Schapelle Corby returns to Australia 13 years after Bali drugs conviction

Schapelle Corby’s return to Australia was a momentous day – for her, and also for the media pack that, in varying forms, has trailed her for the 13 years since she was arrested at Ngurah Rai international airport in Bali with 4kg of cannabis found in a boogie board bag.
Corby’s 20-year prison sentence was commuted by the former Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2012 and she was paroled in February in 2014. Her sentence expired on Saturday night.

She added fuel for the media frenzy, as she emerged in Kuta on Saturday afternoon wearing a veil over her face, sporting a T-shirt of William Tyrell, an Australian child who disappeared in 2014. Was this, those feeding the 24-hour news coverage wondered, an act of support for a cause she felt strongly about? Or was it just masterful trolling that she knew would inspire all these sorts of questions?

On Saturday night Corby got on a plane, but not the one the media expected. The Virgin Australia flight took off without her, after her name had been called several times on the airport public address system. She had switched to a Malindo Air flight – too quickly for the pack of journalists already booked on Virgin to follow suit.

Once she reached Brisbane airport in Australia, a convoy of cars departed before splitting into two groups as they were trailed by vans and, apparently, even motorcycles carrying media crews. One of the vans that Corby may or may not have been in then stopped at a KFC. Some of the journalists ended up at the Sofitel in Brisbane where Corby was possibly – or possibly not – staying.
The world has changed since Corby was arrested in Indonesia. Broadcast TV and tabloid magazines no longer reign supreme; Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are the real instruments AND for Corby, social networks have proven to be a weapon against the media itself.

On Saturday, a day before she was due to fly back to Australia, Corby joined Instagram, that attracted more than 100,000 followers in a few hours. In one post, she sent a picture of what appeared to be a journalist giving her the finger, which Corby captioned: “When the media don’t like their own pic taken.”

Her celebrity status and the media’s obsession has not come from nowhere. There are racial subtexts to Corby’s imprisonment in that foreign land of Indonesia and how Australians view themselves in the world. Not to mention the insatiable national curiosity for a good crime story – it had everything: rival drug syndicates, missing evidence, a strange lack of video footage. All enough to create doubt.