Remembering the Lindt cafe siege

Today is the 4th anniversary of the Lindt Caf? siege in Sydney.

Back in 2014 my husband and I were living in Sydney and we happened to work in the building that was diagonally opposite the Lindt caf? in Martin Place.? What unfolded that day had quite an impact on us at the time.

It seems appropriate today to revisit what I wrote about it immediately after it had happened.

I first became aware that something was wrong when I noticed a few of my co-workers further down the floor looking out the window.? We are on the 2nd floor of a building that looks down on to Martin Place.? There are often protests of some kind or other being held in the space below us, or marches along Macquarie St, so I didn?t take much notice at first.? Then I heard one of the guys say ?armed Police? which caught my attention, and I went to the window myself to have a look.? We are right on the corner of Martin Place and Phillip St, which is diagonally opposite and looks down on the Lindt Caf?.? A place that we will hear mentioned many times over in the coming days/weeks & months.

There were a couple of armed Police half crouched under the windows of the caf?, and another taking cover behind one of those metal cabinets that are often dotted on street corners.? All had hand guns drawn and pointed at the caf?.?? Two plain clothes Policemen and one in the equivalent of our Armed Offenders Squad gear.

From where I was standing, I could see the glass doors that were the secondary entrance to the shop right on the corner, plus the windows down the side of the caf? along Martin Place.? There was a young guy in dark dress pants and a light coloured business shirt with his hands held up, just a few feet behind the glass door.? Along the windows I could see another three or four people, all with hands held up against the window.? I watched for a few minutes, as other workmates joined me.? I couldn?t see anyone moving inside, just the people standing very still with hands raised, facing outwards.

It felt completely surreal, and I just couldn?t really believe what I was seeing.

I fully expected it to be over in a few minutes, expected someone to come running out with a bag of cash, to be challenged by Police and have him or her drop to the ground in surrender, get arrested & taken away in cuffs.? Some kind of crazy robbery gone wrong.? Time ticked by and that didn?t happen.? The longer this went on, the less likely that seemed to be.

There was an announcement over the building?s PA from the Chief Warden that there was a Police Operation in progress at the Lindt Caf? and that no-one was to leave the building.? A few minutes later the building wardens came hustling around telling us to get away from the windows.? Someone had turned the TV on down the other end of the floor, so I went down to see what was happening.? Channel Seven offices are directly across from the caf? and were filming what they could see live out their window.?? We saw the black flag with white Arabic writing being held up in the window, and that moment gave us the first real hint of what was happening.

One of the TV announcers said it was the Islamic State flag, which we now know was untrue, but with the raising of that flag, it went from being a simple robbery to being an act of terrorism.

More announcements over the PA about the Police Operation and that we were now in ?lockdown? ? that sounds so much more dramatic than ?no-one is to leave the building?.

On TV, there was speculation about how many gunmen there were, and what they were armed with, so when they told us to move right away from the windows and down to the other end of the floor, there was speculation about whether there had been a bomb threat.

As it turns out now that this has all unfolded, it was just one lunatic and there was no bomb.

It was about 10.30 by this stage, and all the staff from our end of the building nearest the caf? were congregated in the lunch area where there are a few comfy chairs and a large screen TV.? So that?s pretty much how we spent the next 4? hours, chatting amongst ourselves, speculating about what was actually going on.? Watching what was happening on TV, texting and emailing family & friends, sharing biscuits and snacks as we couldn?t go out to buy lunch.? Watching the street theatre below us on Macquarie St, as members of the public argued with Police about why they thought they were important enough to cross the Police tape and enter the exclusion zone.

Initially Macquarie Street was still open to traffic and pedestrians, it?s one of the main thoroughfares down to Circular Quay, and there were crowds of people standing outside Sydney Hospital watching what was going on a block away.? After a few hours it was closed to traffic and the crowds moved further along Macquarie St out of sight of the caf?.

We were kept up to date pretty well by the building wardens, regular announcements, usually saying nothing had changed, we were still in lockdown and stay away from the windows.? Just before 2pm all the floor wardens were summoned for a briefing and they came back about 15 minutes later to report that the Police had said we could leave the building but Security were trying to work out how we could do that.? The main building entrance was on Martin Place, and we couldn?t just wander out.

My boss called, she had been in a meeting on the ground floor at the time this all kicked off and had already been evacuated, but had left her handbag at her desk.? She had no wallet, house keys, train pass etc, and wasn?t allowed to come back up to our floor to get it before she left the building.

At 2.30 we got the go ahead to leave, so we started queuing for the lift.? For months now we have only had one out of two lifts working in our part of the building.? We were not allowed to take the emergency stairs, one of these exits on to Martin Place which would have dropped us right in front of the caf?, and the other exits on to Phillip St, not much better, so we had to wait for the lift.

We then walked across the foyer of the building and out another fire exit and on to Macquarie St.

I was able to find the boss in Hyde Park and reunite her with her handbag.

We walked home through town, most of the shops were closed, which surprised us a bit, and the rest were empty with not many people about.? If I had to describe the city, I would say people were shocked & wary, but not panicked.? There was a huge Police presence, armed Police in the full kit everywhere you looked, in and around the exclusion zone.

They must have been sweltering in the heat.? We got home feeling glad that we were safe but also pretty unsettled, trying to be positive but worried that it wouldn?t end well, and above all, really feeling for those people in the caf? who could so easily have been us.

Not long after we got home, we saw on TV that three people had escaped from the building, one I recognised as the man standing by the door with his arms raised, and later another two, so we spent some time feeling hopeful that this would end peacefully.? He seemed to be losing control of the situation.? Though by the time we went to bed, with no more activity, hope had diminished.? I woke soon after 5am and checked for news.? At that time it was reported that there were two dead including the gunman, but that soon became three in total.? Not the outcome anyone was hoping for, but given the other possibilities, and based on what we know at this time, perhaps the best outcome that could be achieved in the circumstances.

We turned on the TV, watched the footage of the caf? being stormed by Police and hostages escaping on foot or being carried out injured but alive.

At quarter to six a text from my boss to say that our building was still inside the exclusion zone and Business Continuity had been invoked, i.e. staff considered essential to the running of the bank would work either from home or from a secondary site, and non-essential staff (us) should stay home for the day.? Probably just as well, I?m not in the mood to meet stupid arbitrary deadlines today.? We decided to go for a walk in to Martin Place.? The exclusion zone was still behind Police tape, but people had started laying flowers and wreaths further down near one of the entrances to the underground shopping area and train station.? Everyone was pretty quiet and sombre.? I haven?t yet got my head around that fact that something so violent and tragic happened here.

Over the next few days, Martin Place became a sea of flowers and thousands of people came to pay their respects to those involved in the tragedy.? There was a quiet resolve to carry on with life; to not live in fear.

Since watching these events unfold four years ago, I?ve been able to read the coroner?s report into the siege, which is available online for anyone interested.? There were mistakes made and lesson to be learned from the incident.? It?s possible that there may have been a different outcome if Police had recognised that no progress was being made with negotiations and had tried different tactics.? Possible, but not guaranteed and we will never know for sure.

What we do know is that 18 innocent people went into the caf? that day, just an ordinary old work day, no different from the rest.? Two hostages, with lives ahead of them and loved ones to miss them, did not come home.

The terrorist was killed by Police after he had murdered one hostage and traumatised the others for more than 16 hours. The second hostage was killed by shrapnel from Police fire when they stormed the caf? and ended the siege.

Those who survived will be forever changed.? Likewise, those who worked hard to resolve it, with some success, but also failures, that will be keenly felt.

All because of one evil man.

Rest in peace Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson.