence. Augustinus spoke about the local tradition of Playboys, these are young men older men buy, or hire, or win over, for their sexual peasure. Augustinus told of being sexually harassed as he travelled through the country. When Ben arrived at the Kandahar base he was handed a “rape whistle” by the camp commandant because a few days before a young Dutch soldier had been raped by five American soldiers and that rape was a constant problem at the base. I, like many others in the audience, sat dumb with horror in our minds, hearts and souls.

Do you mind if I finish on a happy note? Thank you.

I had the pleasure of working with the fabulous People of Letters team – Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire. These two wonders arrived in Ubud from Jakarta where they had presented a Women of Letters. In Ubud they presented another mob of Women with their notes and then us, the people. On the team and reading were Julian Burnside, Cate Kennedy, Claire Bowditch, Ketut Yuliarsa and Morris Gleitzman. Our instructions were to write to the thing which we wished we had written. And we did. And the laughs came thick and fast. Eventually, it is possible, rumour has it, these letters may appear in a book.

Now, to the conversational highlights. To be fair, there were many, because if there is something I love, it is an intense and intimate conversation. I won’t name names, except one, Bob Connolly, that great Australian documentary film maker. Here’s how it happened.

I join a cluster at the Australian Embassy cocktail party. There is a flurry and I am in the middle and running four conversations at the same time. Someone says Bob Connolly would like you to sign your book for him, the one you wrote about boarding school, Boy on a Wire. I stop them and ask, who did you say? They repeat and I turn to see the great man standing there with my book in his hands and I go down on a knee and refuse to sign until he recognises that I have long admired his work and that I am but a boy and naive and innocent in the wilderness of artistic endeavour. He takes pity on me and helps me to my feet, saying he can feel my pain because his knees aren’t too good either and then he introduces me to his partner Sophie Raymond and it is she who has told me who he is as though I don’t know but I do and the next day Bob and me huddle together like two old men who have known each other forever and talk a talk that belongs to him and me.

Just in case you have forgotten Bob’s work: Mrs Carey’s Concert, Rats in the Ranks, Facing the Music, First Contact, Black Harvest, Joe Leahy’s Neighbours.

Did I mention where I stayed? I think I did, the Honeymoon Guesthouse No 1. And, yes, it was a hot-bed of conversation. Will I name names? No. But I remember them all. (I’m writer, I keep notes.)

Finally, the big question: Do I love the Ubud Writers’ and Readers’ Festival? What a dumb question. It fills me, enriches me, I come home changed.

Jon Doust's passage to Ubud was made possible by a grant from the Department of Culture and the Arts through it's Artflight program.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Big Big Sky, Geraldton, 2013

There is no doubt I love a festival, in particular, a writers/readers festival. My favourite? Too hard to call, but, if you were to pressure me for a short list, on it would be two I have just attended: Big Sky Readers and Writers Festival  in Geraldton and Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Bali.

Big Sky had been denied me for some years due to other engagements, or perhaps the lack of a book to talk about, whatever, I missed it. It is fine little festival full of good cheer and camaraderie. For this year’s event I again signed up for a quick flight over to the Abrolhos islands. And what better company: Ailsa Piper, Rosemary Sayer, Toni Jordan, Brenton McKenna, Mitch Becker, Di Wolfer.

 Malcolm, Ailsa, Diane, The Captain, Toni and Sue.

On the way we flew through a rainbow.

 And when we got there, such beauty.

One man, Brenton McKenna, is a brilliant graphic novelist, the other is an idiot.

Fine story tellers: Doust, Clarrie Cameron, Brenton McKenna, Boori Monty Pryor

Below: Geri Bar, Laureate Project Manager for Australia's Children;'s Laureate - Boori Monty Pryor.

Above: the full contingent, all named here: Big Sky Writers 2013

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Ubud 2013



Jon Doust is Appearing In

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Parking in South Perth? You gotta read all the signs

The Boss,
Parking Enforcement Services,
PO Box 7753,
Cloisters Square,
Perth 6850

Cc: CEO, City of South Perth,
Civic Centre
Cnr Sandgate St and South Tce
South Perth WA 6151.

Dear Sir/Madam,

Please find enclosed copies of my parking ticket of 24/5/2013, with accompanying parking fine received on the same day, while my Subaru B 451 was parked behind the Windsor Hotel, South Perth.

It is, of course, of little interest to you in Parking Enforcement that I often visit this South Perth precinct when in the city. It is one of my favourite spots and on this occasion I did as I have always done, walked along the foreshore with a friend, chatting, going over our business relationship, discussing the odd dilemma, then we drank coffee, ate small morsels and finished off with a sorbet at the ice-cream shop. All in all, a solid and constructive meeting in a delightful setting.

In all my years of business meetings in this part of glorious South Perth, I have never once received a parking ticket. Until now. And you can imagine my irritation, because I was just around the corner at the time the ticket was slapped on my windscreen and as soon as I discovered the slim slip of incrimination and ridicule, my first thought was: Where the hell is that guy? He can’t be far. He’s made a mistake. It can’t be true. Not me, a parking fine, never. But, he was nowhere to be seen. (I assumed he was a man and I apologise for any perceived sexism in my response.) 

Then I looked closely at the ticket and the notice. Oh, yes, Dear Parking Enforcement Servicer, those two tiny pieces of paper told me a story that made a tiny part of my brain sing a small song.

Just take a look at this:

Not sure if you can tell from the big picture, so let’s take a closer look:

Note the expiry time.
Now note the breach time.

