On March 30, a group gathered, in the NyuhKuning Panchoran estate in Ubud, for the remembrance of the passing of their beloved friend and social leader Linda Garland, 70, after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. For those who did not have the good fortune to meet Linda, she was truly a larger than life personality. Something out of a fairytale, full of fun and surprise—but she was very real as were her extraordinary achievements in the interior design world, pioneering “Bali style” homes for a global clientele, including Mick Jagger and Island Records founder Chris Blackwell. Among her achievements, she designed David Bowie’s holiday home on the Caribbean resort island of Mustique, with a Balinese aesthetic, which is now owned by Richard Branson. More recently, she was known as the “Bamboo Queen,” an entrepreneur and global environmentalist who championed the use of bamboo as a sustainable building material.
This inspirational and unique person settled in Bali in the 1970s following an early life as Irish privileged gentry, fashion and design autodidact, international explorer and rock and roll party goer in the London’s roaring 1960s. At one point, she even studied bull fighting in Spain. In Indonesia and eventually as an Indonesian citizen in 1974 (naturalized through her marriage to Indonesian Amir Rabik), Linda truly blossomed and became an inspiration to many.
Despite suffering from many severe physical illnesses, Linda travelled widely both worldwide and across Indonesia. She had no qualms in taking a five-hour bumpy car ride to reach a remote village, on the same day after arriving from a global environmental conference. The only luxury she conceded herself was a refitted van where instead of normal seats she carefully piled up layering pillows to cushion herself.
Over the last 30 years, there are many anecdotal stories regarding Linda’s early life with the jet set and the famous. My favorite was in the mid 1980s, when David Bowie dressed up as Father Christmas and handed out presents to children and villagers in the old Lotus café and Ubud Palace courtyard. Her direct and indirect promotion of Bali was without equal. She also developed the Panchoran resort in Ubud, applying her principles of sustainability, making extensive use of bamboo and recycled telephone poles in its construction.
She was among the first to raise global awareness for utilizing bamboo for furniture and home designs as a sustainable, environmentally-friendly and mass market material. One of her designs, a large bamboo sofa, was copied many times over. When I asked her about getting royalties or copyrights on the design, she would just reply: “Never mind, the villages are getting some money, and bamboo is making its way into people’s homes.” She was once included on the top 100 list of the influential Architectural Digest magazine’s ranking of the world’s most important designers.
Her deep belief in the potential of bamboo led her to set up the Environmental Bamboo Foundation (EBF) in 1993. Linda met with many other leading experts and organizations, pushing the boundaries of research and community advocacy of bamboo as a substitute to timber. She was very concerned with Indonesia’s rapid deforestation and preached “sustainable development” at least a decade before it became a trendy buzzword.
Her work with local communities was recognized with the prestigious Upakarti award in 2000, the first time a naturalized Indonesian had won the award. In 1995, she launched the International Bamboo Conference, considered a pioneering and landmark event by the environmental community, overseeing the annual event for many years. Above all, and most importantly, her generosity, charm and encouragement influenced many to reach for the stars, including her sons, Karim, as a talented artist, and Arief, as promising bamboo entrepreneur. She had a real talent to bring out the best in those around her. For these achievements, and many more, Linda will be missed by many as a dear friend and influential leader, leaving a legacy of seeking a better Indonesia and a more balanced society.