Terror in Australis: the Siege in Sydney’s Martin Place.

Today, it’s 9 days before Christmas and our Christmas tree is standing in a plastic bucket of water almost naked awaiting decorations. We’ve had a very busy weekend with our daughter’s dance concert and I played my violin at the school Christmas carols and we also had to get the decorations out of storage.Oh yes, our son and I made our Christmas cake as well. To be honest, we’ve almost been too busy for Christmas!

Tonight was going to be the night. Being a bit of a flamboyant type, I usually like to turn decorating the Christmas tree into something of a ceremony with some Christmas cake, mince pies while the sounds of Hark the Herald Angels Sing echo throughout the house. Our decorations are an eclectic mix accumulated over the years and include snowmen and coloured-in Christmas stencils the kids have done over the years.

Martin Place at Night

Martin Place at Night

However, how can we possibly dress our Christmas tree tonight while hostages are still being held captive in a siege at the Lindt Cafe in Sydney’s Martin Place? They’ve now been held captive for over 11 hours.  We all know the impatience of being stuck in a queue for more than 5 minutes and the fear of being trapped in a lift for any length of time and none of these horrors even comes close to the psychological and emotional trauma of being held captive by a gunman and it’s pretty safe to assume that someone who would take people hostage in the first place might not be the most stable of characters.

Clock Tower, Sydney GPO, Martin Place.

Clock Tower, Sydney GPO, Martin Place.

However, the tide stops for no one and so we went ahead with decorating the tree although instead of the usual Christmas cheer, we were watching the rolling news coverage instead. So much for Christmas carols and a bit of Christmas cheer but there are bigger things at stake.

Rather than just rehashing what’s already being rehashed and rehashed in the media, I won’ t go into details here. I would recommend going to the Sydney Morning Herald’s website at: http://www.smh.com.au/

However, as you might not have heard of Martin Place, I thought I’d provide something of a back story. After all, you would think that the Sydney Harbour Bridge or the Sydney Opera House would be more likely choices for a siege but once you look around Martin Place a bit, the thinking becomes clearer.

Map Showing the location of Martin Place, Sydney.

Map Showing the location of Martin Place, Sydney.

Martin Place was officially opened in September 1892 and was named after the Chief Justice, Sir James Martin, a former New South Wales Attorney-General and Premier. Moore Street (between Pitt and Castlereagh streets) was widened and renamed Martin Place in 1921.

This iconic photo known as "Dancing Man" was taken in Elizabeth Street,  Martin Place celebrating the end of WWII on 15 August, 1945.

Celebration in Martin Place: This iconic photo known as “Dancing Man” was taken in Elizabeth Street, Martin Place where this exuberant gentleman is celebrating  the end of WWII on 15 August, 1945.

The Dictionary of Sydney writes:

“Martin Place has been called ‘the heart of the city’, and it was added to the Australian Heritage Commission’s list in 1989. It is the site of the Cenotaph, built in 1927, and some of Sydney’s finest buildings front it, including the GPO, two Commonwealth Bank buildings, Challis House, the Australasia Bank head office, the Colonial Mutual Life building and the APA building. Martin Place was also the site of the spectacular but now demolished Hotel Australia and the Rural Bank head office. It is home to the head offices of the Reserve Bank and a number of other banks.

Martin Place provides both a ceremonial and recreational focus for the city. Because the GPO and its associated telegraph office was originally the place where news first broke – the shipping news – people have long gathered in front of the building at times of national significance. They flocked there at the ending of wars, which was why this location was chosen for the Cenotaph, which has always been a more significant gathering point than the main war memorial in Hyde Park. The famous photograph of the ‘dancing man’ has cemented this place in the story of the ending of World War II. Today, Anzac Day and other commemorative services are held at the Cenotaph in lower Martin Place, which is also the site for the annual Lord Mayor’s Christmas tree. Giant screens, first erected to allow Sydneysiders to view events from the Olympic Games in 2000, are now a regular feature of the Sydney Festival, while political demonstrations in Martin Place are a constant part of the ebb and flow of the city’s life. In 2008 it filled with people to hear Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s speech making an apology to Aboriginal people of the Stolen Generations.”

http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/martin_place

ANZAC Parade through Martin Place 1930

ANZAC Day Parade through Martin Place 1930

Personally,  I think of Martin Place as a quiet place of reflection where you can take a bit of  time out from work while eating takeaway or perhaps a sandwich and there’s always a large contingent of pigeons.Come rush hour, there’s also the rush and bustle and Martin Place transforms into a sea of rapidly moving legs. It’s a great place to go people watching. Take photos and feel completely immersed in Sydney.

