October is a month that’s filled with both positive and negative memories for Dale Atkin.
It’s the month he married his wife Katie and the month he started working in real estate.
But it’s also the month he found himself caught in the centre of a terrorist attack that killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.
The 2002 Bali Bombings.
On October 12, 2022, it will be 20 years since the three bombs were detonated on the Indonesian island of Bali – a usually tranquil holiday destination loved the world over, but perhaps more so by Australians.
Dale, a successful sales agent with Ray White Drouin in Victoria, will be among the survivors marking the anniversary at Parliament House in Canberra.
“My thoughts are with the families that lost loved ones at this time of year,” Dale says.
“It could have been my parents mourning me.”
The story of how Dale, now 47, ended up in the middle of the bombings with burns to 43 per cent of his body and fearing he would die is a tale of what you could term ‘unlucky fate’.
Dale and his Yarra Junction Football Club teammate Travis arrived in Bali on the day of the bombings, a day ahead of the rest of their teammates.
“We weren’t meant to be there that day,” he recalls.
“I was the organiser of the footy trip, but unfortunately, we couldn’t all get on the one plane, and two of us had to fly over a day early.”
After a nap at the hotel, the pair headed out to check out the nightlife and grab a drink. They started at Paddy’s Bar before an uneasy feeling washed over Dale.
Telling Travis, “Something’s not right here mate, let’s move on,” they headed across the street to the Sari Club and found a seat at the sunken bar.
Partway through a drink, Dale and Travis’s life changed forever.
“We saw this big explosion across the road at Paddy’s Bar, and then, the next minute, we were blown up in the Sari Club,” Dale remembers.
“I was five metres from where the bomb went off. It was quite incredible that both of us survived.”
But at the time, Dale didn’t think they’d make it.
It was just after 11pm when a suicide bomber detonated a bomb in their backpack inside Paddy’s Bar. It sent those that could escape fleeing into the street.
Then the bomb planted inside a van outside the Sari Club went off. People were screaming, debris was everywhere, and Dale and Travis were stuck underneath a collapsed roof when the fire started.
Adrenalin kicked in, and Dale and Travis somehow managed to free themselves and run, escaping over a brick wall they found the strength to climb.
Dale sustained burns to 43 per cent of his body, mainly along the rear of his arms, legs and back.
He was given a 30 per cent chance of surviving.
“The depth of my burns was that of half a cricket bat,” he says.
“We spent 24 hours in hospital in Bali before we were evacuated to the airport and flown back in a Hercules to Darwin.
“From Darwin, they were going to send me to Perth, but I begged them to send me home to Melbourne.
“I just wanted to get home and be in my home state.”
Recovery in Melbourne
Dale, who lived in Hallam, in Melbourne’s southeast, spent seven-and-a-half weeks in hospital in Melbourne.
“When we got back to Melbourne, they worked on me for 12 hours in the first operation,” he says.
“I spent four nights in ICU, and over the next couple of weeks, they did more skin grafts because the skin hadn’t taken. They had to redo the surgery.”
Dale estimates he had four or five operations for skin grafts, had to wear compression bandages for 12 months and also had several operations on his ears due to perforated ear drums.
“I’m quite deaf in one ear,” he says.
“I also didn’t realise it, but I had to learn to walk again. I thought you could just get out of a hospital bed after spending that long in it and just be able to walk, but they had to teach me how to walk again.
“It probably took about a week to learn to walk again. I also had to learn how to move my arms again.”
While he was in hospital, Dale also had to cope with the emotional trauma of splitting up with his fiancee and later, what he’d do for work, considering he knew he couldn’t return to his paving business due to its physical nature.
Turning to real estate
Dale says as a kid, he’d always thought about being a real estate agent and had remained passionate about property over the years – buying a home in Pakenham in 2003 from Vince De Grazia.
“He said to me if you ever want a job in real estate, look me up,” Dale remembers.
Dale met his now wife Katie in 2009, and in October 2010 he decided to call in that favour from Vince, who showed him the ropes and who has been a staunch supporter from day one.
“I had no experience in real estate, but Vince took a chance on me, and I have loved working there ever since,” he says.
“He’s a very supportive principal that recognises when I’m struggling and allows me the time to reset, gain clarity and take control again.”
Dale has gone from gaining his first listing through parking on someone’s lawn for a letterbox drop to generating repeat clients, referrals and through meeting clients at open homes.
They like his down-to-earth, approachable attitude and his commitment to giving the best service he can. It’s this philosophy that has seen Dale grow from selling about 30 homes a year to about 90.
“I’m changing people’s lives… That’s how I look at it,” Dale says.
“I’m getting as much as I can for the vendors, I’m helping purchasers move, most of the time, to a new area and it’s just a great feeling.”
His mental health journey
Just as Dale’s physical recovery was tough, so too has been his mental health journey.
For 13 years, Dale didn’t see a counsellor and instead suffered in silence.
He says his wife, Katie, and their three children gave him the motivation to go on and to seek the help he so desperately needed.
“It took me 13 years to see a counsellor, and I want everyone to know there’s no shame in it,” Dale says.
“I was diagnosed with PTSD. I thought it was normal to relive the bombing every day.”
Dale says too often men, in particular, have a “she’ll be right” attitude and think they have to “tough things out”, but Dale wants to do all he can to change that perspective.
“Blokes have got to stop being blokes, and at the end of the day, you need to reach out, get help and talk to your mates,” he says.
While Dale says the 20th anniversary of the Bali bombings is a particularly tough day, the day after will be one of his happiest as he and Katie celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary.
“I got married deliberately on October 13 as it was the day after Bali and (symbolic of) the new beginning and the new life,” he says.
Enjoying life to the fullest
Going forward, Dale says he wants to continue to build his real estate career while never losing sight of what’s most important – enjoying life.
“I just want to spend time with Katie and the kids,” he says.
“Go on holidays, create memories, play a bit of golf, and I also love to fish.”
And if he could, would Dale not get on that plane to Bali 20 years ago?
“It changed my life at the end of the day, but for the better,” he says.
“Without it, I probably wouldn’t be in real estate, and I probably wouldn’t have met Katie.
“Yes, I had terrible injuries, and I struggled for many years, but I don’t regret anything.”