I woke up this morning and, as usual, picked up my iPhone to check my social media updates.
It’s not that it should have come as a huge surprise, but I was still shocked when Facebook cheerily announced it had some memories for me from a year ago … suddenly there were my notes of disbelief and shock to my family and friends, letting them know about the Lindt Café siege unfolding in Martin Place just a hundred metres from our office. No, Facebook, I would not ‘like to look back on this post from 1 year ago’.
I know it’s only an algorithm, but I do wish it was a little smarter and more intelligent, so it would know I don’t need to be reminded of that day. Or perhaps I do …
Possibly it was tasteless to post to social media, or take photos as I was leaving my office building later that day, but living online is practically wired into us these days.
That morning I was on my way to the Lindt Café, my favourite spot for meetings outside the office, for a 10am catch up with a colleague from a publishing house. I was running late. Thankfully so was she.
I barely walked 10 meters from the entrance of our office building when an unusually agitated and stressed police officer blocked my path and asked me to turn around and evacuate the area.
Usually I am one who has an instinctive rejection of authority. The urgency and subtle panic in her voice overrode any objections I would usually have had in such situations. I turned around, caught the elevator back to my office and immediately turned to the internet, sensing there was something particularly wrong. It soon became clear that a shocking event was unfolding at the Lindt Café.
I started to worry about the colleague I was meant to meet, but I was hesitant to call or text her. What if she’s inside the café, and calling or texting her brings attention to her?! My mind was going at a million miles an hour.
My phone dinged. A text message! It’s her! She actually saw me from the other side of Phillip Street being turned back by the policewoman. The same thing had happened to her! She was running late, and a police officer blocked her way, and turned her around. That’s a relief!
Next thought: many, many of my colleagues get their coffee from Lindt Café and have meetings there – one of my dearest friends stops by there every morning to get her coffee, and she’s pregnant! This is not meant to be about me, but the people inside the café, yet I am panicking.
“It appears terrorism has struck Lindt Café in Martin Place.
Everyone inside has been taken hostage and hostages are being forced to hold an Islamic flag of some sort up against the window.
We are still trying to work out if anyone from [*] is down there … awful mood in the office.”
Facebook post at 10.42am, 15 December 2014
Soon the office confirmed everyone was accounted for, but the building was in a lockdown. I also confirmed my friend was fine. She did pick up her coffee that morning, but got takeaway instead of sitting down …
It was hard to get work done, but we all carried on. People were incredible, in our office and across Sydney. The people of this town handled this crisis with poise and dignity. It was amazing to see such a tragic event bringing out the best from the people of Sydney.
We were eventually allowed to leave the building by early afternoon. Most people chose to head out of the city and go home, including myself.
Of course it was inevitable for some to lose their minds a little, including certain media outlets, I am looking at you The Australian, but thankfully the numbers were small and contained.
“The ‘Letters’ section of @australian is so inappropriate & in poor taste today, especially presuming editorial involvement in the selection.”
Twitter post, 16 December 2014
The next day was strange. As the siege ended overnight tragically, we were offered the option to work from home, given the proximity of our office to the exclusion zone.
“I woke up this morning and for a brief moment it seemed that yesterday might have been just a terrible dream.
Then I realised it wasn’t …”
Twitter post, 16 December 2014
The tragic aftermath was revealed next morning. Two people and the gunman died.
Katrina Dawson, a successful barrister and mother of three young children, and Tori Johnson, the manager of the Lindt Café and loving partner, were confirmed dead.
The city and the country mourned.
Flowers covered Martin Place – a thing of beauty borne from tragedy.
By and large our political class and the media handled these events with the dignity one would expect in a liberal, democratic society. Others failed to varying degrees, but we all process tragedy in our own special way.
“My heart goes out to the families of those lost this morning in Sydney, including Thomas, Tori’s loving life-partner of 14 years …”
“Found today’s Catholic Mass at St Mary’s empty & meaningless given Catholic Church’s campaign to prevent recognition of the love like Tori’s”
Twitter posts, 16 December 2014
Some said terror had arrived in Sydney on 15 December 2014. Others saw a calamitous collision of our attitudes towards mental health, questionable bail laws, and illegal guns in the community.
The Inquest into the deaths arising from the Lindt Café siege is still in progress, looking into the events of the day and the events leading up to it. The report, expected sometime in 2016, will no doubt shed more light on this tragedy.
“I dreamt that story of Sydney siege victim Tori, and meeting his life-partner of 14 years, changed Tony Abbott’s stance on marriage equality”
Twitter post, 17 December 2014
But today is about remembering Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson, two beautiful lives cut tragically short, and sending condolences and our collective love and strength to their loved ones.