I marvelled at how no one was complaining. Usually, when the trains run late, that was the only topic of discussion among the passengers. Today, November 14, 2005, Brisbane got a little taste of terrorism, and nobody was saying anything.
It had started earlier in the day. The lunch time trains and buses had been cancelled because of a bomb threat. The buses had simply pulled over to the side of the road, and all the passengers taken a safe distance away. The trains had pulled up at their normal stations, and commuters told to leave.
Soon, radio reports were claiming that Brisbane’s central business district (CBD) was to be completely evacuated. This didn’t eventuate, but showed the seriousness with which the developing situation was taken by the city.
At 3pm, two more bomb threats were received. Queensland Premier, Peter Beattie, ordered all trains and buses in the CBD shut down between 4.45 pm and 5.15 pm.
Again, there were reports that the entire CBD was to be evacuated. A quick call to the police media unit proved this was once again an over reaction.
Back at King George Square, the best land based vantage point in the city, all the TV networks had cameras set up, and a host of reporters waited patiently to see what the outcome would be. Empty buses, with doors firmly closed, were parked intermittently along Adelaide Street, hazard lights flashing. I watched with incredulous respect as the people of the city, fully aware of the latest bomb threats, simply walked at normal pace past the perceived threat.
Further up the road, the access ramps to the city’s large, underground bus stations had been blocked by barriers, guarded by transport and council workers. Council vehicles also blocked access, with their overhead emergency lights flashing.
Helicopters hovered overhead. The mayor was there. So, too, was the police commissioner. Again, people simply went about their business, unphased by this attempt to disrupt the laid back lifestyle of this great city.
It was the same, now, on the train. People were aware of what had happened, and weren’t going to let it bother them. I reflected back to my own emergency service and law enforcement days. I had been involved, at an operational level, in several large scale street evacuations. These had included bomb scares, toxic material leakages, riots, floods and fires. They were all pre-September 11, and had caused considerable panic, particularly the bomb on the propane cylinder at Goulburn hospital.
The response to today’s threat was much bigger than anything I had previously witnessed in Australia, possibly apart from some bushfires. The logistics of the operation were huge, and the potential for panic frightening. But the people of Brisbane reflected the Australian spirit. The relevant authorities seemed to have the situation well in hand. The people remained calm. Perhaps this new threat to everyday life is just something we have learned to accept.
As I looked at my fellow commuters, calmly travelling on a train that could be a rolling bomb, I felt an immense pride to be Australian. It was uncertain, as we rode the train together, whether this was a foolhardy call for help from an individual, or a calculated plan of mischief from a misguided group. Either way, it was designed to cause panic and fear, and draw attention to the self-perceived plight of the individual or group involved.
Whoever conceived this, I have bad news for you. People have adapted to these threats. We see our public authorities as having plans in place for such situations. It is little more than an annoyance.
Sure, life is scarier now. Sure, it costs a lot of money to provide protection from these misguided zealots. This society is far from perfect. But change cannot be made by a small minority attempting to forcibly impose their will on others. These fanatics do not instil uncontrollable terror in the hearts of Australians. The train travellers in front of me are proof of that. They do not command respect by their single-minded hatred of themselves and others. They simply attract the contempt and annoyance reserved for those that refuse to allow themselves to be a part of the society.
The train travellers, bus commuters and people of Brisbane, who so honourably typified the Australian spirit this afternoon, can stand tall as a symbol of all real Australians. People who originate from all countries on Earth, and who refuse to be terrorised.