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Meet David Metcalf

Meet David Metcalf, aka Dayak Dave, a photographer and author whose passion for Indonesia gives back to the people he photographs and loves.


David, how did your Indonesian story begin?
Well, I lived in Jakarta back in 2000 until 2005 working for UPS and had worked for them for 20 years. I loved Jakarta! I had this passion for photography, but it was very much a hobby at the time and I would travel all around different parts of Indonesia. The kids were younger then so we’d drag the kids, chuck them on the plane and off we’d go! I always took photographs. I did a couple of exhibitions and produced some calendars which we sold to raise money for charity.

When my time came to an end on that assignment, we were seriously thinking about moving to Bali, but the kids were still young, so we decided to continue on in New Zealand for a year, followed by Brisbane for five. Really since I left Jakarta, I always wanted to come back to Indonesia.

What is it that made you want to come back?
I just fell in love with the country really; I loved it. I’m very interested in native cultures, and I’ve just had the most amazing trips and times, and I love the people. Wherever we travelled, people were really nice everywhere. So once the kids grew up and left school, it was always a plan of mine to come back; not just doing photography, but to get involved with the community and give back. I’m not here to live in some nice villa in Seminyak and not connect with the people. That’s always been an important part of my thinking.

Why did you choose to live in Ubud and not Seminyak, for example?
Because Ubud is the cultural hub of Bali. If you’re interested in culture, this is the place to be, there’s no comparison. There’s no culture in Seminyak or down that way; it’s devoid of Balinese culture. Here it’s so alive. I’ve explored a lot of the back country, back roads and into the villages, and it’s just like thousands of years ago; nothing’s changed, which is just wonderful.

David 'Dayak Dave' Metcalf
David ‘Dayak Dave’ Metcalf

We have a private villa for rent in Ubud called Villa Damee and we are right next to a village. If you want to embrace their way of living, the people are so happy to welcome you into their culture. I’ve been very privileged and I get invited to the ceremonies and I’ve seen all sorts of amazing things, from mass cremations and digging up of bones to trance ceremonies. I’ve seen stuff I can’t quite explain.

How did the idea to start your photography tours begin?
I didn’t know what to do with my photography passion and I went on a workshop in Queenstown, New Zealand with two very good photographers, Jackie Ranken and Michael Langford, and I thought, why not organize photography tours in Bali and Indonesia? I asked if they were interested to get involved and they were very keen. So, I organized the first one in September 2012. I approached Mark Rayner who’s an amazing photography teacher and had never left Australia before, and we did the first tour in November, which was really successful. We’ve had tours in Kalimantan, Bali, India, and America and this year Sri Lanka is on the agenda and the islands east of Bali on a luxury boat. Also the fantastic Hornbill festival in North East India!

How much would a two-week photography tour set you back?
For the orangutan trip, which is eight nights, it is $3,600 and that includes pretty much everything. It’s good value because it includes domestic transfers, the boat up the river, the teachers, and accommodation.

Do you do shorter tours as well?
Yes, I also do half-day and one-day tours in Bali, which will appeal more to the local photographers. These are specifically around Ubud and around special ceremonies.

What if someone feels a bit intimidated but wants to join?
They’re very much welcome and we certainly cater for that. We’ve had beginners from Canberra who had only bought a camera just before they boarded the plane, so they were complete beginners. It’s very much open to anyone.

When you’re doing these tours, how do the locals respond to you?
They’re intrigued and they always come up and ask what’s going on. They’re just as interested in us as we are in them. That’s the other thing that’s very strong on my tours is that I take people to non-touristy places, so most of the time there are no other foreigners at all. People come here for the photography, and we provide that, but they walk away with a much deeper experience and they want to get involved and give something back to the community.

Indonesia's Hidden Heritage Book Cover
Indonesia’s Hidden Heritage Book Cover

Your book, Indonesia Hidden Heritage is a stunning photography book, which your wife Stephanie Brookes brings alive with her stories. How long did it take to put this book together and what were your drives to complete it?
The book was a 12 month project. We visited 12 different places over that time to create the stories and photos. Six of the stories are mine and six are Stephanie’s.

The drive was in pursuit of finding interesting cultural stories and the desire to photograph the people and beauty of Indonesia.

What do you feel this book brings to the table?
The 120-page book is mostly photographs and the stories tend to be personal experiences we had whilst attending ceremonies, visiting hidden away villages and connecting with the many interesting indigenous cultures of this extraordinary country. I hope that it inspires people to jump on a plane or boat and visit some of the places described in the book. There is a section in the back called ‘Cultural Connections’ with emails and contact phone numbers of good, reliable local guides which makes it easy for people to travel to these places. There is nothing on the bookshelves quite like this book, so we sincerely hope people will read it and learn more about the amazing variety of people that live on some of these thousands of islands.

What do you have planned for the future, David?
Plans are underway to open a photography gallery in Ubud later in the year. I also plan to start a photography festival in Ubud next year with talented overseas and local photographers presenting. But my main objectives at the moment are two environmental and health programs in villages in Central Kalimantan and Flores, and a documentary film about a trip I am doing in August into Central Borneo to raise awareness about Dayak culture and the environment. My photography is really all about creating awareness, hopefully inspiring people to get involved and improve the lives of Indonesians, and the importance of preserving the environment.

You can get a copy of David and Stephanie’s book or find out about his photography tours at You can also purchase his book at most nationwide bookstores.

If anyone is interested in finding out more about David’s education and health programs in Kalimantan, or helping in some way please email him directly on [email protected] or phone: 081 113 312 55.

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