The Bali bombing commemorations were so desperately sad that I decided to seek out tales of inspiration to balance all the anguish. I didn’t have to look far.
They were all around me, hundreds of them – 88 extended Australian families, all full of heroes.
They are heroes because they had to be.
There is no choice.
Just trying to cope with the losses forced on them makes them so.
I spoke to many of them in Bali in the days leading up to last Friday’s 10th anniversary memorial service.
Some I met at the memorial opposite the old Sari Club in Kuta, others at the morgue in Denpasar’s Sanglah hospital, which had to cope with such chaotic scenes in 2002.
You may think it macabre to go back to such a place, but like me they were drawn to it.
I covered the bombings, and saw some things at the morgue that I never wanted to see and are still difficult to process.
My search for physically brave heroes took me back to a chat I once had with a bloke called Tim Britten, who received Australia’s highest peacetime award.
The Cross of Valour (CV) isn’t handed out lightly.
It’s the civilian equivalent of a VC, outranking all Order of Australia honours.
Britten, then 34, a West Australian policeman, was holidaying in Bali in 2002, taking a break from his duties as a UN peacekeeper in East Timor.
He was walking along a Kuta street when the blasts went off in the two Kuta nightclubs.
He rushed straight to the scene of the terror bombings, fully aware of the dangers he faced.
He and Tasmanian Richard Joyes, who also received a CV, formed an impromptu rescue partnership.
Though wearing only shorts, T-shirts and thongs, they fought flames, intense heat and exploding gas cylinders as they repeatedly entered the Sari Club to pull victims from the wreckage and carry them clear for treatment.
Senior Constable Britten, who suffered burns to his arms, told me how he was inspired by the World War I Diggers at Gallipoli who sought out their mates in the trenches before an attack so they could go ‘‘over the top’’ together.
His words still ring in my head:
‘‘Australians are not going to leave their mates behind. It’s as simple as that,’’ he said.
‘‘In my opinion the true bravery is seeing people sitting down with horrific injuries who were saying, ‘Don’t take me, take my mate’.
‘‘People who were injured themselves were lifting other people onto trucks to go to hospital.
‘‘It’s the most true Australian form I reckon you’ll get.
‘‘If it was me who was lying there and I thought I was going to die, I’d like to know there were guys who were going to try their hardest to get me out.’’
Tim Britten did not want the word hero anywhere near his name.
Would he do it all again?
‘‘I’d like to think so, but geez, I just hope God doesn’t try and test me again.’’
Those words, that attitude, fill me with hope and inspiration.
My guess is there are many so-called ordinary Australians out there much like Tim Britten.
I don’t want another terrorist attack to bring them to light. It’s a comfort just believing – knowing – they are out there.