Fireworks at the Villa
I haven't spoken about this story to many. But the Threat in Bali which left me fearful for myself and my families lives lead me to get back into martial arts. In August 2007, my partner (at the time) and our two daughters (2 and 4yrs) were holidaying in bali. We spent 3 days in Kuta where we enjoyed the comfort of my sister and brother in laws villa in Kerubakan, enjoyed wandering out through the streets of bali, markets finding bargains and treasures, water-bomb park and eating out and trying somewhere different most times.
Now the next part I admit is not the smartest thing I've ever done. I had previously in years past acquired fireworks from the markets. Since my eldest was two years old i would create a little fireworks display for her down on the beach in front of the Ramada Bintang resort, where we'd stayed in past years.
Since the Bali Bombings back in 2002, understandably the fireworks were hard to buy. However I found some and was thinking it would be OK to create a fireworks display for my girls as our villa was a little remote near rice paddy fields.
My sister and brother had just built a new Villa in the North of Bali, Lovina.
He had a great idea (or so we thought) to take the fireworks up North and have our own opening ceremony for their new home. "Yes" I said, "what a fantastic idea".
It was a magnificent location set high in the mountains 2km from the ocean with incredible views. The house was designed on a slope, a hillside that tiered downwards. The property was surrounded by a 3 metre high security wall, like a mini fortress. From the top entry you walk straight into the kitchen, dining and family areas in an open plan that leads out to a 15 metre long balcony, 4 metres wide that
stretched the full length of all the rooms.
At the end of the balcony was a gazebo set high above the property where dinner was being served shortly after arrival. In from the gate entry, stairs lead down to the next level where the rooms are beneath the kitchen and family areas. There is a pool to the right and as you get to the bottom of the stairs at that had two levels of swimming areas as it waterfall-ed down it the next level with a second waterfall running over the lowest edge, going into a pump that plumbed the water back to the top pool.
In front of the pool was a little grass slope overlooking a large tropical garden and nicely manicured vegetable garden was the setting for our spectacular fireworks display. Rockets set up on 1 metre tall sticks were ready to go. The excitement was there to light them up! but dinner was on the table so we headed up to the gazebo to sit with our family. As we were all sitting down, quite eerily the the power had gone out across the whole mountain and where once the villages were scattered with random huts, house and street lights, we were now immersed in darkness. We couldn't even see each other across the table. My sister lit some candles so we could eat our dinner, which really created a nice ambience. It was actually the kids idea for us to go set off the fireworks. "Go boom the fireworks dad" they all requested with excitement. So off we went. We realised the pool pump had stopped working from the power outage and the pump reservoir was filling and not plumbing up to the top pool anymore. The gardener and his friend were on site and started bucketing out the water.
We decided to start our show.. I lit 2 rockets that shot up into the sky that seemed about 40-50 metres with some pink and green bursts. The kids cheered with joy! The third rocket however was a dud!! I lit it, stepped back about 3 metres, it went BOOM!! The shock-wave of this mini blast hit me and pushed me back a bit. I threw my hands up in front of my face as I felt the force of the blast. I quickly felt my face for any feeling of injury, hair loss, eyebrows etc lol. My ears were ringing slightly and my hearing had dulled. All i thought in that moment was how stupid I was to be doing this and to be standing that close and without any safety. No injuries thankfully, just shaken from the the mini shock-wave.
The Threat was about to arrive. A couple minutes later we heard shouting at the front gate near the top of the stairs. We heard motorbikes (scooters) doing burnouts screeching tiers and very angry voices. A LYNCH MOB HAD ARRIVED. They were very very angry that fireworks had been set off. Their reasonably peaceful village that had plunged into darkness was just rudely disturbed by the explosions of fireworks and bang from the dud rocket. However i went into protection mode of my family and i was ready to defend the house. I marched upstairs to confront the mob.... The Mob and Fonzy
My brother in law pleaded for me to stay inside and he would go outside and try to calm down the mob. I reluctantly agreed, stood tight but ready for action.
I heard my brother in law speaking in part broken English and Indonesian. There was still so much aggression and anger, shouting and scooter burnouts.
I felt enough courage to go outside. Tbh I have no idea what I thought I was going to do. Intimidate? Scare them all and make them back down? Fight them all like some movie action hero?? I didn't even know what scene or how many I was going to be confronted with.
