I was in Melbourne and watched the Sydney Domain service on TV. An Aboriginal man on stage played the didgeridoo while below him mourners lined up to pick up a flower petal and place it in a bowl of water. Australian and Balinese mourners put their petal in the water and performed Hindu, Christian or non-religious rituals with their hands. Special.
David Davis, Switzerland
John Howard and others have referred to their own words in this time of national tragedy as being inadequate. We all struggle to find meaningful words in the face of such horror. Nothing is really adequate. Our gestures and words can seem small in the face of such enormity.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try because bit by bit the words and gestures can help us to rebuild. The victims will need much love and support for an extended period. The victims are many.
Firstly there are the dead. In many cases, we still don’t even know their names and this deepens our pain and aguish. We mourn for the loss of the identified dead and the yet to be identified. Then there are the injured. The extent of the physical and emotional brutality unleashed on them remains beyond our comprehension. Beyond all of this, there are the loved ones, the mates and everyone else who has been traumatised by it. We’re all in this together, inextricably bound.
It’s early Saturday evening in Europe and this time last week the blasts in Bali had just happened. Back home right now most Australians would be sleeping and tomorrow they awake to the National Day of Mourning.
All should feel free to express their grief in the way that feels right for them. There are no rights and wrongs in such expression. An organised event, a church service, or merely catching a wave and remembering Bali and life as it was meant to be. All of it is more than adequate.
Regardless of religious beliefs, national origin or whatever, people can say something or do something indicating their solidarity with the dead and those that remain behind. A sense of oneness for all. This will of course last for much longer than one day.
I’ve been travelling a bit in the last week. I have been in Spain and I have been in Italy. In both countries, people reached out to me as an Australian to express their shock, their sorrow and their support. It was quite moving to see such support from such distance. In both places I encountered people who had been to Australia as tourists and for them the highlight of their Australian holiday was the people. This is not the first time Europeans have made this point to me. I have heard it over and over again. Everyone loves the friendly, easy going nature of the Aussies. It’s the sense of fun, the freedom and the openness that is so attractive.
I made my gesture today. A gesture for my country and for the others. The others being from Bali, here in Europe and elsewhere in the world. Late in the afternoon, as the sun was setting and at about the time a week ago the horror was unleashed in Bali, I tossed an autumn wreath into the Rhine River in Basel. These wreaths are popular symbols of autumn with fruits of the forest and such like covering them. These truly beautiful works of middle European culture have been made for centuries at this time of year. Autumn can be a happy time because it is the time of the harvest. The wreaths look good on doors in the way the Christmas wreaths do (also originally from this area).
Mine looked better floating down the Rhine at the point where the Swiss, German and French borders meet – the Dreilaenderick. I thought the wreath might sink when it hit the rushing green water of the Rhine with a big splash. Instead it bobbed around and quickly floated out of Switzerland and into the centre of the river where it was hard to tell if it was in Germany or France.
An autumn wreath had been launched on a fantastic journey through the heart of Europe. When it hit the water in Switzerland it was in the homeland of Gian Andrea Rupp. Only Gian Andrea’s body will make it back home to Switzerland. She was killed last Saturday night. Minutes later, the autumn wreath was in Germany, the homeland of a 24 year old girl, Alexandria Koeppike. She was also killed last Saturday night, together with many of her fellow Germans. Who knows, since the wreath was in the middle of the river it may have drifted slightly toward the French side. If it did it would have been in the homeland of Arnard Vender, also killed last Saturday night, again with other French who were at the Sari Club. After some days if my wreath manages to keep afloat, it may drift into the Netherlands. If it does it will be in the home of Marianne Van Lynen-Noomen. Only Marianne’s body will return to Amsterdam.
We will not forget what happened in Bali.
Regardless of our cultural background we are drawn to natural elements in times of tragedy. In Bali people have been going to the beach and lighting candles. The Balinese have so many traditions rooted in nature and they show their grief to their own and their guests in this terrible time.
