Australia shows united front with tears and flowers

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Moderation was the watchword as Australia expressed its grief for the victims of the Bali bombing in a national day of mourning yesterday.

Moderation was the watchword as Australia expressed its grief for the victims of the Bali bombing in a national day of mourning yesterday.

As tens of thousands of people gathered in churches, parks and stadiums, there were no bombastic expressions of patriotism, no talk of "good versus evil", no demands for revenge.

In Sydney, more than 10,000 attended a televised memorial in the Domain parkland. Not long after the programme of music, readings and photo montages began,normally stoical Australians were crying.

"Terrorism did not paralyse us, but brought out the best in us," said the event's host, Geraldine Doogue. She spoke of the generosity of volunteers who rushed to Bali after the bombing on 12 October and the air force pilots and government workers who helped to take wounded Australians home. Marie Bashir, the Governor of New South Wales, described the Sari Club at Kuta as "loud, a little tacky, and so very, very Australian".

When relatives and friends of the dead were invited to drop orchid flowers into a Balinese peace pond, a queue of other mourners spontaneously formed behind them. This was a ceremony of which everyone wanted to be a part.

It has been an exceptionally tough week for Australia, with more than 100 killed and dozens more left injured or disfigured by the Bali bombing.

But yesterday's ceremony was a remarkable show of unity between the government and opposition; between religions and even Australia's notoriously antagonistic press barons. The memorial was organised by The Sydney Morning Herald, but soon became an all-media event thanks to the participation of its Rupert Murdoch-owned rivals.

Such solidarity is virtually unheard of. But this was different. Even Australia's starchy Prime Minister, John Howard, looked reassuringly human as he beamed a message to his countrymen from Canberra, describing his abhorrence of the bombing.

After he finished speaking, a minute's silence was held at noon and Sydney came to a standstill. So did Coogee Beach, a few miles away, where friends of the Dolphins rugby team gathered to remember their six dead or missing comrades. So, too, did the small country town of Forbes, across the Blue Mountains, which sent 24 rugby players to Bali and lost three.

Only three bodies have come back to Australia, and the police investigation has barely begun.

There are questions about regional stability, the efficiency of the Australian security services and Australia's support of the United States in its proposed military action against Iraq. But none of that was on yesterday's agenda. For one day at least, the country achieved a kind of peace.