The radio waves were flooded this morning with reports of Australian ex-pats and long-term tourists who were desperate to leave Bali and Indonesia. Meanwhile, an ABC article stated that about 200 Australians are due to 'evacuate' Bali today onboard a special repatriation flight organised by the federal government and that a further 800 had registered their interest to leave Indonesia with Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs.

It seems many ex-pats have been endeavouring to leave Indonesia for months, but their plans have been stymied by the lack of financially viable flights departing Indo for Australia. According to the ABC article, many Australians had even considered returning home by boat, an alternative that was in turn thwarted by strict and expensive quarantine requirements for Indonesian crew.

However, while many ex-pats have good reasons to return home (e.g the loss of family, financial stress) some based in Bali and Indonesia feel that the press has been a little over-dramatic with the portrayal of Indonesia as the quote: ‘COVID-19 epicentre of the world. ’

Australian ex-pat, Troy Sinclair, runs a resort on Nusa Lembongan and has been based in Indonesia for well over a decade. Sinclair appeared in a recent issue of Tracks where he provided a compelling account of ferrying Kelly Slater around Indonesia last year.

Sinclair argues that the reasons for the recent exodus of Australians from Indonesia are many and varied and not simply a panic response to the COVID situation.  

For the travellers who hung in there during COVID and tried to keep the Bali dream alive Troy suggests, “Some have run out of money and the season only has two months left and hasn’t been great so far.” For such a group the prospect of the dramatically reduced cost of the repatriation flights, which were up as high as four-to-five grand, was too good an option to say no to. Meanwhile, long-term ex-pats have faced their own financial battles, which have been amplified by the COVID-19 virus. “Some people have left because they have kids who needed school and they are out of money because their businesses have been ruined. Attending one of the international schools up here is very expensive, like $13000- $15000 a year per student. That gets expensive if you have three kids.”

Addressing questions about the impact of the virus directly, Sinclair doesn’t deny it has caused deaths and suffering in Indonesia, but he is dubious about the press’s depiction of Indonesia as the COVID epicentre of the worl, particularly when you look at the numbers from a per capita perspective.

“How can Indonesia be the epicentre when with a population of 280 million we reached a peak of 50 000 new cases a day six weeks ago and are down to about 20 000 a day now. Right now the UK is regularly posting 30 000 new cases a day with only a population of 60 million. And the US is posting 100, 000-150, 000 cases a day with a population of 300 million. It all sounds a bit slanted when I read the media.”

Sinclair argues that Indonesia has not been hit by the virus anywhere nearly as hard as some might assume given the lockdown measures have been moderate by Australian standards and the density of certain urban areas like Java’s capital, Jakarta, where over ten million people live in an extremely high-density setting. “I agree, by all rights the virus should have ripped through places like Jakarta where people live on top of one another, but it just hasn’t, not on the scale one might expect,” argues Sinclair.

Troy Sinclair soul-arching on a Sumbawa strike mission last year.

                         

Tai Graham is another well-known ex-pat, surfer and entrepreneur. Graham co-owns and operates a number of bars in Bali including The Lawn and Single Fin. Graham is also a sponsored surfer whose adventures are closely followed on Instagram and in the surf media. Tai, who has launched and endorsed a number of local charitable initiatives during COVID, indicated that he was definitely hanging in there and that most of the surfers were too and this proves that they are, “The true beating heart of Bali. ”      

As winter’s chill still bites deep Down Under and we deal with our own lockdown blues, many Australians fantasize about surfing Bali and Indonesia - particularly given the endless reels of footage and photos still emerging from the archipelago.

However, Sinclair suggests that it is likely that the Australians, who have enjoyed a long love affair with Bali, will be the last to return in numbers on account of the nation’s glacial vaccine roll-out and zero cases approach to COVID. “Vaccination rates here are around 73 % first jab and 34 % second jab. It’s likely that Bali will open up around Christmas. Of course, it will be to the USA first and Europe first because they have higher vaccine rates and have not strived for a zero cases policy. At some point, Australia will have to open up and even when most people are vaccinated that won’t guarantee they won’t get it. Australia still has to accept that it has another wave to go through.”  

Might be a while before Australians can enjoy a Bali barrel like this. photo: @indo.eye

    

So, as many Australians are anxious to depart Bali and Indo’ for various reasons, there is no doubt many of us who would love nothing more than a warm-water barrel and a Bintang. Trying to get an authentic picture of the situation in Bali and Indonesia isn’t easy. Nobody wants to be unnecessarily brazen however there is a degree of arrogance and snobbery in the attempts to portray Indonesia as a kind of apocalyptic setting for COVID. If Indonesia and Bali are able to manage their COVID situation and they do open their economy by Christmas then it might be them looking down smugly at us as we eat Turkey in isolation.