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One year on: remembering the Martin Place siege

Public spaces have the ability to bring us together, connect us to a common experience, and even to transcend an experience. The built environment is the backdrop against which we live our lives and it impacts on our senses, our emotions, our participation in community life, and our sense of community well-being. One year after the Martin Place siege, how will the workers and commuters of Sydney remember, and how will we transcend that tragic day of terror?

One year ago this month, Sydney barrister and mother-of-three Katrina Dawson, 38, and cafe manager Tori Johnson, 34 were tragically killed during the 16-hour siege in Martin Place. The site, the Lindt Chocolat cafe, an everyday shop where commuters and city workers gathered for their morning coffee fix, was suddenly transformed into a site of terror.

The trauma was felt by Australians from all backgrounds, and in our public outpouring of grief the people of Sydney transformed an experience of terror into something beautiful - a floral tribute that grew and grew as a tangible symbol of mourning and love.

A sea of gerberas and daffodils, roses and lilies, flooded the available space in a spontaneous public outpouring of grief that captured the imagination of the world as a symbol of unity. 

"Their gentle aroma wafted for blocks down city streets and into shops and offices...Instinctively we chose peace, unity and tolerance over backlash and blame."

– Mr Flower

One year on, a design for a permanent memorial on the site has been revealed that draws inspiration from that spontaneous floral display.

Architect Richard Johnson said the design was inspired by the sea of flowers left by the public in the days following the siege, while accommodating Martin Place’s function as a busy pedestrian thoroughfare.

A "scattered starburst" of some 400 floral cubes will be inlaid in the granite pavers of Martin Place in memory of the victims of the siege. 

“This tragic event changed our city and we will forever feel the loss of Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson as we go about our daily lives,” NSW Premier Mike Baird said.

“This enduring memorial is intended to pay tribute to the victims and survivors who, by sheer chance, were caught up in that dreadful day.

“We have worked closely with the Dawson and Johnson families to choose a design that we believe captures the spirit of the outpouring of support we witnessed from people all over NSW.”

At a twilight vigil held on 15 December to commemorate one year since the siege, master of ceremonies John Flower spoke of the symbolism these flowers had on the collective imagination.

“It began with an anonymous gesture of compassion and condolence... a single snow-white bunch of flowers placed with great care on the grey slate of Martin Place," he said.

That single floral tribute grew to tens of thousands in the following days as the people of Sydney shared their condolences.

"Their gentle aroma wafted for blocks down city streets and into shops and offices," Mr Flower said. 

"Instinctively we chose peace, unity and tolerance over backlash and blame."

At the formal commemoration, images of the sea of flowers and the messages that filled Martin Place in the days after the siege were projected onto the surrounding buildings.  

Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore said it was the spontaneity of the floral tribute that became an important symbol for a nation grieving together and that demonstrated the strong ties that bind the city's different communities.

"We are a safe community and we came out in our different colours and backgrounds to mourn and grieve with those families a year ago," she said.

In the years and decades to come, the permanent floral memorial in Martin Place will serve most of all as a tribute to how we stood united as single community in the face of terror.

The Point

One year after the Martin Place siege, how will the workers and commuters of Sydney remember, and how will we transcend that tragic day of terror?

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