I've found it difficult to write over the last week. Indeed, I'd admit that I've had some difficulty focusing in general, as many people would. Whilst much has been said and written about the tragic event that occurred in Bourke Street, Melbourne at 1:39pm on Friday 20th January, 2017, I realised that there are some things that I need to write in order to move on. The callousness, the lunch hour timing, the distance driven and therefore the multiple locations of those murdered and injured, has left the city I love the most shattered and saddest I have ever experienced.
The business I work for, RogenSi, is located at 460 Bourke Street, diagonally opposite the RACV Club, and in a stretch significantly impacted by the maroon Commodore's rampage along the southern footpath. Here are 5 key lessons I've learned personally from this inexplicable, senseless act of violence.
Lesson 1 - Terrorism is Not the Domain of Islam
And it never has been. Yet we have come to associate terrorism with religious or political fanaticism. We pour money into protecting our society against ISIS, Al Quaida, splinter groups or individuals who create terror within civilians in order to force change in western governments. So while we think about that, remember the USA is a country that has used its own brand of terrorism to change governments. Let's not kid ourselves - Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not military targets and it was never about Japanese surrender. It was about sending signals to Russia. (Hiroshima Nagasaki, Paul Ham.)
Whilst the Bourke Street massacre was not politically motivated, it used techniques developed by 'terrorists' in recent months to create fear in the population. And it has. The fact that Bourke Street was not politically or religiously motivated makes it no less terrifying for victims, survivors, families and witnesses.
Whilst we are right to protect our nation from externally motivated terrorism, we must look to protect society from within. Whether that relates to bail conditions, parole conditions, proper mental health and human services provisions, the system in Victoria failed us. It must be fixed.
Lesson 2 - No One is Immune
Melbourne takes pride in our standing as the world's most liveable city and as the nation's sporting capital, yet I believe most of our inhabitants have not seriously seen ourselves as a target. The Lindt Cafe in Sydney was a terrorist attack on a truly global city, yet without an ISIS flag it could have been any other person with a grievance that used violence as a means to an end. So in line with Lesson 1, the motive does not matter. We live in a society where violence against innocent people has become an unfortunate norm.
In Australia, all of our population centres are at risk, not just from 'mainstream' terrorism, but from those who seek to use harm as a method of highlighting their own plight. There is currently no mechanism in place to prevent another Bourke Street atrocity happening tomorrow - and I don't think there can ever be, short of shutting down our beautiful city. But right now, Melbourne lives in fear of home invasions, car jackings, breakouts from youth detention centres and our state government responds in a knee-jerk manner with rhetoric, not action.
Let's stop putting our heads in the sand. Do we accept this as society or not?
Lesson 3 - The Impacts of Violence are Far Reaching
On Wednesday evening, as I ate pizza in Hardware Lane, metres from Bourke Street, I broke down, uncontrollably. When the attack happened, I wasn't in our office, I had just returned from holiday and a colleague and close friend had let me know to turn on the news. Yet just 5 days after the tragedy, I was a mess, watching life go on around me just metres from where the deaths had occurred.
Violence like this resembles ripples created by water dripping into a trough. Of course, the closer you are to the violence, the more concentrated the ripples. Yet I was not physically close at all. In this case, I see the ripples as being dependant on your association with the location - or those within the police tape, and those outside it.
Those directly inside the tape are those most significantly impacted. The victims, the witnesses, the first responders. Then there are those indirectly inside the tape - the family and friends of those there physically. In most cases, the crime scene is small but in this case it stretched for more than 3 city blocks. There were many impacted inside the tape.
But in such a large crime scene, those outside the tape were impacted as well. My colleagues out for lunch who could not return, a close friend who turned right this day instead of left and ended up outside the tape. Those of us who work, who walk inside the tape each day but weren't there this day feel guilty that we weren't...
Like ripples in a pond, this violence spread wider than Bourke Street and further than we will ever know.
Lesson 5 - Love Will Prevail
The final and most important lesson. The heroism, the compassion, the love shown by ordinary Melbournians during this tragedy stands above the evil. Those inside the tape did not know if they were at the start of an attack, the middle of an attack, or whether it was all over.
In our office, and outside, calls were made, messages sent, head counts taken... And it continued through the weekend and beyond. Strangers stood together by floral memorials along 4 blocks of Bourke Street and ask each other if they were ok. Where were you? How are you doing? Can I help?
And that is what we must continue to do.
If there is any conclusion to this it is that life is unexpected and short. We cannot hope to fully control the evil that exists in this world, and we should not live in fear of it. We must rise above this, live our lives, live our dreams and whether it is politically, religiously, or just plain criminally motivated terrorism, we must continue to rise against it as a community, as a city, as a state, as a nation.
Melbourne has seen its share of violence, but not like this. We're grieving on many levels and we long for the hurt to be washed away. At some appropriate time, the floral tributes that honour the dead, the injured and their families will need to go so that we can all move forward.
We must not allow fear of any type to pervade our lives. We must live our lives to the fullest, daily. We must not miss a chance to tell those closest to us that we love them. We should live as if tomorrow will never come and hug our friends and loved ones in case it doesn't.
Love will prevail, but I long for a shower of rain to wash Bourke Street clean.