When I left Singapore for Australia a week ago a café in Sydney and a school in a place called Peshawar in Pakistan were under siege.
Madmen with guns had taken completely innocent and unaware bystanders hostage. It was mad man – singular - in Sydney, and mad men plural in Peshawar in Pakistan.
Innocents were killed at both locations.
Both acts were horrific almost beyond comprehension.
Despite 141 people – including 132 students and 9 teachers being killed in the school in Peshawar and a further 246 injured – the Sydney incident – where 2 people were killed and another 6 were injured – got far more world media coverage.
All the world media were reporting it live.
Since then several other mad men in cars in France have run down dozens of people on purpose and a runaway rubbish truck in Glasgow killed eight innocent passers by.
In an act that demonstrates that woman has as much capacity for evil and atrocity as man, a mother in the sleepy northern tropical city of Cairns killed eight children.
Seven were her own and the other a niece - and they ranged in age from eighteen months to twelve years.
She slayed them with a knife.
I am in Australia on my annual pilgrimage to the pagan Christian festival of Christmas.
I write this from the peaceful sanctuary of the beach house.
When my plane landed I quickly discovered both sieges had ended with casualties.
The media was all over them.
In Pakistan there were many.
Casualties that is.
Today I have swum and I have had a long walk on the beach with my brother and his dogs Jess and Callum.
The Border Collies.
We walked far and the dogs they ran and they ran.
Whilst I pause now in my writing I can now hear the rhythmic and extremely pleasant sound of the not-so-distant waves washing against the shore.
It is a nice hypnotic sound that lulls me to sleep when I am down here.
It is peaceful.
It is serene.
I think of the pagan Christian festival that is Christmas to be summer.
It always has been in Australia.
It always will be.
We don’t do snowmen or snowball fights or English Christmas things like roasted chestnuts or eggnog or brussels sprouts.
We do the beach.
We do cold ham and crayfish and prawns and ice-cold beers.
Summer noises are the wakening to the distant buzzing of lawn mowers and falling asleep to waves and cicadas and other creaking insects.
Christmas is sleeping under the sheets.
It is barbeques and beers.
I think of Christmas to be a restful and pleasant time with family and friends. It is us frolicking on the sand and in the ocean.
Summer is long walks with the dogs to watch the sunrise and set - and to swim.
It is lots of loud teenagers.
My Mum and Dad.
Hot but no humidity.
These are familiar things.
These are Christmas things.
Nice “I am home” things.
Comfort and familiarity
The sieges and runnings over were horrible and don’t fit in well.
To say the least.
The Sydney siege may well be one of those “where were you when?” historical moments.
The nation and the city was shocked.
I have had and written about a few of those.
The “where were you when?” moments.
We all have.
I remember where I was and what I was doing for a few big events. I recall where I was when John Lennon was shot. I remember where I was and what I was doing when the huge Tsunami washed over Asia on Boxing Day and when the Richter scale hit 9 in Tokyo and a few days later when the Fukashima nuclear reactors broke.
I remember where I was when a man named Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon.
They said at the time that the event was, “one small step for man and one giant step for mankind”.
I don’t think so.
Not looking back.
Not on the moon.
These are memories captured and imprinted and milestones I can recall with some clarity.
They are indelible.
An obsessed and criminally insane man named Mark Chapman shot John Lennon outside of his home in the Dakota apartment complex in New York on the 8th December 1980.
I was surfing with some friends on a break called Winkipop at a beach named Bells in Australia when news of the assassination of John Lennon broke. I remember being told about it by one of my mates when I came out of the water.
I couldn’t believe it.
I was shocked.
A ‘break’ in the surfing context in which I have used it is a spot where movement in the deep water of an ocean hits shallow water or a reef - and a wave is formed.
A Melbourne Plumber and surfer called Bill Keenan gave the Winkipop break its name in the 1940’s.
He made the word up.
I remember where I was when the planes crashed into the World Trade Centre in New York on the 11th September. I was on a plane in the air then too - as I was for the recent sieges.
This time I was on a flight that originated in New York then went to Bangkok and from there it flew to Sydney. I had been working in Thailand and was on the Bangkok to Sydney leg. The airline must have known what had happened because I remember that they didn’t show the news at breakfast as they normally did - and they ushered a whole heap of people away when we landed.
With the great benefit of hindsight they must have all been passengers that originated in New York.
Unbeknown to me I was on some sort of security watch list for years after the event. Apparently everyone who was in the air on flights that originated in the US at the time of the attacks were on this list.
We were all potential suicide bombers.
I was always picked out for security scrutiny on international flights and I fly a lot.
It was a great inconvenience
I found out about the list a couple of years after the planes crashed whilst waiting in a Security room with another guy who was in the air when it all went down in New York. He was a Canadian who had been on a New York to Montreal flight that day.
It stopped a couple of years ago and I assume I have now been cleared.
So from the Singapore Airlines Kris Flyer lounge at the Changi international the other night I watched a live telecast on the hostage event at the Lindt Café in Sydney.
