Act of mass murder failed to change our way of life
One of the nicest blokes I have ever met is an Indonesian journalist called Agus Diatmika with whom I did a six-month newspaper exchange in Jakarta in 1994. Agus was born in Kuta Beach, Bali, in 1964, when it was a tiny fishing village attracting nothing in the way of tourism.
The Indonesians love creating comical acronyms. They say the name of their national airline Garuda stands for “Good And Reliable Under Dutch Administration”. In a similar vein Agus explained that, in Indonesian, Kuta stands for “Kampung Untuk Turis Australi” – “Village For Australian Tourists”.
When he made the gag I became somewhat apologetic about the fact that his little slice of paradise had been overrun by us all, and asked whether he felt that tourism and, in particular, Australian tourism had ruined places like Kuta and Sanur. Hell no, he replied firmly. Tourism was the best thing that happened to Bali, lifting the standard of living to levels unseen elsewhere across the archipelago.
During my stay Agus urged me to go to Bali and visit his hometown, which I did, and had an awesome time. The visit included an obligatory boozy night at the Sari Club, chocker-block with young Aussies, blasting Chisel, the Oils and the Hoodoo Gurus on massive screens, and serving lethal arak-based cocktails in squirt bottles with the word “DRINK” written menacingly on the side.
Eight years later the Sari Club would be replaced by a crater in the ground. The atrocity would claim the lives of 202 people, 88 of them Australian, murdered in the biggest act of terror ever perpetrated against our citizens.
It is hard to believe it is 10 years since the Bali bombings. Thinking back to that week, as the scale of the attacks became apparent, it is still hard to comprehend the grief which was unleashed.
Because of its scale, Bali was a harrowing event both at the macro level and the micro level, because so many people had some kind of association with the dead and the injured. Much of that association came through our love of sport, and the fact that so many community clubs and first grade clubs were involved. The team my family has always supported in the SANFL, Sturt, had broken a 26-year drought to win the grand final that year, only to lose player Josh Deegan and trainer Bob Marshall on their club trip to Kuta.
From the Coogee Dolphins to the Kingsley Football Club in WA to the Forbes Rugby Union Club in western NSW, these horrible stories played out across the land. And then there were the mums and dads who had just taken their kids up for their first big holiday.
Our then prime minister, John Howard, provided exemplary and humane leadership in the aftermath of the attacks. He gave a powerful speech in Darwin on Thursday where he talked about how if the objective of the attacks was to destroy the relationship between Australia and Indonesia, then the terrorist organisation Jemaah Islamiyah had failed miserably.
Indeed aside from their tragically successful murderous intent, the Kuta attacks (and the second Bali attack in 2005) were a total failure by almost any measure.
The joint operation between the Australian Federal Police and the Indonesians was a swift and complete success. All the ringleaders of the attacks were arrested, many have been executed.
In the aftermath of the attacks, there were predictions that it was only a matter of time before radicals from the region would stage a Kuta-style attack on our shores. To this day, touch wood, we have been successful in rounding up and jailing would-be terrorists among our number, and no such attacks have eventuated.
The ultimate aim of terrorism, as the word obviously suggests, is to engender such a level of fear that people will alter their way of life. That can include everything from the policies of the government of the day, to their preparedness to travel, how they choose to enjoy themselves, the level of freedom they give to their kids.
After the Madrid train bombings - for which al Qaeda claimed responsibility as payback for the Spanish deployment in Iraq - the public turfed out the government in a landslide and the new government immediately withdrew its troops. It looked like a western democracy losing its nerve in the face of a terrorist attack.
In foreign policy terms Australia has maintained a largely bipartisan position on national security issues, such as the war against the Taliban, or the proposed deployment of US troops in Darwin. If JI was trying to make us cool our relationship with Washington, it remains as strong as ever.
At the individual level our behaviour has been hearteningly defiant. After the attacks there were predictions that Bali would never recover and that Australians would never go there in the numbers they once did. There was a broader existential view that our country would be so rocked that the natural response would be to withdraw into ourselves. The opposite has happened. In the 2001-2002 financial year there were 981,409 passports issued in Australia; in 2011-2012, there were 1,747,670 passports issued.
Last year, there were a whopping 8 million overseas trips made from Australia – and more than 450,000 of them were to Bali, more than twice the number of Bali trips being made in the year of the first attack.
Bali is still as culturally rich and as naturally beautiful as it has ever been. Kuta, the village for Australian tourists, is as crazy as ever, and more packed than ever. The idea that JI was somehow speaking on behalf of a nation which is repulsed by tourism and troubled by our presence is one of the greatest misnomers of all. No-one would be happier than the Indonesians – especially the Balinese – that it’s business as usual 10 years on. It’s also the greatest demonstration for Australians that an act of murder is not going to change the way we live.
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