Tag Archives: Sydney Siege

The Quest for Compassion at Christmas Time.

Every month, I take part in a global blogging movement:  One Thousand Voices For Compassion. For almost a year now, we’ve been writing a post every month about some aspect of compassion which we’ve come together and shared. I know that for me, focusing on compassion every month and sharing these values with like-minded crusaders has truly expanded my horizons and my world. It’s been such an inspiration!

Here’s a link to the link-up: http://www.inlinkz.com/new/view.php?id=592285

So, here I am back again thinking about compassion. I haven’t watched the news for a few weeks so events beyond my own microcosm are something of a mystery but I know our world is in crisis on many, many fronts. However, I also know that there is much beauty and love in our world as well. As an optimist, I have to believe that ultimately goodness will triumph evil. That one person, even one little person like myself, can actually be a part of what makes a difference…especially when we come together… just like grains of sand joining to make a rock.

I have already contributed a post about visiting Sydney’s Lindt Cafe 12 months after the terrorist siege which shut down the Sydney CBD and resulted in three deaths. This was a very emotional moment for me, especially as I knew one of the hostages: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/12/18/sydneys-lindt-cafe-12-months-on/

However, while it is important to be mindful of events making headlines around the world, so much flies under the radar and I feel that by addressing some of the smaller stuff, that we could indeed make inroads on some of the bigger issues.

After all my pre-Christmas trials and tribulations, I have been reminded yet again about the dangers of perfection. Moreover, in the context of Christmas,  how expectations of perfection can all too easily destroy the spiritual, social and fun aspects of Christmas turning it into a horrific ordeal where everything we truly hold dear could well go up in smoke. By the way, I’m not talking about your precious turkey or Christmas pud here but relationships. Love exploding into smithereens under the pressure as nothing or no one could ever possibly measure up to those unrealistic standards of perfection. After all, who really lives on the set of Vogue Living…especially if they have kids, pets and experience any sort of joie de vivre?

Even though I’m pretty laissez-faire about the house, even I’ve found myself getting caught up in this perfectionist trap this Christmas.

Let’s start off with the tree.


Our Christmas Tree

Even though our tree might look pretty slap-dash with it’s cluttered eclectic menagerie of mismatched ornaments and the poor angel precariously perched at the top looking like she about to jump off, a lot of thought went into that tree. The tree is fresh and was specially ordered in, as we didn’t want a big tree. We have way too many ornaments and so I went through the boxes with my daughter only picking out the best, the favourites and made a mental note to chuck out the broken ones. Cut back.


Christmas Stocking made 1982, aged 13. Close-up of my crappy needlework.

I know it’s not the done thing to hang your broken ornaments on your tree, especially pride of place. However, what are we supposed to do with broken people? Do we throw them out as well? I don’t think so, especially when you think this through a little further and realise we’re all imperfect or broken in some way.  This, of course means, that we’re either all in. Or, we’re all out!

Shortbread Christmas trees 2015

My not so perfect shortbread Christmas Trees.

Again, I was struck by the perils of perfection while baking shortbread Christmas Trees. While turning shortbread into shapes seemed like a good idea, it certainly wasn’t child’s play. Trying to extract the shortbread mixture from the cookie cutter involved surgical precision, especially when it came to removing the trunk intact. It even required a scalpel AKA butter knife. By the time I’d finished, no two trees were exactly the same. Yes, you could tell they’d been cut by the same cutter but there was also some other force at work. It’s called being handmade. Not something churned out by a factory where each and every detail is identical and any variation is either chucked out or sold off cheap as “Factory Seconds”!


Heart Teddy is missing an eye. Does that mean it’s officially broken and should be chucked out? I don’t think so!

That is also what it means to be human. Excluding identical twins, no two humans are exactly alike. There are themes and variations and just like my shortbread biscuits. We need to embrace everyone without expecting to see ourselves reflected in every mirror. Well, may be not embrace but at least accept. After all,  I’m not suggesting that you need to go hugging complete strangers to be compassionate.

