After Bali

A year ago this Sunday, Hanabeth Luke was dancing with the love of her life in a Bali nightclub. Then her world was blown apart by terrorists. But, she tells Kathy Marks, she is determined to rebuild her life
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The Independent Online

Hanabeth Luke's sketchbook is filled with idyllic scenes of sea and surf, some depicting her native Cornwall and others the coastal area of Australia to which her family emigrated in 1996. But one picture, in stark contrast, evokes a Goya-esque vision of hell, showing a building consumed by flames and, in the foreground, a blonde woman fleeing as she looks back in horror.

The building is the Sari Club, the Bali nightspot destroyed by a massive car bomb a year ago this Sunday. The woman is Hanabeth, who escaped from the inferno in which 202 people were killed. Her boyfriend, Marc Gajardo, was one of 26 Britons who perished in the worst terrorist atrocity since 11 September 2001. A young Australian whom she rescued, Tom Singer, also subsequently died.

As bereaved relatives prepare to mark the first anniversary of an attack that targeted Western tourists and left the Indonesian holiday island grief-stricken and scarred, Hanabeth is still exorcising her demons. "I did this one two weeks ago," she says, indicating the picture of the fire. Then she quickly flicks over the page. "Look, here's some more cheerful stuff."

Hanabeth is a remarkable person. At 23, she has witnessed scenes of unimaginable carnage and suffered appalling personal loss. Yet she absolutely refuses to be crushed. She is determined to draw positive lessons from the tragedy, and her love of life is apparently undiminished. "It's what Marc would have wanted," she says, sitting in the kitchen of her laid-back student house in Lennox Head, a seaside town near Byron Bay in northern New South Wales.

But it isn't only her courage and optimism that are striking; it is the way she has channelled her private sorrow into a burning sense of outrage towards the politicians who, rather than asking why the bombing took place, exploited it to bolster their case for the so-called war on terror. Convinced of the futility of military action against Iraq, for example, she confronted Tony Blair in a televised debate in March, telling him she believed it would heighten the terrorist threat. She campaigned in Australia against the war, telling 3,000 demonstrators at a rally in Byron Bay: "I have seen the bomb. I have felt the blast. I have heard the silence and seen the devastation afterwards."

Her own tale of survival is extraordinary enough. She and Marc, a 30-year-old Cornish car mechanic and a talented musician, had stopped off in Bali on their way home to Australia after a holiday in England. On 12 October, a Saturday night, the couple - like hundreds of young tourists - headed for the Sari Club, Bali's most popular disco, in Kuta Beach. Hanabeth was initially reluctant to go out because they planned to go surfing at dawn the next day. Once out, however, she quickly got into the swing. "We were having a ball that night," she says.

When the first, smaller bomb went off in nearby Paddy's Bar, she thought it was a firecracker. Marc had gone out for a breath of fresh air because he didn't like the song that was playing. Then came the second, devastating blast, from a van packed with plastic explosives and dumped outside the Sari. Hanabeth, an environmental science student, felt her feet sucked from under her. She was thrown up into the air and landed on the ground, covered in rubble. "One minute, everything was light-hearted and fun and beautiful. The next, it was horror and disaster and screaming, and the world - my world and many people's worlds - changed in that split second."

The building was plunged into darkness, and Hanabeth saw fires breaking out around her. "There was a surge of people trying to get out any way they could. It was every man and woman for themselves." She struggled to her feet and ran to the back of the club, where she noticed a dangling electrical cable. Kicking off her shoes, she grabbed it and somehow pulled herself over a four-metre wall, then scrambled out through the broken roof, uninjured apart from a few scratches.

As she searched frantically for Marc, she saw 17-year-old Tom lying on the ground, badly burned and bleeding, moaning for help. "I asked him if he could walk and he said, 'No.' I said, 'Well, you'll have to.'" Photographed helping Tom to safety, Hanabeth was hailed as a heroine in the media. Reminded of this, she laughs. "I just did what anyone would have done. There were a lot of heroes that night, and doing a lot more than me, putting their lives in real danger to rescue people from the flames."

The next morning a friend identified Marc's body in the morgue at Sanglah Hospital. He is presumed to have walked directly into the path of the blast. Hanabeth had to break the news to Marc's parents, Ray and Carole, in a telephone call.

She flew to Cornwall for the funeral but had to wait for two months for Marc's body to be returned, because of bureaucracy. Hanabeth has only a hazy memory of that period, which she spent in her home village of St Agnes. "I was in shock," she says. "I surfed a lot and walked on the cliffs. For a long time, I couldn't stand being on my own. When you're used to having someone so close all the time and suddenly they're not there at all... it's very strange."

