One man's insight into the Bali bombing horror
The Kingsley Football Club in Western Australia may have lost out on taking home the grand final trophy but they had a consolation prize: the end-of-year footy trip to Bali.
For 21-year-old Phil Britten the trip was the cherry on top of a very successful year. He had been recognised for his skills and talent on the football field in the West Australian Football League and had been redrafted by the West Perth Football Club, a step towards his dream of one day playing in the AFL.
The group arrived in Bali on 12 October 2002. After dinner at the Bagus Bar the boys went to the Sari Club, a popular bar among Australians, for a few drinks before calling it a night.
The club had been empty when they arrived but had quickly filled with other tourists looking to have a good night. The bomb went off just after 11:05pm.
Phil had been on the way to the bathroom when he heard a loud bang followed by a “God-almighty flash,” which ripped through the club knocking him out. After he came to he was overwhelmed by pain, his body a “mix of alcohol, adrenaline, shock and fear”.
Realising he needed to get out Phil stumbled towards the only clear exit still free of fire but came against a three-metre concrete wall. After two failed attempts to climb over it Phil finally dragged his battered body up and over, and started navigating his way over the neighbouring building’s roof.
It was this image of a young man sitting on the edge of a roof shirtless, bloody, exhausted and still slightly drunk that was captured on camera. The photograph would later make the rounds throughout Australia in a national magazine.
“Initially when I first saw that photo, it brought back such strong memories that I had flashbacks before passing out. I was still in intensive care in Adelaide hospital and the images and pain in my head that went alongside the wall photo were still too raw to deal with.
“That photo makes me remember how far I’ve come and marks a significant defining point in my life; drawing a line between my past, which was ‘before Bali’ and my future, which is everything I’ve done and still have yet to do since Bali happened.”
Phil may have escaped Bali alive but not without cost. He was burnt to 40 per cent of his body.
What followed the nightmarish events of 12 October were months of skin grafts, operations and blood transfusions.
“For the first three years I really struggled to deal with what had happened. The memories would often consume me during the day and even at night I couldn’t escape as they manifested into nightmares.
“I’d dream that my house was burning down or that I was in the middle of a warzone and would often wake drenched with night sweats. I found it very difficult to cope. As time went on, the memories slowly began to fade and I developed coping mechanisms.
While people still stare at his disfigured skin Phil has been able to heal, both physically and mentally, by sharing his story.
“I am a Bali bomb survivor and nothing will ever change that. I wear the marks of the Bali bomb on my skin and once I started to accept it as a part of me that’s when I really started to move forwards in life.”
Phil returned to Bali less than a year later for the trial of Amrozi or as he was dubbed by the media, the “smiling assassin”. Suspected and later found guilty of being actively involved in the planning and attack of the Bali blasts, Amrozi along with two others were killed by a firing squad in November 2008, six years after the attack.
“I was so full of hate and anger, I thought that when I got there I’d want to jump over the fence, scream abuse at him and knock him out but I was surprised when I actually came face to face with him.
“I only had feelings of emptiness towards him and realised that by my even being there, I was wasting my time, energy and life on negative thoughts worrying about things I couldn’t change.
“I decided instead to walk out and it was a pivotal moment for me because I realised that I should focus on the things I could change, such as my own thoughts and beliefs as well as the type of person I wanted to be and the life I wanted to have.”
Phil is now the co-owner of the WA Institute of Martial Arts (WAIMA) and Predator Muay Thai, as well as a happily married family man. While he experienced intense ups and downs in the aftermath of the Bali bombing, he says you just have to navigate life’s curveballs in the best way that you can.
“Do I wish the Bali bombing had never happened? Absolutely. Do I wish that I hadn’t lost my mates and get burnt? Of course, but I can’t change any of that, all I can change is the way I live my life from this day to the next.
“Bali has taught me to always take opportunities when they come, to always live life to the full and love all those around you as you never know what life may have just around the corner.
“My motto is to live, love and inspire. If I can do this then I’ve achieved something real and positive in this life.”
Undefeated by Phil Britten, Rebecca Britten and Malcolm Quekett is published by UWA Publishing, $24.95.
Pic: (top) Phil stands at the Bombing Monument in Bali. Picture: Lee Griffith.
Pic: (from left) The Britten family with Benjamin, Phil, Rebecca and Riley. Picture: Lincoln Baker.
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