There is a telltale heart inside Peter Hughes’ otherwise typical Perth roofing office.
The 52-year-old is almost unrecognisable as the swollen and charred face broadcast around the world in the first hours after the Bali Bombings, but it’s clear for better or worse, they have defined the past decade of his life.
Beating away next to his corner office now sits the epicenter of the Peter Hughes BURN Foundation, a thriving not for profit adapted to provide ongoing support for burns survivors.
In the years since Bali, Hughes has also become a popular motivational speaker, released a book and continues to lobby the Australian Government to compensate citizens affected by terrorism overseas.
“I did an interview that made me look like I was a bit of a hero, I wasn’t, I was desperate, I was trying to send a message to my son and no one else,” he said.
“I was scared in Bali – I was going to die – I was told I was going to die.”
Shortly after those first interviews Hughes went into an induced coma, dying momentarily several times from injuries inflicted by two suicide bomb attacks on Kuta’s popular nightclub strip in October 2002.
Hughes was one of 240 injured that day, while 202 lost their lives.
“I felt guilty everyday because I was alive,” he said when asked why he had decided to start giving talks about Bali.
“I just wanted to make sure that these people didn’t die for nothing.”
Like many others Hughes life was interrupted when he followed a well-beaten path from the suburbs of Perth to tropical Bali for a few days of Bintang beer and sunshine.
Hughes and his friends had ended up at Paddy’s Pub that night because the Sari Nightclub across the road had a long line out the front. Heading to the bar to get the first round Hughes skirted what he would later remember was an Indonesian-looking man with a backpack at his feet.
“As I stretched out to grab what I thought was my cold bottle of Bintang there was a click, there was a bang,” he said. “I was gasping for air pretty quickly.”
A girl “cannoned” into Hughes, knocking him to the ground. “Knowing what I know now that was a suicide bomber,” he said.
“I had this girl at my feet that I could hardly see because the place was so dusty.”
Hughes grabbed the girl and the pair started heading out through the entrance he’d come in from – it was the only way in or out of Paddy’s.
As he stumbled onto the footpath seconds after the first blast a car parked outside the Sari Club erupted throwing him back inside the collapsing Paddy’s Pub.
“I can remember feeling the pressure of wind and also trying to suck through air – it felt like you were gasping and you were grabbing – it was just everything at one time,” he said.
“When I actually stood up I saw legs, I saw arms, I saw people crying and screaming – they were struggling – if you never got up you died – it was as simple as that.”
Those who could stand started groping through the dust and smoke trying to pull others around them up, he said.
“My eyes were pretty much shot, I couldn’t hear a bloody thing, I was cut from head to toe,” he said.
“I had no idea about bombs – If I had known that it was a bomb I would have run like hell – and a lot of people did – a lot of people knew.”
The rage would come later for Hughes and while he admits to dark months struggling to live with pschological trauma, there were other powerful memories to come out of the chaos, which have fortified him in the years since.
“To see people that were badly injured trying to help other people is inspirational and I think even when people thought they had no hope they were helping,” he said. “We’re a weird bunch I think the Aussies.”
As the 10-year anniversary nears Hughes has testified in the trials of two of the bombers, but ultimately he blames the Indonesian authorities for the enabling the attacks to happen.
“There has got to be a responsibility given somewhere and I think it drops with the Indonesian Government in terms of the people that are there that are radical that do these strange things,” he said.
Mr Hughes has also lobbied the Australian to compensate the Bali survivors and families of victims, as they would victims of crime on Australian soil.
“The Government needs to pay – they need to pay the hundreds of people who were affected,” he said.
Hughes has attracted the support of opposition leader Tony Abbot who recently called for about 300 Australian victims of terrorism overseas or their families to each retrospectively receive up to $75,000 in compensation.
The total cost would be about $30 million, assuming overseas terror victims got the maximum compensation amount of $75,000 currently paid to Australian victims of crime at home.
Despite their history Hughes has been back to Bali 30 times in the decade since the attacks and still feels affectionately towards the country and its people.
However, he doesn’t believe the issues behind the bombings have been addressed. “I’m against the system of how sometimes it can be too free and easy for people to do certain things in their own country, Bali, Jakarta, Indonesia…very corrupt,” he said.
“I don’t think they’ve learnt nothing.
“I think the radical groups are still doing what they want to do – I think they have a lot of control whether dead or alive.”
After a decade of reliving the trauma over and over again Hughes said he was looking forward to a quieter life out of the spotlight having done his time in the media.
However, he plans to keep giving motivational talks and to continue building up his not-for-profit.
“Bali made me a better person,” he said, when asked how he was changed 10 years ago.
“If I could take away the scars and the injuries and the post traumatic stress and all the crap that goes with it I would say that’s the underlying message in terms of what I think about myself as a person.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott meets with Clair Marsh (left) and Peter Hughes (right) at the Bali Memorial Garden in Canberra. Photo: ALEX ELLINGHAUSEN
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.