Meeting Myu and Andrew – the story of how we became friends.
Meeting Myu by Nick Bolton
This is a story I have told many many times. Everyone, and I mean everyone, is fascinated when I say I am friends with Andrew Chan and Myu Sukamaran, the ringleaders of The Bali Nine. Everyone wants to know “what it’s like inside Kerobokan”, the infamous prison in Bali.
It is now my hope that EVERYONE pays particular attention to my story, because if we don’t, my friends are going to be executed.
Which is why we have remounted the show for One Week Only, at just Two Weeks Notice to raise awareness as part of the I Stand for Mercy Campaign. Bondi Dreaming plays Belvoir downstairs from Thursday 29th January to Wednesday 4th February, at 7pm with a 4.30pm show on Sunday.
Tickets are $30. No concessions, no comps. All profit goes to the Mercy Campaign for The Bali Nine. http://belvoir.com.au/events/bondi-dreaming/
My story starts in 2008 with a reading of a play from my friend Sam Atwell, called Bondi Dreaming. A story of three best mates stuck inside an Asian prison on death row for drug trafficking. Sam was attempting to understand what mateship is and becomes when you are cooped up inside a jail, devoid of your human rights, and with the pressure of execution.
Upon my very first read I was blown away by how Sam captured the way males talk to each other. A single word, look or sign can trigger a reaction, a secret language built up over years and years. I agreed to produce it. I confess, the Bali Nine weren’t really on my radar. Telling their story wasn’t my objective. I liked the script for what it said about male mateship.
We produced the play independently at The Newtown Theatre in October 2008 (https://bondidreaming.com.au/bondi-dreaming-2008/) and garnered critical acclaim from the Sydney Morning Herald, from ArtsHub and more. We got wonderful houses primarily on word of mouth. (Our ridiculously small budget didn’t stretch to advertising!) I recall receiving an email from a mother who attended the show with her 17 year old son who was about to go on holiday to schoolies. A rite of passage that every parent must dread. She told me ‘the play taught my son so much more about the dangers of drugs than I could by talking to him or by showing him a government tv campaign; it spoke to him in his own language’. Okay, now this was something. Could we really change people’s attitudes or behaviours? If we stopped one person from drug taking or trafficking then thats an awesome result.
A month after the show finished I received an email announcing we had been shortlisted for the BITE Awards – Best in Independent Theatre, as judged by the Theatre Critics of Sydney. We pitched our story and lo and behold we won, and were given a grant to stage the show at the larger more prestigious Seymour Centre. The grant included cash, a publicist (what the!), technical support, a box office (oh my god), with proper tickets being printed! We presented Bondi Dreaming in September 2009. (https://bondidreaming.com.au/bondi-dreaming-2009/)
By now our focus had moved to helping The Bali Nine. We reached out to several of the families inviting them to the show, with little success. A polite but firm ‘fuck off’ seemed to be their response. I guess we felt they felt we could be financially exploiting their situation. Ha, how impossible that is with independent theatre! Maybe they were raw from being exploited or unfairly represented by the media, or wary of shows like Banged Up Abroad.
Yet again, the critics and the audiences loved it. ‘A contemporary Australian masterpiece’ raved Gareth Beal at ArtsHub!
Again, a month after we finished, I received an email from the Tamarama Rock Surfers who had just taken over the The Bondi Pavilion theatre, asking if we would re-mount the play for a third time, and we were thrilled to be given a month in November 2011. (https://bondidreaming.com.au/bondi-dreaming-2011/)
Sadly, two of the actors, Toby Levins and Marcel Bracks couldn’t do the show and we had to recast. Sam and I were keen to take the two new cast members, Christian Willis and Wayne Bradley, away with Bondi Dreaming original Greg Hatton for a weekend to bond, drink too much beer, eat meat, and watch footy. To do what boys do. In other words to get them close to each other. Christian Willis suggested that if we were going to do that we might as well go to Bali and see if we could get inside the jail. To this day I don’t know if he was joking, but when everyone went, ‘Hell yeah’, there was no backing down. Now, usually when a big idea is hatched, it stays just that, a big idea. Except in this case we actually went through with it. We booked a week in Bali. Three actors, one musician, one director, a producer, the set designer, and a cameraman.
Now, getting inside a prison isn’t as easy as you might think. You need permission from the prisoners before getting permission from the guards. Via internet research and our networks we found two possible angles. A dutch painter Nico Vrielink had set up an art studio in the jail as part of the Prison Governor’s rehabilitation program. Nico said he ‘might’ be able to get us in on the Thursday. The other angle was via their Spiritual Advisor, an english expat called Luli. Luli asked us round to her villa the first night we arrived, the Monday night. We arrived at about 7pm and over a few beers Luli politely grilled us on our story. We must have passed her tests and Sam and I were to meet her at 9.30am the next morning outside the jail. In under 24 hours of being in the country we were going to meet The Bali Nine. Back at our villa, we were like kids at Christmas. The enormity of what was about to happen was sinking in. I do wish I hadn’t drunk as much of our duty free that night and hadn’t stayed up so late talking about it!
