This is still our Sydney

Flowers in Martin Place at 9.30am on Tuesday.
Flowers in Martin Place at 9.30am on Tuesday.

It’s Monday morning and I’m running late. Walking late. It’s twenty minutes to ten when I turn left from Phillip St into Martin Place.

I don’t look at the Lindt cafe as I pass. My eyes are focused on the Channel Seven news ticker. I can’t remember now what it says but I’m sure Michael Clarke’s hamstring features somewhere.

I love Martin Place, its wide indulgent promenade and its buildings that speak of other times. I always take a moment to breathe it in.

Man Haron Monis is only minutes away. This morbid chapter is already unfolding. By the time I settle at my desk, he has entered the Lindt cafe. The lives of seventeen people going about the mundane business of ordering and serving coffee are now forever changed.

Before long, a large TV screen in our office is showing static footage of a shopfront. This in itself stands out in these days when nothing is still. There is a headline about hostages. This is not real.

I ring my mum. If she has seen the footage, she’ll be worried. She’s not at home. I call my sister-in-law. It’s her birthday but I know better than to contact her before 10am.

My mum and brother are with her. I tell them what’s happening and they turn on their TV. Other families, contacted in similar fashion, do the same. Monis’ influence now ripples beyond the Lindt cafe, beyond Martin Place, into the suburbs, across the country and beyond.

I listen to myself speak to my family. My matter-of-fact tone is at odds with the situation and the concern I hear in their voices. Don’t worry, I tell them. I’m safe. We’re in lockdown. No one can get in. I might as well be discussing the weather.

Besides, this thing that’s happening across the road, which I can see from the window if I walk a few metres, is not real. It’s just something on TV.

My colleagues and I continue working, normalising an abnormal situation. We were warned this day would come. Three months ago, it went from a possibility to a likelihood. And now it’s here.

Flowers at midday
Midday: The floral tribute grows.

After a couple of hours, we’re told to leave the office. I don’t want to go outside. We’ve seen reports this may not be an isolated situation. We’re given the choice to work from another city location or from home. It’s a no brainer.

We exit on to Castlereagh St. The city is a stranger. There are sticky-beaks along the police cordon. Go home, I want to say. We are not part of this story.

Pitt St Mall is eerily quiet, especially for December. Half the stores are closed. In the other half a smattering of people go about their Christmas shopping, both scenes surreal.

My family has urged me to go home. Yet I duck into David Jones to buy a Christmas card — and think how stupid I’ll feel if something happens.

I keep walking, past the city, through Hyde Park. Darlinghurst, for the first time ever, feels blessedly suburban.

It is only when I get home that I begin to entertain the what ifs. The random precision of people, time and place sinks in. Our thoughts are with seventeen people. But it could have been any of us.

Twitter is full of speculation, inaccuracies and religious slurs. But then a woman on public transport notices a fellow traveller removing her hijab and encourages her to put it back on. The hashtag #illridewithyou is born. We see our best and worst selves on social media this afternoon.

Walking to school to pick up my daughter, I get teary. Today I don’t take for granted my ability to perform this simple parental duty. I hold her tight. We had arguments this morning, several, all irrelevant now.

She holds me too, for the school had almost been placed in lockdown and the kids, in preparation, were told what was going on.

2.30pm: A second floral tribute starts near the Lindt cafe.
2.30pm: A second floral tribute starts near the Lindt cafe.

I want to continue as normal but normal right now is beyond me. I can’t fathom my reaction. A friend cooks us dinner. They lived through London. They understand my catatonia. We have wine and watch TV. Hostages flee the cafe, their faces etched with terror. Our kids worry the gunman will escape.

A bewildered city goes to bed and wakes to the awful news that two brave souls have died, one apparently trying to disarm the gunman and the other, a mother, seeking to protect a pregnant friend.

The gunman too is dead. He has a name now. I don’t want to memorise it, to have it roll easily from my tongue. My nine-year-old, bless her, can find some compassion for him. She has a bigger heart than I do this morning.

I go to work, determined to reclaim my city. It is gouged with blue and white police tape. The sky is suitably overcast. An impromptu shrine of flowers builds outside our office window, a reference point for a city’s grief and solidarity.

In my first meeting of the day, I have a rant about a work deadline. I’m coping with events beyond my comprehension and control by focusing on trivia. We are brittle today. Numb. We feel sick in the stomach. And we can’t understand why we’re all so knackered.

Seventeen people suffered the brunt of this attack, their families too. Yet we are all affected, no matter how far removed. This is what’s becoming apparent twenty-four hours on.

And now it’s Wednesday. The world’s focus turns to Pakistan, where the Taliban has slaughtered 132 school children. It’s a brutal reminder that there are people hell-bent, in the true sense of the word, on destroying the pillars of our civil society.

