MICHAEL USHER: Bondi Junction massacre allows us to praise the heroes among us, ready to step in and save us

Michael Usher
The Nightly
5 Min Read
The heroes of the Bondi Junction massacre: lifeguard Andy Reid, police officer Amy Scott and ‘bollard man’ Damien Guerot.
The heroes of the Bondi Junction massacre: lifeguard Andy Reid, police officer Amy Scott and ‘bollard man’ Damien Guerot. Credit: The Nightly

I think my writings today may well be a little cathartic. It’s the only piece of all I’ve written here that I haven’t mapped out, so to speak.

I thought it best to just start tapping out my thoughts, so what flows from thought to my inept index fingers — I still never learned to type properly — is a stream if you like of my reflection on the past few days of supercharged news.

A marathon of terrible, jarring, sensational, disturbing and ultimately courageous events. Events that make us sick to the stomach, and inspired at the same time. That age-old conflict we humans created, of bad people colliding with good people.

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And in some of these events, bad people deliberately crashing through moral and social barriers, to wipe out the good people doing the right thing within the lanes.

And I don’t mean this to be a piece going back over the past week to try to decrypt the bad people. It will be about the good, which I’ll get to in a minute. To borrow some words from Justice Lee in his eviscerating defamation verdict this week in Sydney, I don’t propose to go back into the lion’s den.

I spent an extraordinary time on air these past few days broadcasting live the simply hideous events of the Bondi Junction stabbing attacks. I spent 20 or so hours anchoring these unfolding events in various shifts, and I guess only now I’m collecting my thoughts.

It’s a strange exercise, presenting breaking news. A high wire act with minutes notice, crosswinds you can’t predict and your safe landing spot a long way off in the distance. The real balancing act however is that of balancing my own personal thoughts and emotions, while filtering completely hideous details that just aren’t fit for broadcast.

What didn’t need filtering during all of this was the fast-evolving stories of courage and selfless heroes. As quickly as the ghastly tolls of victims became clear, so too did the stories of good people running into harm’s way to help.

I think many of us watched all this wondering what we would have done in the same wild, unpredictable minutes of a deranged attack. Would we have tried to stop Joel Cauchi? Would we tackle a man with a 30cm blade who some witnesses say had black eyes and never spoke a word during his rampage? Would we hold a dying victim, not knowing where or how to stop the bleeding?

The truth is you don’t know unless you’re in that moment. There are parts of our chemistry and instinct that are never tapped unless you’re staring into the eyes of evil.

Fight or flight kicks in, adrenaline surges to levels you never knew possible, a mother’s natural lioness nature roars to life, a father’s protect at all cost personality makes him a giant, a couple of single blokes with all the bravado in the world weaponise a bollard and charge into battle.

And among them all, were a few skilled and trained professionals who quickly shifted from Saturday shopper to saviour. Like the Bondi lifeguard Andy Reid who had the Myer staff raise the protective barrier so he could run into danger. His life-saving medical training was no use behind a security fence.

Hero policewoman Inspector Amy Scott shot and killed the Bondi Junction stabber Joel Cauchi.
Hero policewoman Inspector Amy Scott shot and killed the Bondi Junction stabber Joel Cauchi. Credit: Unknown/Supplied

He raced out not knowing where Cauchi was lurking, but what he saw were dying, bleeding victims spread along the mall corso. He’d seen a lot of blood from fin chops down at the beach. But nothing like this, he told me on air.

His training told him to search for the source and stem the flow. He said it was almost impossible, but he tried to stabilise as many victims as he could reach.

So thanks to Andy and the dozens of countless everyday Australians who helped save lives and protect others, we saw the sunlight punch through the black cloud that swallowed the Westfield mall that afternoon.

Sometimes we race to call people heroes in far less qualified circumstances. I worry we throw that around a bit too loosely these days. But not this day. A trip to the mall for retail therapy became individual efforts of critical life-saving therapy. Actions above and beyond. True heroes.

And this praise isn’t about a rush to find good in a hard-to-understand tragedy, or lacquer over the evil. It’s justified and necessary. It restores our faith in humanity and God knows that faith is tested almost every day with horrible acts here and away. Horrible acts that just keep continuing this week.

This also gave me faith, just as a footnote to all this. On air, we debated with the help of experts what impact nasty events like this have on the kids watching and consuming largely unfiltered clips on their social media platforms of choice. Hiding them from it is nigh on impossible.

Bondi Junction Bollard man Damien Guerot
Bondi Junction ‘bollard man’ Damien Guerot. Credit: change.org/supplied

I spoke with my three about this. In their later teens and early twenties, I was surprised by their reaction.

Now, keeping in mind they’re exposed to a lot of news and news talk in the house, they weren’t left traumatised and seemed to have a good handle on the attack being isolated, and had a balanced view of why it happened.

They were sad for the victims, and a little shaken because it was a mall they visited and felt safe in. In fact, I’ve always been more worried about my daughter catching the bus to that mall, than the mall itself.

But the truth is they tuned out of a lot of the imagery or scrolled past the content, I should say. Perhaps the beauty of social media in their hands is the very swift ability to censor their own content.

Anyway, there’s my stream of consciousness having finally come to a stop this week having given myself an hour to think and write on the whole tragedy. Heroes? Thank goodness they’re among us, ready to stand up, step in and save us.

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