The deadly Bali bombings will forever be etched in our collective memory as the single largest loss of Australian life due to an act of terror.
It was October 12, 2002.
Hundreds of Aussies were partying the night away in the tourist hotspot of Kuta, just a step away from the main beach, celebrating weddings, honeymoons, end-of-season football and cricket trips, or just a week away from the office with friends.
All that changed in a split second just after 11pm.
With the horror of the 9/11 al-Qaeda terror attacks on the Twin Towers in New York still fresh, South-East Asian terror group Jemaah Islamiyah detonated three bombs, two in busy nightsspots – the Sari Club and Paddy’s Bar – and one in front of the American consulate in nearby Denpasar.
The explosions killed 202 people, including 88 Australians, and wounded hundreds more.
Twenty years on from this tragedy, Australian actor Rachel Griffiths (Six Feet Under, Underground: The Julian Assange Story), Bridgerton‘s Claudia Jessie and veteran actor Richard Roxburgh (rake), are set to star in a powerful new four-part Stan Original series, Bali 2002.
Re-enacting horrific moments of that night – and the devastating bloody aftermath – will be traumatic to watch, but the series promises to focus on the everyday heroes including the Balinese, expats and the mainly Australian and British tourists who scrambled to rescue the injured and comfort the dying – not only that night, but in the days and weeks that followed.
“While the devastating impact from this tragedy is still felt by so many 20 years on, Bali 2002 is an opportunity to tell a version of
the story that memorialises and honors victims, survivors and their families,” Screen Australia’s Graeme Mason said.
Added producer Endemol Shine: ”Triggered by an event that shocked the world, [it] is a story of resilience and heroism born from the darkest tragedy.”
‘Everyday heroes defied the odds’
Griffiths is filling big shoes, playing world-leading burns specialist, and plastic and reconstructive surgeon, Professor Fiona Wood, who was instrumental in treating the largest proportion of burns victims from Bali who arrived in Perth.
Along with co-inventor Marie Stoner, Professor Wood pioneered the innovative ‘spray-on skin’ technique (ReCell) to treat burns, which is used worldwide.
As survivors were medically evacuated to the Royal Perth Hospital, she led the medical team, and, in saving many lives, was named Australian of the Year in 2005.
Addressing the National Press Club on June 9, Professor Wood reflected on the year that changed her life: ”I saw so many people doing positive things, so much positive energy coming out on what was so profoundly negative.”
She was witness to the ”groundswell” of people who worked around the clock amid the trauma.
She is a national living treasure.
‘Much easier if I’d been killed’
Best known for her role playing the youngest Bridgerton, Eloise, in the Netflix period drama series, Claudia Jessie, 31, plays British tourist Polly Miller.
According to an interview Ms Miller (nee Brooks) gave to the BBC in 2012 to mark the 10th anniversary of the bombings, she was the lone survivor after her husband Dan Miller, bridesmaid Annika Linden and seven other friends were killed in the Sari Club.
”I had gone from being ecstatically happy on my wedding day – amazing honeymoon, we both had great jobs, life was brilliant, nothing had ever gone wrong … to rock bottom, world collapse.”
At the time of the bombings, she had been married five weeks, and was cared for by a group of Australians as she struggled to help identify bodies and write letters from hospital to families back home.
”I felt like it would have been so much easier if I’d been killed – you’re just gone, job done,” she said.
”I felt like I had the rough end of the deal. Everyone else had escaped. They didn’t have to deal with it all.
”I had so much pressure on my shoulders, to get better, to deal with all the grief and the funerals. I had to face all the parents of all my friends who’d been killed.”
‘Ordinary people making extraordinary efforts’
The official synopsis of the Stan series says amid the chaos, ”heroes arose from the most unlikely places”.
”Australian and Indonesian authorities mobilized to evacuate survivors, identify victims and investigate what really took place … people united in the search for healing, justice and meaning.
”Victims struggled to rebuild their broken lives as the Indonesian and Australian security forces faced a clear and present danger – working together to capture the terrorists before they could strike again.”
The joint lead investigator of AFP’s Operation Alliance into the bombings, Commander Graham Ashton, is played by Roxburgh.
According to the National Museum of Australia, hours after the attacks, the AFP had organized a team to go to Bali, including disaster victim identification staff, forensic investigators, intelligence officers, administrators, security staff and IT and communications staff to assist the Indonesian National Police (INP) investigation.
Over 10 days, members interviewed 7000 Australians about their experiences, who were ”instrumental in identifying and returning victims to their families, and provided extensive investigative support that led to the capture of the perpetrators”.
Less than two weeks after the attacks, Commander Ashton gave an in-depth interview to The Sydney Morning Herald about how the investigation was going.
He would later reveal ”there were some very hard days during that investigation”.
”That was [a] horrendous terrorism act. We had hundreds of families affected through the loss of their loved ones.
”The families turned up en masse in Bali, so we had a big issue in trying to identify their loved ones from the very large, fire-affected crime scene,” he said in 2020.
There were also ordinary, injured people who stayed to help others, and ”tourists with medical skills worked with overwhelmed Indonesian medical staff at the bomb sites and local hospitals”, the NMA recorded in its history.
Nearly 200 Australians later received formal recognition for their bravery.
Bali 2002 premieres on Stan on September 25, with all episodes available at once