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Wednesday, 15 October 2003
Page: 21578


Mr GIBBONS (11:01 AM) —I rise to honour those who were lost as the result of the horrific bombing in Bali just over a year ago. Most Australians still cannot understand what motivated this brutal, cowardly and senseless act of violence against innocent people. Most Australians still cannot understand the evil behind those who were responsible for these acts of violence. Bendigo still cannot understand why two young women, Kirsten Curnow and Angela Gray, who were in the Sari Club that evening, are not at home with their families. They were the innocent victims of this tragic and violent act of mass murder.

Kirsten's father, Geoff Curnow, said at the time that the family found it difficult to accept how a vacation, which was planned to be the happiest time in his daughter's life, had ended in such horror. He said:

We feel heartbroken and devastated to think that she could go on a holiday with the intention of having so much fun, but then be involved in this devastation. She was a fun-loving person. She likes to be where the fun is and that's what she went to Bali for. From Sunday we have had a feeling of loss; not always feeling that they would be returned safely, and it gets harder to stay positive. While it is not certain there is still hope, we live with hope.

Kirsten's mother, Merna Curnow, thanked the family and friends who had lent their support to her family over that week. She said that such influences have helped her family to reflect on the positive influence Kirsten had on those around her. Merna Kernot said:

She is a special, fun-loving person who has touched many lives. What I have become increasingly aware of since Sunday is the impact, and the special nature of that impact, that she has made in so many people's lives.

Angela Gray's family has expressed similar feelings, which can be understood only by those who have lost loved ones under these types of circumstances. I take this opportunity to say to Kirsten and Angela's family and friends that our thoughts are still with you on the sad anniversary of this horrendous event.

I would also like to take this opportunity to speak of and thank the hundreds of Australians who participated and helped in the aftermath of this strategy. In particular, I wish to express our appreciation of all of the personnel at RAAF Base Richmond in New South Wales. It was this and other facilities that fitted out and prepared the aircraft for the evacuation of those so badly injured in Bali. I had the honour recently, under the Australian defence parliamentary program, of spending a week at the Richmond base and saw first-hand the commitment and dedication by the people there. In fact, they were able to have those aircraft in the air in just short of six hours. I understand that is just half the time it normally takes to prepare a medical evacuation of that nature, and they did so in record time under the worst circumstances that one could imagine.

I would like to read two accounts from an RAAF newsletter—one by a medic, who was part of that evacuation, and one by one of the doctors. I am referring to an article by Simone Liebelt, which features Leading Aircraftwoman Christina Matthewson.

Having just completed the aeromedical evacuation (AME) course only days before the Bali bombings, Leading Aircraftwoman Christina Matthewson never expected to be applying her new skills in one of the biggest AMEs ever conducted by the Air Force.

“I was very nervous,” she recalled. “I didn't really know what to expect. I never thought we'd have a major casualty situation, so to be pushed straight into it, I learnt very quickly. There were a lot of things I never expected to see.”

Tasked with the important job of managing medical equipment, restocking pharmaceutical supplies and coordinating ambulances for patient transfers in Darwin, LACW Matthewson helped unload injured victims from the Bali flights, providing comfort and support while recording their names and details.

“You couldn't show any emotion to let them know that it was affecting you so you just smiled and said `you're safe now' and they thanked you. I was shocked that no one was screaming, they all seemed so calm and just glad to be home and safe.”

On the humanitarian trip into Bali several days after the blast, LACW Matthewson formed a special connection with an injured Balinese patient she treated on the flight. While checking her pulse, the friendly woman grabbed hold of her hand and wouldn't let go. “I spent the whole trip just holding her hand and wetting her face. She was such a brave woman and kept smiling but I knew she was scared,” LACW Matthewson said. “After we took her to Perth I found out she was recovering well and that was a really big deal to me, I needed to have closure.”

Returning home, the young medical assistant was suddenly struck with the reality of what she had just experienced. Unable to watch news reports on the disaster, she collected newspaper clippings, but couldn't look at them for several months.

“It was a horrible thing to happen but I feel proud that I was part of the team that was able to help save so many lives. The experience made me realise how lucky we have it here and how amazing the Australian spirit is and I now get a real sense of pride in seeing how people have coped and healed after the event.”

That is just one account of the very brave Australian defence personnel who assisted in this tragedy. I would also like to reiterate thanks to all of the people from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Australian Federal Police, and all of those that were involved in the aftermath of that tragedy. If there is one thing that came out of it, it is that we can be very proud of the people that work in those areas who did such a superb job under those appalling circumstances. I would also like to reiterate and put on the record my appreciation for the swift and appropriate way the Commonwealth government handled the situation.