Many Australians will wear wattle and use other symbols to show their support. We show our common humanity by doing these things. They are often small things but are powerful signs to others. It provides great strength.
I was drawn to the Rhine today and I tossed something into it. In all cultures, this kind of gesture is seen. When William Deane came to Switzerland to mourn the deaths in the canyoning tragedy, he threw a sprig of wattle into the river that lead to Lake Brienze near Interlaken. People have their ashes spread at sea. Wreaths are thrown into the ocean. We do these things all over the world to symbolize loss, to cope with tragedy.
We do have a common humanity and Australians are ever curious to see how humanity manifests itself around the world. They want to reach out and discover what it means.
In Bali, the Prime Minister said: “We will never lose our openness, our sense of adventure. The young of Australia will always travel. They will always seek fun in distant parts. They will always reach out to the young of other nations. They will always be open, fun-loving, decent men and women.”
How true that is. Just before they were killed, I am sure many Aussies in the Sari Club and nearby were delighting in getting to know those of other lands. The joy of discovering a different outlook but a shared humanity.
In a small and inadequate way, as an Aussie, today I reached back to the Europeans killed last Saturday night. They will never get to come back home to Europe and say “I had such a great time in Bali……..there were all these Aussies there……they are such fun people…… that Saturday night in Bali was so wild….. next year I want to go to Australia……… I made some Aussie friends in Bali who want me to stay with them.” All the things that could have been. All the reasons why people love to travel and meet others. Love and friendship spanning continents, crossing oceans, soaring into the heavens. All snuffed out in an instant.
That WA footy team pic from the Times in London last week will remain etched into my mind forever. I’m not sure that any of this will ever make any sense to me. It was senseless.
The picture is of the sculpture “Helvetia” on the Rhine in Basel, Switzerland. She sits with bare feet looking out at the river in the autumn. She is serenity personified in art. The worst is behind her. Behind her are arrows and other accoutrements of war. She no longer needs them because she is enlightened and she lives in an enlightened world. I suppose we will never live in such a world but in sculpture we can at least dream of how it would be. It would be really great wouldn’t it Margo?
…..tomorrow…….we mourn again……that the dream of this simple sculpture seems every bit as elusive it ever was.
In the aftermath of the Bali Blasts, I’ve experienced exactly the same kind of sorrow and bewilderment I felt last September. I cannot understand how there can be so much hatred in humans that they would feel propelled to kill absolute strangers…it just doesn’t compute with what I know of humanity.
Maybe, in part, this is why I harbour no feelings of anger and retribution towards whoever perpetrated this latest crime. For lashing out in darkened revenge only leads to more sorrow, more hatred, more misunderstanding and distrust amongst ourselves and others.
I noticed in the Webdiary people have been trying to find some way of expressing the events in poetry or symbols that can serve as anchors for our collective grief and confusion. It’s not exactly Henry Lawson, but since last Sunday the first few verses of the U2 song Sunday Bloody Sunday have been playing on a constant loop in my mind. Although it was written about a completely different situation, the rawness of the lyrics have been brought into a chilling new light for me after the latest terrorist attack.
I can’t believe the news today
I can’t close my eyes
And make it go away
How long must we sing this song?
How long? How long…
’cause tonight…we can be as one
Broken bottles under children’s feet
Bodies strewn across the dead end street
But I won’t heed the battle call
It puts my back up
Puts my back up against the wall
Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Sunday, Bloody Sunday
And the battle’s just begun
There’s many lost, but tell me who has won
The trench is dug within our hearts
And mothers, children, brothers, sisters
Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Sunday, Bloody Sunday
El Gibbs, Sydney
You asked your readers to tell you how we spent our Sunday. Did we watch our secular bishop Geraldine Doogue preside over a chaotic, relaxed, soppy and lovely ceremony? Did we bake under the Sydney sun near Coogee with Bob Carr? Did we wear black arm bands at the Livid Festival?
