16 July 2018

Moments in Java

Fiona Murphy

On the eve of the launch of Melbourne Writers  Festival, when WrICE Indonesia writers will gather together again in Australia, WrICE Emerging Writer Fiona Murphy reflects on her time in Indonesia earlier this year as part of the WrICE collaborative residency, 2018.


The hotel does not have a front door. Instead, there is a curtain of vines to arrest the heat. We wait to be checked in, bodies beginning to fold with fatigue. And then we see that the ceiling is made of glass. We step into the sunlight. Plants cascade from each balcony. We breath in the building’s concrete beauty.


The bed is wider than it is longer. I place my laptop down on the ironed sheets then continue to examine the room. There’s a wall of windows. I unlatch each one and push them wide open, welcoming the outside in. The floor is made of concrete. I kick off my shoes. The polish is pleasant under foot, my arches drop and toes splay wide as though trying to soak up its strength. I’m nervous. We start workshopping tomorrow.


The tables have been arranged so that we can see each other’s faces. Smiles are traded, laptops opened, pens uncapped. We listen to salat — the call to prayer. Then we begin to share ourselves and our work.


There are birds nesting in my window sill. They chatter amongst themselves. I continue to translate poetry, taking Dorothy Porter’s words and placing them inside my body.


Between workshops conversations slide away from writing, yet always stay storied. We trade memories, talking about each place that we call home — at the base of a mountain; in a high-raise apartment; on red earth beneath the wide expanse of sky; or in a city that shoulders serious cold waves each winter.


‘I think, I’ve turned my bed into a desk,’ I confess shyly. Several writers grin, they have as well.


We drive pass a volcano. Mount Merapi rises up steeply — dramatic evidence of the mechanism of tectonic plates.

‘It’s well overdue for an eruption,’ says our tour guide.

We look at the volcano with fearful reverence.


Despite discussing the menu throughout the day, we consider each item carefully.

‘What are you having?’ we ask one another.

‘It all sounds so good,’ is the refrain.

To stave off disappointment we make plans to return for dinner again tomorrow.

Once the order has been taken and verified, we ease back into conversation. Friendships firming, shored up with each writer’s generous and candid offerings.

We greet each dish warmly as it arrives to the table.


Growing old in traffic. That’s how they describe the congestion in Jakarta. They estimate that it will take three hours to drive from the airport to the hotel. We continue to chat with unrelenting curious — sport, childhood, pop music and writing. The hours pass swiftly.


Is this the real life?

Is this just fantasy?

The lyrics run across the television screen, accompanied by footage of grazing sheep and people gliding on rollerblades. We fall into sweet choral arrangement, unimpeded by embarrassment. Stretching ourselves as Mercury slides up the scale. Our voices rise to the occasion —

Gallileo, Gallileo,
Gallileo Figaro – magnifico

After the Rhapsody we sink back into the vinyl couches, giddy and pleased.