JUSTIN LANGER: How the Bondi Junction massacre brought back memories of very dark day in cricket

Justin Langer
The Nightly
5 Min Read
JUSTIN LANGER: Through the insanity of the massacre at Bondi Junction, a father had the clarity of mind to look after his one and only priority, his children. But how can we do that all the time?
JUSTIN LANGER: Through the insanity of the massacre at Bondi Junction, a father had the clarity of mind to look after his one and only priority, his children. But how can we do that all the time? Credit: The Nightly

Sadness is the underlying emotion for me.

Sadness then, sadness now.

From the moment the news feed of the Westfield Bondi Junction shopping centre massacre began filtering through h our screens, the initial shock simply turned to sadness.

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That sadness permeated through so many layers.

Sadness for the six innocent people whose lives have been senselessly taken away.

Sadness for their loved ones, whose hearts will have been torn into a million pieces.

Not only will they never see those taken away from them, but they will be attempting to make sense of the senseless. After their loss, this will be an impossible task.

Watching the parents of the 40-year-old Joel Cauchi, who had stabbed and killed six, and injured a further 12 people, trying to make sense of their son’s actions, was heartbreaking.

Bondi Junction stabber Joel Cauchi parents Andrew and Michelle 9NEWS
Bondi Junction stabber Joel Cauchi parents Andrew and Michelle 9NEWS Credit: 9NEWS/supplied

People wanted answers and it was apparent that even the parents could offer none. Except that mental illness is a terrible condition.

Often it’s invisible … until it’s not.

At Westfield Bondi Junction, a shopping centre in Sydney where my family and I have been several times over the years, that often invisible disease roared into public view in the most despicable way.

Through the callousness and cruelty of a mentally ill man, the darkness of emotions universally exploded as they do in these extreme times.

Walking in other’s shoes, sadness would surely be pushed out of the way for other feelings and reactions.

Anger, rage, hate, bitterness for those who knew the victims. I can’t imagine if one of those killed or maimed had been one of my loved ones.

Fear, terror, panic, anxiety, relief, for those who were injured, or for those who saw the eyes of the killer, or the aftermath of his deed.

Curiosity for those searching for answers, even if answers are a million miles away.

The reaction to Bondi Junction was the same for the Port Arthur massacre and the other tragic killings that have affected Australians.

Cruelly, acts like what happened last Saturday in Sydney happen around the world regularly.

The wars currently going on across the globe in real time are taking the lives of innocent bystanders.

A family leaves the Westfield Bondi Junction shopping mall after a stabbing incident in Sydney on April 13, 2024. - Australian police on April 13 said they had received reports that "multiple people" were stabbed at a busy shopping centre in Sydney. (Photo by David GRAY / AFP) DAVID GRAY
A family leaves the Westfield Bondi Junction shopping mall after a stabbing incident in Sydney on April 13, 2024. - Australian police on April 13 said they had received reports that "multiple people" were stabbed at a busy shopping centre in Sydney. (Photo by David GRAY / AFP) DAVID GRAY Credit: DAVID GRAY/AFP

We watch in horror of mass shootings and point our fingers at gun laws that seem insane. Or we quiver at the heartless evilness of inhumane terrorist acts.

“The world has gone mad,” we say, but the same world’s history is littered with this madness.

Through the panic of Bondi, an image struck me as a light from the darkness.

That picture was of a father leaving the scene, cradling his two children, after covering their eyes with masks.

Through the insanity of it all, he had the clarity of mind to look after his one and only priority, his children.

Every one of us would have done the same thing — instinctively moving to protect our kids before we did anything else. Ensuring our children were, at first, safe from the threat, but then — if possible — safe from seeing the horror of what had unfolded.

The father’s courage and wisdom made me think of my own kids and the challenges they have in today’s world, a world where the sacred diminishes by the day.

Bondi Junction - A police operation is underway at one of Sydneys busiest shopping centre on reports of multiple stabbings. Pictured is screenshots from 7NEWS 7NEWS
Bondi Junction - A police operation is underway at one of Sydneys busiest shopping centre on reports of multiple stabbings. Pictured is screenshots from 7NEWS 7NEWS Credit: 7NEWS/supplied

It’s difficult to protect our kids when even the most unthinkable acts are visible.

The 24-hour news feeds and social media means they can find a way if they want to, or will be invertedly subjected to things we wish they would never see.

Tragedies, killings, violence, and pornography have become a part of a normalised climate today, and while we wish we could ‘mask’ them from it, it’s becoming harder.

Listening to a leader in the mental health field, she said the best we can do is encourage conversation with our kids.

Talk in plain simple, honest language and remind them they are safe. Remind them that extreme incidents are rare, especially in Australia.

Focussing on the acts of courage and bravery and the lessons from those heroes is a strong way to revert from the sadness of the main storyline that initially caught our attention.

In 2009, masked gunmen opened fire on the Sri Lankan cricket team’s bus in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore.

With rockets, hand grenades and automatic weapons, the bus was peppered with bullet holes. A rocket was launched that narrowly missed the bus, exploding into a power pole just behind it.

At the time the attack was described as “the highest-profile terrorist strike on a sports team since the 1972 Munich Olympics when Palestinian militants killed 11 Israeli athletes”.

In the Lahore attack, six police officers and a driver were killed and seven Sri Lankan players, a Pakistani umpire and a coach from Britain were all wounded.

Pakistani policemen gather beside the wreckage of a police van after masked gunmen attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore on March 3, 2009.
Pakistani policemen gather beside the wreckage of a police van after masked gunmen attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore on March 3, 2009. Credit: ARIF ALI/AFP

Among those on the Sri Lankan bus — and on the umpires’ and referee bus behind them — were several of my cricketing friends and colleagues.

One of those was Trevor Bayliss the former head coach of NSW, Sri Lanka and England who is presently coaching here in India.

Only a few months ago, Trevor gave me a blow-by-blow description of the incident.

His story was harrowing. What I found most interesting was that Trevor told the story in an unaffected, Australian way, but you could tell he was affected.

In recounting the story, he would often look off into the distance as if he was still trying to come to grips with what he had lived through.

England Head Coach Trevor Bayliss looks on during an England nets session at the Sydney Cricket Ground on January 2, 2018, in Sydney, Australia.
England Head Coach Trevor Bayliss looks on during an England nets session at the Sydney Cricket Ground on January 2, 2018, in Sydney, Australia. Credit: Jason McCawley/Getty Images

His players, like cricket royalty Kumar Sangakkara, have told me their version of events and have looked out into the distance in the very same way.

What I have taken from them is that it is impossible to ‘unsee’ what you have seen.

It is impossible to ‘unlive’ what we have lived.

I guess it is how you react to the chaos and then move on.

Tragically, incidents will continue to happen. Thankfully, they are rare in Australia, but they will happen. We pray it never happens to any of our loved ones, let alone ourselves.

We can’t walk around wearing masks, or never leaving our homes, but we can remind our kids, and each other, that we live in a very safe country, where we are proud of the heroes out there who ensure this state of play continues.

I, like all Australians, am so sorry for the loss of those innocent people who were terrorised last Saturday.

It’s just so sad.

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