Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to a cultural event that has sprouted from our very own community here in Lombok. Tonight we are launching two Crazy Little Heavens: the third launch for the book and a soft launch for the CD with the same name.
When Mark asked me to officially launch them I accepted immediately. Some would say I accepted because I like the sound of my own voice and it’s hard to shut me up when I am given a microphone. Others would say I accepted because I’d be in such esteemed company as the Australian Ambassador, Greg Moriarty, and one of Australia’s treasured journalists and writers, Tim Bowden who both have already launched 'Crazy Little Heaven' in Jakarta and Hobart, to sell out audiences. Both of these reasons are patently not true.
The reason is that writing a memoir (or any book) is not an individual effort. Every book, even those assigned to individual authors, is written with a team. I have written three books myself and have a great debt of gratitude to those who helped me, including Mark.
I agreed to help launch 'Crazy Little Heaven' because I feel I was part of Mark’s team. One day about two years ago Mark casually mentioned to me that he’d written some stories about a trans-Kalimantan trip he’d completed last century. Equally as casually I asked if I could read them and Mark lent me a wad of scrappy pages, perhaps 50000 words. I read them and the writer in me turned green – Mark has a turn of phrase and a descriptive ability which can take you into a scene to smell the flowers, and feel the rain trickling down your neck. I thought, when I grow up, I want to be able to write as well as Mark does. It reminded me of a book that I read many years ago about Peter Matthiessen’s unforgettable spiritual journey through the Himalayas called 'The Snow Leopard'. I was equally as enthralled by Mark’s story and thrilled at his skill with language.
I returned the manuscript to him with some effusive language of support. It turned out that Mark was pretty chuffed. His ego puffed out and he took the encouragement and ran with it. Suddenly the fifty thousand words mushroomed into more than 300,000. He wrote like a man possessed and the tome we have here is the result of this fevered madman whose story was so compelling it burst from him like the froth from a shaken soda can.
So I am privileged to have been a part of the early support team in the process of this book. Mark had quite an extended team – readers, editors, critical friends, etc and every one of them played a role. He even needed help with his title but was able to fend off my insistence on my far superior name for this book -'The Orang-utan and the Eggman' - and settled for 'Crazy Little Heaven'.
Why though, does this fever bite some of us so hard that we’re up at four am to write for months at a time? The actor David Niven, in his autobiography 'The Moon is a Balloon', started with a near apology, saying that there is little more egotistical than writing a memoir. I should know – my own memoir titled 'Turn Left at the Devil Tree' will be released next week and I agree it is partly an ego thing. But it’s more than that. People who think they have a story to tell about their experiences value those experiences and feel a kind of debt to them and the people involved and feel that they deserve being written – and if no one else will write them down then it’s the job of people like Mark, myself, or anyone else here tonight to do the writing.
I’ll give you an example, when writing 'Turn Left at the Devil Tree', I asked the honourable Ted Egan AO, a folk hero, a retired Northern Territory Administrator, entertainer, writer, singer and bushman, now 83 and powered by a pacemaker and pausing after just completing his PhD thesis, to write a foreword to my text. Ted was one of the first Europeans to enter the parts of Arnhem Land where I lived in the 1990s, and in fact he, in 1958, was one of the founders of the town I lived in.
In conversations before his foreword arrived Ted told me stories about his time in Arnhem Land. But surprisingly his foreword, when it was finished, left out some of his best stories.
The people he told me about are long dead. Ted is 83! I suggested to him that if he didn’t write those stories now they’d be lost forever to everyone. He’d done me a great favour in writing what he did and I felt bad saying ‘but there’s more to tell’ but really it may be the last chance.
Memoir writers want to record their particular slice of history. Mark and his friends were in Kalimantan in the early 1990s. Their experiences will never be repeated by anyone. If Mark hadn’t written them down, they would have been lost. This is the way of history – most is lost but each and every event is a paragraph in a giant never-ending tale. Mark has written his paragraph well.
Mark’s 'Crazy Little Heaven' firstly is a memoir, secondly a travel story of an adventurous journey across Kalimantan powered by a diet of rice and eggs, and thirdly it is Mark’s reflection, after several decades of living here, on Indonesia’s recent history.
Mark has the reader immersed in the primeval jungle of Kalimantan where the continuing rape of mother nature goes on unchecked, even today, with unregulated logging and the destruction of habitat that is threatening the survival of a myriad of creatures, like the orang-utan, and the survival of the Dayak and other indigenous people, who are now forced to abandon their long-house culture in the forests. At the same time we learn much more about Indonesian politics and religion, family life and cross cultural relationships and eggs and orang-utans and how Aussies manage to find ice to cool their beer even in the most far flung river towns.
There is also a spiritual aspect to Mark’s story. He clearly was affected by his journey through the jungle and his appreciation of Indonesia with all its challenges was crystallized. At one point, Mark and his companions reached the apex of the Muller Ranges high in the central mountains of Kalimantan and he paused to reflect on how Indonesia had changed him and he found himself at a literal and a figurative crossroads. Rain that fell east would end up in the Makassar Straits. If perchance it fell west it would find itself in the South China Sea. Mark realised how even small decisions could change the direction of his life.
So 'Crazy Little Heaven' is four books in one: an autobiography, a travel tale, an Indonesian history, and a spiritual odyssey which will allow you to develop your own understanding of Indonesia and its people.
Tonight I am also soft launching 'Crazy Little Heaven' the CD. Copies will be available within weeks. These are Mark’s original songs about love and life in Indonesia. Producing a CD, like a memoir, is a team effort – a collaboration of many people. Mark’s music is the foundation upon which local Lombok musicians and music engineers like Qisie, could add to and mould into some extraordinary sounds to produce a unique collection of very pleasant easy to listen to music. We’ll hear a song or two from it before we leave tonight.
But back to the book: Mark ends his narrative with the following words but I encourage you all to read the rest of them and listen to his music for yourself. He says:
"As I travel around the islands of Indonesia, my passion for the place does not diminish. The longer I spend here, the more I understand. The more Indonesia becomes comprehensible and normal, the more I appreciate the mix. And while the country has changed enormously over the years I've spent here, it remains a beguiling mix of contradictions and ambiguities: a sweet, disappearing world."
So tonight, here in Lombok I am happy to declare 'Crazy Little Heaven', the book, officially launched for its third time, and 'Crazy Little Heaven' the CD launched (softly) for the first time!