As light rain falls and white doves fly, Bali bombing victims remembered
Several hundred make the walk up a winding footpath to a picturesque headland at the northern end of Coogee beach in Sydney.
There are mothers, fathers, wives and husbands, family, friends and team mates, and also strangers who just want to remember the 88 Australians senselessly killed in the Bali bombings, 20 years ago today.
With light rain falling from overcast skies, they meet at Dolphins Point, renamed in the aftermath of the bombings to commemorate the six members of the Coogee Dolphins rugby league club who died in the twin blasts.
It’s a spectacular location, with commanding views out to the Pacific and down to Coogee’s golden sands below.
Dean Hardman flew in today on a 5am flight from Brisbane to be there.
This 20-year milestone gives the day a slightly different feel, Hardman says.
He should know.
Every year, on October 12, he comes to Dolphins Point to mourn the death of his friend Shane Foley.
Foley was only 34 and he never made it home from Bali.
“It’s making me thinking of how hard it was, 20 years ago,” Hardman says.
Kurt Bahram from Maroubra, a few kilometres down the coast, tells a similar story.
He’s there to honour old school friend Tom Singer, who at 17 was taken way too soon.
There’s a tight-knit fabric to these coastal hamlets in Sydney’s east, and Bahram has other connections which also bring him here.
“There’s a few girls I know from Malabar whose mums got killed,” he says.
It’s a reminder of how interconnected we all are.
Young and old, they wander up the hill for a ceremony which lasts 90 minutes.
Mums and dads push babies in prams, a new generation who its hoped in the future will continue to mark this day and the 43 victims from New South Wales.
There’s a police presence, albeit light, and officers dressed in formal wear also mill around.
It’s clear there’s a strong and loyal attendance from the Coogee Dolphins club.
Some proudly wear their club polos.
Many people hold a single, striking gerbera flower – coloured orange, red or yellow.
Later, the flowers will be laid inside a towering bronze sculpture on the point which twists up into the sky.
Before the ceremony starts, old friends reunite and embrace.
Faces light up as people recognise one another.
It might have been one year, for some longer.
Powderfinger’s These Days plays discreetly on a speaker system; people talk about catching up later for a quiet beer at iconic pubs around the beach.
Amongst the sadness, the sense of coming together is strong. A worker on-site whispers to her colleague there’s a lot more people today than other years.
Local, state and federal politicians show up.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet give brief speeches.
Albanese talks about that horrible night in Kuta, where “a sudden terrible light was followed by a sudden terrible darkness”.
Opposition leader Peter Dutton doesn’t make a speech, but he’s there in solidarity, sat next to Albanese and Perrottet.
Representatives from the Indonesian consulate sit one row back.
The morning gets emotional when some surviving family members get up to speak.
There’s still a rawness to their stories, their reality.
They share memories of searching for missing loved ones, and the dreaded call home to reveal that the situation looks bleak.
But there is also hope and learning in the words of those who have lost.
A mother describes how she manages unimaginable grief.
It’s the simple things, she says, like warm hugs, walking her dog, sewing, singing and swimming.
Near the end, the names of those killed are solemnly read out.
When that’s done, there is a one-minute silence. Some cry quietly.
The flapping wings of 88 white doves, who soar into grey skies, breaks the silence.
Then, perhaps, the most intimate moments of the morning.
People line up to lay their single gerbera flower under the bronze sculpture.
Flower laid, there’s a pause.
Some look to the sky, others reach out to touch or hold the sculpture.
Sometimes there are tears and hugs underneath the winding bronze sculpture, which represents three linked figures; family, friends and community.
Entwined, the figures support and protect each other.
On its own, each figure would topple. Together, they are strong.