Yesterday, I walked through Sydney’s Martin Place for the very first time since the terrorist siege in December. It’s been 6 weeks. Experiencing something of a swirling vortex of emotion within, I felt unnerved, strange and just sad. Yet, with all the historic buildings still pretty much the same and the usual contingent of penguins in business attire, Martin Place was strangely business as usual.
“I am forever walking upon these shores,
Betwixt the sand and the foam,
The high tide will erase my food prints,
And the wind will blow away the foam,
But the sea and the shore will remain forever.”
― Kahlil Gibran, Sand and Foam
I wasn’t there as a voyeur but as someone trying to make sense of a horror which could never make sense. I had wanted to get in there earlier to pay my respects and leave some flowers. However, with my broken foot, I couldn’t get into the city. Now, leaving flowers no longer seemed appropriate and there was no means to express a grief which runs inexplicably deep, almost as deep as the historic Tank Stream, which lies buried beneath Martin Place’s landmark GPO where most don’t even know it still exists.
Tank Stream. Photo: courtesy Sydney Water.
A lot of tears have flowed into that stream lately and it’s been bursting its subterranean banks…or should I say through the pipes. Yet, now as time passes, those tears are ever so slowly leaking through the cracks.
Above ground, everything appears almost, almost “normal” even though it isn’t. Not yet, anyway. We’re human…not machines. You can’t just press a stopwatch and your grief instantly goes away… along with your fear or at least a little reticence. After all, it could just as easily have been you, me, someone else we know and love and we know it. We’re no longer naive. It’s no longer “over there”. As I’ve said before, Australia has lost its innocence.
After a personally draining but positive day of medical tests topped off with a filling at the dentist, why did I feel the need to go to Martin Place? I really should have been unwinding and Luna Park or even a ferry trip would have been better options.
Yet, there was something stirring and resonating in my heart…a very strong, deep sense of grief..even a sense of anguish for all those who had been taken hostage and their families but mostly for Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson, who lost their lives. I needed to let that out.
I naturally feel a strong identification with Katrina Dawson, not only because she is also a Mum but because our family has been living with my tenuous health for almost 9 years and we have had some very, very anguished close calls. I have felt my children being torn away from me like having my heart ripped out of my chest and it is agonisingly painful. To know that her family is actually living that hell, that grief, makes my heart ache and there’s also anger because it didn’t have to be. Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson did not have to die that day. This is probably some kind of survivor’s guilt. After all, it is hard to understand how I’m still here when my body has been ravaged by so much disease: my muscles, lungs, skin, bones. I doubt there’s a part of this body which isn’t being held together by safety pins. Yet, somehow I’m still breathing and even walking. Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson were fit, healthy good people who had done nothing wrong. They just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time and through some absolute miracle, my kids still have their Mum.
Mister and I reading during my 7 week hospital stint in 2007 when I was diagnosed with dermatomyositis.
The kids and I. Mister was 3.5 and Miss was 18 months old.
It doesn’t make any sense but I’m incredibly grateful and also incredibly conscious of other families who are living this grief.
I have walked through Martin Place countless times before. The clock tower still looms over the top of the historic GPO almost like the moon, even in daylight. I pass by the Cenotaph honoring those who gave their lives during a different type of war where we seemed to know the rules. None of that has changed, although some extensive renovations are underway.
Then, as I’m making my way through Martin Place, I starting thinking. Nobody knows where I am. That I’m here. I started wondering whether I should just possibly call my husband and let him know that I’m in Martin Place. If something happens, not that it’s going to happen because it can’t, nobody knows that I’m here. Lightening doesn’t strike the same place twice although all the reasons why Martin Place was hit last time, are still there. That hasn’t changed. I feel like I’m walking through a minefield and I need to report in. That something could happen and nobody would even know that I’m here. That a confession is in order. Yes, instead of catching the train straight home from the dentist at Milson’s Point, I’ve caught the train into the city, traversing the imposing span of the Sydney Harbour Bridge alighting at Wynyard Station. Despite my broken foot, I have managed to hobble up George Street to Martin Place and even up the hill. I can already hear them saying: “What was she thinking?!!!”
