Tragic Tale Hits Home
Gold Coast Bulletin 21Jan06 by Tony Wilson

IT'S 3.20am on Friday and sleep won't come. The rain is relentless and so are the thoughts going through my head.

Some are selfish. I think of the people laughing behind my back at how this tough, old police reporter has been sucked in by the Corbys.

Saying things like: "Look at what happened to the brother, he's in deep s... now." And there's more in that vein.

So many are supposedly wise now, but at the time of the verdict in May last year the polls nationally had an amazing 91 per cent support for our Tugun girl. Bloody fair-weather supporters.

I think of how I have involved my wonderful, caring wife Elaine in all this. She has now met Schapelle in Kerobokan jail and I know she is hurting now as well.

But she believes like I do.

Then I stop the crap about ourselves and think of that little girl, yes I know she is 28, but to me she seems like a vulnerable girl in that vermin-infested hell hole.

I try and think of how she must have felt when they told her on what must have been an unbearable Friday morning ... and then to be told of what has happened to James.

I think of Ros, who for all her ranting and raving and lack of education, is simply a mother who cares deeply for her kids.

The news about James knocked her off her feet, but to think of 20 years for Schapelle, it will gut her.

I wish I could be in Bali now to give her a hug.

I think of the incredible Mercedes, this amazingly loyal sister who has been there for Schapelle every single step of this nightmare.

This is an amazing woman, so strong and selfless without even realising the enormity of what she has done so far. She will stay and not leave Bali without her sister you can put the house on that.

Then there is Schapelle's dad Michael, dying of cancer bit by bit, but there in Bali for Schapelle every day. Much maligned, but not a bad, knockabout sort of a bloke who is still struggling to understand how all this has happened to his girl.

And Schapelle ... well, I'm still convinced she is innocent. I have looked deep into those magnificent eyes, I reckon I can see into her soul and she just can't be that good an actress.

She didn't do it, they were not her drugs and she should not be there at all, let alone for years.

This is not over by a long way. I don't know where or what the family will do next, but the fight will go on. It must go on.

Last year, I lost my father, who had always been my hero and my mate, and the pain of that loss was a new and terrible experience.

But it is one I had been expecting and at 87 years of age and only a shadow of the man I had known and loved, it was the right time for Dad to go.

The pain I'm feeling now is greater, even though I'm not family and have only known the Corby clan for just less than 16 months.

This pain is born from the knowledge that not only is it wrong for Schapelle to be facing 20 years which is as good as a death sentence there, but it is how that came about.

From about two hours after her arrest on October 8, 2004, every conceivable thing that could go wrong with her case did go wrong and in a big way. Almost all of it was out of her control and there are even parts of it that she may not even know.

Very few people have a grasp of the full picture relating to what has happened to Schapelle Corby since her arrest. The time is approaching for the whole story to be told and it will shock all Australians.

As I sit here in the darkness, I can only remember one other case in my time that has evoked such emotion in Australia, and that was the Lindy Chamberlain case.

I was a young journo at the Melbourne Sun News Pictorial in the early '80s and worked on the case, especially at the first inquest. I thought at the time that she was guilty, and I was proved wrong. Hope I'm not wrong again no, I'm sure I'm right this time.

I also reflect on my career where I have covered countless road traumas, dozens of murders, myriad drug busts and so on.

Many were huge stories, many have involved some seriously bad criminals and I've come face to face with some of them as well.

No matter what anyone says, all of that affects you as both a journalist and a person you become harder and more cynical, to the point where you rarely believe anyone is innocent anymore.

This is where the Schapelle Corby story has crept up on me and whacked me in the back of the head when I least expected it.

It started out like any other story I went to interview her father, Mick, two days after her arrest in Bali, then left thinking it was going to be a great story that will run and run.

That was a typical crime journo response and was I right about that.

I've written more than 130 stories about Schapelle and her family which is quite amazing. Rarely in any journo's career would any one of us write so many stories about one subject.

So at that stage she was a great yarn and not a real person to me. I did think it was possible she was telling the truth, but I didn't dwell on that side of it at first.

Then I began to meet and spend time with her family and I started to get a picture of Schapelle as a friendly but fiesty surfie chick who had many loyal friends all convinced of her innocence.

I vividly remember sitting in a garden setting outside The Bulletin office late in 2004 with Ros as we went through pictures she had taken of Schapelle and the conditions in Kerobokan jail.

They were the first published anywhere in Australia and I got big wraps from my editors for that. Normally that would be enough a job well done and an exclusive.

But I was more concerned about the conditions Schapelle was incarcerated in and I can remember discussing her plight with Elaine at home that night. I was actually uneasy about how it felt because it was unusual for me to think far beyond the story itself.

By this time I was speaking to the family virtually on a daily basis as well as her Bali lawyers and I was becoming more and more involved. I also found myself defending her in the office and in public, which was completely alien for me.

The only time I would normally get that passionate was if someone bagged the Melbourne Demons AFL side I have followed since birth.

Yeah, I know I'm not good at being with winning teams, because the Dees haven't won a premiership since 1964.

But now I realise that is only footy a game and not life or death.

Schapelle has done that to me. Things I took more seriously a year or so ago, just don't seem so important to me anymore.

I hear people moaning about how tough and hard this and that is and I think of her in that prison, and I feel like saying to them 'you think you've got problems'. But I kept it to myself.

Finally, late in May last year, only days before that terrible verdict on May 27, it dawned on me how involved I was.

It was a bit of a shock to realise how deeply involved I had become but then I knew it was the right thing because it was how I really felt.

The drawbacks are some sleepless nights like this one and time spent wondering what more can be done to help Schapelle.

We can all play a role now that the legal process has been completed by bombarding our federal MPs with letters, faxes whatever, asking for the Federal Government to work behind the scenes to see our Tugun girl safely home where she can walk along her beloved beach at Hastings Point, enjoy a beer with the Captain and her mates at the Tugun Tavern and get back to some normality that she craves.

The Howard Government has worked really hard to build strong ties with Indonesia and one young Gold Coaster shouldn't affect that relationship.

People power is a wonderful thing and we are closing in on another federal election. Maybe Schapelle Corby could become an election issue.

It's getting light, so the night has gone and another day dawns, but with less hope that yesterday's dawn as far Schapelle is concerned.

PS: If you a see big bloke in a 'Free Schapelle' singlet around the Coast, treat him gently ... he's backing the right team this time.

  • Schapelle Corby Homepage

    International Prisoner Advocates acknowledge
    Journalist' support to Schapelle Corby
    Foreign Prisoner Support Service would like to acknowledge Australian Journalist Tony Wilson of the Gold Coast Bulletin for his consistent, ongoing dedication to Schapelle Corby and her family. Tony Wilson has been relentless in reporting every aspect of the story from the moment this young Australian was arrested in the Denpassar Airport in October 2004. Tony Wilson has shown the type of compassion that few journalists allow themselves to show in these complex cases.
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