IT’S perfectly still at the Forbes Aerodrome, but for the flies.
Nanjing Night Net

Lauren Munro’s black-and-yellow single-engine 1986 Polish Dromader emits a thick puff of white smoke before whirring off the runway and towards the sun. ”Flying is the ultimate freedom to escape the world,” the crop-duster says.

A decade after the Bali bombings, he still needs to escape. Flying has been his therapy as well as

his livelihood.

In 2002, two explosions tore through Bali’s nightclubs. Four thousand kilometres away , the central west NSW town of Forbes was shaken to its core.

Three of its sons, away on an end-of-season rugby trip, were killed. Twenty-one more were at the centre of the blast.

The team from the Forbes Platypi had planned the trip for weeks. ”I was a supporter, a sideline beer drinker,” Munro says.

The week leading up to the bombings, the group had an anticipatory drinking session at the bowlo on Thursday. They continued partying on the Friday bus to Sydney and flight to Denpasar. By midday Saturday they were at the hotel pool for a few more beers. ”It was just a good fun feeling,” Munro, 45, recalls.

When 11 o’clock ticked over at the Sari Club, five minutes before the first bomb detonated, Munro was drunk and weary.

”I can remember the noise – the force that come with it. That was like stepping in front of a truck.”

He was knocked off his feet. Knocked clean out of his thongs.

”I remember coming to and there were limbs on top of you and debris. Darkness. The noise of the roof and palm fronds starting to burn. Crackling.”

He stood and felt something squishy underfoot. Under the rubble was a woman. He hoisted her over his shoulder. ”I thought she was probably dead, but … ” His voice cracks and he tells the full story for the first time. ”I couldn’t leave her to be burnt.”

Blood soaking into his white rugby jersey, Munro carried the woman through charred corridors and to the club’s back wall.

People crowded, pulling each other down as they tried to scramble over the wall to escape. Someone told him to leave the woman behind.

Munro could think only of her parents and her burial. He couldn’t explain why or even get the words past his throat.

He reached above the crowd and passed her over the other side. No, he never found out who she was. For the next hour, he hoisted people over that back wall. Then, after scrambling over himself, he re-entered the nightclub through the front.

Power lines were sparking. Clumps of burning material were falling from the roof. The blast had perforated his ear drums.

”It was sort of eerie, you know. You could just hear that crackling noise of the fire. Like a bushfire.”

Munro cleared away upturned chairs and tables and rubble and timber and pulled people out. Some were dead. Some were dying. What became of them, he does not know.

For how long he did this, he can’t quite say: ”Time stood still, I just knew we had to do something.”

At the hotel, the rugby group came back in slowly and in stages. The talk was of a gas canister explosion. There was no sleep as they waited for their teammates to return. Greg ”Sando” Sanderson, Paul ”Crowie” Cronin and Brad ”Rids” Ridley never did.

”The hardest thing I had to do was at 3, 4, 5, I dunno, in the morning and tell Sando’s mum that we couldn’t find him.”

The town of Forbes is close.

Munro’s father started the family crop-dusting business 40 years ago.

Some of the neighbouring wheat and canola farmers, who have been with them since the start, order paddocks dusted every year whether the grubs come in or not, just to keep business ticking over.

In a town of 9000 almost everyone knows someone who was in Bali. A decade on, locals say some have gone a bit crazy and some have just got on with it. Munro typifies the latter.

”To talk about it, that was the best way to deal with it,” he says.

But telling the story is still wrenching.

For his heroism, Lauren Munro was awarded the Star of Courage, Australia’s second highest bravery honour, in 2003.

He feels ambivalent about being decorated for his actions on the night Crowey, Sando and Rids died.

”I dunno whether they look down on us or anything like that,” he says.

His daughter, Imogen, was born a few months after Bali. Mentioning her name in the shadow of these recollections fractures his composure.

Imogen knows a little bit about Bali. ”She asked me one time about my medal that I got,” he says.

”I read it out to her. And, um, yeah, she just wrapped her arms round me, gave me a big hug and, just, she was just so proud.”

For months after that night at the Sari Club, he couldn’t stand to drive through tunnels and had only medicated sleep.

He came back to a month of memorials – and a welcome but ceaseless outpouring of support, counselling and visitors.

Flying was the only pause.

”You can’t take any troubles up in the air with you. If you do, your mind starts to wander.”

It was only a week after Bali

that he strapped himself into his plane again.

Of the thousands of flights he’s done in the past 20 years, he recalls this one vividly. ”I remember after I done the job, just sitting there on the step and mulling it over,” he says. ”I sat out there in the quiet for a while.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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