Our first morning in Bali. Sam and I dustily approached the prison. It was old and crumbly. The humidity was ridiculous. The noise of the motorcycles and Bali life crashed around my sore head. My shirt was drenched in sweat. My mouth dry. Holy shit I am about to go inside a jail and meet a convicted heroin trafficker on death row. Someone I had never ever met. I imagined them as Underbelly gangsters, sneering at us middle class white kids doing a gay theatre show. I felt very ‘soft’ and embarrassed for my sheltered and comfortable life. I’ve been around Alcatraz but going inside a working jail with like real prisoners is a totally different ball game.
Luli took us through security adding to the tension. I was shitting myself. We walked down a small alleyway into a Meeting Area the size of a tennis court, absolutely packed with people sitting on the floor talking. The very first person I saw across the room was Andrew Chan, distinctive in a yellow Wallabies rugby cap and our eyes met. We stumbled across bodies, tripping over legs and arms, ‘sorry’, ‘excuse me’, ‘sorry’ until we met Andrew, who greeted us like long lost brothers. It was so surreal talking about the rugby as if we were meeting in the pub. ‘Okay, this ain’t so bad’ i thought. He could see our discomfort in the oppressive heat and claustrophobia of the meeting area and took us to the Art Studio. To get there we passed the high security tower in the middle of the jail where The Bali Nine are housed. We were introduced to Myuran and I strained to hear him speak. He is very softly spoken, the opposite to Andrew who dominates conversation exuberantly. I couldn’t equate the man I saw with being a drug trafficker. We were shown around the studio, the t-shirt painting presses, the jewellery making area and the computer lab, that Myu managed. It was hard to take it all in. I liked one of the t-shirts and asked ‘Who designed it?’ I asked. Myu had of course. ‘Can I buy it? How much’ I asked. ‘Pay whatever you want’ he replied. His response spoke volumes,
After ninety minutes, visiting time was up and it was time to leave, but Myu and Andrew asked us if we would like to return, and to bring our friends. We asked if we could bring them anything. Even though they don’t smoke, they asked for cigarettes to barter with, and, of all things, McDonalds. There are videos at www.YouTube.com/bondidreaming of Sam and I in a bar across the road after leaving the prison, reflecting on what happened. Watch them. They’re not our most articulate moments. We were both in shock.
We went inside Kerobokan every day that week, for the whole three hours of permitted visiting time and met some of the other Bali Nine. We didn’t see Renae, or Shapelle. But we did meet many other prisoners. We saw Myu give art classes, and run computer training sessions. We saw Andrew give sermons, as he is now the Pastor in the prison. I played chess against Myu, and he agreed to design a tee shirt for our theatre show which we sold to raise funds.
We never ever asked them about their crime, why they did it, or how they got caught. We didn’t ask them how they felt about being on death row. It seemed inappropriate. But we did talk a lot about the future, and both of them were so positive for the future. They were both learning Indonesian so they could teach English. Myu talked about his plans for a garden and vegetable patch. There seemed a mutual respect, with and for, the other prisoners and prison guards.
On that trip to Bali, I found the last visit very hard. In the outside world, when leaving a friend, we say the words ‘see you soon’ or ‘take care mate’ flippantly, routinely discarded. It could have been the last time I would see him. I didn’t know what to say at goodbye. I started to well up. Myu just hugged me. He knew. He’d seen that reaction before.
All eight of us on that trip were changed as a result of that week in Kerobokan. We’re all still good mates. There is a bond between us that will last forever.
Seeing Myu and Andrew make the most of every single day they have, has had a huge effect on us. Many of the eight of us, have made significant changes in our lives and we all now follow our dreams. I lost my Mum around that time and the ‘meaning of life’ was made all the more acute from meeting Myu and Andrew. When I am feeling down, or under pressure, I reflect on their situation, and their attitude and it gives me the positivity to see it through.
I find it very hard to even imagine Myuran Sukumaran even being near heroin never mind trafficking it. The Myu I know is a humble, quiet, driven, generous, creative, giving man. A man who made a stupid mistake as a boy. He is not the same person as the one caught in April 2005. Were you the same person you were ten years ago? Nor will you be the same person in ten years time.
Since then, I have been over to Bali twice to visit them and they continue to impress me..
Seeing the way Andrew inspires people, helps them through his faith, building a network of inmates who can counsel each other.
Seeing the way he teaches inmates how to cook on very limited facilities.
Seeing the way that Myu galvanizes and helps and encourages prisoners inside Kerobokan is truly inspiring.
Seeing Myu develop as an artist. A very good artist.
Last July, I visited them in Kerobokan and Myu took my photo and painted my portrait. It is something I treasure.
Wouldn’t it be good if you could harness those qualities.
What if Myu was allowed to become a motivational speaker, a teacher, an artist? What if Andrew could preach around the world
What might be. What could be. If they are executed, we will never know.
Keep Hope Alive
I Stand for Mercy
Mercy Campaign Promo video: http://www.tenalphas.com.au/hope-love-compassion-mercy/
My Brother Andy: http://www.tenalphas.com.au/my-brother-andy/
I Stand for Mercy https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10152524172286315&pnref=story