I was in Terminal Three at Changi airport.
It was on big screens in the lounge and was beamed in live on CNN and the BBC and Fox and Bloomberg as well.
There was international interest.
I only read about the Peshawar incident on the Internet the next day and in full detail this morning. Apparently a group of extremist anti-Government terrorists stormed a large Army school in Pakistan and they just indiscriminately opened fire on women and children and anyone in sight.
It was a slaughtering of abominable proportions.
It was horrific.
The terror of the incident that for a while I watched live in Sydney from both my home and then at the Changi airport was chilling. I think mainly because it was my destination and Australia is my home and because I know that café.
It is very close to my Sydney office – perhaps a couple of hundred meters away.
I have had many a coffee from there before.
Double shot lattes with a dash of vanilla.
It was terrifying because we could see every minute of it and millions of people were watching. The media coverage gave us close ups of the scene as well as detailed exposes of who the people inside were.
Well presented young news reporters provided we viewers with the names and age and occupations of the hostages and we could see the terror and horror and disbelief in their eyes in slow motion replays. We heard interview after interview with their friends and relatives and witnesses to the event.
We heard and felt speculation and we looked on with morbid dread.
It was reality television at it’s very worst
The people who were held hostages were just normal every day people going about their daily business and who just happened to be in the café the same moment that a lunatic with a gun and anger and malicious intent walked inside.
The real scary thing was that it could have been you.
It could have been me.
The perpetrator – who was one of the three dead, was later identified as being ‘known to authorities’. It turns out that he was a tried and convicted felon many times over who was out on bail for the murder of his first wife. He claimed to be a cleric and was a devout extremist Muslim – however he was much condemned and completely ostracized by the many Muslim communities and Muftis in Sydney.
One of his convictions was for writing derogatory letters to the widows and parents of Australian soldiers killed in combat when serving in Afghanistan. He declared in his letters to the grieving widows and parents that the soldiers were criminals who deserved to die.
He was obviously a very deluded and deranged man with many indications of profound mental illness.
He was an extremely dangerous nut.
There has been much public outcry since the event by many in Australian society questioning why the man was free at all on bail.
It has been discussed in Parliament.
He had after all a very long record of criminal convictions and had been charged with the murder of his first wife.
These are fair questions that deserve comprehensive and truthful answers.
It would appear that the inadequacies and failures of the Australian legal system may well have been a major contributing factor in these siege deaths.
My daughter has just appeared over my right shoulder and my favourite niece over my left. They have simultaneously kissed and then hugged me and then demanded to be written about.
I have accepted and returned their kisses and have told them that I shall write of them no further at this time.
This mention is sufficient.
They shrugged and pouted and then giggled and have now retreated.
The attention span of eighteen year olds is not a long one.
Before they went - but whilst they were still pouting - the girls told me that they are going out for dinner and then clubbing and dancing this evening. They told me that they plan on getting hammered.
This is colloquialism for getting drunk.
I shrugged and pouted in nonchalance and it was then that they went away.
I don’t approve nor disapprove of the intended hammering. I was eighteen once and I remember the joy of youth and summer holidays.
Eighteen year olds gather together and they get pissed.
Twenty and thirty and fourty year olds too.
Fifty and sixty as well.
The older the less dancing involved but this is a much-embraced universally accepted good time out.
Teens have been doing this across the world for time eternal.
The Australian and NSW Bail system has been under review and reform for many years with the much-deferred new Bail laws to come into act in January next year. They have been nearly a decade in the making and pushing them through the Parliamentary system has been tedious and has taken many sittings and senseless debate by gormlessly idiotic and incompetent politicians.
The amelioration of any Law in Australia is long-winded and follows an archaic process based on English statutes.
To enact or change law both houses of Parliament are required to reach consensus and at present the balance of power in the Senate is held by a shaky and small band of members of a party led by an insufferable obese mining billionaire magnate who could not have been characterized or cast more cleverly as the obscene bigoted obnoxious pig.
A won’t name him for fear of slander charges but he named his Party after himself.
It is the Clive Palmer party.
I kid you not.
When asked if the mad perpetrator at the Sydney café would have still been in jail for the murder charge if the new Bail laws had been enacted now, the Minister for Justice reluctantly confessed that he would.
Still be in jail.
I have written much and often about my occasional embarrassment about being an Australian living overseas.
I cringe often and I feel ashamed quite a bit.
To the point that I have sometimes pretended to be a New Zealander.
It was that bad.
Most of my discomfiture with my kinfolk is political – and some of it is about some public Australian figures.
I feel ashamed about our brutal and inhumane Refugee policy and the whinging whining moaning stance on it by our politicians and not insignificant hunks of the Australian population.
I am appalled at the effort and fortune spent on keeping out of our country poor souls who try to arrive by leaky and unseaworthy boats from far-away war stricken countries. Such is their desperation to escape to refuge they put at risk the lives of themselves and sometimes their whole families.
They are that scared.