Here I am dining out in Martin Place after attending the Sydney Writer's Festival last year.

Here I am dining out in Martin Place after attending the Sydney Writer’s Festival last year.

Quite aside from its Martin Place location, the siege is in the luxurious Lindt Cafe. I’ve never actually been there myself but friends have. It’s the sort of place you go for that special indulgence and in so many instances, sharing the chocolate you love with the person you love. Lindt chocolate is absolutely divine and to be perfectly honest, many of us would have fantasized about being accidentally locked in Lindtland with all that chocolate. Obviously those chocoholic fantasies are a very different scenerario to what’s now going on at the Lindt Cafe. One minute, the hostages were in heaven, the next minute they were in hell.

This siege is like having a bullet shot into Australia’s heart and it hurts. It bewilders. We can’t understand why something this awful is happening here. Our innocence, our naivety perhaps, that these things might happen overseas but do not happen here, has been shattered. Nowhere is safe.

Traditionally, Australia has been geographically isolated from “trouble”. World War I never reached our shores and while the Japanese dropped bombs around the Australian coast notably in Sydney Harbour and Darwin, the war was largely waged on foreign soil. Intellectuals, writers, artists, performers have all lamented this isolation and have often fled our shores either by necessity or design. We were something of a backwater but the world has shrunk and we can no longer depend on this isolation. We are now part of the world wide web. We can’t turn back..whether we want to or not.

It is now more than 12 hours since the siege began and it’s hard to believe that there is no end in sight.

It is shuddering to think about what the hostages are going through…as well as their family and friends. I know that anguish of living in suspended animation and the thought of being taken away from those I love and who love me…even though I’ve never been in a hostage situation. That is anguish and we’ve seen a few of the hostages who escaped on TV and their terror is chilling.

We pray for the peaceful resolution and for the safe release of the hostages and for healing from this anguish.

I am also praying about the repercussions of this event. People are angry, scared. We’ve had our very way of life threatened and it’s only natural to fight back and defend you and yours as well as your beliefs. We do not want terrorism or violence of any sort in our country and while we do need to defend our country from internal and external attack, we also need to nurture a culture of love and acceptance where people of all  cultures and creeds feel at home. That said, extremism of any sort needs to be dealt with strongly so we can continue living in a free and just people.

I am hoping to wake up in the morning and hear that the siege is over. That it has ended well. My goodness. I am now heading off to sleep in my own bed while the hostages and sleeping or more likely spending the night with a gun point at them. Reminds me not to take things for granted and to be thankful, even though I’ve had a run of bad luck lately.

I send them, their family and friends my love.

xx Rowena

5 thoughts on “Terror in Australis: the Siege in Sydney’s Martin Place.

  1. maxwellthedog

    I remember Martin Place well from the time I did some consulting work in the CBD on George Street. WE followed the events on news TV here. too. Taking innocents as hostages is loathsome stuff and our hearts go out to all the good folks affected by this terrible situation.

  2. roweeee Post author

    Hi Tom,
    I didn’t realise that you’d been to Australia and even worked here. So you’ll understand what Martin Place is like. One woman was in tears on the news today saying “I have my lunch here”. Just so hard to understand. Just awful. Woke up this morning sort of expecting the siege to be ongoing and instead two hostages had been shot dead. Time just stopped and there was such a sense of shock. Such a tragic loss!

  3. roweeee Post author

    Yes, Mimi. Most of us have a heart and while we are not crippled by the tragic events which go on around us, we grieve. The kids and I actually drew hearts onto red cardboard, cut them out and taped them to paddlepop sticks and sent them with a letter to people who lost loved ones in the MH17 tragedy. We didn’t reach all the Australians but there were schools who had lost teachers etc and students so they were easy to approach. I really felt we needed a visual public tribute to the victims like planted a field of hearts or sunflowers but it hasn’t happened. I am now feeling we need something of a national memorial to victims of terrorism. These people won’t be honoured at our cenotaphs but they still lost their lives in this different type of war.
    My husband told me that a plane has gone missing today. It looks like things are bubbling through the surface and it is unnerving at the very least. I’d like to think that we are out of the way here but it’s all a matter of timing. As a psychologist, you would know more about this. Don’t know whether you read the advice from Petrea King which I re-posted. I thought she gave excellent, well=informed advice xx Rowena.

  4. Pingback: Walking Through Martin Place: 6 Weeks After the Sydney Siege. | beyondtheflow

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