Reflections on Researching and Living in Bali

By Thomas Wright, PhD Candidate: Anthropology, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

Thomas Wright (left) in a tourism seminar at Udayana Uniersity.

In 2014 I was lucky enough to begin planning my PhD journey of researching and living in Bali. Where would I go? Who would I meet? What things would I see?

It was via a friend I was introduced to Professor I Nyoman Darma Putra, Head of Masters Program in Tourism Studies at Universitas Udayana and fellow alumni of the University of Queensland. Over sweetened, black coffee, we sat together on the St Lucia Campus of the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia where Professor Putra finished his PhD himself a few years previously, and discovered our shared passion for journalism, marine environments, Indonesia and Australia.

Little did I know at this time that our journey would bring us closer together and that Professor Darma would sponsor my research in Bali. After arriving in Bali nearly a year later, I studied Bahasa Indonesia at Universitas Udayana, Fakultas Sastra,  through the BIPA Program and attended several seminars and workshops at Udayana, hosted by the Faculty of Tourism.

This included foreign Professors, experts on Bali and Indonesia such as Professor Thomas Reuter, Dr Graeme MacRae and Dr Paul Green. Professor Putra and I developed a friendship over the time, as he welcomed me greatly, by inviting me to events on and off-campus. He even showed me the great honour of inviting me to his grandson’s otonan at his house in Denpasar.


My academic research was also published in the Jurnal Kajian Bali (Journal of Bali Studies) in an article called “Water, Tourism and Social Change: A discussion of Environmental Perceptions in Bali”, and later integrated as chapter in a book edited by Professor Putra and Dr.Siobhan Campbell entitled: Recent Developments in Bali Tourism: Culture, Heritage and Landscape in an Open Fortress (2015).

Towards the end of my one year stay in Bali in July 2016, before returning home to Australia, it was my time to share my research project with the Udayana community. The one hour-long seminar was well attended and students and staff engaged in a lively discussion on the topic of marine tourism, Bali Hindu relationships to water and sustainable resource management.

Amazing Experience

Living and working in Bali was an amazing and life-changing experience for me. From climbing Gunung Batur, Gunung Agung, freediving in Amed, relaxing on Gili T or surfing in Canggu, Bali let me into its stunning natural beauty. But what I remember the most are the wonderful people I met throughout the journey. Neighbours, strangers and colleagues became friends.

Thomas with a layman priest in a research activity,

Some of the memories I will hold forever are of the extravagant temple ceremonies, with its large sacrifices, music, smell, food and dance. Perhaps most captivating was seeing people fall in trance and how they became possessed by their ancestors or other spirits. These memories I keep with me as I continue my academic and personal journey.

It was not just rewarding on a person level, but I am excited to have met so many great academics at Udayana. Listening to students ask questions and engage with interest in discussions, was a great experience and I am grateful to have been part of such a lively academic exchange.