ITS–Made Wijaya, whose name is synonymous with Balinese and tropical garden design, died suddenly on 29 August 2016 during a visit to Sydney. Wijaya started life as an architecture student and teenage tennis champion from Sydney named Michael White, who by his own account arrived in Bali in 1973 “having jumped ship and swum ashore in a rainstorm”.
The visit was intended as a short break from his studies, but his fascination with Bali’s culture led him to move in with a Brahman family in South Bali. He worked as a tennis coach, filmmaker and photojournalist before the wife of a famous architect suggested he try garden design, with his first big commission the Bali Hyatt’s garden in Sanur. More than 600 gardens later, Wijaya is a well known tropical garden designer with a team of artisans and “garden commandos,” as he called them.
Putu Suasta, one of his close friends in Bali, recalled Wijaya’s spiritual life since he converted to Hinduism decades ago. “He always prayed at our family shrine before making an overseas trip,” Putu Said.
Wijaya remains best known as a gardener to the rich and famous — among them David Bowie and Francis Ford Coppola. In the late 80s Wijaya was commissioned to transform the arid garden of Bowie’s exotic home at Mustique in the West Indies into a tropical paradise, with giant ponds surrounded by Balinese-style gardens. He later recalled that it was hard to get any work done because the local workforce was so lazy.
A recognized authority on tropical gardens and Southeast Asian architecture, Wijaya published six books — The Complete Stranger in Paradise; Balinese Architecture: Towards an Encyclopaedia; Tropical Garden Design (Archipelago Press and Wijaya Words, 1999); At Home in Bali (Abbeville Press, 2000); Architecture of Bali – A Source Book of Traditional and Modern Forms (Archipelago Press and Wijaya Words, 2002), and Majapahit Style: Volume I (Wijaya Words, 2014).
He also contributed to Tropical Asian Style and was the main author of a pocket guidebook to Bali.