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Field of names: A tour through the commodification of space and nostalgia.

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September 6, 2004 by Melinda Young

Like Kevin Costner's baseball diamond in the film Field of Dreams, is it considered an acceptable tribute. In the same tradition, they did come, and still do, increasing numbers of them, many of them returning for repeat visits. Some would say they are gluttons for punishment. I would say it was built to serve a purpose. The purpose being, to ensure they keep coming, in droves, repeatedly. Most said it felt eerie, yet they are still drawn to it, like motorists to a traffic accident. After all it was built specifically for them, so they would come.

The Memorial

There were nine in our group, everyone went at least twice. My husband and I were the only ones in our group, possibly of the Australians in our hotel, who did not go. I think he secretly wanted to, feigning disgust and disinterest in my presence, but interrogating the repeat visitors every time they returned. Yet, he knows it should not be there. What is troubling is that it was discussed like just another activity, in the same vein as white water rafting, Waterbom Park or the Singaraja Tour. "The Memorial," as it is affectionately known: another tourist attraction to add to Bali's ever growing list.

Returning on the bus from white water rafting, the conversation inevitably turned from light banter laced with sexual innuendo, to the memorial and the bombing. Did we know anyone who was injured or killed? How soon after the bombing did we return to Bali? Had we been to the memorial? I listened quietly as various interpretations of the terrorist act were offered. I was disturbed by the opinion that the memorial was 'good' and 'done well'. I was riled to a response when it was stated that all the victims 'wanted to do, was have a good time.' Victims were described as 'harmless', and 'innocent', and their families as consequent 'poor victims', made my blood boil. I did not ask the question aloud. I wonder if I should write it here. But we need to ask more difficult questions about our tourist choices, and the place of Australia in the Asian-Pacific region.

I proposed to my companions on the bus that the Australian victims and their families were treated and looked after very well compared to the victims of other terrorist attacks. I asked them to consider if the families of the victims killed everyday in the Gaza Strip had received any compensation from a charity organization. Has a memorial been erected for their remembrance? The response I got astounded me at first, but after contemplating the way terrorism and its victims are presented by the media, it seemed an obvious, albeit Eurocentric point of view. My companions believed that because the Bali bombing occurred in what is regarded as 'Australia's own backyard,' that it 'hit very close to home,' it was considered somehow worse or more tragic because of its geographical and uneven power relationship to Australia. The conclusion I drew was that my companions misunderstood my statement, believing I was speaking of Australians or western victims of terrorism in the Gaza Strip. I was in fact, referring to the 'locals'. Why was it so inconceivable to these westerners that I was referring to a terrorist victim whose face was not white? Are all people of color considered potential perpetrators of terror? Are all white faces potential victims? My husband was looked at suspiciously by tourists in Bali. His dark hair, dark eyes, hirsuteness, and olive complexion made tourists and some locals uncomfortable. He was asked by several Balinese where in the Middle East did he come from? Incidentally he is Welsh. He just tans very quickly, without lying for hours in the sun, unlike his British brother and sisters.

The Memorial

Whenever the victims of the Bali bombing are spoken of, a statement about what they were doing always follows. 'They were just having a good time' is the usual vague description of their actions. Does this make them appear more innocent and harmless? Does the fact that they were engaging in leisure practices make them less of a threat to the terrorists, and the violence more abhorrent? There is politics or legitimacy of the victims' actions at work here. In comparison to the terrorist victims in the Gaza Strip, the Bali bombing victims still emerge as the partial group.

Most of the Gaza Strip victims are killed by suicide or car bombs while they are on their way to work, to school, or just paying bills and shopping. Many of the victims are children. These are mundane practices. These victims are not engaging in leisure activities like the privileged westerners in Bali. They are not 'having a good time,' the acts are not a one off and the killing is in their own backyard.

It should be noted that although many Australians regard Bali as our 'own backyard,' it is not. It is an Indonesian region, with its own religions, culture, values and economy — an economy mainly based on money from financially advantaged westerners (mostly Australians). There is a said East-West relationship between the Indonesian and Australian governments and citizens, respectively. There is a politics of memory and space associated with the memorial, Australians insisted was built in Indonesia. Which begs the question, what does a culturally inappropriate (to Indonesia) structure, actually mean to the imposer and the imposed upon? I have visited the War Memorial in Kings Park. Many make the pilgrimage to Gallipoli to see the memorial from the First World War battle. These symbols of remembrance were erected many years after the fact, not many months after. These individuals were killed fighting for a purpose, for our way of life, for our country. They were not pissing it up.