80571 – Janet DeNeefe, Director, Ubud Writers & Readers Festival

I’ve recently returned from a trip to Bali (for my mum’s 70th birthday celebrations). It was a long time between visits – too long.

The last time I was there,  the “love to hate it” 80s pop anthem I’ve been to Bali too was being played on rotation.

I was an energetic pre-teen girl from the suburbs, on her first tropical Asian holiday with her family. I loved it. The colours, the differences, the weather, the people.

Little did I know, another Melburnian’s life was being changed by Bali around the same time.

Her name is Janet DeNeefe, author, restaurant owner and Director of the annual Ubud Writers & Readers Festival – on now.

As Janet tells it, she met a Balinese man in 1984, and without much thought, moved to  a charming hillside town called Ubud ande threw herself into a new life.

Thirty years later Janet, her husband and her four children, call Ubud’s Honeymoon Guest House home and through her writing and her work, she continues to champion both the charm and cultural wealth of Balinese life.

It was a great thrill to speak to Janet via Skype in the lead up to this year’s Ubud Writers & Readers Festival, and somewhat bittersweet having only just returned and wishing I could fly back again to be a part of it.

I’m hearing more and more about the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival – every week it seems – and I cannot wait to experience it for myself!

This year’s lineup looks amazing. And as someone who enjoys reading and writing poetry, I was excited to see “punk poet” Simon Armitage in the lineup – and Sottish crime-writer favourite Ian Rankin too. Not to mention a huge array of local talent.

Hi Janet and thank you for speaking to TENANT about your life in Bali and the 2017 Ubud Writers & Readers Festival.

 You mentioned that the idea of the festival came to you in response to the devastation of the Bali bombings, why did you think a writer’s festival would be of help?

I wanted to create an event – a meaningful event – to bring back visitors to the Island and to benefit the Ubud community.

I had just finished writing my memoir and, as such, was in touch with writer’s festivals and literary groups.

I find writers brave – that they stand up for what they believe in. At that time, I particularly I wanted to bring in serious thinkers, to explore and discuss the terrorism that had affected Bali.

To me it was, and still is on some levels, somewhat of a Human Rights festival posing as a writer’s festival.


How has the festival changed/benefited Bali?

The festival is held during a traditionally quiet time, it brings people here and the kind of person that Bali loves…compassionate and thinking people. People who have a global view but appreciate culture.

The participation is usually around one-third local, one-third Australian and one-third other international visitors.

It’s a wonderful opportunity for everyone involved and raises the profile of promising Indonesian writers and artists, who often get invited to other festivals.


There is a melting pot of people, from east to west, that visit and lives in Ubud.  It’s a place that attracts people from all around the world…every humanity. The discussions at the festival will always be rich and robust and beneficial. I think everyone who leaves the festival has a changed perspective about some aspect of life, culture and writing.

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What have you been most looking forward to at this year’s festival?

I’m really excited to bring back the Emerging Voices festival, after a two-year hiatus. This part of the festival supports young Indonesia students and young adults interested in the arts. It’s more than just a showcase for writers –  it’s for photographers, fashion designers, shoe designers, a true cross-section of creatives.

I’m also super excited that Pierre Pierre-Louis Padang Coffin – an Indo-French animation artist –  is visiting the festival. His mother is also a very famous here for her writing.

And, I’m excited about the nighttime program – there is so much to see and do.

You grew up in Melbourne before falling in love with a Balinese and moving to Ubud. I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on the differences between the two places.

Well, Ubud is stunning, green and lush!

I remember being really struck by the Balinese focus on family and community. Respectful relationships are very important. As is a sense of support amongst the family. As a people, they are kind and gentle with each other.

I also really appreciate the way different stages of life are honoured with rituals here. I think it’s very beautiful and that it also helps to have rites of passage.

Melbourne is still very special to me because it is where I am from.  I grew up in Mont Albert North, and my Dad’s lives in East Kew. I love hanging out with my Dad and my cousins when I visit, which is a couple of times each year.

Two of my children are currently studying in Melbourne at Swinburne University and at RMIT University. They live in Prahran, near Greville Street which I really love, the vibe, the café culture.

I get a sense of freedom and anonymity when I am in Melbourne, which I enjoy. Everyone knows and recognizes me in Ubud these days.

But gee I really hate trying to park your car in Melbourne – the expense! I despair!!

What do you think each place could learn from the other?

Bali could have more discipline and foresight about city planning, and road planning. Everyone knows there is work to be done… And the people up the top need to take charge and make a difference.

Melbourne could learn to relax a little, on the road and in general. There is a sense of competition and aggression in Melbourne that seems to be considered “cool”.

When in Ubud, what must people do and see?

In no particular order, I’d say, walk the ridge walk – early in the morning – and see village life. Go to a dance at night, or a temple festival at night. Have a look at the monkey forest. Ubud is very much about the culture, so go to the museums.


What about yoga? Lots of yogis travel to Ubud, do you practice yoga?

I’ve been doing yoga here long before it became “the place” for yoga. We offer it at the guest house, and I do it there with Balinese teachers, I enjoy that their style and practice is aligned with the Hindu traditions.

What’s on for the week for the week ahead?

Meeting upon meeting upon meeting…. festival things! Hosting and enjoying the whole affair. And crossing my fingers that the volcano stays still and does not keep people from travelling and enjoying the Festival.

Best wishes for the 2017 Festival Janet, I’m sure it will enjoy continued success. And if any writers or poets are heading to Melbourne post-festival, please get in touch – I’d love to hear all about it!


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