From his carefree days growing up in country Western Australia, heading towards a promising AFL career, 22 year old Phil Britten's dreams were destroyed instantly when he was caught up in the Bali terrorist attacks of 2002.
After escaping the flames of the Sari Club, Phil had to fight hard to survive the months ahead and overcome his horrific burns injuries. But when the focus shifted from simply surviving to actually living, the real battle began. Would he live the life of depression and darkness that the terrorists had tried to force upon him? Or would he defiantly take back his future with both hands, reclaiming it once again as his own?
His mind made up to overcome his demons, Phil worked hard at getting his life back. From being referred to as "disaster male 30" at the start of his hospital treatment, to becoming an inspiration to his local community, Phil Britten finally tells of his courageous journey in his own words.
Phil Britten was captain of the Kingsley Football Club when he was caught in the 2002 Bali Bombing, sustaining life-threatening burns. Phil is now a professional martial artist, co-owner of WA Institute of Martial Arts and sought-after motivational speaker.
He is continually inspiring others to achieve their goals. In July 2012 Phil walked the Kokoda Trail with fellow WA Institute of Martial Arts Members to fulfill a "bucket list" desire to hike Kokoda & to also raise money for Telethon and the Starlight Foundation.
Phil is the spokesperson for the Bali Peace Park
Co-author Rebecca Britten is on the Board of the Bali Peace ParkAssociation and was an inaugural inductee into the WA Women's Hall of Fame in 2011. Mother of two and wife of Phil Britten, Rebecca is co-director of their martial arts business and also works in public relations. She is currently working with Curtin University to develop the 'Beyond Bali' education package.
Co-author Malcolm Quekett has been a journalist for more than 25 years. He writes a daily column for The West Australian newspaper. He has covered stories interstate and overseas for the paper and also worked at The Times in London.
Undefeated: The Story of Bali Bombing Survivor Phil Britten
Authors: Rebecca Britten and Malcolm Quekett
Question: Rebecca, why did you decide to write Phil's dramatic story?
Rebecca Britten: Writing and storytelling has always been a passion of mine. One of the first pieces I ever wrote for Phil was a reflective piece just after his first Muay Thai fight. It captured me in a way that I literally couldn't sleep until I'd put something down on paper. As time went on, Phil revealed more and more of his past to me and the story began to be written in my mind. For about three years, we'd talk late at night about how the chapters might look and what Phil really wanted to say. It soon became obvious that the book was already now written; we just needed to capture it in print. In 2010, we decided it was time to officially start putting it together. We'd recently met Malcolm Quekett, a WA journalist, and it just felt right to have him involved. He seemed to have a very similar vision to us, there was very little discussion, we just said "He's the one!". It was far too much for me to take on alone; especially with a young baby (Benjamin was almost one-year-old at this stage). We needed someone to help us turn this amazing 'story' into a book that everyone would be able to identify with.
At first, I considered writing it under my maiden name as I wasn't sure how it would be received; it's a very inspirational story and I'm his wife, of course I think he's wonderful! But Malcolm convinced me that I had to be true to myself, we knew there was no bias in the story, much of Phil's recovery and philosophies were already documented. Malcolm and I were just going to take Phil a bit deeper into the experience, a place where Phil himself had never even really gone before, and help him piece the past back together.
Question: Can you share a brief description of your experience, Phil?
Phil Britten: In 2002 after a successful football season with the Kingsley Football Club, I travelled to Bali to celebrate with my teammates. The following season, in 2003, I was set to leave Kingsley and start focussing on breaking into a career in AFL footy. The first day we landed in Bali, October 12th 2002, we found ourselves in the middle of the Sari Club terrorist bombing. I escaped the initial bomb blast but I still had to fight for my life; the bomb, made up of 700kg of explosives, was parked in a van about 25 metres from me when it was detonated and had left me critically injured. My whole world and the life I'd been planning came crashing down around me.
After being evacuated from Bali by the Australian Government, I was sent to Royal Adelaide Hospital (Perth was full by this stage) for emergency treatment. I'd suffered burns to approximately 60% of my body, a lot of my teeth had been smashed in and I also had numerous shrapnel wounds. I was so lucky to still be alive.
