Thursday, May 30, 2024

Coogee community marks 20th anniversary of its darkest day

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the Bali terrorist bomb attack which killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.

As governments and councils mark the day around Australia, eastern Sydney’s memorial service at Coogee Beach holds a special significance, with 20 local residents lost in the horrific blasts in Kuta on 12 October, 2002.

“As a community, we’ve come together annually to remember those who were taken from us too soon and we will do so again today, at Dolphins Point in Dunningham Reserve, Coogee,” Randwick City Council said in a statement.

“On 12 October each year, family, friends and the local community come together to remember those lost in the 2002 Bali Bombings. It is also a time to celebrate life and resilience.”

The ceremony will begin at 10am and will also be live streamed on Council’s Facebook Page.

For local resident, Ryan James, the horror of being in the Sari Club in 2002 when terrorist bombs ripped through the nightclub will stay with him forever.

While this year marks 20 years since the fateful trip, Ryan – who was just 16 at the time – says there are days when it feels like the terror happened just a moment ago.

“It’s a weird thing,” says the now married father-of-two. “It does feel like 20 years ago when I think about how much has happened and how much I’ve been through physically, mentally and emotionally. But also, I blink and it feels like it happened yesterday.

“I guess that is because of the strength of the emotions,” he continues. “It’s a consistent feeling among the people that were there and our close family and friends, the rawness of that night will never go away and that’s why it feels like it wasn’t 20 years ago. I still have nightmares all the time no matter how much I work through it.”

Ryan credits his wife, Georgie, for being instrumental in his healing process and helping him get to the stronger emotional space he is in these days.

Each year, Ryan attends the annual Commemoration Ceremony and the Malabar Family Day event held on the closest Sunday. Either he or his stepfather, Steve, will raise and lower the flag for Tom Singer at Cromwell Park, Malabar. It’s a chance for Ryan to honour his best mate who died a month after the bombings from injuries sustained in the blast, and to do so on behalf of Tom’s family who no longer live in the area.

Observed every year since 2003, the Bali Commemoration Ceremony is held at the Bali Memorial at Dolphins Point. The site was renamed in honour of the six members of the local Coogee Dolphins football team who were killed along with friends and family members in the bombing attack at the Sari Club in Kuta, Bali.

“It feels really special that we can celebrate the people that were closest to us, even though it is such a sad day, a hard day,” he says.

“I always come with my family, my wife, my mum, stepdad and my brothers usually come as well. I think about all the things that the people who died didn’t get to experience or achieve or live or learn. For me, it’s a day to remember that, honour them and be grateful for the life I have.”

This year’s event will feature music, a remembrance from one of our impacted families, the laying of flowers and the release of 88 doves in honour of the 88 Australians who lost their lives.

The families and loved ones continue to grow in number year on year – but there is hope and a spark of joy when the reason for this becomes clear. There is a new generation of children who join their parents and grandparents to remember the people whose lives were all cut tragically short. They are being brought up to hold safe the memories of lost loved ones.

“I used to live in Coogee,” Ryan says. “I’d take my daughter, who has always been an early riser, for sunrise walks to the sculpture on Dolphins Point and I’d talk to her about the sculpture and about Tommy. She’s really young, almost five, but she kind of makes the connection. She comes with me to the ceremony.

The names of the Coogee Dolphin rugby players who died in the bombings are seen on a memorial plaque at Dolphin’s Point, Coogee Beach.

“I want her to be part of it over the years because it’s such a big part of my life. All the people who died are a big part of my life and have shaped who I am as a person. The more that the younger generation knows that, I feel is really important. To be able to share this experience with her and my son, who is just about to turn one, will be really special.”

In Canberra, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Penny Wong, will host a memorial service at Parliament House at 10am to mark the anniversary.

Live feed of the Canberra event

Victims’ families, survivors, and first responders will be joined by the Governor General, His Excellency General the Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Retd), and former Prime Minister, the John Howard OM AC.

Veteran journalist Ray Martin AM will be master of ceremonies.

A smaller commemorative ceremony will also be held at 8am (local time) at the Australian Consulate-General in Bali attended by Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Tim Watts MP.

There are four memorials in Randwick City dedicated to the Australians killed in the blasts.

“Randwick City has a special connection with this tragic event as 20 of the victims were from Sydney’s eastern suburbs, particularly Coogee and Malabar,” the Council said.

  • Bali statue
  • NSW Place of Reflection
  • Eastern suburbs memorial
  • Malabar memorial
The Bali Memorial Statue.

“This memorial is a tribute to the Australian spirit of courage and endurance,” Council said.

“The three linked figures in this sculpture signify family, friends and community. Bowed in sorrow and remembrance, they comfort, support and protect each other.

“The figures also symbolise life, growth, hope and our strength in unity.

“Individually, each figure could be easily toppled, but joined together they form a strong and supported whole structure.”

The memorial stands alone near the top of the Coogee headland in a circular paved area. The sculpture, designed by sculptor Sasha Reid, is made of bronze, a strong and durable material. It is coated with a burnished green-brown finish and will be able to withstand the harsh coastal environment.

It is dedicated to all those killed and injured in the Bali terrorist attack, as a place of remembrance and reflection for the community and for all the families, friends and team mates affected by the tragedy.

Then Randwick Mayor, Dominic Sullivan, initiated the Bali Memorial project, which was jointly funded by Randwick City Council and the NSW Government, and Council worked closely with the families of victims and independent art experts to select the winning design.

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