Saturday, November 20, 2010
Donald Friend a self-confessed pederast in Bali and Kerry Negara’s Controversial Film ‘A Loving Friend’
A hot topic: Through her self-funded film entitled A Loving Friend, which was screened recently at the 2010 Brisbane International Film Festival, Kerry Negara wishes to create a national debate in Australia, about the National Library of Australia publishing the names of certain Balinese men who, in their childhood, worked as houseboys in the Sanur home of the famous Australian artist and self-confessed pederast Donald Friend, during the years he lived in Bali. The video-journalist Kerry Negara, presented her self-funded film entitled A Loving Friend at the 2010 Brisbane International Film Festival, which concluded in mid November. She started this long-term project in 2004 using borrowed cameras. Her friend John Doggett-Williams lent a helping hand with editing and script vision.
Through this film Kerry wishes to create a national debate in Australia, about the National Library of Australia publishing the names of certain Balinese men who, in their childhood, worked as houseboys in the Sanur home of the famous Australian artist Donald Friend, during the years he lived in Bali — 1967 until 1979. These years were described by Australian artist, John Olsen at the book launch at the National Library of Australia, as Friend’s “halcyon days”. Friend bequeathed his diaries to the National Library on the condition that they would publish them. He died in 1989 at the age of 74, and his illustrated diaries took eight years to prepare for publication. They were published in four volumes and the fourth volume(2006) contains The Bali Diaries.
The problem for Kerry Negara is that Donald Friend was a self-confessed pederast.
His eloquently written diaries describe, quite openly, his pleasure engaging in sexual activities with boys who he states in his writings, are between the ages of nine and 12 at the time. This was against Balinese law of the time and also Australian law.
Kerry, who is also a mother, is understandably angry. Not only are Friend’s illegal sexual activities a reminder of the behavior of well-known Western artists in Bali in the 1930s and 1940s, but the Australian art establishment’s remarkable silence on this facet of Friend’s personality, comes across as tacit approval. She also wants the National Library to account for its negligence in not having suppressed the boys’ names, as it would have been required by law to do, if the events had taken place in Australia. If and when a second edition is published, she wants them to suppress the names.
The National Library of Australia made no effort to trace the Balinese men involved to ask permission to use their names. Kerry and her producer were able to easily track down several of the men concerned and interview them. One man who is often mentioned in the diaries, was embarrassed and distressed about the fact that no one had asked his permission. “I am the one losing out. I wish that book had never been published and I don’t want it to be published again. I wish it could be destroyed,” he said.
While talking to Kerry on camera, emotional conflict and memories caused another man to sob in a most heartbreaking way. He was a nine-year-old orphan Friend wanted to adopt. Friend invited him to live in his house as a son, without requiring him to work. His schooling was paid for, but he was not spared the sexual advances.
“He was able to do it, because they were poor. For several years I have interviewed many people and I simply cannot understand their attitudes to the sex passages,” said Kerry Negara. “My film is not questioning Donald Friend’s artistic talent. It is about his pedophilia and the failure of the art establishment in Australia to confront this issue.” In the film Kerry Negara interviews people living in Bali, expatriates and Balinese, some of whom knew Friend when he was in Bali, and art world figures in Australia, including the editors and publishers of the diaries. Some attitudes are contradictory or ill-defined, so she
included her questions to her interviewees in the film, as she did not want anyone saying they had been quoted out of context.
Paul Hetherington of the National Library of Australia said, “Donald Friend did not see himself as limited by traditional Judeo-Christian values.” Friend was described by Barry Pearce, the head curator of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, as having “an ebullient, artistic personality, daunting, witty, and at times devastatingly sarcastic. He was not a pedophile,” said Pearce. The very famous Australian Barry Humphries, actor, comedian, writer and social commentator (the “Edna Everage” character) described Friend’s way of life as “benevolent pedophilia”. An arts writer Frank Campbell said “he is an untried criminal, guilty according to his own written word,” and points out that Friend wrote in his diary, that he “might end up a scrofulous, despicable old menace to youth, spending his last years in jail.” Warwick Purser, a businessman in Indonesia told Kerry on camera that
Donald liked young men who were 18, 19, or 20 years of age. When asked if he had read the diaries, he said yes. James Murdoch, an art historian who knew Friend during the Bali time, says “The reality is the boys seduced him.”
It’s clear that Friend was a gifted draughtsman with a sensual eye for beauty, which translated into his beautiful artworks, exhibited in respected galleries in Bali and Australia. “The whole body of my work is about enjoyment,” he wrote. “My privately mumbled prayer, half excuse, half manifesto, goes up to the God of inverts: If I resist I am sent mad, and if I indulge, I am still unhappy. Then grant me as much love as possible and I’ll do my best not to harm anyone.”
He was described as “very kind” by some. He assisted the Balinese boys with money to attend school, gave them work, board and lodging, and brought one boy to Australia in 1972 to have surgical treatment. Some of the “boys” (now middle-aged men), spoke of his drinking, and frightening unpredictable behavior, and requests for intimacy. Sometimes there were up to 20 boys living at his Sanur home. A courageous woman: Kerry Negara films in Ubud, Bali.A courageous woman: Kerry Negara films in Ubud, Bali. He returned to Melbourne in 1979, writing “I have no more faith in the place”, but actually according to Negara he was more or less forced to leave. In his last years after returning from Bali, Friend turned to painting fruit in still-life works, and joked wryly that “they gave less trouble, and you can eat them later. Mangophilia!”
Negara says the Art Gallery curators in Australia no longer consent to speak to her. She has tried to sell her film to both ABC, and SBS Television channels in Australia, but so far it has been declined. However it has been screened at the Melbourne and Canberra Film Festivals as well as Brisbane Film Festival, and she is preparing a version for Al Jazeera TV. The film has cost her money, she has unpaid bills, and she has received a lot of hate-mail. “There are a lot of vested interests concerned with Friend’s reputation, both in Bali and Australia,” she says. The National Library of Australia has not commented on the issues she has raised, and no apology has been given to the Balinese men whose names were published in the diaries. When told she was a brave woman, she said, “Well it’s about the
children isn’t it? I don’t know whether I am brave, or crazy, but I just had to do it. Once I start something I have to finish it.”
Kerry’s previous film was called Done Bali, The title is meant to be ironic, because she’d heard so many tourists saying “We’ve done Bali” as if ticking the island’s name off a list of travel destinations. The film was about the creation of the Bali Paradise, Island of the Gods myth, which draws tourists there in the first place. Kerry said that since her film A Loving Friend has been shown in Australia, paradoxically, the price of Friend’s art has gone up.
Kerry first visited Bali in 1980. She married a Balinese, Ida Bagus Sunia Negara, in 1986 and they have two grown up daughters. The Bali diaries of Donald Friend can be found at www.books.google.co.idCynthia Webb, Contributor, Brisbane, Australia