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Schapelle Corby Update by Tony Wilson - 12 March 2006

Tony Wilson Photo Copyright F.P.S.S
IT was a real kick in the guts. My wife Elaine and I had been looking forward to seeing Schapelle for the first time since October [2005].

We arrived in Bali on Wednesday, March 1 [2006], wondering how the Tugun woman had handled the dire news in January [2005] that her sentence had been restored to 20 years.

Schapelle's sister, Mercedes, greeted us with the news Schapelle had an eye infection. The infection, known as mata-merah or red-eye, is an Indonesian version of conjunctivitis only it is far more severe than its Australian cousin. It makes the eyes swell until they close, run continually and become extremely sore.

"It is highly contagious and when Schapelle contracted it for the first time in December, my two kids, Dad (Michael) and I all caught it," said Mercedes.

"I was in so much pain I didn't leave the house for a week and it took Schapelle, Dad and I two weeks to get rid of it."

So we went to the Kerobokan prison the next morning (Thursday), hoping Schapelle would be OK. After going through the two prison gates into the visitor area, our hopes were dashed when Samsul, a trustee prisoner, told us Schapelle was too ill to leave her cell.

"Corby has red-eye, she too sick to come out today," he said.

We had presents with us which we were not going to trust to the shifty-eyed prisoner with the reverse baseball cap, but we had also bought fresh sushi, one of Schapelle's favourites, from the Bali Deli on the way to the prison.

So Elaine wrote a note to Schapelle, asking if she could come out for just a few minutes to take the sushi. Samsul agreed to take the note to her for a small fee (5000 rupees, which is about 80c). Schapelle sent back a short note, saying she was too ill to leave her cell and could we return on Monday. We then let Samsul take the food to her, for another fee.

We left upset Schapelle was too ill to visit, but hopeful she would be well enough on Monday to spend time with us. Then we headed to see Michael, who was recovering from a viral infection that had left him weak and off-colour for three weeks. Michael has been living in Bali for eight months now and will stay to help out. He talked about the cancer that was slowly enveloping his system and clearly he wanted to spend as much quality time with his daughters and grandchildren as possible.

"When I first found out about it, one doctor in Queensland said I had six months ... that was more than two years ago and I plan to be here for a while yet," he said.

He has a routine of doing The Jakarta Post crossword each morning after breakfast then visiting Schapelle three or four mornings a week. Mercedes goes to the jail in the afternoons.

Between them and other family members when they visit, they keep Schapelle supplied with fresh fruit and vegetables (her staple diet), other food stuffs plus toiletries and other essentials. Mercedes also does her Dad's and Schapelle's washing. The washing area for women in Kerobokan is a green cesspit of water.

Michael, like all family members, was stunned by the original 20-year sentence being restored and has been depressed at times recently. It needs to be said at this point Schapelle is never likely to serve that many years. The reality is well-behaved prisoners get four months off their sentence on Independence Day each August. Christians, like Schapelle, also get another four months off at Christmas annually.

The balance of 10-or-so years is still daunting, but it is hoped she will not have to serve anything like that. We had arrived near the end of the wet season and the constant rain had dampened the already sombre mood of the Balinese who are struggling to survive because their tourism remains in a critical condition.

Before the second bombing outrage on October 1 last year, the average number of daily tourists had climbed to around the 4000-plus mark, but had dropped to around 2000 and many hotels had occupancy rates of 30 per cent.

We heard few Aussie accents on the streets, whereas before they used to dominate. Most tourists seemed to be Germans, Scandinavians and a smattering of Japanese.

It is hard to see things changing any time soon and what may be the real nail in the coffin for Balinese tourism is bird flu, with Indonesia recording the most deaths of any country this year, albeit most of them in Java.

The wet weather also meant we were able to read a lot and in one newspaper report there was a story of a police chase involving a soldier who was caught with 199kg of marijuana in his van in South Jakarta.

The cannabis had a street value of $A51,000. He made full admissions to police and said he had bought the dope in Aceh for $A45 per kilo. The figures struck a chord. In many reports since October 8, 2004, when Bali Customs officers found 4.1kg of marijuana in Schapelle's unlocked boogie board cover, I had quoted that amount of drugs as being worth $A3000-$4000, while on the current figures it would only have been worth $1025.

That renewed a conversation we had many times last year about why anyone would bring drugs worth about $32,000 in Australia to a country where it is much cheaper. As before, there was no satisfactory conclusion to this discussion.

Our wet week in Bali nearly over, Monday dawned with the heaviest and most menacing cloud cover of any day we had been there. We had taken the orange umbrella thoughtfully provided in our hotel room and left it at the prison's front gate with the guard.

By now the heavens were in full chorus and water was flowing through the prison in a myriad of little rivers, but our friend `Samsul the Shifty' immediately brightened our mood when he said Schapelle was feeling better but would not leave her cell in the deluge.

I returned to the main gate and retrieved the large orange umbrella, then presented it to Samsul with his usual fee to bring Schapelle through the torrential downpour. Elaine and I watched the orange umbrella moving along the path towards the women's section until it disappeared in the gloom. Then minutes later we watched him come back alone.

Our hearts sank when he told us she was still too ill to leave her cell. This time we were prepared and had taken some antibiotic eye drops. Another fee and a note exchanged hands, asking Schapelle for a return note so we knew the drops had gone where they were intended, then Samsul trudged into the rain again. He returned with a note and we left the prison, happy she had the medicine but sad we hadn't been able to hug her and tell her we still supported and believed in her.

Postscript: We flew home on Wednesday morning and Schapelle wasn't well enough to emerge until Thursday afternoon, wearing large sunglasses. She only stayed a few moments to collect food from Mercedes.

Tony Wilson Chief Police Reporter Editorial Gold Coast Publications Pty Ltd Phone :61 7 5584 2464 Mobile :0407 114 347 Email :wilsonta@gcb.newsltd.com.au

Schapelle Corby Case Information

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