Poison in paradise - full story
Poison in paradise - full story

February 3, 2013

Reporter: Ross Coulthart

Producer: Dale Paget, Sandra Di Girolamo

Bali is infamous for its fakes. On any street corner vendors sell cheap knock-off handbags, DVDs, sunglasses and countless other items to Western visitors. But one such counterfeit is proving deadly to the unsuspecting Aussie tourists lured to the island.

Cheap homemade local alcohol and even apparent international brand name spirits are being contaminated with methanol – a poison you can’t taste or smell. And the practice is proving lethal, killing two Australian tourists and seriously injuring many others in the past year alone.

The latest unsuspecting victim of methanol poisoning is 19 year-old Liam Davies. Perth-based Liam was no stereotypical loutish Bali tourist: he knew the dangers, and deliberately sought out a bar serving bottled, brand-name vodka in its cocktails. Trouble is, a recent huge increase in taxes in Indonesia on imported spirits has only encouraged a long-standing practice of stretching spirits with the locally made spirit known as arak – and some unscrupulous suppliers are going further, adulterating those local spirits with the poisonous methanol.

It’s an increasingly common practice in Bali: a bottle of imported spirits actually costs more in Indonesia than in Australia, so the only way bars and restaurants can possibly offer drinks at the cheap prices needed to attract tourists is to adulterate them with arak – or, worse, with poisonous methanol . While many tourists have already died from methanol poisoning, there’s little if any evidence anyone responsible has ever been prosecuted.

Liam didn’t drink to excess – he wasn’t even drunk that night, but he’d ingested enough of the lethal alcohol to end his life. Within days of that first sip, his parents had to make the agonising decision to turn off Liam’s life support in a Perth hospital.

Ross Coulthart traces this dangerous trade back to its source, visiting Balinese villagers as they brew the potent homemade arak alcohol. It’ll make you think twice about what you drink in Bali, as the alcohol is made using filthy equipment in dirty sheds surrounded by farm animals – that’s even before you consider that what’s added into the brew further along the line can be deadly.

Liam’s devastated parents, Tim and Lhani Davies, bravely make an emotional journey back to Bali to find the truth about what happened to their boy, and to make sure the people who they say murdered him are brought to justice.

A Drink To Die From is a Facebook page offering support and advice for those travelling to Bali or those who have already been affected by methanol poisoning.


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