Sydney: It was during the semi-final of the India-Australia match in Sydney that I decided to visit Lindt Café where a shotgun wielding man held 18 staff and customers captive for 16 hours.
The December 15 incident last year had sent shock waves among the people in Australia.
When I read out the address that I got from the cafe’s website to the taxi driver, he said: “There is no need to read out the address to that place; all you have to say is Lindt Café and everyone knows where it is located.”
The cabbie explained how that incident had disturbed and affected everyone in this city.
Once he was in the cafe, terror suspect Man Monis had ordered all doors to be shut.
The siege finally ended in a hail of gunfire that claimed the lives of two innocent victims, Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson. Dawson was a barrister and mother of three children who had come to the cafe to have her favourite hot chocolate, and Johnson was the cafe manager. Monis was also killed in the process.
It was hard to believe that such an incident had happened in that typically posh street lined with commercial buildings and eateries.
The cafe reopened on March 20, one week before the World Cup semi-final, and many fans who had come to watch cricket visited this cafe.
It was closed for 90 days since the incident.
Two plaques were unveiled inside the cafe as a mark of respect to the innocent victims. One says ‘In loving memory of Tori Johnson ... forever in our hearts’ while the other reads, ‘In loving memory of Katrina Dawson — An Inspiration’. The day both were killed — December 16, 2014 — is also mentioned on the plaque.
The cafe can accommodate nearly 50 people at a time, and since it was closed for many days, cleaners were still around polishing the windows and doors. Monis had forced Johnson to kneel before executing him with his shotgun enraged over many hostages escaping.
Police had stormed the cafe when gunman was in the process of reloading his gun and shot him dead in a hail of bullets.
Fragments from the gunfire hit Dawson who died on the way to the hospital.
“We reopened the cafe for customers at 10am exactly around the same time Monis ordered the doors shut on December 15,” an employee at the cafe told Gulf News. “Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Premier Mike Baird and New South Wales Opposition leader Luke Foley visited us to pay their respects.”
Ever since the cafe opened, it has been extremely busy all the time though there are many other eateries around.
“The purpose of the terror attack was to divide the people and create hatred. They failed miserably because everyone has come together against it, and I will make sure I drop in at least for a coffee whenever possible,” said a customer.
Lindt Café’s retail director Alistair Keep added, “Since it was a sensitive issue, we had to ensure before resumption of services that all our staff felt comfortable.”
Lindt has a staff strength of 25, and many of them, including the hostages, had to undergo counselling after the traumatic experience.
Inquest into the deaths of Dawson and Johnson were published in detail by all newspapers.
It seems Monis walked into the cafe around 8.30am and ate a piece of chocolate cake with a cup of tea, and then moved to a table where he could get a full view of the cafe.
He then called 34-year-old Johnson to his table and asked him to close the door.
A disturbed Johnson asked his staff to close the doors, signalled them to remain calm when Monis got up and announced that he had a bomb and was ready to attack them.
These days everything seems calm inside the cafe.
Many customers were seen enjoying their chocolate truffle in a syrup.
On the reopening day they had welcomed everyone with a free chocolate.
Being modestly priced, their mini chocolate truffle and cakes are popular.
Anyone who now passes by the cafe throws a glance inside just out of curiosity.
Although the fear seems to have faded away, painful memories of that tragic day in December continue to live in the minds of everyone living in Sydney.