Our city is scarred, there is no doubt. But we have a choice how we respond. We can turn on each other as Monis did. Or we can embrace the legacy of Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson whose final acts and thoughts, it would appear, were for others.

This is still our Sydney.

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104 Comments Add yours

  1. kazblah says:

    Reblogged this on kazblah and commented:

    On the anniversary of the Lindt Cafe siege, I wanted to share this piece from a year ago.

    Like

    1. Tanya says:

      Incredibly poignant Kazzie, and even more so now in light of Paris. What horror can eminnate from such simple daily acts.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. kazblah says:

        Thanks Tanya. There was a beautiful twilight service in Martin Place last night.

        Like

  2. Alka Girdhar says:

    Nice write up. Brought back memories of that dreadful day. I too had expressed my sentiments via this poem of mine:
    https://alkagirdhar.wordpress.com/2014/12/21/ode-to-the-terrorists/

    Liked by 1 person

  3. may says:

    Reblogged this on No Filter May.

    Like

  4. Nothing but positive experiences when I was in Sydney.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Reblogged this on andreannadais and commented:
    Beautifully written, ties us to one another in the commonality that we feel. I’m sure we can all relate to this blog. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings Kazblah. x

    Liked by 1 person

  6. fpaust says:

    Being a ex Sydney sider I know the place well as I grew up there and often walked there myself. I found I was glued to see what was happening as it unfolded before my eyes and was so in shock then the shock turned to grief for the loss of innocence as the days went on. But I do know Sydney is a strong city and it will move on with determined effort to unite and be stronger bringing people together not apart.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Scary. I’m so glad you’re safe. Praying for everyone there and the world.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. bonbon78 says:

    Reblogged this on everything livia and commented:
    I love Martin Place too and I walk through it nightly as I explore Sydney on foot after work on my way back to my hotel.

    Our lives will go on because that is the loudest rebuke in the face of terrorism.

    We are one around the world in solidarity.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. jonjominns says:

    Reblogged this on jonjominns's Blog and commented:
    Thank you for posting this. You have put the thoughts of many on the page.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. ditchthebun says:

    I am refusing to say the gunmans name, similar to you I don’t want the memory of him. His actions have had a ripple effect on all of Australia (particularly Sydney), because of him I have seen the best and worst of our country.
    I prefer to (as you have) concentrate on the emotions this situation has raised within us all and the strength and bravery of the hostages. To be honest I still don’t even know how I feel about what happened, I feel grief and yes anger, I am proud of Tori and Katrina and with the #illridewithyou came a bigger pride. This hashtag made me so very proud to be an Australian, we stand together against those that would disturb our beautiful multicultural country. “I am, you are, we are Australian”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. kazblah says:

      I know what you mean. Please read Petrea King’s comment further down this chain. She has some good advice on dealing with the various emotions, or lack of emotion, people may be feeling.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. rubyfix says:

    This really is one of the best posts I’ve seen about this. It truly shows how a lot of individuals felt throughout this terrible time. Thank you for such a great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. kazblah says:

      Thanks very much. Glad you appreciated it.

      Like

  12. You really took us through the day with you. I was across the water and watched the second plane hit the world trade center on 9/11. I can easily relate to the surreal feeling. I’ve also been to Sydney, but I think, even without my own experience, your piece would have brought me right there.
    These awful incidents surely do bring to the forefront of our minds our temporal nature – our fragility. None of us knows what will happen in the future, which in my opinion, indicates all of us should be seeking out the truth before we miss our opportunity.
    I pray you find clarity and truth as you emerge from this experience and are blessed with peace.
    Take care..

    Liked by 2 people

    1. kazblah says:

      Thanks for your kind words. There has been the most wonderful outpouring in Martin Place since the siege – floral tributes, multi-faith gatherings, even people giving free hugs. All part of the healing.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. just an average student says:

    Reblogged this on The world through my eyes.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Love goes out to tori kelly’s and katrina dawson’s family…

    Liked by 1 person

  15. roweeee says:

    Reblogged this on beyondtheflow and commented:
    Even though it is Christmas and a time for celebrating the joy of Christ’s birth and experiencing the love of family and friends, I decided to share a few other posts about the events of last week. Please also read a lengthy comment by Petrea King from Australia’s Quest for Life Foundation. I am also going to post this separately as it is excellent advice for anyone grappling with trauma. xx Rowena

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Rip friend’s and family who died in the sydney

    Liked by 1 person

  17. tiltbear says:

    I was watching this on TV for almost the whole day… I felt so worried for those people in the cafe… I was worried for them because i had only been in the city on a couple of days earlier christmas shopping for my family. I had wondered if they were buying chocolates for christmas or coffee for a morning of work. Those brave souls who were lost, may they rest in peace

    Liked by 1 person

  18. hanaafire says:

    Reblogged this on hanahappylife and commented:
    Pray …

    Liked by 1 person

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