Humanity needs diversity, a kaleidoscope….certainly not identical, factory-made clones.

However, accepting diversity doesn’t usually come easily. It requires compassion, empathy and, above all else, love. Not just towards others but also ourselves. If we can’t accept imperfection in ourselves how can we possibly hope to accept it in others? That said, for some of us we’re much more critical of ourselves than others. Then, our journey is more about learning to show compassion, love and acceptance to ourselves at least to the same degree that we shower it on others.

This all leads me to my greatest Achilles Heel…having the house neat and tidy for Christmas. Quite frankly, this just isn’t going to happen. All house is bursting at the seams. We’ve had to move and rearrange things to fit in the tree and a piano load of decorations. Moreover, we’ve had so much on, that we’ve only had time to dump and run, which does nothing for maintaining the house. Yet, we’ve performed in end of year concerts. I’ve been doing my blog. Made a Christmas cake, shortbread and I posted 35 Christmas cards today. Is a spotless house really going to bring any joy to anyone? I don’t know but fortunately, we’ll be having Christmas lunch at my aunt’s place. This, of course means, that the house can wait! As long as Santa can squeeze in, we’ll be happy!

Our home might be somewhat overstocked but at least it has a heart and there are far greater crimes about humanity than a bit of dog hair on the carpet!

After all, Baby Jesus was born in a very humble manger in a stable surrounded by barnyard animals and his first visitors were lowly shepherds. That is what we are really honouring at Christmas which is so, so far removed from our contemporary notions of the “perfect Christmas”.

Yet, I am who I am and I still feel like all my efforts have fallen painfully short. That nothing’s quite right. I don’t even know if I’ll manage to convey what I know matters most…love. Trying to show others you love them isn’t a perfect art. We all know how those efforts can backfire. I can only hope that the spirit of Christmas somehow fills in all the cracks, converting my best intentions into something which touches their hearts like a magic wand.

After all, isn’t that’s what’s truly important? To know you are loved and for others to know you love them?!!

heartman 24.6.2010

“Heartman” Drawn by Mister 2010 aged 6.

So, embracing the spirit of compassion this Christmas may we embrace each other and ourselves with love and acceptance just as we are…whatever that means!

If you would like to read more about compassion, here’s a link through to the link-up:

Our family wishes you and yours an Australian “Merry Christmas”. This is a greeting which covers most creeds and cultures here and largely refers to the man in the big red suit, some Christmas “cheer” and time off work, which could well be spent at the beach. This is how so many Australians unfortunately find themselves wearing patchy red birthday suits. More compassion required!

Love and Best Wishes,

Rowena, Geoff, Mister, Miss, Bilbo and Lady

PS: “Happy Holidays” is not a greeting used in Australia and so despite wanting to be culturally sensitive and all-embracing, I feel that I need to be true to where I’m from and what these words mean where I am. Merry Christmas is just like saying “G’day mate” and has lost much of its Christian heritage. I’m not too sure what I think of that either.



Sydney’s Lindt Cafe Siege…12 Months On.

As I gingerly entered Sydney’s Lindt Cafe yesterday, nobody handed me a bravery award, or even acknowledged the deeply troubled significance of my visit. That I wasn’t there for chocolate or even coffee.

A year after Sydney’s horrific terrorist siege in the Lindt Cafe at the heart of Martin Place, I was there to pay my respects.

Like so many, I had been glued to the TV screen during the siege. I’d broken my foot the day before. Immobilised and in pain, I vicariously experienced the horror, the not knowing and witnessed those gunshots which brought the siege to an end with three deaths and a blinding flash of light.

You don’t have to be there anymore to experience a sense of such trauma. Even if you have only half a heart, watching such trauma on TV, absorbing the aftermath of personal stories and being walked in their shoes, are enough.

As I said, you don’t need to be there.

Yet, for those that were, how do you ever move forward and yet they have no choice. Life goes on. It doesn’t stop. Pause. Hold its breath. It just keeps going and like running late for the train, you just have to get onboard.

