A year ago today marks the day my workplace was locked down as the horrendous events unfolded in Sydney’s Martin Place during the Lindt Café Sydney Siege, where a lone gunman, Man Haron Monis, held ten customers and eight employees hostage.
I later learned that four of my fellow employees were begging for their lives, after having simply popped out of the office that morning to grab a cup of coffee.
I’m not one for public spectacles and I prefer to avoid crowds but, in the days that followed the Lindt Café siege, I had an innate need to visit the impromptu public memorial that had sprung up in the Martin Place pedestrian mall. I was mourning the loss of two innocent lives, the horrors inflicted on the survivors and also a more personal impact of experiencing an evil that had scratched its claws across my city.
Just walking up Sydney’s bustling George Street that day, I could already tell that things were different. While there was the usual lunchtime throng of shoppers and people out for lunch, it was very obvious that there was another flow of people coming off buses and trains, all heading in the same direction. Many of them were carrying flowers. Some held elaborate bunches, others were a simple collection of colourful Gerberas.
Mourning in that public place with hundreds of other people was an unexpectedly intimate experience. As I stood at the barrier, breathing in the fragrance of thousands of different flowers laid down in respect, I was enveloped by a communal silence. Everyone stood there quietly. It was a mass reflection where words simply weren’t necessary. Behind us, there was the constant movement of people walking through the pedestrian thoroughfare, but in that exclusively quiet place, I joined strangers in silently marking our shared loss, shock and heartache.
It reminded me of the morning my father died of cancer surgery complications over three years ago, when I was left with the sense that there was a distinct and obvious Dad-shaped hole in the universe. I could feel it in the very core of my being, as if I was a tent where one of the pegs had come out, leaving me untethered from the ground. It was a hole only I could see, as life kept going on around me with people filling up their cars and heading off to the shops with their weekly grocery lists. Nobody else noticed that there was somebody clearly missing in the world.
After the siege ended and in the days and weeks that followed, the holes rendered in the universe through the unnecessary and senseless deaths of Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson were, however, noticed by millions of people. Thousands had come to that place of mourning to take time to reflect on all that was lost on 15 December 2014. The news reported that their families who visited the flower memorial on Martin Place had apparently gained some comfort from strangers noticing the spaces, voids and holes Tori and Katrina left behind. And knowing that the lives of the other hostages would never be the same again from the blunt force emotional and psychological trauma they were put through.