Harrowing hours as Sydney held its breath

Police rescue personnel carry an injured woman from the Lindt Cafe at MartinPlace in central Sydney on Monday.  

Monday morning started off as a normal, bright summer day at Martin Place, the gently sloping civic centre of Sydney which is a pedestrian plaza, with the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) at the upper (east) end and the erstwhile GPO and WWI Cenotaph at the bottom (west) end. The Lindt Café is a popular meeting place close to the RBA and just opposite the city studio of Channel 7 TV.

My colleague Ben Robinson was caught up in the events that unfolded.

“Just as my bus was approaching Martin Place, a police car went past at speed with the sirens on. This was just as the gunman was first engaged by police at about 9:50 a.m.,” he said.

“When I got off 30 seconds later, 50 metres from Lindt Café, the police had blocked the intersection, and were stopping pedestrians from crossing the street. At that stage there was no blockage of Martin Place and police had only just arrived on scene. I saw a small huddle of police standing outside Chambers Bar across the street from me, which they were using as a safe vantage point. Several police were closer to the café, but they then withdrew back to Chambers Bar with guns drawn.

“An officer in black police gear then told me and other onlookers, ‘You’d better move away. You’re in danger right now just standing here. You could be shot at any moment’.”

“I was in one of the last buses to get through; they started locking down Martin Place straight away. By the time I got to the office, about five blocks away, the city was in lockdown,” Mr. Robinson said.

For me, the first indication that anything was wrong was when office administration rushed in and told us that they had been advised that the Central Business District (CBD) was in lockdown, and that none of us was to leave the office until further notice. There was stunned silence.

We were told that the after-hours building access control had been activated, so only those with valid electronic passes could get in to the building.

Across the office, disbelief was quickly followed by dismay that this was happening in Sydney as the news came in of the hostage situation at the Lindt Café and images of the black flag with Arabic script and employees pressed against the glass appeared on Internet news and the TV.

We heard other reports — of possible bomb threats in other parts of the city; of an arrest the Australian Federal Police had made in Beecroft, a Sydney suburb, that morning of someone suspected of being involved in a terror attack on Sydney; and there having been an evacuation at the Sydney Opera House as a suspicious package had been found.

Then came the news of the iconic Harbour Bridge being shut and flights being diverted from overflying the city. The normally busy roads around the office had little or no traffic and only pedestrians could be seen. Toward midday, more details emerged with broadcasts by the State Premier and the police chief respectively on the events so far and the measures being taken, and the Prime Minister describing the incident as ‘profoundly shocking’.

By 1:30 p.m. the lockdown was lifted and the Harbour Bridge had reopened, but there were major traffic disruptions as several roads in and around Martin Place had been cordoned off.

We left under police escort. I was not sure I could get my car from the parking lot at Martin Place, and close to the spot under siege, until I went there and found police were letting cars already in the area to leave.

The trains were running but Martin Place station was shut and buses were being rerouted with long queues at some bus stops. There were police blocks and barricades around the city centre.

It was no illusion.

(Meghnad Krishnaswamy is an associate director with Cognizant Technology Solutions Australia)

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Printable version | Jun 18, 2021 1:54:51 PM |

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