Tom, who had saved his babysitting money to go to Bali, suffered 65 per cent burns. The news that he had died from a stroke, a month after the bomb, was a low point for Hanabeth. "It was gutting," she says. "Tom had been a ray of hope. I'd lost Marc, but at least I'd managed to save someone's son." She was, and remains, nervous about being in public spaces. "Nowhere's safe. I was petrified of terrorism after the bomb. The first time I went out dancing, someone singed my hair with a cigarette, which didn't help."

Invited to take part in the television debate with Blair (along with 19 other women opposed to the war), she jumped at the chance. "It was a rare opportunity to speak to someone so influential. I'd survived terrorism, I'd experienced the closest thing to war that most people ever will, and I wanted to tell Blair how horrific it was. But his mind was already made up." Since then, Hanabeth has continued to speak out, in interviews and in articles she has written for the Australian press. "We've got to treat the causes of terrorism," she says. "If we gave aid and education to these people, they wouldn't bomb us. I know some of them are religious fanatics, but many join these groups because they see no other option."

In July, Hanabeth decided to resume her studies. She moved into a shared house in Lennox Head, and life has slowly started to return to normal. When I meet her, she is fretting about her car, which has a faulty gearbox, and a late university assignment. An effervescent, engaging woman who erupts into frequent peals of laughter, she bounces around the kitchen making green tea as JJ Cale croons in the background. Marc is a constant presence; there are photographs of him in her bedroom and study. When Hanabeth talks about him, her face lights up.

The couple met in the car park of her local pub in St Agnes three years ago when Hanabeth, already living in Australia, had returned for a summer holiday. He was playing one of her favourite songs - "Lilac Wine" by Jeff Buckley - in his van. She had just come out of the surf and was shivering; he lent her a big jumper. They were soon inseparable; when Hanabeth returned to Australia, Marc went with her and they moved into a beach shack near Byron Bay. "We both loved surfing and music, and we were both quite creative," she says. "We surfed during the day, and in the evening he played the guitar and I sang. It was a simple life. We even had a veggie garden. The whole domestic bliss thing."

While Marc was older, she was perhaps the more worldly of the two. He had barely travelled; she had been brought up as a "free spirit" by itinerant parents who had a wholesale jewellery business. She had been to Bali more than 20 times, accompanying her mother on jewellery-buying trips. She wanted to show Marc the place she loved and knew so well. So they decided to stop off there last October.

Hanabeth pulls out a photograph album and points to the penultimate picture, which shows her and Marc having dinner together the evening before the bomb. They look tanned and blissfully happy. "That was the last night we spent together," she says. "We'd been in the north of the island and we decided to splash out and stay in this fantastic hotel. We had a huge meal, and in the morning we went surfing, and it was perfect, there was no one out there. Our last 24 hours together were idyllic." She flicks through the album. "Look, this is us in Bali, and this, and this..." She reaches the last page. "And then nothing."

I comment on Marc's good looks. "He was gorgeous; gorgeous to look at, gorgeous to be with. You couldn't not like him. He's the only person I've met with more energy than me. He was always on the go, his mind whirring with something exciting to do."

His death has left a gaping hole. "To lose someone in such an instantaneous way defies comprehension," she says. "We were soulmates. He was my friend, my lover, my rock, my family. But I'm lucky, really. I was only 22 when he died, and I've already had experience of true love and friendship. I'm in no hurry to go out and get another boyfriend, but I know that when it happens again, it will be good."

How does she manage to keep going? "If Marc was looking down now, he'd be saying, 'Go for it, girl, take my board and go surfing.' If it was the other way round, I'd want him to make the most of his life. He's not been given a chance to live, but I've got that chance, and I'm going to make the most of it. Because when you come that close to dying, you realise how good it is to be alive."

Hanabeth talks of the "amazing display of human spirit" after the attack, with everyone helping each other regardless of nationality. "We can say the bomb didn't happen in vain, because we can create reasons why it didn't," she says. "Because we've learnt from it or come together. Then it's not such a hollow feeling." But she concedes that some people truggle to see a positive side. "It's harder if you weren't actually there. We dealt with it as it happened and can put it into some sort of focus. But if you lost a loved one and have no way of knowing what they went through, that really messes you up. I'm glad I was there, because I know I couldn't have saved Marc."

Marc's parents, who live near Truro, have been a source of strength. He was close to them, and used to play guitar duets with his father in pubs. Ray Gajardo says: "Marc would sing in harmony to my vocals or play guitar to my voice. We blended together beautifully. I miss him every waking moment. Just when you think things are getting better, something throws you off balance. I come across his tools in the garage, or his surfboard in the outhouse, and I break down again."

This weekend, with scores of other relatives, Hanabeth will travel to Bali to mark the anniversary. "I want to pay my respects to the Balinese, and replace the nightmarish memories with some nice ones. The anniversary will be difficult, but I intend to celebrate it too. You either laugh louder, or you lay down and die. They've taken such a lot from me. They're not taking my happiness."