Ubud, How ‘Max’ the Aussie surfer-dude became a royal wedding star

Ubud, How ‘Max’ the Aussie surfer-dude became a royal wedding star

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The royal wedding of Prince Tjok Gus Kerthyasa and television star Happy Salma.

The royal wedding of Prince Tjok Gus Kerthyasa and television star Happy Salma.

Before the eyes of the world were fixated on Westminster Abbey for the wedding of Prince William to Catherine Middleton, an Australian prince married Indonesia’s most popular television star in front of thousands.

There was no designer gown nor bridesmaid to upstage the show, and no global television audience into the billions. But there were tears, a celebrity bride and a guest list of more than 2500 at the Balinese royal wedding of Prince Tjok Gus Kerthyasa and television star Happy Salma.

Prince Tjok Gus is the son of the head of Bali’s royal family, Prince Tjokorda Raka, and his wife Princess Asri – an Australian kindergarten teacher formerly known as Jane Gillespie.

Prince Tjok Gus Kerthyasa and television star Happy Salma.

But he was better known to his Aussie mates as surfer and avid photographer “Max”.

He grew up in Sydney’s northern suburbs with his brother and sister, but his centuries-old warrior heritage, 300-member family and love of surfing drew him back to Bali as a teenager. 

The 29-year-old, who sports large tattoos on his back and legs, relocated to the family’s palace in Ubud where he embraced the Hindu culture and spent his days surfing the Balinese coastline.

He and his mother now own one of the most popular tea houses in the upmarket region of Seminyak.

It was over high tea last year that Tasmania filmmaker Varcha Sidwell discovered and documented two fairytale stories for her film Bali High Wedding.

“I was introduced to the proprietor, a Balinese princess who was in her 50s, who is also an Aussie,” Sidwell told WAtoday.com.au.

Ms Gillespie now goes by her adopted name, Asri, meaning “perfect”. She married into the Balinese royal family in 1978 after meeting and falling in love with the local children’s theatre director, who just turned out to be a prince.

The 23-year-old kindergarten teacher from Sydney with a degree in child psychology became a princess but before she moved into a palace that had no running water, electricity or a phone, both she and her husband-to-be faced intense scrutiny.

Prince Tjokorda Raka, who is now the head of the royal family, was the youngest son of his father’s 10th wife and was expected to marry within the Balinese royal circle. Their love persisted and so too did the authorities. Asri’s Australian passport was taken from her and she had to be cleared by Interpol before the couple could wed.

“That’s a long-time love story, its destiny,” he said of his relationship with his Anglican wife. 

Bali is now a republic state, but the royal family is seen as custodian of the Hindu faith and is widely respected.

The couple sacrificed the royal lifestyle to raise and educated their three children in Australia, where Prince Tjokorda Raka was forced to undertake jobs as a gardener and a waiter to pay the bills.

The family returned to Bali more than a decade ago once their children became adults, and Prince Tjokorda Raka is now the head of culture and religion in Ubud.

“They now have to consult with me, because I’ve been living in the West that has given me a new perspective in the modern times without losing the essence of our culture,” he said.   

Fast forward 32-years and Bali is a very different and almost decadent place, according to Sidwell.

When she discovered Asri’s son, a laid-back surfer with an Aussie accent, was marrying a local television soap star in a glittering Balinese royal wedding, she had two months to plan, produce and shoot the film. 

“The lovely thing about the Balinese royal family is that they are so unaffected,” she said.

“‘Max’ is just this surfer dude who enjoys life but it also a member of a family that can trace their lineage back 24 generations. I was blown away by the quiet sense of continuity and culture and a complete lack of pomp.” 

Prince Tjok Gus married Salma – a Muslim from Java – in October, 2010, after they met on the surfing beaches in Bali’s south while she was holidaying with friends.

Bali High Wedding chronicles the lead up to the big day, which included all the invitations being delivered via food, not paper, Salma’s stress and tears as she struggled to comprehend the rituals involved with a Balinese royal wedding, and the two lengthy ceremonies.   

More than 2500 people – including high priests, diplomats and Asri’s hairdresser – attended the day-long event, which involved the couple completing their fertility rites of passage.

In sticking with tradition, the royal couple carried offerings as they walked around a circle as Prince Tjok Gus mockingly whipped his new bride. Salma, who wore a three kilogram archaic gold headdress, then sat on a coconut while Kerthyasa was paraded around with the family sword.

Today, almost a year on, the royal newlyweds are continuing with their lives in Bali.

Salma is still working as an actress and represented Indonesia at this year’s Cannes Film Festival but Sidwell predicts the announcement of the 25th generation of the family is imminent.

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