BRISBANE, Australia (AFP) - Australian Schapelle Corby returned home on Sunday (May 28) following her deportation from Bali 12 years after her conviction for drug trafficking, as she battled through a media storm in a dramatic end to a saga that captivated her homeland.
Corby and her sister Mercedes avoided cameras when she touched down in the eastern city of Brisbane early on Sunday morning, with live television broadcasts showing a convoy of vehicles believed to be carrying them leaving the airport.
“It is with gratefulness and relief that this morning we mark Schapelle Corby’s return to Australia,” a member of her security team said, reading out a family statement at Brisbane airport.
“We would like to say thank you to Schapelle’s supporters for all the faith, love and support they have shown over the years... Priority of focus will now be on healing and moving forward.”
The beauty school dropout hit the headlines in Australia when she was arrested in 2004 at Bali airport with several kilos of hashish stashed in her surfing gear, and was jailed the following year for 20 years.
Corby, now 39, maintained her innocence, insisting the drugs had been planted, and received much support back home where some believed she had been set up or was the victim of a supposedly corrupt justice system.
Her final day on the Indonesian resort island was a blaze of media attention, as she was hustled out of a villa with her face hidden under a scarf, and then chased by a huge pack of journalists before boarding a flight home.
In a final twist, she managed to outsmart the media by heading back to Brisbane on a different flight than had been widely expected, apparently to avoid travelling with a large contingent of reporters.
It was not clear if she was heading to her mother Rosleigh Rose’s home in Loganlea, south of Brisbane, or to her sister’s residence in the Gold Coast.
In bizarre scenes, her sister, other family members and friends – two wearing ghoulish masks – gathered at the house, while further south at Mercedes’ home on the Gold Coast, reporters waiting outside said a Corby-lookalike had turned up.
“I do not know where she is,” a woman at the Gold Coast home who called herself ‘Aunty Jen’ told Brisbane’s Courier Mail. “I nearly fell out of bed when I saw the (television) coverage... I didn’t realise it was going to be as huge as this.” .
The Ganja Queen
The intense media coverage had been expected by Corby’s mother, who said this week she was worried about how her daughter would adjust to living in Australia amid the frenzy. The family were also waiting for Corby to return home so she could help scatter her father’s ashes at a secret location after his death nine years ago from cancer.
“Her dad and her were really close,” Rose told the Gold Coast Bulletin on Friday.
The day of drama was a fitting finale to a story that has fascinated the Australian public like few others in recent times.
Unlike in Australia, Indonesia’s press dubbed Corby “The Ganja Queen” and she received little sympathy from the public, who largely support the country’s tough anti-drugs laws.
Authorities have embarked on a campaign of executions targeting drug smugglers, and in April 2015 put to death two Australians along with six other foreigners.
Corby’s sentence was cut due to regular remissions and after an appeal to the president, and she served nine years behind bars. She was released early in 2014 but was required to remain on Bali for three years under the conditions of her parole.
Australian media descended on Bali en masse ahead of her homecoming, camping out outside her villa for several days as Corby did her best to stay hidden.
Hundreds of police were deployed to provide security on Saturday. Corby was led out of the villa in the afternoon, hidden under the scarf and wearing a pair of sunglasses, before being whisked away in a convoy that included armoured vehicles.
She headed first to government offices to fill out documents. “Good bye to this parole paperwork,” she posted on her Instagram account, which already had over 67,000 followers just a few hours after being set up.
She later posted a photo of her looking out of a plane window, with the word “Boarded”.
Corby then headed to the airport, boarding a flight on airline Malindo Air at 10pm. She had been widely expected to fly on a Virgin service leaving 10 minutes later. Australian journalists had been booked to travel on the Virgin flight, Australian media reported.