On October 12, 2002, a terrorist attack transformed Bali from a tourist playground into a killing ground.
Two hundred and two people were killed when bombs ripped through two of Kuta Beach’s busiest nightclubs – Paddy’s Bar and the Sari Club. Among the victims were 88 Australians, 32 Indonesians, 24 British citizens and three New Zealanders. Many others were seriously injured.
Twenty years on, the tragedy – and its aftermath – are revisited in a four-part drama, Bali 2002, with a stellar cast led by award-winning Australian actors Richard Roxburgh (Rake) and Rachel Griffiths (Total Control), Bridgerton’s Claudia Jessie and Sean Keenan (Power Of The Dog).
“Perhaps some of the initial rawness has dissipated,” says Roxburgh, who plays Graham Ashton, the vice-commander of the Australian Federal Police who partnered with Indonesian authorities to find the terrorists. “It’s certainly not to say that the grief and pain have disappeared because that will obviously always be there for the people who were impacted.
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“But I think in the fullness and richness of time, you can look back at even a terrible event and see how there were extraordinary things to come from it.
“I hope that the series will show that terrorism – the attempt to terrify and to make people submit to your will and to instil fear – always backfires. In the long run, such events bring out the very best in humankind and so it’s built to fail.
“I wish that was a lesson that would be learned over time, but as evidenced in the Ukraine currently, we human beings are very slow learners.”
The series – a collaboration between Australian and Indonesian creatives – was developed in consultation with those directly affected by the tragedy, including survivors who shared their stories with the producers, writers, director and actors.
“The responsibility when you’re dealing with a traumatic event on this scale is enormous,” executive producer Tim Pye says.
“It was so important to reach out to the real people whose stories we are telling and all of them were so generous in giving us details about what they experienced, how they lived through it, how they came out the other side.”
After a lot of research and interviews with survivors, families of victims, the investigators and the medical teams, Pye and the writing team decided to focus on a group of real-life stories that, when woven together, were representative of the experiences of those affected by the attacks.
They include British survivor Polly Miller, who went on to establish a burns charity, Australian footballer and survivor Jason McCartney, who triumphantly returned to the field, and Australian Nicole McLean, who was dragged out of the wreckage of Paddy’s Bar, critically injured, by her best friend Natalie Goold.
Others include Balinese mother of two Ni-Luh Erniati, whose husband died in the blasts, and the brilliant British Australian plastic surgeon and burns specialist Fiona Wood (played by Griffiths), who treated survivors flown back to Perth in the aftermath of the tragedy with her ground-breaking spray-on skin technology.
The lead actors had the opportunity to speak to the people they were portraying and some of those survivors chose to visit the set to watch filming and meet the cast and crew.
“It was great to get his energy and to feel that, in a very personal way, I had his approval to tell his story,” says Sean Keenan, of meeting footballer Jason McCartney. “It also gave me a deep connection to who he is and a respect for his attitude.”
British actor Claudia Jessie, who plays Polly Miller, also believes that in understanding tragedy and its aftermath, we come to have a deeper respect for humanity.
“There are so many points in history that have been unthinkable demonstrations of what human beings are capable of and it feels important to show that human beings are capable of awful, very upsetting things,” she says.
“I think Bali 2002 also shows that, ultimately, love, strength, hope and resilience are the other side of this coin.
“Bali 2002 shows the beautiful side of what human beings are capable of… and that we can choose love.
“While we continue every day to see really sad examples of negative human behaviour, I love that the series focuses on the beauty and the strength and the love that can come after something so unthinkable.”
Bali 2002, TVNZ 1, Sunday January 22.