In theory, you wouldn’t expect Andrew Csabi to want to return to the exact spot where he lost his leg and foot when a 1000-kilogram car bomb tore through the Sari nightclub in Bali. But he arrived back this week with family and friends for Thursday’s 15th anniversary of the attack.
The father-of-one believes in staring down the haunting memories with admirable strength and fortitude. Not fear.
The bombing marks the moment Mr Csabi’s body was shattered forever in a tragedy which killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.
The atrocity saw the Gold Coast security-business owner hover precariously between life and death in a Darwin hospital for weeks afterwards.
“I even had my last rites when they thought I wasn’t going to make it, but I can’t imagine being anywhere else for this anniversary,” he told The New Daily from his Bali hotel where he is staying with his new partner Caroline Yeo.
“I was out shopping yesterday here and a lady saw my leg and said ‘were you in the Bali bombings?’ and she just hugged me. It’s very uplifting.”
This annual pilgrimage back to Kuta has in fact become a common way survivors and bereaved families join together each year to reunite. To tell stories. To just be together in friendships forged by overcoming disaster and grief with hope.
They leave flags, flowers and tears at the marble memorial, at the site of the original Paddy’s Pub which was also bombed, carved with every single name of those who lost their lives.
Mr Csabi, 51, is also set to attend the Bali wedding on Sunday of Tony McKay, an off-duty soldier from Brisbane who pulled him from the rubble despite being injured himself.
“We met again on the first anniversary and I told him he saved my life and we’ve been friends ever since,” he said.
He has also been joined in Bali by his close friend Glen Cosman, a Gold Coast real estate agent, who was injured with shrapnel and will never forget the horrific scenes of carnage and death in the aftermath of the attacks.
Mr Cosman, a father-of-three, told The New Daily the experience has taught him to “live every moment to the full”. It’s a common philosophy found among those interviewed for this report.
“Something like this, where you very nearly lose your life, teaches you to cherish every tiny thing in your life,” Mr Cosman said.
“Especially the small things like having a drink with a friend or celebrating a family birthday. It’s those things which count and matter. It makes you stop sweating about the small stuff.”
The friends both expressed how for survivors there is a choice that has to be made.
“You have a choice either to dwell on it and sink or try to move on and make the most of the life you very nearly lost.”
Another anniversary, but time to move on
For Pam Bolwerk, 76, from Greenfields, Western Australia, who lost her 27-year-old son Matt in the bombings, she never wishes to visit Bali again and has chosen not to mark the anniversary in a significant way.
Her son had been due to marry his fiancé five days after he was killed.
Mrs Bolwerk had already lost her other son to suicide and not long after the bombing lost her husband to cancer.
“There are so many anniversaries in my life it gets draining.”
“But I feel lucky to have a wonderful support network of family and friends and my daughter lives nearby.
“I did go to Bali on the first anniversary with my daughter and haven’t been back since.”
Asked how she felt when the bombers were executed in November 2008, Mrs Bolwerk said at first when she was told the news she was angry they had never said sorry.
“But on the night after they were executed I had a vivid dream where I was holding Matt’s picture in my hand and one of the bombers was smiling and saying sorry.
“When I woke up I felt like a weight had been lifted from me and it helped me move on.”
What doesn’t help those touched by the Bali bombings is the other incidents of mass murder around the world in the years since.
“When I hear about incidents like the Las Vegas shooting, I just feel so sorry for those who will be going through the terrible grief like I went through,” Mrs Bolwerk said.
Despite the comfort many survivors and families find from returning to Bali for the anniversary each year it’s not always easy.
“I was very emotional last night at a big dinner with around 18 family and friends here,” Mr Csabi said.
“I’m a positive person and out of respect for those that didn’t make it I make sure I live my life to the full.
“But the memories will last a lifetime and I’m not ashamed to have a good cry when I need to.”