Bali bombings: June Corteen remembers twin daughters who were among Australian victims

I still remember the feeling of panic that came over me. It was a Sunday morning, the 13th of October 2002, and I had the alarm set for five o’clock.
When it rang and the radio came on, the first thing that I heard was news of the Bali bombings. And I knew from that moment, in my heart, that my daughters had died.
Jane and Jenny were 39 and were twins, though not identical, and my only kids. They were on holiday in Bali, and at 11pm on October 12th, they were inside the Sari Club when it was attacked.
Growing up in Konnongorring (a regional town in Western Australia), they were active kids. We lived close to a railway line, and I remember one day when they were about three years old, they were playing a little bit too close to the tracks when I heard a train coming.
Well, I would have beaten (Australian runner) John Landy, because I flew up there and I paddled them on the bottom when I caught up to them. I was chasing them around all the time in those days.

But that morning in 2002, I jumped out of bed – I think I went into every room in the house. I don’t know what I was looking for, I was just in a state of panic.

Jane (right) and Jenny were on holiday in Bali at the time of the bombings. Source: SBS News / Aaron Fernandes

I was living in a suburb south of Perth at the time. I rang the police in Western Australia. They said they hadn’t heard anything from Bali about Jane and Jenny, but they would contact me if they did. Then I rang this friend of mine who had a relative working at a hospital in Bali where the victims were coming in.

I sent them a photo of Jane and Jenny, but at that time the whole laneway between the hospital and the morgue was just full of bodies. They couldn’t find them, and I later learned they weren’t recognisable after the blasts anyway.

My ex-husband went to Bali to search for them, but he too couldn’t find them. When he came back, I said: ‘I’m going to go over there, and I’m not coming back until I bring them back’.

I said: ‘I’m going to go over there, and I’m not coming back until I bring them back’.

June Corteen

My sister came with me, it would have been about a fortnight after the bombings, and I still hadn’t heard anything. I had to provide DNA samples to identify the girls, and those samples came up on the plane with me.
There was an Australian living in Bali at the time, someone who wanted to help out. He met me at the airport and took me to the hotel. And he was very kind. If I needed to go somewhere, or I had to do something, then he was there to take me.
The DNA sample I provided was handed over, but it wasn’t until the following Saturday before they identified Jane and Jenny. Bali was so quiet, there was hardly anybody there. I was in my hotel room when two men came to the door and said: ‘we found them’.

It was like a gunshot in my chest. The ache that I had, I never ever want to feel again, it was just horrendous. And I suppose a lot of parents that lose children would have felt the exact same feeling.

An Australian flag draped on the railings next to an empty building plot with people standing around

A ceremony at the site of the Sari Club in Bali three years after the 2002 bombings. Source: Getty / Jason Childs

One of the men that came to tell me was with the Australian Federal Police, the other was a psychologist. He stayed and talked to me for probably an hour-and-a-half, and of course, I went through a box of tissues.

We talked about the things that Jane and Jenny did, who they were.
Jane was very studious, she was much quieter than Jenny. Jane, of course, idolised her children, Katie and Jack.

Jenny was very busy with her florist shop in Fremantle. She had a wonderful personality. It didn’t matter how much strife she was in or with who, she could smile and talk her way out of it. They both had a good sense of humour.

I knew I wouldn’t see them again but talking about them and the fun that we had, it seemed to relieve that terrible grief that parents get.
A few days later, when I brought them back to Australia, my ex-husband and sisters met me at the airport in Perth. It was another day that I can never forget. When they took the coffins out of the Qantas plane with the Australian flags wrapped around them and put them in the hearses, I just wished myself dead. It was so traumatic.
But I settled back into life in Perth, I retired from work as a public servant. I had planted 200 rose bushes at Maddington (a Perth suburb) about two to three years before the bombings. Friends would come over and weed the gardens for me. I was in a fog for about a year.

It wasn’t until I sold that property and moved down to Safety Bay, it was like a new start. I was actually selling roses from my gate, so I had to start looking after them. I would spend hours out there tending to the roses.

June Corteen standing in a sunny garden and holding a pot plant in her right hand. She is wearing a red jumper and blue jeans.

Gardening became a form of therapy for June. Source: SBS News / Aaron Fernandes

Gardening helped me a lot because I could cry and work at the same time, just looking after the flowers. My aim was just to get through each day. And if I could do that, without really crumbling, I knew that I’d get through it eventually.

Now that it’s been 20 years since the bombings, I can’t understand where the time has gone. Jane and Jenny would have been nearly 60. I can remember back when I was 60 and they gave me a surprise birthday party.
I have two grandkids that were robbed of their mum. Katie and Jack are doing extremely well, Katie’s now 23 and Jack is 25. Their father did a good job bringing them up and their lives seem to be going pretty well.

I have my garden and my dogs, so life is pretty good for me. I try and remember the times when Jane and Jenny and I really connected and laughed. You know, those real belly laughs when there are tears running down your face.

I’ve been back to Bali many times since it happened, and I’ll be going again this year. It might sound a bit strange, but I want to be where Jane and Jenny died. I want to go back and speak to them and see if they’re okay.
When I get there, I’m just going to say to them ‘I’ve come to check on you, to make sure you’re okay’.
And I’ll tell them I love them, and I miss them dearly.
Just the feeling of being there and feeling close to them, that will be ideal.
The 20th anniversary of the Bali bombings will be marked on 12 October.
– As told to Aaron Fernandes
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