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Four Australian Federal Police officers, two in uniform, confer in the street. Behind them are the burnt-out remains of vehicles and a wrecked building
Members of the Australian Federal Police outside the ruins of the Sari Club, Bali, 2002

At about 11pm on 12 October 2002 three bombs were detonated on the Indonesian island of Bali, two in busy Kuta Beach nightspots and one in front of the American consulate in nearby Denpasar.

Shattering Australia’s sense of distance from the global reach of terrorism, the explosions killed 202 people including 88 Australians.

Carried out by Jemaah Islamiyah, a South-East Asian jihadist organisation with links to al-Qaeda, the attacks are the single largest loss of Australian life due to an act of terror.

Prime Minister John Howard in Bali, 17 October 2002:

So as we grapple inadequately and in despair to try to comprehend what has happened, let us gather ourselves around each other, let us wrap our arms around not only our fellow Australians but our arms around the people of Indonesia, of Bali, let us wrap our arms around the people of other nations and the friends and relatives of the nationals of other countries who have died in this horrible event.

Australia has been affected very deeply, but the Australian spirit has not been broken. The Australian spirit will remain strong and free and open and tolerant.

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Coogee Dolphins commemorative jersey, 2003

Australians in Bali

Many Australian surfers began visiting Bali in the 1970s and it quickly became a popular holiday destination. By 2002, around 20,000 Australians – families, sporting clubs and other holidaymakers – visited Bali every month.

The attackers targeted a busy tourist strip on a Saturday night. The first explosion at Kuta was caused by a suicide bomber in Paddy’s bar and the second by a bomb in a van parked outside the Sari Club.

The victims were citizens of more than 20 countries, with Australia suffering the largest loss of life. Thirty-nine Indonesians, including many who worked in the tourism industry, also died. Hundreds more people were wounded.

Journalist Alan Atkinson, reporting live to the ABC Sydney news desk, 13 October 2002:

I’m standing outside Paddy’s or what’s left of it in the normally bustling Legian street in the middle of Kuta. Where the footpaths would normally be jam-packed with shoppers and Balinese offering taxi rides, there’s debris, glass and bodies.

I’ve counted 50 bodies covered in white sheets lined up on the footpath as rescue workers toil through the ruins of the two nightspots. They’re still bringing bodies out. Both clubs, on opposite sides of the street, were packed at around 11 o’clock last night when the bombs went off.

The force of the blasts was so great that for about a kilometre around the scene, plate glass windows of shops and big stores were shattered. And the normally smiling Balinese, who would usually be offering to sell you their goods, are standing outside their shops or watching the rescue effort in stunned disbelief.

Australian Government response

Australia’s response was led by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s consular and crisis management service and involved organisations including the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Defence Force and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.

A complex aero-medical rescue operation to begin evacuating the injured to Australian hospitals was carried out by the Australian Defence Force.

Within hours, the Australian Federal Police mobilised Operation Alliance and staff working in disaster victim identification, forensic investigation, intelligence, administration, security, IT and communications began assisting the Indonesian National Police investigation.

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‘Bali cry’ T-shirt, 2003

Everyday heroes

Out of the destruction came many stories of ordinary people making extraordinary efforts to help those affected. People who were injured in the blasts stayed to assist others and locals and foreigners went to the bomb sites to help.

Tourists with medical skills worked with Indonesian medical staff on the streets and at local hospitals. Australian and Indonesian consular and medical staff made extraordinary efforts to trace and assist those involved.

In 2003 almost 200 Australians received special honours for their bravery or assistance following the bombings.


In our collection

October 2002 12th SatRectangular off-white cardboard poster with a colour illustration of wattle blossums stuck onto it. "OCTOBER 2002 12TH Sat" is across the bottom of the illustration. In the top proper right corner and down the proper right side next to the illustration is "My Heart / is hurting. / I Feel Devasted [sic] / I PRAY for all / WHO are...


Alan Atkinson, Three Weeks in Bali: A Personal Account of the Bali Bombing, ABC Books, Sydney, 2002.

Phil Britten, Rebecca Britten and Malcom Quekett, Undefeated: The Story of Bali Bombing Survivor Phil Britten, University of Western Australia Publishing, 2012.

Ian Kemish, The Consul, University of Queensland Press, 2022.

Patrick Lindsay, Back from the Dead: Peter Hughes’ Story of Hope and Survival after Bali, Random House Australia, Milsons Point, 2003.

Nicole McLean, Stronger Now: How an Ordinary Australian Girl Survived the Bali Bombings, Pan Macmillan Australia, 2012.

Updated: 9 October 2023
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