Road To Recovery

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A year ago this week australians woke to the news of the Bali bombings, and nothing seemed the same. Before that day, they'd thought of an overseas beach holiday as the best kind of restful retreat - a cherished belief that died with 202 people in Kuta Beach. This first anniversary brings into painful focus the grief their deaths still cause. "My stomach's in knots - I'm dreading the day," says Loraine Duff, aunt of Melbourne mother Donna Croxford, who was killed in the Sari Club. "We'll never get over the way she died." In their own way, millions of Australians who never knew Donna, or any of the 87 compatriots who died with her, have also spent the past year trying to come to terms with what was lost that night.

Two years ago Australians watched in horror as terrorism struck America, but they watched with remote control in hand, tucked up in living rooms a hemisphere away. It wasn't until the emergency flights began landing in Darwin just over a year later that Australians felt the first tremors beneath their own feet. Leah Booth, then a nurse in the Royal Darwin Hospital's surgical burns unit, spent 11 hours after the first plane arrived working with a doctor on a horrifically burned Swedish girl. She took the girl's dazed friend home and fed her, comforted families desperately searching for loved ones and watched colleagues battling to save lives. A year later, the emotional impact of that day hasn't left her: "They were all so young, they could have been us," she says. "There's not a day that goes by where I don't think about it."

The year has brought Australians daily reminders of Bali in the tougher security measures seen across their cities. In her downtown Sydney suburb of Pyrmont, Carole Twist is slowly getting used to driving past security guards on the Anzac Bridge near her home; last week she took in the washing as Black Hawk helicopters flew over her garden in a counterterrorism training exercise. She's even getting used to thoughts of terrorism popping into her head when she's in a crowded shopping center or movie theater: "We've never had to think about it before," she says, "but now you think about it all the time." Such preoccupations are found well beyond big towns. Even 4,000 km from Sydney, in the Northern Territory outpost of Borroloola, resident Christine Hart finds herself wondering where and how an attack could happen: "For so long we thought we were secure. But people have decided we're no longer safe."

September 11 showed Australians what might be done here with planes and buildings and hatred; Bali added its own nightmarish possibilities to the mix. Some Australians talk now of a certain reflexive unease when they hear a low-flying plane or see a bag left on a train, of an unbidden movie-reel of scenarios playing in their heads when they see their city's skyline. Some have sworn never to fly again, and the number of Australians taking overseas holidays has fallen in the past year, though because of sars, fear of terrorists may only be part of the reason. Meanwhile, the number of nights spent by Australians traveling in their own country has risen. A caravan park owner in the South Australian Outback says business is booming and caravan makers have customers on waiting lists: "People through here say why would they bother with overseas when we've got such a beautiful safe country of our own?"

Canada warns its citizens to look out for flash floods and purse snatchers in Australia, and the U.S. State Department rates it a "low-threat country" for terrorism, yet medium-threat for crime. But since Bali the Australian government has stepped up its warnings that an attack inside the country is possible. "We live in a world where these things are threats we didn't dream of a few years ago," Prime Minister John Howard said last month, discussing government concerns about possible missile strikes against Australian passenger aircraft. "But we have also got to get on with our lives." Australia seems to have taken that advice. There was no scramble for duct tape, and little public comment when 50,000 doses of smallpox vaccine were imported in case of a biological attack. And while Australians found themselves living in neighborhoods and towns being on medium security alert, went to war in the name of fighting terror and learned a new vocabulary about terror groups and grievances they had barely heard of this time last year, the housing boom thundered on, television programs about home makeovers rated their socks off, and 80,000 Australian Football League Grand Final seats sold out in 48 hours. Talk of national security cluttered the headlines but is scarce in the pub. Whether in defiance of the new threat or in denial, Australians stayed on course, whether that meant fighting drought or devouring books about a teenage wizard. Says Jan Anstee, mother of 24-year-old Stuart Anstee, who spent a month in hospital after narrowly surviving the blast: "The only thing to do is go forward."

Even as Australians were taught new lessons about hate by bombers who grinned and shouted their way through televised court appearances, they also found new ways of seeing themselves. "I've reassessed my entire life, all the decisions I make," says Darwin nurse Leah Booth. "Especially after seeing the incredible way some people recovered, I believe now that nothing's too hard for me to achieve. I want more out of life now - I look for more." For Donna Croxford's husband John, some comfort has come from seeing others learn to cherish what he lost. He sees "so many people who now appreciate more what they have - people trying to be better parents, friends, colleagues."

And maybe kinder neighbors. After Bali, Hatice Han, a 21-year-old commerce teacher at an Islamic secondary college in Melbourne was terrified that the verbal abuse and assaults she and her friends endured after 9/11 would resurface. They still attract angry stares but not the same vehemence, perhaps, Han thinks, because more Australians realize that many Muslims share their worries and rage. Here in her home country, she feels safe from terrorism: "Maybe it's not that it couldn't happen here, but I just hope it doesn't." It was the year's great unspoken wish.

The point, of course, is not fear but what you do with it. Christine Hart was sitting in traffic in Darwin on that morning when a convoy of ambulances hurtled past on their way to the airport. "It made my blood run cold," she says, and it still does. But though some of her friends will no longer board even a domestic flight, Hart has booked a summer holiday in Bali. Tasmanian school principal Anne Phillips is still happy for her children to pack their backpacks as her own generation once did. "I brought my children up to be adventurous, and they are," she says. "We could all be in the wrong place at the wrong time."

History shows that a single deed can undermine a nation, and the Bali bombers seemed to hope theirs would do so. In Australia's case, it's hard to think of a better symbol of their failure than the decision of hundreds of people to travel to Bali this week, despite the security warnings of their own government, to pay tribute. By being there, they'll remind their countrymen that however much Australia has changed in the past year, in many ways it remains very much the same.