Mates cherish special bond strengthened by Bali bomb nightmare

TEN years on from the night that changed their lives, four former Port Fairy men have returned to Bali.

Jay Solomon, Blake Neate, Blair Robertson and Shaun McIlroy were in the Sari Club when a massive bomb exploded out front just after 11pm on October 12, 2002.

Prior to the explosion, they were young men in their early 20s, keen to soak up the famed Bali nightlife.

By the end of the evening, they would have survived a terrorist attack and witnessed some truly horrific scenes as they helped others to safety while managing to escape with their lives.

For Blair, who is now married and has a daughter, returning to the scene of that fateful night has provided an opportunity to show his wife Sally the site of the tragedy, and to retrace his steps as he and Shaun fled the fiery disaster that claimed the lives of 88 Australians and 104 people from 22 other nations.

On his second day in Bali — his first visit to the Indonesian island since the bombing — Blair took Sally to the former site of the Sari Club in the busy tourist precinct of Kuta.

“It was a bit emotional just looking at the vacant lot where the club was,” he said.

“I was a bit gobsmacked.

“To be honest, (Sally) probably gets a bit more emotional than me.

“I was just starting to see her before I went, before it happened. 

“So 10 years (on from the bombing) coincides with our personal anniversary — they’re around the same time.”

Soon after, he and Shaun returned to Kuta and examined the streets they had escaped through as buildings burned and collapsed around them. 

“The night that it happened, I’d only arrived that day, so I didn’t have my bearings. 

“The other three had been there a few days,” Blair said. “Shaun had a bit better recollection of the streets. He took me back to where we had stayed and showed me the streets we went down.

“It was just good to familiarise ourselves with it again, retracing our steps ... properly gathering how far stuff had blown. Glass and roof tiles just covered the streets. I don’t know how to explain it, how I felt.”

The four men don’t live in Port Fairy any more — Blair lives in Geelong, Shaun is in Hong Kong and Blake and Jay live in Melbourne.

But they were together again yesterday for the 10th anniversary memorial service.

“It was a bit weird for us because we didn’t lose anyone,” Blair said. “There were a lot of other people doing it a lot harder.”

Best mates before the incident, it’s likely the bond shared by the four men is even stronger, although Blair said he doesn’t know how to quantify it.

“Regardless of it happening, we value each other’s mateship,” he said.

“That’s the reason we got out alive — because we were such close mates and we looked after each other.”

At yesterday’s service at the Garuda Wisnu Kencana Cultural Park in Jimbaran, survivors and the loved ones of those killed came together.

The service began to the music of a gamelan orchestra — a sound synonymous with Bali — and was followed by a multi-faith service attended by Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and other dignitaries from some of the 22 nations that lost people in the bombings.

Ian Whitley, a serving chaplain with the Royal Australian Air Force, flew to Bali the day after the bombings and spent many hours in the morgue at Sanglah Hospital in Denpasar, caring for the victims’ friends and families.

Yesterday, he called on those gathered to “remember this event and reflect on our loss”.

“Some of you come bearing an irrevocable grief and loss, and this is one of those occasions where it is fitting and appropriate to express those feelings, to cry and join with others who share a similar loss,” he said.

Candles placed on the edge of a pool of remembrance were then lit, one each for the 22 nations that lost people; another six were lit to represent the major faiths.

Made Bagus Aryadana was just 18 months old when his father, Gede Badrawan, the head waiter at the Sari Club, was killed. Now 12, he delivered a heartfelt reading yesterday in the form of a letter to the father he never had a chance to really know.

Danny Hanley, whose two daughters died as a result of the blasts, also reflected on his loss.

“My eldest daughter, Renae, was right at the front door of the Sari Club when the blast occurred. She was one of the first to lose her life.”

His youngest daughter, Simone, was already inside the club and was the last Australian to die after fighting for her life for 58 days in Perth hospital’s burns unit.

“When I hear of the 88 Australians that died, I shed a tear. My beautiful daughter Simone was number 88.”

John Howard, the Australian prime minister at the time of the attacks, said those responsible for the horror of Bali had sought to divide Australians and Indonesians.

But they had failed.

“Ten years ago, 20 million Australians in a sense extended their arms of comfort to those who had lost so much on that terrible night, and who were in other painful ways victims of a foul and evil act of mindless terrorism,” Mr Howard said.

“Today, a decade on, we renew that offer of comfort and compassion.”

Ms Gillard said there would always be a fault-line dividing the lives of those affected by the bombings: “Before Bali and after Bali”.

“They had come to a place loved for its sunshine and its uncomplicated joy, a place like London and Gallipoli where something of the Australian spirit dwells upon another shore,” Ms Gillard said.

“This is what the Bali bombers struck at.

“But even as the debris fell, it was obvious the attack on our sense of ourselves, as Australians, as human beings, had failed.”

The governor of Bali, Made Mangku Pastika, who was chief of police then and led the investigation into the bombings, urged those gathered at Jimbaran to embrace forgiveness.

“Those who died are also heroes,” he said.

“It is the time to forgive, so we can face a brighter future.” 

with AAP

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