Yesterday started off as an absolutely beautiful day. We have just moved into our new home and after a weekend of chaos that can only come with moving home, I was almost joyful to be getting out of the “move-zone” and heading off to work at my office in hub of Sydney’s CBD.
As I walked to the bus stop I noticed the sun was already warm and I enjoyed the peace of our new street and listened to the birds chirping and singing. Blue skies and uninterrupted sunshine.
And it was a day Sydneysiders will never forget. It was the day terror finally showed its ugly head in Australia.
As a British expat I was in the UK (although not in London itself, but living nearby and with many friends there) when the London bombings happened in 2005. We watched as our nation was attacked by a minority – a group of extremists who killed 52 innocents and left a country grieving. Perhaps because I was not a Londoner and because I was almost 10 years younger than I am now, the primary feeling I had at that time was fear. There had been other attempted suicide bombings which were stopped, yet a couple of weeks after the bombings I was on the tube and I was petrified. I couldn’t get to my stop to visit my friend fast enough.
And I have never felt safe in London. It’s a sprawling, dynamic and buzzy city. One that I love and miss, but one I have never felt completely relaxed in. With Sydney it’s different. From the first time I visited I knew I could live here. Ok, so I’m not and never will be a city girl so by ‘live here’ I mean I live in a countryside-y suburb on the comparably sleepy Northern Beaches. That’s my best of both worlds – I have the buzz and glamour of a wonderful city on my doorstep and I travel there every day… but I go home to the beaches, the great outdoors and the slower pace of life, and I feel sufficiently removed from the rush, the concrete, the crowds and the nine to five.
So yes, I do feel at home here in Sydney. And in the 6 months I’ve been back working in the CBD I am really getting into the swing of being a city girl as a worker and getting to know the hub of Sydney a bit better – something I should undoubtedly have done prior to now, in my now nearly five years here!
When three of my colleagues came back from a coffee break around 10am on that Monday morning saying there was something going down in Martin Place as there were heaps of armed police turning up, I immediately jumped onto Twitter to see what’s what. I did not expect to read (and see) that there were several hostages being held at gunpoint in the Lindt café just a block down the road from office, and more to the point, neighbouring the coffee shop the guys had just been in.
And sadly, of course this was just the start of what was a 16 hour stand-off, during which many friends of mine were either in lock-down in their work buildings, or were evacuated. After lunchtime, following messages from several family members and mates I headed back over to the north shore where it was almost possible to imagine that this terrible scene was not on going in a street I have walked up and down countless times.
More unbelievable, on going to bed last night, was that I would wake up to tragic news in the morning. The news that two innocent and beautiful lives were taken as a result of one man’s utterly psychotic behaviour. An extremist and small-minded, poisonous individual who tried to bring the heart of terror to Sydney and to Australia.
As we all got up and went about our day in a wounded city, what struck me most was not fear. It was not terror. It was what Australia does best, and I saw it surmised best in the hashtag “mateship”.
For, from the very start of the viral campaign #illridewithyou right through to the huge queue which is now at Martin Place to place flowers at Sydneysiders’ self-made shrine, there are things that sing louder than fear and hatred. It’s a desire to stand tall together, it’s a united front, it’s about being a mate. There is a quiet feeling that we’re all in this together purely because we all experienced it – we all feel defiant about someone trying to bring terror to the city we live in and love. And rightfully so. Firstly, up until now, Australia did seem to have escaped terrorism and everything about it and it is so sad that it is now changed forever – it is no longer “untouched”. But most significant to me is the reaction of unity and camaraderie. It’s love and it’s bringing us together as only love can.
Best described in this wonderful quote from Martin Luther King Jr. –
Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
You see in our absolute outrage, in our heartache and sadness, Sydneysiders are not rising up with anger but with love. With compassion and understanding. And with mateship.
And that is why I love Sydney and why I’m so bloody glad I live here even though I’m so far from so many I love.
Here are some photos from Martin Place when I went to have some time to pause, lay flowers and reflect.
I jotted a quick note in my flowers that read something along the lines of:
We will not live in fear but will love fearlessly. Sydney grieves but we stand together taller today.
RIP Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson. May your families and friends know the huge support as we all think of them at this time. Thoughts too for all hostages who I could not stop dwelling on during the day yesterday. And gratitude to the amazing police departments for their selfless work.