news lock Subscriber Exclusive

'So, I went back to Westfield Bondi Junction.'

Mia Freedman's Babble is a newsletter delivering content on pop culture, modern life and being a Gen Xer in a Gen Z world. Sign up here.

I was on holidays when it happened, and that was strange. Feeling so far away from something that also felt so incredibly close.

Normally, before the brutal attack that ended six lives and affected countless more, I would have popped up to Westfield the day after I came home. I had errands to do, some shoes to return but more than that, I go to Westfield as a form of rest and recreation and respite. I’m always pulled there. It’s my third place. It’s not work, it’s not home.

Ironically, I go to Westfield to be alone in a way I can only feel alone surrounded by people and energy and the white noise of strong sensory stimulation.

It relaxes me. Let’s me disappear. I think shopping centres do this for women and girls. We can be visible and invisible. And if you’re a mother or a carer, it’s a place where nobody asks you to do anything for them. That’s nice.

And of course, all of these reasons to go to Westfield seem cruelly shallow and indulgent at such a time of intense grief. But I went yesterday because I wanted to pay my respects. I needed to process what happened. To somehow reclaim that third place that was taken from all of us by that man when he took the lives of those six people who were just like us.

Watch: On April 18, Westfield Bondi Junction re-opens for an official day of reflection. Post continues after video.

Video via YouTube/7 News Australia.

It was emotional and beautiful and heart-breaking and upsetting and restorative. Because people are good. Fundamentally, they are.

The sea of flowers, the messages, the thank you's to Amy Scott for the lives she saved with her bravery - have you seen the footage of her sprinting towards danger, with four men scrambling behind her to try and keep up? What courage, all of them.

It’s impossible not to start crying when you see the sea of flowers at the two memorials. You can feel the quiet, gutted energy of all the grief.

The centre itself felt hollowed out. Many of the shops were closed, particularly near where people were killed. The things they must have seen and heard and felt are unimaginable and yet I lie awake at night and imagine them.

I walked past the place where he was shot. And you would never know. It’s not marked except in the minds of everyone who knows Westfield and who saw that footage, those images. I instinctively veered away because I knew but the woman next to me wheeled her pram across the spot and I thought of Ashlee Good, another mother wheeling her baby around on an ordinary Saturday afternoon.

I saw police and security and people wearing vests that said "mental health" and I watched people seek them out to talk quietly. It was very quiet. Reverent. There was no music playing. Not in the centre and not in the shops. I’ve been to Westfield at all times of the day, on every day of the week and never have I seen it so empty, so quiet. I saw people walking and standing in groups of two and three and four, looking shocked and hugging, many with tears in their eyes. I walked around clutching the black ribbon I’d been given to commemorate those affected and I cried and thought about the sheer scale of damage that man did.

The victims, everyone who loved them but also everyone who was there and everyone who knew someone who was there and everyone who has ever been there and everyone. I signed a condolence book. What do you say?

It was beautiful and unfair and deeply, deeply sad and I’m so glad I went.

If you find yourself needing to talk to someone after reading this story, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Feature image: Supplied/Mia Freedman.

Unlock unlimited access to the best content for women