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Wednesday 17 December 2014

Martin Place Memorial Flowers for #Sydneysiege: PHOTOS

Tonight, I went to the memorial set up early today to honour the innocent victims of the Sydney siege, which only ended less than 24 hours ago.

I was compelled to go there, propelled to head into that part of town, almost magnetically pulled. I had just finished celebrating a launch event, very much aware the city had changed earlier that day, and tasting a freedom I knew that two lives could never taste again.

And so, I found myself steering towards Martin Place, not knowing what to expect, starting with road closures. I found that… no roads were closed off. I parked across the road from the Channel 7 studios and began the sombre walk. I could feel an eerie quietness, despite the easy flowing traffic noises.

I arrived at the scene of the flower memorial and was truly overwhelmed. Barricaded and heavily supervised by police and security guards, when I realised I could easily enter into the arena where all the flowers lay (ALL the flowers - a seemingly unending quantity of them), I slowly walked in, and suddenly found… I could not speak. Either could anyone else. Everyone who gathered around the shrine of blooms did not utter a word. Some read the prayers, some took photos of the sea of flowers, most simply stood there. Many came in pairs or groups, and some came solo. Some people openly but quiet wept. All were silent. Not a single word. I heard someone say something like: "Princess Diana had this many flowers, too."

I can't emphasise enough how I went mute. My heart was suddenly heavy with sadness, and that sadness began the moment I was in that barricaded zone. The barricades were only put up as a means to contain the lines that form throughout the day, with people displaying a huge desire to leave flowers, pot plants, even teddy bears. The notes were the most poignant, the element of the memorial which kept people there to linger longer. To read the heartbreaking, beautifully honest words, some in handwritten adult writing, some in lovingly written kiddie-font. 

Everyone was respectfully quiet and at the hour I went - at 10.30pm - there was plenty of time and space to just stay there, to just be. To take it all in. To give each other enough personal space to breathe and think about what they had seen, and what had been here in the early hours of that same morning.

I snapped some photos, just as everyone else did. And like everyone else, we did it respectfully, quietly, swiftly - we took our shot, and… just stayed there and pondered more. There were a few camera late night camera crews, getting set up. And a very visible police presence. These are the photos I took:

I didn't plan on interviewing anyone when I was there, but I was compelled to after I saw a young woman get on her knees and pray. I asked if I could keep a photo of her I took and if I could interview her. Her name is Kay, and she was more than obliging. Here is the photo I took of Kay:

She was there with her friend Anna, and they are wonderful human beings.

Here is what Kay, 35, said when I asked her why she felt compelled to be here:

"For me it was a measure of respect and honour, to the people who not only gave their lives to try to protect other people, but were victims of this as well. It's hit me a lot more than I thought it ever would, because these are our people, these are… you know, I am a hairdresser and I rang a client today who was near here when it was all happening and I said, 'I know you are okay, but I was worried about you and I wanted to know I care.' And I guess for us coming down here I can't speak for Anna, it's a measure to show respect for the lives lost. And support for the families and to let them know we will stand united ins supporting the Australian people. it's man to be a gesture of honour and respect and sorrow and grieving, outs; all we can do."

I explain to Kay that I wanted to ask why she came along to the memorial, and why she felt compelled drop to her knees and pray.

"Anna is very strong in her faith and I myself am not so much and I've called myself a proud atheist for 10 years, but I just prayed, I prayed to God, I pray that he show us His way and that He help us to keep the peace without us vilifying. It's not about vilifying anyone or anything but it's about keeping our standards and keeping our way of life. And we don't let anybody or anything take that away from us. And if I need to turn to God and reassess my faith because of it, then that's what I'm going to do because I tell you what, that's the first time I've got down on my knees in ten years."

Such powerful, powerful words.

I then ask Anna what she would like to say.

"This is a nation of religious and political and personal freedom for everyone. and I am here to pay respect for the people who lost their lives, to pay respect to the men and women who put their lives on the line, to keep our country safe. When I get down on my knees and pray for the souls of those that have lost their lives in this horrendous event, I also get down on my knees and pray for the terrorist and I pray that when he encounters our Creator, that he will know the truth. And the truth is that God created one race, and that's the human race and he designed us to live in peace and love and joy. And we won't bow down to terror. We won't be afraid. We won't be divided. The enemy is not the person with the beard or the person with that flag and thpeons with the veil. the enemy is the enemy of God, and in my eyes, its' thedevil, it's one enemy. Pitting man against man, we are brothers and sisters, one family, one creator, one world. We don't bow down. That's it."

Kay adds: "This is also about a measure of respect for the police and the armed services, too. They have my full support and gratitude for the way they handled everything I can't fault them, I just thank say you for putting their lives on the line."

Anna, 36: When one is taken hostage, we are all taken hostage. It's for everyone who is pro-life and pro-humanity and pro human rights, veiled or not. I don't care what colour you are, who you pray to, what your name is. You stand up as one for peace, for freedom and in solidarity, for life. We are not designed to kill. We bring life, we don't take life. i just encourage people not to vilify, not to turn on people. Everyone is a victim.

Muslims are born into their religion, it's a part of their identity. They have varying views but they are humanists; they are respectful people, some of these friends I have who are Muslim I would consider family. We just don't turn on each other in this situation. The only person responsible is the person with the gun who did the action. If Kay commits a crime, we are both blonde and fair-skinned, I didn't commit that crime. She is responsible. We are all responsible for our own actions."

Such incredible words from women I happened to meet by chance. Thank you, universe.

I also bumped into my friend Leesa, who I had not seen for three years, and is now a reporter for Australia's The Daily Mail. We chatted with some guys of Muslim faith, and here is a photo of them praying, below. Youseff and his mate were aged 19 and 18 and from La Perouse, and felt compelled to come, as they had the night before. Their hearts were broken too. They said they were a little hesitant to come: would they be harassed? Would people understand why they were there? They wanted to be there for the victims. It was in their hearts to be present.

Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson - this is all for you. Sydney loves you and our hearts are broken. Katrina, this is for your husband and three young kids. Tori, this is for your beloved partner of 14 years, and your parents.

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