Many people were watching the late night news just around 11pm
in Sydney on September 11. The regular news coverage switched immediately
to the New York situation as it happened. Many Australians saw the
second plane go into the WTC in real time. The next morning, we
all awoke to a different world. Friends and colleagues who had stayed
up late were groggy with exhaustion and grief. The rest took several
hours to shake off a feeling of utter incomprehension.
Blanket coverage on television (all channels) and the public radio
followed. The channels took feed from CNN or other American networks.
The Sydney Morning Herald must have halted it's presses at 11pm
as the Wednesday morning headlines carried the banner "Terror war
on the US' with a 4 page spread of pictures and comments.
Our Prime Minister, Mr Howard, was visiting Washington on a state
visit, having spent some of the previous day with Mr Bush. The US
Ambassador to Australia , Mr Schaeffer, visited him at the Australian
embassy there in the morning after the attacks and the Prime Minister's
first act was to embrace him. In the words of Mr Schaeffer, at a
very moving service on the following Monday, "this was more than
a Prime Minister embracing an ambassador. It was Australia embracing
America" (SMH Tuesday 18).
That spontaneous act reflected what many Australians felt when
the extent of the devastation became apparent. The US and Australia
have been close allies since World War 2 when Darwin in Australia
was bombed by the same planes that attacked Pearl Harbor. Here in
Australia, memorial services, a day of mourning, a special Parliamentary
session, shrines of flowers and messages outside American institutions
have all been ways that our sympathies have been extended.
Many Australians had been killed in this terrorist attack as well
- the number is still unclear. Young Australians attracted to the
challenges of working the New York died along with many other people
from different countries.
The terrorist attacks in New York have fed into local issues.
There have been concerns that Australian Islamic communities might
suffer a backlash with politicians and leaders calling for tolerance
The talk has now turned to what the US response is likely to be
and how it will impact on the future of the world. Some letters
to the newspapers express the desire to see caution and wisdom otherwise
the cycle of terror and violence will not end no matter how many
armaments are deployed. Others feel that this act is so monstrous
that it needs immediate redress.
Exactly one year after the Sydney Harbour Bridge was adorned with
the Olympic rings, it now flies has flags at half mast. A festival
was planned for the first anniversary of the Sydney Olympics, opening
with the Olympic cauldron being relit in a new permanent on the
Olympic site. Despite the sadness, the festival went ahead and people
came feeling the need to re-assert their community and humanity.
Looking across from the main stadium to what was the Athlete's
village - now a new suburb - it's hard to remember that just a year
ago it was full of people of all nations who competed and mixed
without rancour. We all hope that we will see that again soon.
Ruth McDermott is a part time academic in design at the University
of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.
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