Maybe you did. I did the washing.
I woke up early, cursing the lack of daylight savings. My heart is heavy even as I crawl out of my over bright bed. I know what savage, unpredictable, unexplainable death of someone I love feels like. And this brings it all back.
So I walk slowly downstairs with my dirty clothes. I put them carefully into the machine, remembering to turn the taps on and pour the cleaning stuff in on top. I shut the lid and just stand there, contemplating my desire to clean my clothes for work tomorrow.
I come back upstairs and wait for the machine to finish. I read the paper and listen to the radio. Tears on and off.
As those in the Domain were rising for the national anthem, I went downstairs again. My clothes were clean and wet. I pulled them into my basket and walked over to the line. Each time I reached up to peg my wet clothes out in the hot sun, I thought of homes where this is the last thing they are thinking about. Grief can drown out the petty demands of domesticity for a while. But one day, you run out of socks and have to make a decision. Do I go and wash the clothes for work tomorrow?
My clothes are still on the line.
Sadness and shock are so overwhelming, it can feel as though it will never end. But you will make room for the hurt; not forget it, or deny it. It will become part of who you are. And one day, you will go out to the washing machine, notice the beautiful day and take a deep breathe.
Clean clothes smell so good. Have hope.
By Mark McPherson in Coburg, Melbourne
This afternoon in Melbourne we attended the inter-faith memorial service to remember the 354 human beings who died 12 months ago when SIEV-X capsized in international waters. The service was held at Edwardes Lake in Reservoir, 30 minutes by car from the CBD, in the northern suburbs. Thirty years ago, for this boy from country Victoria, Reservoir was a tough, poor, working class suburb and a breeding ground for fanatical Collingwood FC supporters.
It was a whim to attend the memorial service. I heard about it on the ABC radio news on the way home from shopping, then read about it in The Age newspaper.
The park at Edwardes Lake is popular with families. It was an inspired choice of venue given that the majority of those who died were women and children. It is not far-fetched to imagine that if SIEV-X had arrived on Christmas Island, some of the women and children would have eventually come to Melbourne, lived in the northern suburbs and enjoyed picnics at Edwardes Lake.
In the park, photographs (mainly of children) of some of those who died were displayed in front of the row of speakers and the assembled crowd of approximately 400 people. A white sheet was spread out on the grass in front of the photographs. Children moved among the crowd offering a flower to hold.
In addition to reflecting on the tragedy of the sinking of SIEV-X, many of the speakers acknowledged up-front the atrocity in Bali and offered condolences to the family and friends of the victims and survivors of the bombings.
At the conclusion of the speeches, we were invited to lay our flower on the white sheet in front of the photographs. A surge of people occurred. It was spontaneous and respectful, taking only a few minutes. As we laid our flower and moved away to make space for the next person, tears welled up in most of us. Near us, our silent tears were punctuated by the sobbing of some of the Iraqi women.
Then at 3.10 pm, we were asked to observe a minutes silence. 3.10 pm was the time SIEV-X capsized.
Amal Hassan then told us her story of the moments and hours after SIEV X capsized, of the separation from her teenage son in the water and the reunion hours later. She told her story in English and Arabic, with tears and determination. She spoke of fright, hope and dreams even on a temporary protection visa (Arnold Zable writes about Amals story in Saturdays Age newspaper). We cried with others.
The service was simple, dignified, poignant and the grief of the tragedy utterly moving.
Our drive home was largely in silence. We both reached to switch off the car radio when the ignition key was turned on. Words were superfluous to the grief we felt about this tragedy. I also felt ashamed and betrayed by the indifferent political and institutional response to this tragedy. This is an Australian tragedy. People who live in our community are victims and survivors of this tragedy. It is our tragedy.
In the future I would like to see the memorial services of the Bali bombings and the sinking of SIEV-X enjoined, with photographs of the Prime Minister of the day, whoever she is, offering the same comfort and support to the victims, survivors and families of both these Australian tragedies.