by Janet DeNeefe
“Promise me you’ll never forget me because if I thought you would, I’d never leave” – Winnie the Pooh.
“She had the sort of freedom that other women dreamed of.” Ketut Yuliarsa and I were reminiscing about our friend, Kerry Pendergrast, at her funeral. “She would go dancing whenever she wanted, spend days in the mountains or by the sea sketching. She was freer than any of us, but her family and friends always came first.”
2013 will always be remembered as the year Kerry Pendergrast left us. It will take a long time to come to terms with her absence and I can think of few people who made such an impact on so many lives.
I met Kerry more than 20 years ago on Jalan Bisma near my home. She was pregnant with Emil while I was pregnant with Krishna. Kerry came to seek me out as a fellow Australian living in Ubud and we immediately bonded over babies, our shared heritage and absolute love of a good joke. Our boys were born four days apart.
Kerry quickly settled into her new Balinese home and began her lifelong career in nurturing family and friendships. She followed the lead of her husband, Pranoto, to become an artist, and, years later, Pranoto would claim that she had surpassed him. Kerry was a draughtsman par excellence and I will never forget the buzz of her first solo exhibition in Ubud which was an almost sell-out, a rare achievement. I’m happy I own so much of her artwork.
After the boys were born we set up Kumara Playgroup on the terrace of our bedroom at Honeymoon Guesthouse. Kerry and I shared the teaching duties, running a tight ship of creative art classes for the little ones. Our Christmas parties became legendary and often starred an ebullient Santa Claus from Israel, (thanks Oded), who would arrive hot and sweaty from a walk across the rice fields, for a dramatic entrance, wearing the full Santa regalia including white cotton-wool beard while carrying a sack of presents. The children were either petrified or delighted to see him. In between classes, Kerry and I held birthday parties with songs, iridescent birthday cakes and performances. Kerry was a master at reading stories and quirky songs often accompanied the pictures. And if we didn’t have enough picture books, she would make them herself. Kumara was managed by Kerry until a few years ago, when we finally closed, but there are scores of young people in town who still relish those halcyon playgroup days.
Our lives continued to overlap with the birth of our daughters, Laxmi and Thalia, six months apart. When the girls were babies, we gathered twice a week behind Casa Luna to sketch my wait-staff in ‘clothed’ life-drawing sessions, the jokes and creative juices overflowing. If the service was slow in the afternoons at Casa Luna, it was because we were drawing all the beautiful waitresses next door. The classes eventually moved to Kerry’s house, Pranoto’s Gallery.
And then came Melbourne Cup Day, an Australian institution that I sought to uphold in Ubud. It became one of the most-talked about yearly events and one Kerry was passionate about. After a while we also invited our non-Australian comrades to partake. And what’s Cup Day without a ‘Fashions on the Field Hat Parade’. Fiercely competitive, our Kerry would usually walk away with the coveted “Best Hat” trophy (often some sort of cheap wine) and leave us envious of her supremely creative skills. Who can forget her millinery triumph that was a tribute to Kunal Basu, the heart-throb Indian author of the 2009 Ubud Writers & Readers Festival? [Look closely at the hat in the picture above – editor]
In our early years at Casa Luna, Kerry performed weekly, belting out her favourite tunes. Later at Jazz Café, her home away from home, she spent so many years dancing that her footprints surely still remain embedded in the dance floor.
A fan of literature, Kerry made a huge contribution to the inaugural Ubud Writers & Readers Festival by uploading all the data on the Festival website. She spent hour upon hour working as a volunteer. I paid her in meals, cakes and wine.
Kerry entered the Poetry Slam in 2005 and 2006, and, of course, won. It was for Kerry that I invited Paul Kelly and I was so happy when I could offer her a copy of his acclaimed memoir. She became a moderator par excellence and would spend months preparing for yet another great session with our international authors. Kerry would read every book they had written, not just the latest publication, putting experienced journalists to shame.
Kerry was one of the 4 original Gedebong Goyang, Ubud’s own vaudeville-style kebaya-wearing, singing, dancing, expatriate women’s act who burst onto the scene after the first Bali bombings. Created by Rucina Ballinger, they presented their own brand of humour combined with Balinese language and local jokes. Kerry took on an “I Dream of Jeannie a la Bali look” that was especially appealing.
Friday nights were quiz night at Fly Cafe for Kerry and on most occasions she was in the winning team. I went once and realized I was no match for her sharp intellect. I can imagine the quiz feels her absence. She even held a quiz night for the Festival, that was enormously successful and absolutely hilarious. And then there was badminton and all her other pursuits.
From day one in Ubud, Kerry cultivated friendships from all over the world. The jokes and the good spirits never stopped flowing even though life was not always rosy. She taught me Aussie terminology I never knew that I have now embraced. ‘She’s a shocker’……or…. ‘as mad as a meat axe’ have become part of my lingo. While I sit here at Casa Luna, I almost expect her to walk downstairs and join me for a glass of Santa Ema Sauvignon Blanc. I can hear her laughing in that Kerry way.
Give Kerry a job and she would accomplish it beyond your wildest dreams. She was one of the most reliable friends I have ever known, in good times and bad. The truth is, there are few people like Kerry in this world. And those lucky enough to have been her friend will agree. I do hope they have good W.A. wine up there in heaven.