Indeed, the breach time is some time before the expiry time. Now this could be explained by the failing eyesight of the parking enforcement officer, or his inability to see beyond the immediate. My guess: His eyes brush the dashboard and fail to pick up the ticket lying just off the dashboard in front of the steering wheel. Let me explain with a photograph, which I took with the two slips in position on the car’s dash.

There you have it. Let’s not be too hard on the officer. I’m sure his heart and iPad are in the right place.

Given I have sent a copy of this letter to the City, I would now like to wish you both an excellent winter.

And, South Perth, may you and your City continue to shine,

Jon Doust
A regular visitor
With a promise never to leave his car unticketed
And to ensure a more central placement in the future.

A response from the aforementioned Parking Enforcement Services was received. This fearsome body sent me a letter saying my appeal had been rejected, no reason given, but then it generously supplied me with a list of unacceptable reasons.
Here they are. 

I, of course, sent it all to Inside cover.


Sunday, September 01, 2013


Questions: Georgie Juszczyk, Cathedral School, Townsville, QLD, Australia.

Answers: Jon Doust

 List 3 interesting facts about yourself…
1 – My mother and father were step brother and sister.
2 – When I was 6 my older brother hit me on the head with a hammer.
3 - In Madison, Wisconsin, in 1984, I entered the Funniest Person in America Competition and came last.

 What is your pet hate?

 What is your favourite book? And why?
The book I am writing now. Always the one I am writing now. They consume me, take over my life. I live in them. Almost. Every so often I have to leave the house to buy food. Or did you mean written by another? Too many favourites, but there is one I have read more often than any other - Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse. It is the tale of a journey to self discovery, full of explorations from imposed religion, through hedonism to a personal sense of spirituality.

 What do you consider your greatest achievement? (It can be professional or personal, or both!)
Personal? Staying alive long enough to help create a family that produced a sober, healthy, funny, decent and moral young man.
Professional? Writing books that are not cathartic, that hurt me, but continuing to write them because the stories are more important than any personal grief.

 What do you value in an effective piece of writing?
Courage and originality.

 What do you do when you have writer’s block?
Keep writing. Never stop. Write about the lawn, the sun, the boy sitting next to you, never stop. (As a consequence, I never get it.)

  What advice would you give to any aspiring young writers battling to get published within the wider world?
Seek other planets. Okay, sorry, seriously, never give up. If you get a rejection, re-work the work. If you get an acceptance, re-work the work. Everything can be better.  Never take a compliment sitting down. In fact, don’t take anything sitting down. Sitting is bad for your posture.

  What do you think are the main influences on your writing style?
My life in a small town farming family, where men spoke hard and sharp and most of the women too. My grandfather, who was a farmer, story teller and journalist. My early reading: adventure tales – Treasure Island, Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer. And later: Ernest Hemmingway, Hermann Hesse, JD Salinger.

 Is there an over-arching message or theme that you try to project through your different works?
Still working on it. Life is mad, but it doesn’t have to make you crazy? Be aware of the dangers of obsessiveness, of over-indulgence, of dgoma. Look after those who are not as fortunate as you. Revenge can be sweet, although nasty.

 Was there a definitive turning point in your career that led you to pursue writing?
I always wanted to write, from about thirteen. But I hid all my writing. Then I met a man over coffee. His name was Ken Spillman. He asked me to help him write a children’s book. I said yes. Everything changed.

 What is your favourite part of being a writer? (Usually people tell me that it’s great to be paid for staying at home in their PJs!)
I don’t have pjs. But it is good not having a job. It’s for the best, for everyone. That’s one more job available for someone who needs one and, besides, I’m not good in a workplace. I’m disruptive. I tend to want to make work fun. Not encouraged.  Then there’s talking. I am a natural talker. The writing I love more than anything, I am driven to do it, but the talking comes natural.

  Some authors say they turned to writing because they needed to escape into another world within their mind, some do it for the pleasure of publishing to the masses and some say that writing is inspired purely because they have a story to tell. What is your personal motivation for writing? (Such a small question for such a big answer!)
I have to tell stories. It’s all I can do. I can’t fix a car, or mend a fence, or cure ingrown toenails. But I can pretend I can. Then there’s my head. My wife says I have a memory like an elephant, without the body, for which she is thankful. My head is full, and in order to ease its strain, I have to get stuff out, or, I’m sure, it will explode. And I am an idealist. The world upsets me, daily - I see things and have things to say about those things.

 And for the benefit of all the English teachers out there, why is a love of books so crucial for students?
You cannot do everything, be everything, understand everything, know everything, but you can read everything. No, you can’t, but you can nurture your imagination, stimulate your senses, foster your understanding.

 If there was one thing you could change about the way society operates today, what would it be? Why?
I would make it mandatory for everyone to have their DNA analysed to determine their ethnic origins, then they would realise we all came out of Africa and there is no such thing as purity in race. Indeed, race is a myth. Why? Just for fun.

 Do you feel that the use of technology within the younger generation is having a negative or positive impact upon literacy? (Please elaborate on your opinions as to why and what we can do about it if applicable)
I thnk ther is 2 much txting.2 many people don’t complt words or sentces any ... 
In school I would create a class dedicated to the long drawn out sentence and let students go on and on and on and on and ...

 Would you rather fight one horse sized duck or one hundred duck sized horses?
I would prefer 100 horse sized ducks. As they ran at me I’d climb a tree and do my geese calls. Ducks hate geese. There would be chaos. They’d run into each other, fall over, and there’d be duck for dinner for a year.