On Friday night, we were waiting for our Uber, when we noticed the police helicopter circling above the centre of Melbourne, only two hundred or so metres away. The television in the hotel lobby showed aerial shots of a crashed car, multiple police vehicles, and patches of blood on the ground. Clearly something dreadful had happened in Bourke St.
Later, we discovered a man had crashed a vehicle full of gas cylinders and had then gone on to stab three people, wounding one fatally. He was shot by police, and later died in hospital. There was also a man who wielded a trolley against him. It’s currently being called an act of terrorism.
We don’t live in Melbourne. We were down there catching up with our son. He and his girlfriend realised later that they’d walked through the attack area only thirty minutes prior. And as my husband and I returned to our NSW home today, we talked about the things that have changed since we were children.
Terrorism was something that happened elsewhere when I was a child. Europe, Ireland, the UK. Israel. Not in Australia. There was the odd incident in the 70s and 80s, but they seemed far removed from my childhood in Western Australia. My husband grew up in New Zealand, and apart from the French blowing up the Rainbow Warrior, he doesn’t recall anything else.
But starting with the Bali Bombings in 2002, things seem to have escalated. We haven’t had mass attacks on Australian soil, but we have had ‘lone wolf’ attackers. My husband and I were talking about how difficult it must be for the police to predict and prevent lone wolf attacks. I mean, anyone could suddenly decide to ‘make a statement’ by doing ‘something.’
Our children live with the reality of terrorism that might directly impact them, or us, or friends. Our world is smaller. We travel more, and there is now always that thought that someone could be planningther something. I signed up for ‘traveller alerts’ for Indonesia when we went there some years ago, which are supplied by ‘smart traveller,’ a website that’s part of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. I get alerts intermittently, urging travellers to exercise a high degree of caution, because of unrest. (Mind you, the latest one was about Japanese Encephalitis.)
Terrorism is a much more immediate thing than it used to be.
‘Be on watch.’
‘Report suspicious people or objects.’
These are the messages we now hear quite regularly. It’s worrying, to a certain extent, but still largely theoretical. This was the closest we’ve ever been to this kind of incident. I hope it’s the closest we ever get to one.
The thing is, we can’t live in fear. We can’t worry about what might happen, or the terrorists win. It was heartening that though the centre of Melbourne was still barricaded off on Friday night, there were people still out and about, living life. On Saturday, there were even more.
So the message is: Don’t live in fear. Live life as you intend. And if you have to, be the trolley man.