I’d already had a very emotionally charged, exhausting day what with medical tests and having a tooth filled at the dentist and I still had violin ensemble ahead. Yet, I felt drawn to Martin Place, needing to pay my respects and also to try to fathom the unfathomable.
I am walking up through Martin Place, which has a bit of a hill. Up, up, up. I’m not entirely sure where the Lindt Cafe is located but my foot is now starting to tire and I’m wondering if it’s all too much. I’m slowly putting the pieces of the puzzle together.
This iconic photo known as “Dancing Man” was taken in Elizabeth Street, Martin Place celebrating the end of WWII on 15 August, 1945.
A famous photo called: “The Dancing Man” was taken in Martin Place at the end of WWII of a man jubilantly dancing in Martin Place near the corner of Elizabeth Street. This photo has come to represent joy and celebration and yet it was almost taken right at the location of the Lindt Cafe…a scene where chocolate indulgence has turned into horror and tragedy. This paradox intrigues me. No one else seems to have made this connection.
Amidst all these questions, I wonder if place has a sense of memory? Does the soil buried beneath metres of concrete also wonder why all this has happened? Why it happened here? Who knows?
Slowly but surely I am nearing the Channel 7 TV Studios, which I know from the news broadcasts, are directly opposite the Lindt Cafe. This, it turns out, was no coincidence.
St James Church, Sydney. 1836, lithograph. Robert Russell, printed by John Gardiner Austin.
This is the Lindt Cafe. It’s located on the corner of Phillip Street, metres away from the NSW Supreme Court and the Reserve Bank. At least in Australian terms, this area is steeped in history. It is also metres away from St James Church. St James, with its simple almost austere Georgian lines, was designed by former convict Francis Greenway, consecrated in February 1824 and became a parish church in 1835.
A Very Different Breakfast…
A block away, there’s Tiffany’s jewelery store and I can’t help but think of the movie and see Audrey Hepburn in all her elegance. Moon River flows through my heart like a stream https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q7SI7N22k_A but then there’s this dreadful discordance…a Monday morning and a hot chocolate at the Lindt Cafe…
That certainly wasn’t Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
The Lindt Cafe is empty. Indeed, it hasn’t reopened since the siege. The entrance has been boarded up and there’s a slide bolt stuck on the front. It’s sort of bolt you usually see on a side gate in your backyard, not on the front of a cafe. It looks very weird and out of place like the can opener my grandfather used to shut his garage door in later life.
Lindt Cafe, Martin Place: a close-up of the slide bolt on the front door.
The future of the Lindt Cafe is seemingly coming out of limbo. Apparently, it’s being renovated and a memorial will be set up in the new cafe. As much as I’d always wanted to go there in the past, I don’t know if I could go there. Although I’m a serious chocoholic, there are so many other places to go where there are no memories…just coffee and cake. That’s what I’m looking for. I don’t need to be a hero. I don’t need to take such chances. I don’t even need to be brave. With more than enough adventure on my own journey, I don’t need to take on fresh, unnecessary challenges.
Phillip Street, looking towards the Lindt Cafe, which is on the corner on the left hand side.
That said, I can’t just stay at home either. There’s that yin and yang…the tension where carpe diem seize the day becomes rather blurry. We know the world has changed…especially after events in Paris only served the reinforce the warning yet while need to be vigilant but not afraid.
There is a difference but the challenge is to find it and to stick with it.
This is the fourth post I’ve written about the siege at the Lindt Cafe, Martin Place, Sydney. Here are some links to previous posts:
During the Siege: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2014/12/15/terror-in-australis-the-siege-in-sydneys-martin-place/
At the end of the Siege: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2014/12/16/only-9-sleeps-before-christmas/
This is Our Sydney: Originally posted on kazblah: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2014/12/24/this-is-still-our-sydney/
Recovering From Trauma: Petrea King https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2014/12/24/recovering-from-trauma-petrea-king-a-must-read/
Send Christmas Cards to Katrina Dawson’s Kids: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2014/12/19/lindt-cafe-siege-sydney-please-send-christmas-cards-to-katrina-dawsons-kids/
Should We Have A Happy Christmas? https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2014/12/21/should-we-have-a-happy-christmas/
A New Year’s Wish: Ask What You Can Do for Your World: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2014/12/29/a-new-years-wish-ask-what-you-can-do-for-your-world/