How Australia forgot about Schapelle Corby
The sole remaining daily reminder in Australia of the existence of Schapelle Corby is the plastic luggage-wrapping service at our international airports.
More than four years after her conviction on drug smuggling charges - when Corby was the only story in Australia, the only topic of discussion at the pub, at barbecues, in the office tea room - the one thing that reminds us that she even exists is the roll of industrial cling-film in our departure lounges, so you can make sure your baggage leaves our shores and arrives overseas without 4.2kg of cannabis in it.
As she prepares to celebrate her 32nd birthday tomorrow - her fifth inside Bali’s Kerobokan jail - prison authorites let Schapelle have her hair cut and coloured by a professional hairdresser, saying they hoped it would cheer her up as she continues to fight with severe depression.
Her illness may be fuelled by the knowledge that almost all of her countrymen have pretty much forgotten about her - and that unlike in 2005, when most Australians disputed her guilt, public opinion appears to have swung the other way, not just against her but members of her family.
It’s been a dramatic shift from May 27, 2005, the day she was sentenced to 20 years for drug smuggling.
Throughout 2005 it was the There’s Something About Schapelle show, with blokes from all walks of life charging in on their white steeds to rescue her. And the public was totally fixated on her, devouring every column centimetre of copy, every minute of air time. On the day she was jailed I had only been in the editor’s chair at Sydney’s Daily Telegraph for a couple of months, and had never seen a story that generated in many people such a palpable sense of anger and injustice at someone’s treatment.
Our headline on the day, A Nation’s Fury, reflected what many Australians then saw as a double-standard, where they linked her two-decade sentence for having enough dope to get a pack of uni students through a week-long houseboat holiday, to the three years handed down to Abu Bakar Bashir for his role in the Bali bombings where 88 Australians died.
On that Friday I remember our sober-minded Canberra correspondent Sue Dunlevy, one of the most beat-up averse journalists I’ve ever worked with, forwarding me a link in total amazement - it was to a chat room for nursing mums, run out of Canberra, and there were literally hundreds and hundreds of comments in the chat room, where the mums had set aside their normal conversations about problems such as mastitis or sleep deprivation to unload on what they saw as Indonesia’s harshness and inconsistency in putting this young woman away while a terrorist mastermind would get a slap on the wrists.
“Just check this out,” Sue wrote. “This is massive.”
But I wonder now how many of these mums have maintained their rage - or whether like many Australians, they’ve moved on, even changed their view, in light of the now-public indifference of people such as the then Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, the dead-batting ambivalence we’ve seen from outgoing AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty, and the ongoing circus that is the Corby family.
The prevailing view now seems to be the hard-arsed view - that she probably did it, or someone close to her convinced her to do it - and that anyone with half a brain should know what the penalties are for drug-dealing in a place like Indonesia.
The piece on news.com.au today is only the fifth most-read story on the website, beaten by the arrest of the mining exec in China, a piece about a mum urging her daughter to bully a classmate, the family feud over Jackon’s burial, and a $240k defo payout by Today Tonight. People have moved on.
Since Corby was jailed she’s won only five months worth of remissions, making her current release date April 12, 2024.
When you think about that date in terms of your own life - how old you will be then, how old your kids will be, how they may by then have kids themselves - it seems like an eternity. It is.
- Do you think Australians have forgotten about Corby? Should we? Has she only got herself to blame? Or should Canberra lobby for clemency for her?
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