by Made Wijaya
I first met John Darling in 1976 at a posh all-men’s tennis afternoon in Killara, a fashionable garden suburb of Sydney. Our mutual friend Ace Bourke had orchestrated the meeting and, despite the friction that often existed between fellow redheads and homosexualists in Australia in those days (eyeing each other off across playgrounds and such), we became instant doubles partners. He was a terrible cheat and a poor loser but he had an immaculate backhand. In fact, in the decades of close friendship that followed, Johnny was always describing elegant cricket strokes in the air whenever he felt particularly chuffed — such as after he’d over-tipped the Captigon delivery man, or while he was getting dressed for a date with a rich Hippy girl with big tits.
Under all that aesthete and ascetic lurked a giant ego, and a fairly healthy disregard for other people’s time and whiskey. He was a natty dresser too – favouring the grey shoes of his academic upbringing teamed with a plaited belt to exaggerated his snake hips. I don’t think I ever saw him in a short-sleeved shirt.
In 1985 Australian actress Arna Maria-Winchester made him the first Sawu-blanket jacket with coconut shell button which I bet he wore in hospital on his death bed whilst listening to the gamelan music he loved so much.
In the early 1980s I visited Johnny’s exquisitely Middle Earth ‘pondok plus’ every Sunday morning: he was the only person I knew with bread, Blue Brand and Vegemite. He would while the day away gardening and listening to the cricket on his transistor radio while I would lie, seductively, on some hessian pillows, waiting for Rio to turn up.
You know now, almost 35 years later, there are still women at the Yoga Barn doing the same thing!
In the late 1980’s Johnny and Ian Van Wieringen and I became “The Three Bli(s)” dedicating our lives to late nights in Legian and Legong. A famous leg shot (attached) is a survivor from this era. We were like culture-conscious cat-burglars: Van got all the girls, Johnny all the grants and I caught the crabs.
Johnny was brilliant at getting grants: he deserved a leg-up as his business sense was poor and his understanding of the real Bali and his poetic vision were unique.
He was a great mentor to me in all my encore careers —since failure to become Wimbledon tennis champion at age 16 — even in my latest incarnation as a barefoot documentary film-maker doing just the sort of films Johnny used to make, but in 24 hours and in lower definition. “It took me 20 years to learn to do that, “he said“, and you’ve done 100 films in 3 months.”
He was like my Dad in this way, always supportive and kind.
We still call Diana ‘Lady Di’ because she thought she was getting a title with her slice of pavlova.
At his second wedding reception I thanked the people at Pfizer, Roche, Kalbe Farma and Merck & Co, and his beloved Sara, for keeping him alive.
For Rio’s blog on John Darling, posted last week, click here