It was hard to keep my will to survive because not only was I in excruciating pain, and still coming to terms that I'd been in a terrorist attack, I also had to hear that one by one, seven of my mates hadn't made it. There were times I wished that I hadn't made it as well. It was tough emotionally. The recovery was a living hell but even once that was over, I had a whole new battle on my hands. I now I had to prove to myself that the terrorists wouldn't win and had to start taking back control of my life. I went back to play my first game of football again with Kingsley just 6 months after the bombing in a full burns pressure suit. From there, I started to view the obstacles in my life as challenges, challenges I was ready to conquer. Now 10 years on, I'm married to the love of my life, I have two beautiful children and own one of the top martial arts schools in Australia. I also continue to work as a motivational speaker, which was something which had really helped heal me emotionally and mentally after Bali. I'm loving life, everything happens for a reason and while being in the Bali bombing was something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy, I know that surviving it was a gift and I'm truly grateful for that.
Question: How has that experienced changed your life, Phil?
Phil Britten: My entire perspective on life has changed and that happened almost immediately after Bali. At first, I was down and angry at everything, but once I got over that and realised I had a choice where my life went to from here, I felt empowered. I suddenly had a whole new respect and appreciation for how precious life really is and became grateful for many more things, that up until that night, I'd probably been taking for granted. I try to make sure I lead by example, motivate and inspire people to achieve the best in their lives. I do my best now to make every moment count, be it big or small. I've realised that what many may perceive as being the small things in life are what really matter the most, and these are all things (family, health and essentially just being alive!) that money just can't buy!
Question: What's a typical day like for you both?
Rebecca Britten: With a small baby (Riley is only 5 months old) and a toddler, we have a very early start! I'm often up by 5am, head to the gym for half an hour, then I start work at 6am in our home office. Phil helps get the kids ready until 8am, and then we have some family time for a few hours. Phil leaves for work at either 6am, 10am or 12noon, depending on what day it is. He will spend the rest of the day working on our Martial Arts Business with our partner Graham McDonnell. Often Phil will have a speaking engagement during the day, so he will fit that in for an hour or two. I spend the day being Mum to our two boys and running errands. From 7pm until 9.30pm, I go back into our home office. Phil arrives home around 9.30pm; we have dinner and relax until 10.30pm.
Then we do it all over again the next day! We try to keep weekends to ourselves for family time, but occasionally one of us will have to work for at least a few hours. It's hectic but we've just opened our second Dojo (Martial Arts Centre) and things are a bit more crazy than normal!
Question: How does the remaining scars and memories affect your life?
Phil Britten: Over the years I've suffered some pretty horrific nightmares and had to deal with a lot of personal demons to get where I am today. Integrating back into society being physically scarred in such a significant way was something I found really hard to do in the early years, but since then I've realised that some of the biggest breakthroughs in life are often caused from pain or fear. Everyday I wake up and see the scars. I used to see them as ugly and it would remind me of hatred and pain but I now see them as a miracle, a reminder of the strength I have inside to get through tough times. I wear them with pride; they're a part of who I am, and represent a chapter of my journey in life.
Time also helps heal physical and emotional scars and love definitely helps speed up that process. I met Rebecca when I was at one of the lowest points in my life where I felt pretty crippled by the memories; she shone a light into those dark times, reached in and pulled me out.
Luckily, I don't suffer nightmares any more, the memories are still there, but are nowhere near as vivid as they were in the early years. There will be times where what I went through will affect me emotionally and I've learnt to respect that it needs to acknowledged and dealt with, you can't just push something like that back inside or it'll build up.
Question: Why did you decide to return to Bali, with your children, for the 10th Anniversary Memorial Services to commemorate the 202 lives lost?
Phil Britten: It was a hard decision to make as now I do have more than just myself to think about. Rebecca and I have discussed this many times. I want to pay my respects to all those who didn't make it back and support the families who lost their loved ones, including the Balinese. It's also a time for me to let go. I feel as if 10 years on, I'll finally be able to breath a sigh of relief. Our children will travel to Bali with us, but won't be attending the service as they're too young.
Interview by Brooke Hunter