Return to the scene of an enduring nightmare

Tragic remembrance: Michael Curtis and his wife Stacey return to the bombing scene that left such deep scars.
Tragic remembrance: Michael Curtis and his wife Stacey return to the bombing scene that left such deep scars.

''HOPEFULLY this will fix you,'' says Stacey Curtis, her worried, loving eyes fixed on those of her husband Michael.

Michael Curtis describes himself, ruefully, as a ''man's man''. As he stood in the blazing Bali sun yesterday at the memorial for the 2002 bombing, and then across the road in the car park that is the site of the former Sari Club, his eyes welled with tears that he would not let fall.

He is here for the 10th anniversary of the bombings that killed his mates Bob Marshall and Joshua Deegan, stalwarts of his old footy club, Sturt, in Adelaide.

It's his first time back in Bali since the attack, and this is his first interview with a reporter. He has barely spoken to a counsellor, saying: ''I tried, but I was a bit of a man's man. I thought it was a bit weak.''

But inside his head, every night, what happened to him plays like a movie he cannot escape. Curtis was in the middle bar of the Sari Club when the bomb blew the place apart ''like a big rush'', collapsing the roof on him and pinning his leg to the floor.

''I couldn't move. People were jumping all over me to get out. I don't blame them, I'd have done the same,'' he says.

''Then it was silence. All the people must have left … And all of a sudden it got hot - really hot, and I thought, 'F---, if I don't move my leg I'm going to burn.'

''I yanked my leg, three or four times. It didn't come. Then I suppose I just yanked harder, five, six times. I dislocated a few bones.''

But what sticks with him, in his vivid nightmares, is what happened next. ''I was walking over dead bodies. You could hear them scream as you stepped over them. They're burned to a crisp and they're still alive.

''I had to. I stood there and contemplated how to get across it. I couldn't go around it, I couldn't go through it. Then I saw my mate [Jade Sheedy] on the other side. He was just crawling around in the dead bodies. I called him and he didn't hear me. I had to get to him. I revisit it in my head every night. You have moments every day.''

Ten years later, people in Australia don't want to hear his story any more. ''I'm just waiting for someone to say, 'Get over it' … That's a bit hard for me. It's getting harder … I'm at the stage now, virtually, where I hide it away, don't talk.''

Curtis is not sure why he is in Bali. Sheedy, among others, convinced him to come back for the 10th anniversary on Friday. He took Stacey, who he met after the bombing, to the site and stood with her on the spot where he was standing when the bomb hit.

''I was standing there thinking, why did I do this?'' he said.

Perhaps, we decide, it's because in this place, on this anniversary, he can talk about it as much as he wants.

Stacey hopes something might shift in her still traumatised husband as a result of coming back.

He nods: ''I have to sort it out for myself, wrong or right.''

This story Return to the scene of an enduring nightmare first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.