One Day – Chris Brown

Chris Brown

Chris Brown was the first foreigner to settle in remote Pemuteran village in northern Bali, where he made his home a decade and a half ago. Since then the 47-year-old dive-firm owner and divorced parent of two has become the champion of turtles in the area, saving the endangered sea creatures from the frying pans of locals. The Bali Times’ Indra Prayogi traveled to Pemuteran to meet the enterprising Australian.

It’s a 5am start for me every day, and straight away I turn on the TV to see what’s being reported on the international news channels. Laigh and Katrin get up early, too – I’ve always encouraged them to; it’s good for your health and I can spend some time with them.

Early in the morning I like to go out and see my horses in their stables; right now I have 14. When I’ve done my rounds I’ll have a shower around 6:30am and have breakfast, usually just toast and cornflakes.

I drop Laigh, who’s six now, off at school, while Katrin stays at home with the maid. My wife and I divorced around three years ago and the kids stay with me all the time, because she went back to her village in Bandung (West Java).

I get to the office around 8am. We have 25 staff at the moment, most of them from the village. It’s important to them that they work for me because otherwise they’d be beach sellers and disturbing the tourists. In fact, here is probably one of the only tourist areas in Bali that doesn’t have any beach sellers at all – for those who might be thinking about it we tell them not to because they might ruin tourists’ holidays.

I started out diving in 1975 and it quickly became a hobby and so I continued my lessons until 1989, when I became an instructor. In Sydney I worked as a computer engineer and planned to retire early. I had to work extra hard, but eventually I made it, when I was 30, and moved to Bali, where I decided I’d spend some time.

When I got here, I helped out a friend of mine who had a diving company in Nusa Dua. I was a dive instructor there for two years, and one day another friend told me about a place in north Bali that had great natural beauty but was still relatively untouched by tourism. So I went there around 15 years ago and the area was extremely quiet – and there was no accommodation – but it was still natural. I thought to myself that I’d stay there, and that’s what I did, eventually opening the first dive center in the village in 1991. It wasn’t meant to be a business, just a hobby.

One day I came across a turtle that had been caught by a local fisherman and I asked him what he intended to do with it. He told me he was going to kill it and sell its meat in order to buy some rice. I was saddened but thought there was nothing I could do to stop the slaughter. Just before they killed the creature, though, I jumped in and bought it. I called him Burma, and at the time he was 14 years old; he’s still alive. We’ve tried to set him free a few times but he always comes back to us. He dances around when you scratch his back, so I guess he likes us and likes it here. Another one we’ve tried to return to the wild is Billy, who’s around 12 years old. Anytime we try and release her she becomes ill. So these pair have become our resident turtles.

At one time I found out about a local man unearthing a turtle nest; he took about 70 eggs from it and sold them to villagers to eat. When I told the story to an American lady who was visiting the area, she advised me to set up a turtle-conservation project, and so with her help I started the Hatchery Project, buying eggs found by locals and paying them Rp700 for each one. There can be anywhere from 60 to 200 eggs in one nest.

Besides maintaining the turtle population and ensuring they survive, we’re also helping the villagers to buy food like rice. About 80 percent of the eggs we get hatch after 60 days, and when the tukik (baby turtles) are just a few weeks old we set them free. If visitors want to help with the release, they can and have to pay just Rp75,000 (US$8.16). All the money goes to the conservation project. The local children love tukik and every August 16 we all get together and set free up to 200 turtles. It’s a great way of educating the children about this wonderful animal.

I break for lunch at midday, but often it can be as late as 3pm before I have something to eat. I’m not a fussy eater and enjoy all kinds of food, especially rice and noodles, though I do like pizza but it’s quite hard to get around here.

Usually I spend part of the day going on diving trips with the customers but recently I’ve been suffering from sinitus and have had to have surgery, so the doctor said I have to rest and there’s to be no diving for a few months.

I organize traditional dancing lessons for the children here and they perform for visitors every Sunday evening. Now we have some 50 dancers aged between six and 16.

As the day starts to wind down, I’ll have something to eat with my kids and help the Laigh with his homework. There’s no nightlife to speak of here, so it’s just the TV for entertainment, before dozing off by 11pm.

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