I think that the Australian politicians lack compassion and empathy and decency in their turning back of these boats. I also think that their accommodation of these poor souls in isolated and prison-like detention centres where they live for years while they are ‘processed’ is as inhumane as it is petty.
It is shameful.
Australia has always been a nation grown from immigrants from all around the world and we once had a proud and enviable reputation as being a friendly place where there was an absolute determination to give every one a fair go. The Australian refugee policies to me are a breach of basic human rights and are most un-Australian.
We are talking of a few thousand refugees at most.
Countries adjacent to war-ravaged nations – like Turkey is to Syria – deal with hundreds of thousands of refugees.
First World privileged countries like Australia and America and Canada and the United Kingdom – we have an obligation to assist the displaced with kindness and consideration.
New Zealand does it.
They do it well.
I also cringe when I see terrible Australian people in the media saying embarrassingly ignorant and often spitefully horrible bigoted things.
It happens not infrequently.
People like Pauline Hansen.
I am often shamed and frustrated at my country’s tardiness in adopting renewable energy and it’s continued love affair with carbon and burning fossil fuels. The country has been blessed with an abundance of dirty black and brown coals and we burn and sell it in vast amounts.
We need to stop.
Digging it and using it and selling it.
It should be kept in the ground whilst we harness the power of the sun and the wind. Australia is too slow and lazy - and our politicians are too intimidated or in-the-pockets of the Resource billionaires who actually hold the reign of power in politics.
These are frightening and shady ignoramus of the highest possible order.
It is therefore surprising and almost quite delightful to confess to feeling quite proud to be an Australian today.
All this week actually and likely tomorrow too.
When I landed on my native soil a little after 10.00am local time last week I immediately sought news of the siege in the Lindt café. I quickly and most sadly read that the shootings happened at about 2.00am - when I was still in the air. I would probably have been about 9 or 10 kilometers high over the Northern Territory somewhere.
Heading south at more than a thousand kilometers an hour.
I was most dejected to hear of the fatalities but not greatly surprised by the stories hinting at suggestions of acts of bravery. The café owner who was fatally shot appears to have tried to disarm the mad man and the lady lawyer who was shot was allegedly shielding a pregnant lady.
The police shot the mad pretend-cleric when they stormed the café.
The storming was a contingency plan that was in place should a shot or explosion be heard inside.
They were Special Forces dudes who did the storming within seconds of a shot being fired inside.
The storming and the sound and sight of shots being fired and police storming and hostages fleeing was all televised and has been in constant replay.
The police must have shot the crazed perpetrator many times.
Heaps of bullets were fired.
The rescuing of the hostages was not the source of my national pride though.
It was the aftermath.
People did nice things.
Really nice things.
Lots of people.
There was always a fear of a racial-religious flare-up once it became known and broadcast that the mad man was a Muslim cleric. It was heightened when one of his first actions in his hostage-taking was to force some of the captured staff and customers of the café to hold up a black flag to the window on which was written Muslim script.
The words were religious – from the Q’oran – however they only translated to words declaring the Greatness of God.
However it was ominous to most observers.
This was a terrorist act by an extremist.
Such extremists had a track record of undertaking public atrocities.
Executions by decapitation.
Scary and lethal shit.
There is a large Muslim population in Sydney and there have been many recent media reports about young Australian men of Syrian descent returning there through Turkey to fight in the grim and frightful and questionable war going on over there.
Attempts at genocide.
Mind you all wars are grim and frightful and questionable.
They are all abominations.
However there has always been an underlying fear of religious and racial intolerance by the white Australian population to the many Muslims in Australia and particularly by a very small minority of people amongst the potentially very dangerous Bogans.
However to my great joy the opposite has in fact been the case.
This is the source of my pride.
There are many stories being reported but the one I like the most is of a greatly distressed and frightened Muslim lady in Sydney seen trying to hastily remove her hijab head dress at a railway station during the siege event.
A non-Muslim lady waiting for the same train clicked her tongue and told her in a no-nonsense manner to leave her hijab on and to sit with her. She said no one was stupid to believe that this was a reflection on the all people of Islam and she would not tolerate any person bullying the Muslim lady.
She would protect her.
She called her ‘dear’ and patted her shoulder and she took her arm onto the train. She told her this was the work of an isolated and deranged madman.
She said he was not a representative of Islam.
She said all people of all faiths condemned him.
She then offered to ride with her to and from wherever she wanted at anytime. She passed on her telephone number. Then she shared the moment and started a tweet #illridewithyou that went viral across the country.
I am not a Tweeter however this was the medium through which word of this event spread far and rapidly.
About one hundred and twenty thousand people signed up in the first hour - offering to ride with any Muslim person that felt unsafe on public transport.
There are now badges being handed out at railway stations across the country that a large number of commuters of all racial backgrounds and religions are wearing proudly.
Muslim women around Australia are riding the buses and trams and trains intimidated by the ignorant few and wearing their hijab.
It is as it should be.
I think so.
It makes me proud to be from and in a country where such a thing is happening.
It has restored my faith in humanity and it has put the ‘Merry’ back into Christmas a bit.