The Scene: There were people scattered everywhere. 4 cars pulled up and scooters galore with about 30 Balinese shouting with many of their focus being directed at me. There was a particular group that was extremely aggressive and they wanted to get at me. They came at me. Now the gardener, his friend, my brother in law and a couple of the mob tried to stop these few from attacking and it escalating. I stupidly stepped at him challenging the main aggressor. We exchanged words and egged each other on for the challenge. He was much smaller than me. He had lots of backup. He could of had a weapon but nothing was visible. There's always been one thing that always stood out in my memory with the main aggressor. He had no shirt on, but wore a black leather jacket. He went on to be known as Fonzy after that. I hadn't trained martial arts for about six years. What was i thinking?? Im in another country and if this goes bad my whole family could be in danger. The scuffles continued, shouting, pushing and a couple more scooter burnouts for good measure. Fonzy was pushing to get at me, i was pushing back. We came face to face and we stared off. He tried to scare me but i stood staunchly. I shouted i have a family in there. How dare he come here and scare them, young children and ladies. Leave now i shouted. I couldn't understand what he was shouting back but i new they were angry about the loud booms in their quiet village. Without a blink of an eye he went flying through the air about three metres a hit the entry door with a flying elbow. This door was thick solid timber and it split it putting a wide crack about 1 metre long down it. It was a show of force and intimidation. I'm glad it wasn't my scull. I remember thinking this Fonzy guy could be from Thailand.
I was ready to leap into action and start fighting and defending the house.
By my surprise the next thing that happened was my brother in law started shouting like I've never heard before. He was yelling in Indonesian and I could understand by his body language and gestures exactly what he was saying. He became the authority in the situation by yelling at the top his lungs that the persons responsible for any damages will have to pay 6 Million Rupiah (roughly 600 Aud) for his door. Quickly the atmosphere changed and the aggression dissipated. For those who travel Bali, know that this amount of money is beyond a standard wage for a Balinese and would scare them like crazy of fear of real consequence to their actions.
I was ready to defend myself and the house but sensed a shift of intentions and behaviour.
My sister talked me into going inside as my presence made them feel more aggravated.
How stupid was I to think I could take on the mob like in a Bruce Lee movie. I wasn't trained for it and later found out they were all carrying weapons.
The scene calmed down somewhat, the Local Balinese carrying out threats of intimidation with motives of wanting money in compensation for scaring the neighbourhood.
The next day the local council members sat at our kitchen table in negotiations of the same thing. Stating we scared the neighbourhood and didn't ask permission.
I didn't matter how much we apologised, as we sat there we knew we couldn’t admit we were in the wrong because it would come at a cost, an expensive one.
We didn't hurt anyone and lets be honest, I’m the only dumb idiot that nearly blew his own eyebrows off…
We were disgusted that they were ok that their people attacked our villa. They just saw it as an opportunity to all cash in.
Over the next couple of days we had locals walk into the property with knives, threatening for compensation.
One evening as my daughter rode around on her bike, I was standing in the kitchen, in walks a local Balinese with a knife only meters from her. I grab a knife from the bench and charge towards him, as security and the gardener seize him and pull him outside of the compound quickly.
This was enough to fear being here with my family any longer, I might even end up in jail if I hurt someone I thought.
My brother in law sat at the police station that day trying to sort it all out.
He made a call to the Vice Prime minister, at the time, whom he had been in a working relationship with for Resort Planning in Lovina Beach, that my brother in Law was managing.
The Fonz and his little gang of hustlers were busted. Authorities came down on them hard and the Fonz and the crew even payed the other local knife wielding hustlers a visit, bullying and scaring them because they were all getting in more trouble.
I look back at this as a massive learning experience and realise how peaceful it all ended up but extremely scary it was in moments and how bad it could of gone.
Once I returned to Australia I immediately found myself a martial arts gym and started training, competed in BJJ after 2 months, MMA after 4 months and kick-started my fighting career.
In the years following this event I would return to Bali and often train mixed martial arts and I would remember this time in my life that would pivot my life in a significant way.
I'm grateful for it. I would't be in a position of purpose and meaning in having a positive impact on so many.
- Dave Johnson