Bourke Street reclaimed for tributes and prayers after horror

Anglican leaders join wider community response to Melbourne CBD tragedy

People stop by the floral tribute near the corner of Bourke and Elizabeth streets in central Melbourne.

PHOTO: Ivan Smith

By Mark Brolly

January 31 2017A State Memorial Service is expected to be announced soon after a rampage by a driver in Melbourne’s Central Business District left five people dead and more than 30 people injured on 20 January.

The tragic events occurred in part near St Paul’s Cathedral, at the corner of Flinders and Swanston streets, about 1.30pm that Friday but the fatalities and injuries occurred in Bourke Street minutes later.

They followed the announcement four weeks earlier that a planned terrorist attack on St Paul’s, Federation Square and Flinders Street Station on Christmas Day had been averted.

Archbishop Philip Freier, who is on leave, said on Facebook and Twitter that what had occurred on 20 January had been appalling, with “lives callously taken away, many injured”.

“Prayers and condolences to all those who have been affected,” Dr Freier posted.

At Evensong at St Paul’s only hours after the tragedy, the congregation prayed for those killed and injured and the people who loved them: “Be with those who will be mourning loved ones tonight. Be with those who are tending the sick and injured. Be with our emergency services, and those ensuring public safety in our city. Be with the perpetrator, now apprehended and in custody. Thank you for your care for us, and all your people, and grant us your protection always… Kindle within us all the firm and certain hope that you are the resurrection and life for all who put their trust in you.”

The Vicar-General of the Melbourne diocese, Bishop Philip Huggins, said the spontaneous ritual of laying flowers near the corner of Bourke and Elizabeth streets was full of goodwill as people comforted strangers, just as they did on the day of the tragedy.

“Recalling pre-Christmas threats of terrorism and this suffering last Friday, perhaps we might offer a simple daily prayer for peace as a contribution we can make to the healing and well-being of our community, in the love of Jesus,” he said in a message on 25 January (see below).

The Dean of Melbourne, the Very Revd Dr Andreas Loewe, said that on 23 January, he was privileged to join other clergy and members of the Cathedral in remembering those who had been tragically killed three days earlier in Bourke Street.

“The great bell of the Cathedral solemnly tolled in tribute to those who lost their lives as a symbol of the prayers we offered: prayers for our grieving city, prayers of commendation to God’s eternal keeping of those who have died and prayers for those who mourn them,” Dr Loewe said. 

“As we mourn, we also give thanks: thanks for the police and rescue services who through their immediate action prevented further bloodshed, thanks for the medical professionals who work tirelessly to tend the injured, and thanks for the ordinary Victorians who brought help and comfort to the people of our city.”

A 26-year-old man, Dimitrious Gargasoulas, has been charged with five counts of murder on 23 January. He did not appear in the Melbourne Magistrates Court because his lawyer said he was unwell. Gargasoulas has been remanded in custody and ordered to face court in August.

The same day as the accused was charged and remanded, Dr Loewe and the Cathedral Precentor, the Revd Heather Patacca, joined several thousand people in Federation Square for a vigil for the Bourke Street victims and their families. The Cathedral bell tolled for 15 minutes before the vigil as Evening Prayer was held inside, in the Macartney Chapel.

Lord Mayor Robert Doyle led the vigil, saying he had found comfort in Psalm 23 and hoped that others would, too, regardless of their religious faith or the absence of it. He read a passage from the Psalm, reciting the words “I will fear no evil” with particular emphasis.

Premier Daniel Andrews, State Opposition Leader Matthew Guy, Federal Cabinet Minister Kelly O’Dwyer (representing the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull) and Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten attended the vigil but did not speak.

Victoria’s Governor Linda Dessau told the gathering that people often spoke of the need for unity and would do so again three days later, on Australia Day, “but it really is at… a difficult time such as this that we so keenly feel why unity matters”.

“I see, amongst your faces, the diversity of our beloved city of Melbourne, of our State and our nation,” she said. “And that diversity makes me reflect that, last Friday, tragedy did not distinguish on the basis of age, gender, culture, religion or background. But, importantly, neither did goodness. On both sides of that ledger, we are all one.”

The CEO of the Committee for Melbourne, Ms Martine Letts, said mourning was the start of healing.

“There is sacredness in tears,” the former diplomat said. “They are not the mark of weakness but of heart. They speak more eloquently than 10,000 tongues. They are messages of overwhelming grief and unspeakable love.”

Mr Henry Dow, a student who was in Bourke Street as the tragedy unfolded and who came to the aid of victims, spoke of the courage and care of a “genuine hero” called Lou, whom he thought to be an emergency services veteran but who turned out to be a taxi driver.

“I saw no evil on Bourke Street on Friday,” Mr Dow said. “One young man did a terrible thing and hundreds responded with the love and sense of community that makes Melbourne such a beautiful city and Victoria such a great State.

“Many images and sounds have stayed with me much longer than I might like but I’m glad I’ve seen and hope I never forget just how brave and loving strangers can be. I love this city.”

A minute’s silence and the song You Raise Me Up brought the vigil to an end.

Lord Mayor Doyle said: “I am often asked, ‘What is the secret of Melbourne?’ and I tell people we come from more than 200 different nations, we speak more than 250 different languages and dialects, we practise more than 110 different faiths but we are one Melbourne. One of the cards that I read on the floral tributes in the Bourke Street Mall read something like: ‘Melbourne is our home. When it happens to one of us, it happens to us all’.”



A Message from the Vicar-General of the Diocese of Melbourne, Bishop Philip Huggins

Quietly, many of us have gathered to pray and reflect in the Bourke Street Mall since last Friday’s appalling event in the heart of our city.

Being school holidays, there have been many children and parents carrying flowers.

The flowers mount up, poignantly, as in that busy part of town, folk stand silently offering their presence as a prayer.

This spontaneous ritual is full of goodwill as people comfort strangers, just as folk did on that Friday lunchtime.

With Sunday services approaching, we continue to give thanks for the evident kindness of many; the skill and dedication of emergency workers, the contribution of Government Leaders and many in our civil society.

We pray for those suffering and bereaved;

We pray for the healing of memories for those traumatised;

We pray for the perpetrator and his family;

We pray, as the Spirit moves us.

Recalling pre-Christmas threats of terrorism and this suffering last Friday, perhaps we might offer a simple daily prayer for peace as a contribution we can make to the healing and well-being of our community, in the love of Jesus.

A simple daily prayer:

Dear Jesus, Prince of Peace, have mercy on us; gift us with your peace and grace us to be better peace-makers, we pray in your holy Name. Amen.