'They've gone, they've gone': agony remains over twins' Bali death

June Corteen with her twin daughters Jenny and Jane.
June Corteen with her twin daughters Jenny and Jane.
Jane and Jenny Corteen as children.

Jane and Jenny Corteen as children.

June Corteen once told her twin daughters if she ever died they were not to mourn her. She is now living her own words.

Watching this bubbly, chatty woman few would suspect the loss she has suffered. She feels it, but she refuses to live it.

Both her 39-year-old twin daughters, Jane and Jenny, were taken when religiously-motivated terrorists bombed the Sari Club in Bali on October 12, 2002.

They had been enjoying a quiet and relaxed holiday, a break from their frantic lives as a mother-of-two and a florist shop owner.

A letter from a stranger sent to Mrs Corteen following the disaster confirmed they were happy.

"She said they were having a lovely time," Mrs Corteen said of the letter signed by Donna Kinniard.

"She said it was just the two of them, you could see that they were sisters. They were just swimming in the pool and they'd get out and read a book but she said they were always together."

The letter had been incorrectly addressed and was sent to two different houses before reaching the grieving mother in Safety Bay, south of Perth.

"It was absolutely wonderfully [to get the letter]," Mrs Corteen said. "It was like I'd connected with them through that letter because I hadn't been in contact with them while they were up in Bali. It meant the world."

That had been Ms Kinnard's intention, according to her words.

"I hope by writing to you it may give you a small amount of comfort knowing your girls were enjoying themselves happy and relaxed in beautiful Bali," the letter says.

Mrs Corteen had always carried a strange feeling that she would not have her girls forever and the moment she heard the news that something dreadful had happened in Bali she was convinced they were gone.

"I had flowers in a horticultural show so I got up at 5am to spray the roses ... and I heard it as soon as I opened my eyes," Mrs Corteen recalled.

"I know what pure panic is like now because I just knew that they had gone. I ran into every room in the house, what I was looking for I don't know.

"My partner at that time had gone to pick up the Sunday Times and didn't know anything about it until I rushed out at him crying. He said to me 'oh, don't worry, they'll be all right, they'll be all right'.

"I said 'no, they've gone, they've gone' and he wouldn't believe me."

It took 10 days to identify Jenny and Jane, using DNA. During that time, Mrs Corteen said few would accept her words that the sisters had gone.

At one stage her friends were so concerned they took her to a doctor, who sedated her.

"He kept saying, 'they'll find them up in the mountains', and I said 'no they're gone', and nobody would believe me," Mrs Corteen said.

"I just had this feeling right from the time they were born that I wasn't going to have them for very long.

"There have been times when things have happened and it was like somebody telling me to be alert because I wasn't going to have them for long.

"Once [Bali] happened, I knew that was it, that they'd gone and there was nothing I could do about it.

"I broke down."

Mrs Corteen was sedated for a month.

"It really eased the emotional pain a little bit, enough for me to think and focus on getting myself packed up and over to Bali," she said.

"Even though it was an emotional pain it seemed to affect the body as well, so it took that feeling of my heart breaking literally away."

Now when she looks at photos of Jane and Jenny not long before they went to Bali she can see the end was near.

"They looked so tired, the two of them," she said.

Immediately following their death, Mrs Corteen said she "literally hibernated". She dreaded going to Fremantle, where Jenny had her florist shop.

She did not want to see her grandchildren, Jane's four-year-old son and two-year-old daughter - not for her own grief but because she could not bear to think of them growing up without their mother.

"I was a bit worried about Katie because I felt that having a brother and a father [and no female influence] might have had an effect on her," Mrs Corteen said.

"But going to [an all-girls' school] has ... I wouldn't say made up for Jane but helped out. There would [still] be a big hole there."

But eventually, true to her own advice, she rose out of the ashes of grief.

"I had said to Jane and Jenny when I die I don't want you to grieve for too long because I'll be quite happy where ever I am," Mrs Corteen said.

"But then I had to turn around and take my own advice. I decided I'd live my life in memorial to Jane and Jenny.

"So that's why I have a garden like I have.  I keep busy. Last week I had one day off; I have something to do every day. I've joined a couple of clubs including a gardening club.

"It speeds up life ... and before you know it, it's 10 years since the bombing."

It was Mrs Corteen who introduced Jane and Jenny to Bali, as 17-year-olds, in her quest to encourage them to travel.

Twenty-two years later she returned to retrieve their bodies.

"Bringing home the girls ... was extremely hard, even though I was on medication," Mrs Corteen said.

"Qantas took the two coffins from the plane and put them in the hearse. They had the Australian flag draped over them, I really lost it. It was just so hard to see them come off that plane and know that they wouldn't be walking off."

It had been decades in between Bali visits but now Mrs Corteen returns every year.

"It's like going home," she said. "Although I go to Sanur, I don't go to Kuta, [it's] too busy."

"We stay at the same hotel and the staff say 'you've come home'. Everybody down the street knows us now, at the restaurants, at the beauty shop, they say 'hi, you back again'."

Mrs Corteen went for the first and fifth anniversaries as well as most Christmases.

"For a while there, a cousin and I were going to Bali every Christmas because that's a very hard time," she said.

"You see everybody buying Christmas presents and buying Christmas decorations and there's no reason for me to do it anymore. We'd go to Bali and have a lovely Christmas Day in and around the hotel and it was really something special.

"Then of course it got too expensive at Christmas time. We didn't go last year but I turned 70 in July [and] a sister, cousin and friends [and Mrs Corteen] went to Bali to celebrate and now I'm going back for the anniversary."

Despite the brave face Mrs Corteen wears each day, she is not sure how she will handle the 10th anniversary.

"It depends on who I'm with," she said. "If I'm with a group that are very emotional, I'll be very emotional. I really don't know how I'll handle it.

"I try not to go to the memorial because I'm usually there with friends and relatives and I don't want to upset them in case I break down."

Mrs Corteen believes her daughters have now moved into a new life, whether that be human or otherwise. But she maintains a connection to them via flowers, a passion the trio had shared.

"I spend a fair bit of time in the garden," she said.

"Jenny used to have these vases of red roses in the shop and they'd be worth a mint. When she came out to my place - I had ¾ of an acre at Maddington and I had planted 200 roses there - she would come out and pick only red roses, so now I pick red roses and I think of the two of them.

"There's times when I feel like they're sitting on my shoulder saying 'mum, don't do that' or 'mum, be careful'. I feel that they're around me all the time. It makes me feel a lot better."

Looking through a huge scrap book bulging with letters, cards and memories of her girls, Mrs Corteen's eye well up.

"I feel as though I've missed out on something," she said.

"Because neither of them were married and I feel that possibly they would have got married and had more children.

"And I miss that closeness that we had. There was a period, of course, when they were teenagers when mum was mum and I didn't have that same closeness, but as they got older, Jane would ring up after she had the kids and say 'mum, how did you cope with the two of us?' Jenny would ring me up and say 'mum, how did you cook such and such?'

"That's the closeness that I wanted and that I miss."


This story 'They've gone, they've gone': agony remains over twins' Bali death first appeared on WA Today.