Paradise lost!

An excerpt from a feature in Riptide magazine #196

Photo: Rod Owen

If we’re to believe commercial television and the tabloid rags, you and I will probably die a slow, excruciating death should we ever step foot in Bali again. Since June 30 last year, fittingly the time of year when Bali holidays surely spike thanks to Mr Tax Man, commercial news has been peppered with stories lamenting the “tragic” deaths of Aussies on the small, predominantly Hindu island. The reason behind the spate of news stories was the release of statistics by the Australian Foreign Affairs Department (DFAT), showing that 39 Australians died in Bali over the 2011-2012 financial year. In news-speak this equates to one Australian death in Bali every nine days. It’s a sobering statistic (and a great news story), but one that’s perhaps not as shocking when you consider there were almost three million international visitors to Bali last year, more than a quarter of them Australian. Take away a bunch of deaths from natural causes – illness and old age – and you’re left with a not-so-gnarly statistic. But it doesn’t take anything away from the fact Bali, and indeed the rest of Indonesia, can be a dangerous place. And with hordes of young bodyboarders heading to its shores each year, speeding around blind corners on mopeds to get one last session in before dark and drinking gallons of Bintang each night, the recipe for catastrophe certainly exists.

“When I turned I could feel the dried blood and the scabs cracking. I realised I’d been unconscious for the past 10 hours and it was clear I wasn’t making that flight.” When Dean Fergus, the Aussie owner of surf camp Secret Sumatra, woke up in a Bali hospital five years ago, he was confused and groggy. Looking down, he saw the entire right side of his body was scraped open and caked with blood. “On the way home around 10 o’clock I was riding along Jalan Raya Seminyak, past the Bintang supermarket, going around 60 clicks,” Fergo recalls. “The last thing I vaguely remember is this Indo guy on a moto flying around and cutting in to overtake me on the outside. When I woke up… I realised my flight [back to Sumatra] was leaving in an hour so I went to get up off the bed [and] that’s when I realised I was strapped to it.”

Having operated on him during the night, the doctors weren’t able to get Fergo’s consent to give him an anaesthetic because he’d been unconscious. They’d had to strap him to the bed after he woke up briefly mid-operation. In the morning a nurse informed Fergo he’d been in a motorbike accident and that he’d suffered a broken cheekbone, broke a bone in his foot and received around 80 stitches, external and internal, mostly on his thigh. His ankle bone had been ground flat.

After 10 days of recuperation in Bali, the first few in which he’d pass out from the pain of standing up, he was wheelchaired on and off the two flights required to get home to Sumatra, where he spent the next month mostly on his back, unable to walk and dosed up on morphine. But Fergo says he wouldn’t have been so lucky had it not been for an Australian woman living in Bali, Nat, who witnessed the crash and intervened when she realised how critical he was. “[She told him] ‘There were a bunch of locals standing around you, and two cops – one with your wallet and another with your phone’,” Fergo recalls. “[Continuing] ‘There was no-one attending to you… I realised you weren’t breathing and had foam coming out of your mouth so I rolled you over, cleared your airways and called an ambulance’.” Fergo discovered from another onlooker that the other motorbike driver had cut in on him, pushing Fergo closer to the side of the road where a huge rock sat. He hit it, went flying and skidded across the road. The other guy sped off. “If it wasn’t for Nat I might’ve breathed my last breath that night,” Fergo admits.

Read the full feature in Riptide issue #196.