I haven’t vowed never to frequent the Lindt Cafe but I still stand by what I said last year, with such a plethora of choice, I’d rather go some place else. Somewhere I can smile, laugh relax, write without being pursued by dark shadows.

As I said, I was far from being comfortable being in the Lindt Cafe. I could feel the gunshots going off and yet I couldn’t smell gunpowder.

All I could smell was chocolate. That intoxicating smell of chocolate and yes, that smell was very particular. It was Lindt chocolate. I was absolutely divine, heavenly and I can’t believe I resisted it all. However, it was such a hot day and I wasn’t going straight home so I didn’t even buy a drop. Even resisted all those gold Lindt teddy bears…two for $10.00!

When you enter the Lindt Cafe, there’s the chocolate shop on your left and you have to swing around to your right, to enter the cafe.

That was all fine. Didn’t affect me at all.

However, seeing the staff wearing the very same dark chocolate-coloured aprons which had been worn by the hostages,  triggered an awful sense of terror. The simple aprons made me feel ill.

It’s not surprisingly really. After all, the main images of the siege featured terrified Lindt employees wearing these very same aprons, escaping from the terrorist and running for their lives. There was one girl in particular. The horror etched into her face. She was running for her life… a survivor escaping a war zone.

You don’t forget that.

At least, I don’t.

I left without buying anything and would’ve liked to light a candle for Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson who were killed during the siege. I didn’t see anywhere I could do that but I did stop at a memorial out the front.

Yet, what can you say?

More and more I am finding words are so inadequate and like so many at Christmas time, I have no spare cash.

I walked out of the cafe and back into Martin Place.

heartman 24.6.2010

“Heartman” Drawn by Mister 2010 aged 6.

Not unsurprisingly, being around lunchtime, Martin Place was humming. It is the hub of Sydney’s CBD. Of course, the Christmas Tree was up and I was conscious that for a second Christmas, Katrina Dawson’s kids didn’t have their Mum. As a chronically ill Mum with two young kids, I feel that. We’ve had a few Christmases where my life was hanging in the balance and have had our own horror. Of course, I’m going to be mindful of those experiencing what I’ve feared with all that I am.

Yet, despite this churning vortex of intense, grueling emotion, I was strangely comforted by a classical guitarist performing in Martin Place. I noticed him a couple of blocks away and somehow the notes hooked into my heart. Like the children being lured by the Pied Piper of Hamlin, I felt myself being irresistibly drawn towards his melodious song. Quite often, I find myself drawn towards more melancholy music, but this was so upbeat, happy and just what the heart doctor ordered.


An incredible CD of classical guitar to lift up your soul.

Thank you Joseph Zarb! You can hear him  too at http://www.jose.net.au

Still feeling reflective, there was now a spring in my step.

Music helps the heart to heal and to hope.


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

It is an intriguing coincidence that one of Sydney’s most iconic historical photographs, The Dancing Man, was taken virtually outside where the Lindt Cafe stands today. This photo captured the jubiliant excitement of the end of World War II. It doesn’t deny it’s horror but it does celebrate a better future…peace!

Jean Julien Peace for Paris

Jean Julien “Peace for Paris”

Since the horror of the Lindt Siege, there have been two major terrorist attacks on Paris and there’s a heightened level of vigilance and dare I say, fear.

However, that doesn’t mean we resign ourselves to the status quo. Stop fighting for freedom and that ultimate goal, which, even though it might sound rather cheesy and corny…world peace.

As John Lennon said: “Give peace a chance”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RkZC7sqImaM

give peace a chance-yoko ono-lennon

xx Rowena





Walking Through Martin Place: 6 Weeks After the Sydney Siege.

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.

Well…not quite!

“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.

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.

Mister and I reading during my 7 week hospital stint in 2007 when I was diagnosed with dermatomyositis.

The kids and I taken during my 7 week stint in hospital 2007. Mister was 3.5 and Miss was 18 months old.

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.

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.

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.

Breakfast At Tiffany's

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.

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.

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.

XX Rowena

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/