A journalist’s reflections on Sydney’s “Day of Days” in at Martin Place….

By Kate Doak
By Kate Doak

If there’s one thing that will stay with me for many years from the afternoon of the Lindt Cafe Siege, it’ll be the memory of seeing families strolling up the length of Martin Place and taking “selfies” from just beyond the confines of the police barricade. Like moths being entranced into the flame, it was almost as if some people were viewing the ultimately horrific scene unfolding across the street from the 7 newsroom as a festival, rather than a psychological nightmare that’d emerged from the depths of Hell.

Martin Place Siege - 15/12/2014 - Photo: Kate Doak
Looking up towards the Martin Place Siege – 15/12/2014 – Photo: Kate Doak

But while the general public is often shielded from such atrocities (hence their fascination with such events when they happen on their front door), more often than not it’s the emergency services, professional media, victim’s families and social workers amongst others who bear the full brunt of the stories that tend to unfold in extremely graphic fashion around them, as it’s ultimately their responsibility to do so. From the Royal Commission into Child Abuse through to the events within the Lindt Chocolate Cafe, sometimes there’s scenes that can neither become unseen nor be forgotten by those who witness them.

Now as a freelance journalist who occasionally works with the likes of international news divisions such as the one run by the American Broadcasting Company, on a couple of occasions it’s been my job to get in and find the hard hitting news that hurts, even when it rips away at your emotions (and those of your colleagues) in ways best left publicly unsaid. Needless to say while such stories are ultimately traumatic, they also help fully describe and showcase the true nature of the human condition as we know it, in ways that help us rediscover ourselves as people.

While that means that more often than not many of us within the media get called “vultures” and “ambulance chasers” during tragedies like this (coincidentally by an older guy who was taking “selfies” within the crowd in my case), I’ve gradually found over the years that high levels of professionalism and interviewing styles that are appropriate to the situation can help offer solace to all of those who are caught up in such soul destroying tragedies such as this one going forward.

Now unlike most people who were in at Martin Place throughout the siege, I can say with utmost honesty and sincerity that I know at least some of what the families of Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson are feeling right here and now. That’s because a year ago it was me who was in their shoes, as I waited to hear further information on the murder and suicide of my aunt and uncle respectively, from both my family and the police within a small rural hamlet of northern New South Wales.

Dripping with anxiety, stress and sorrow, I know from experience how overwhelming the sense of loss and the engulfing search for answers that each and every one of them will be feeling over the coming weeks and months ahead will be, and for a while how futile and meaningless each day will seem. And while those days will ultimately pass, the continuing pain that eventuates from that horrible day will ultimately only ever be kept in check by time, talking and a lot of tears, as the families now enter what will be a never ending chapter within their lives.

Now with those thoughts in mind, it’s not surprising that none of the hostages or their families have been willing to give anything beyond a brief statement to the media in regards to what happened that day within the Lindt Chocolate Cafe. Between the police advising them to stay away from the media until their interviews are finished through to the absolute rawness of the situation, it’d undoubtedly be next to impossible for someone to publicly relive what would ultimately be one of the worst days of their life so soon after the event.

But as time goes on, this will ultimately be something that at least some of them want to do, as talking can ultimately strip some of the demons away that enwrap themselves around our hearts during such tragedies.

Now when that eventually happens, there will undoubtedly be reflections made about the circumstances of the day and who ultimately treated each and every one of them, hostages and families alike, with the most dignity, honesty, respect and empathy both on the 15th of December 2014 and the days that followed there after. Needless to say, the conduct of some us covering that story will be acutely analysed on that day.

However if we all look beyond the tragedy, even instances of hope, humanity and light-heartedness can be found within the most darkest of nightmares such as this one.

From the police and the media working hand in hand in an effort that would ultimately save lives, through to tow-truck drivers lending jumper-leads to police officers so that they could restart vehicles with batteries exhausted from having their lights flashing for hours on end, not to mention Martin Place ultimately being turned into a floral memorial of unimaginable proportions, there’s beacons of goodness everywhere, if we know where to look for them.

Now I’ll ride with anyone who needs support from events such as these, as diversity and education are key to preventing such tragedies from ever happening again. But on reflection I’m also proud that I was saddled with the responsibility of covering this story by ABC News (U.S.) and Good Morning America, given the circumstances of my own life and the events that undoubtedly led up to this day of days.

That’s because upon hearing about the life and heroics of Tori Johnson, who was openly and proudly a young gay man, as well as the background of other hostages as allies of the LGBTI community, I can’t help but feel moved by the fact that as a young Trans-woman that I’ve had a role in telling part of their story and that a supportive international news outlet entrusted me with doing so.

Throughout my career I’ve always seen it as my duty to tell the stories that other people can’t tell, while professionally delving deeper than anyone else can with accuracy and empathy for the facts. So while like each and every professional journalist who was in there I’ll ultimately need to talk in some way or another about what happened in there for a while to come, I know that the ideals that make me who I am as both a person and as a journalist will be with me for a long time to come.

By analysing and learning from the traumatising actions of people like Man Haron Monis, each and every one of us, emergency services, the government and the media alike, can learn how to potentially prevent tragedies such as this one from ever happening again, while helping those caught up in them recover and grieve as best as they possibly can.

Needless to say, I personally feel that we owe it to them.

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