Corby goes from one prison to another

FREE: A screen grab showing media crowding around Schapelle Corby as she walks out of prison.
FREE: A screen grab showing media crowding around Schapelle Corby as she walks out of prison.

If the saturation media interest in the fate of Schapelle Leigh Corby seems somewhat absurd, consider this: on Monday morning she was a prisoner in a walled compound in a tourist suburb of Bali. 

After a mad chase through the streets and government offices of Bali with hundreds of journalists in hot (and sweaty) pursuit, she once again became a prisoner in a walled compound in a tourist suburb of Bali; the new one just 4.8 kilometres and one suburb removed from its predecessor.

Admittedly her new place of residence - the Sentosa Seminyak - with its $400 per night rooms, soft beds and luxury spa, and her family in attendance, promises a distinctly more pleasant experience than the non-airconditioned, concrete jail cell where she's spent the past nine years.

NEW HOME: Luxury spa Sentosa Seminyak.
NEW HOME: Luxury spa Sentosa Seminyak.

But free she is not. The intense media interest in her, and the exclusive, reputedly multimillion-dollar deal her family has signed with Channel Seven's Sunday Night program, Mike Willesee presiding, means she could not stop outside the gates of the place she's called home for the past nine years. She could not look at the sky, breathe the air of freedom, savour the moment.

Instead she was rushed from place to place, head bowed, jostled, dressed in a hat and full-face garb, her appearance reminiscent of other celebrity freak shows of our era, Michael Jackson - or perhaps the Elephant Man. 

Everywhere she went, guards pushed her around - only this time they were hired by the family or perhaps by the network.

And now it's likely that all her firsts - first beer, first swim, first hot shower, first walk on the beach - will be enjoyed within these high villa walls, restricted by clauses in a contract imposed by a company that's paid for the privilege to maximise its value.

For those of us not in the know, the day began earlier than expected. By sunrise, just about every inch of the tiny prison car park was criss-crossed by television cameras and police officers. For days in the previous week, reporters and their fixers, hired locally in a boon for Bali's media industry, had camped out on the hard seats, 24 hours per day, on the suspicion of a midnight move.

By now, they had run out of things to say. Live crosses to Australia were excruciatingly realistic. One Channel 10 reporter excitedly relayed her encounter with a prison officer: "He basically just said, 'Excuse me, excuse me' and moved on".

"I'm filming you, filming her," said one woman, brandishing an iPad in a vaguely menacing way, but who declined to be named. This was the Expendable Network, the people who have devoted years to proving Corby's innocence, and excoriating anyone who did not agree.

But their pains earned them nothing from the object of their adoration.

At around 8.15am the guards suddenly yelled "Sip! Sip!", meaning "Ready!" and Corby exploded from the door in a blur of mobile humanity, virtually invisible under the armpits of her jailers, wearing garb that made her unrecognisable.


The Expendables would not even have seen her - the media barely did, despite their territory and their lenses, crushed as they were against walls, vehicles, each other, their cameras clashing. Barely one shot was in focus. One reporter later discovered blood on her shirt, with no idea whose. 

The bus moved off, and so did the crews, running to cars and motorcycles to try to keep up.

There were two stops: at the first, the prosecutor's office, Corby signed some documents in a darkened room, reporters crowded at the doors straining for the smallest glimpse. Nothing.

Bemused public servants stopped any pretence of work to sit in foyers and stand on verandahs and gape at what attention was being devoted to this one diminutive drug smuggler.

At the second stop, her interview with officials, the police left and she was handed over to family, another step in the dance towards freedom.

Here, the document signing and fingerprinting was conducted in a room with a window without blinds. It was past a drain and at the rear of the building, but a uniformed public servant stood at the front and sternly directed us all to the right place.

Once there, snapping away, we were reminded again of the profound contrast between Australia's nannyish control of the media, and the laissez faire permissiveness of Indonesia. It's the same approach which allowed, for example, every move of Corby's court case nine years ago to be broadcast, every cell stay photographed, every agonised tear tracked in glorious slow motion.

Dozens gathered at the window. Motor drives whirred, at last, here she was; the woman whose liquid blue eyes had once captivated a nation convinced of her innocence. Finally, her full face mask and hat were exposed to the world.

Outside this office, the reason for the full cover became clear. Mike Willesee, calmly installed in a convoy of black SUVs, was the only unharried journalist of the hundreds in attendance. His film crew were not at the window slipping on the mossy drain. They waited in the car, air conditioning humming. They already knew Corby would come out a side door. They already knew she would ride with their convoy. They knew that their story would be completed in no rush at all.

As they wrote it in the contract, it came to pass. In unhurried ease, they drove her away. Bali's traffic, a blight to the rest of us, must have seemed untroubling to them. 

Their subject was already firmly in their custody.

Sydney Morning Herald