Australian Schapelle Corby battled a media storm as she returned home from Bali Sunday 12 years after her conviction for drug trafficking, in a dramatic end to a saga that captivated her homeland.
The beauty school dropout hit Australian headlines when she was arrested in 2004 at Bali airport aged 27 with several kilos of hashish stashed in her surfing gear, and was jailed the following year for 20 years.
Her 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.
Corby and her sister Mercedes concocted an elaborate plan to avoid the cameras after they touched down in the eastern city of Brisbane early Sunday morning, using multiple vehicle convoys to confuse the media when they departed the airport.
A member of her security team read out a family statement at the airport, where they expressed their “gratefulness and relief that this morning we mark Schapelle Corby’s return to Australia”.
“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.”
Corby, now 39, has 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 chased by a huge pack of journalists before boarding a flight home.
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.
Shortly after landing in Australia, live television broadcasts followed one of the vehicle convoys believed to be carrying Corby and Mercedes.
It was not clear where Corby was headed, with media camped out outside her mother Rosleigh Rose’s home in Loganlea, south of Brisbane.
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.
Hundreds of police were deployed to provide security on Saturday, as Australia media descended on Bali en masse ahead of her homecoming.
Corby was quick to join social media, with her Instagram account attracting more than 100,000 followers by Sunday afternoon just two days after it was set up.
“Good bye to this parole paperwork,” she posted on the account after she visited government offices to fill out documents before heading to the airport.
She boarded a flight on airline Malindo Air at 10:00 pm (1400 GMT), and posted a photo on Instagram of her looking out of a plane window, with the word “Boarded”.
Despite the controversy surrounding her case, Indonesia has stepped up its campaign against drug use since she was jailed.
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.