No words can ever tell what led him to attack Police with a knife in the first hour of darkness on that fateful September evening. Strike at them not once but many times. Again and again in a mad frenzy. He wanted to settle things, perhaps. Unsettle everything, certainly. To settle nothing in the end. No words can ever let us into the deep, overwhelming darkness of his fury; the blind, frenzied lashing out, of his final, fatal acts.
No words can ever mend what has been done. And undone. No words can tell of his victims’ pain and shock and terror. Nor how their lives will never be the same. And those who know them. Belong to them. Love them. No words can tell, either how any of us will ever be the same. Bystanders, onlookers, outsiders every one of us, we can only re-trace some steps in his descent into madness.
Endeavour Hills is no stranger to desperation. Once a shift workers’ dormitory satellite serving Melbourne and Dandenong’s factories, it is today a many-layered place, a migrant melting pot, a terminus and refuge for the marginalised and dispossessed.
There are no hills to speak of. You do climb a bit on your way through from Frankston to Dandenong. Any further elevation is all in the developer’s copy writer’s imagination. Increasingly those who live here, descend here. The place itself bears witness to much that is in decline.
Fading brick veneer buildings edge narrow streets, stunted drives, guillotined cul-de-sacs and crescents. The 70s tint de jour was Dulux Mission Brown. Unmistakeable. Nothing like it. Imagine if you mixed every colour you could get together, you would end up with this brown. Perhaps how they made it. It’s a smart way to use up your leftovers, if you are DuPont. If you are just a consumer? You wear it.
Mission Brown will cover anything. Cover a multitude of sins. Here it’s everywhere like a dirty brown canker. Suck the life out of any streetscape. And out of you if you let it. Still keeping on keeping on defying you to rest your eyes on it. Find anything cheerful, anything remotely uplifting in it. Let your imagination run riot, as Barry Humphries might have said. Paint the town brown. Whatever it does for the painter, it’s not uplifting to the human spirit.
Cramped cream brick or tumbled brick veneer cottages have titchy unweeded yards where neglected dogs bark themselves stir-crazy. You get surround sound without having to ask for it. Neighbours can listen to neighbour without having to make up an excuse to pop next door to borrow a cup of flake. Hear their neighbours’ TVs; their domestics; doors slamming; their boy racer tuning his V8 in the drive; feel his sub-woofer shaking the bars of his roll cage.
These homes are too close for comfort. Closer to each other than their inhabitants will ever be in many cases. Their owners who have invested a lot in blinds and curtain netting. And more than the odd Rottweiler, mastiff, Pit bull terrier or mongrel combo with the lot. Estate developers cut costs and corners. Threw them up in a flash. Squeezed as many into the subdivision as they could get away with. Then got out in a flash. Made their fortunes. Made a killing. Put on white shoes and set off to walk arm in arm with another government to plunder the Queensland coast.
Cheaply made and poorly fitted, your average dwelling pinches at the elbows and around the seat, standing the test of time like a cheap 70s suit. After time that you couldn’t build quality if you wanted. Later constructions reflect how the ’80s and ’90s building boom strained building supplies. It shows in cheap and low quality materials. Creature comforts are basic. Luxury is in low supply.
Not all the houses are tiny. Some are two storeys. Grass castles for stoner kings and queens. But the place feels cramped. Skimped. Confined. Tense. It is not the Australia of House and Garden magazine. You wouldn’t set Ramsay Street here. Domestics are violent.
A man shaved his wife’s head, bound her with duct tape and beat her for twenty minutes with a garden hose in a jealous rage. “If a wife cheats on a husband, she can expect to have this done to her. She made me do it,” her husband said in defence. His three-and-a-half year sentence would be nearly up by now.
Another resident kidnapped a Nepalese student he had befriended online, stealing from her bank accounts and was apprehended when about to push her into a grave he’d dug in the back yard. Her parents would not pay his $20,000 ransom. He said in court it was her idea.
Endeavour Hills bears more than its fair share of domestic conflict, home invasions and random bashings. It gets a bad press in some circles. But then, nothing good ever came out of Bethlehem or so they said. Best thing that comes out Endeavour Hills, wags say, is the road to Dandenong. And Dandenong’s rough.
Disharmony is a design feature in Endeavour Hills. Patterns, colours, textures and materials often argue with each other in the same fascia. Cheaper to get the job finished that way. Under budget. Parsimony knifes the soul. Cut-price suburban neurosis festers. Unwary visitors feel its chill. You could go easily go mad here. Kill yourself. If you weren’t a bit mad to have moved in. Or desperate to escape another war-zone. Another hell hole. An Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon from the long gone days when Australia accepted refugees.
Any place at all suits when you’re desperate for shelter. Desperate to settle. Yesterday’s bargain build appeals when your budget is small. Practical necessity wins any arm wrestle over taste or design. No point in champagne taste on a beer budget. You may already know someone here.
And so it is the Hills have filled with migrants over recent decades. And their children. Their children’s children. It’s cheap real estate. Easy to get to. Near work. Handy to schools and other factories. It is an obscure place, unknowable to all but those who must reside here. Unknowable even to itself. Easy to get lost in. Safely out of the way. Until now.
Today news bolts into our consciousness in an incandescent flash. It flashes, flares and burns like Icarus too close to the sun of everyday necessity. Simple stories are quickly whipped up and served hourly in our living rooms. Our anti-social social media is driven by them. Sick with them. Riven by them. Most are short-lived, self-destructing, fabrications. They burn up as they enter the atmosphere of our contested consciousness. Burn to ash in the short-fuse furnaces of our fractured and attenuated attention spans. How big is JLo’s butt, now? Celebrity obsession and our all-consuming appetite for the novel, superficial and the trivial help fan the flames. Yet others are ground out by big money’s boot heel, threatening law suits or big money calling the shots.
Yet our stories shape us. Define us. However long they may last. Give us a sense of ourselves. Who we are. Who we imagine we are. And who we are not. Stories define the outsider. The other. The threat. The monster. The real and present danger of the terrorist within. The red under the bed. The DIY mechanic boy with a petrol leak from his car yesterday in the parking lot of the Doveton mosque at his teenage friend’s funeral becomes a potential jihadist.
In a flash, a rampaging beast takes off. The demoniser. The hate-maker. It helps us ease our guilt. Cauterise our wounded pride. How could this happen on our watch? Quickly, the hapless man-child is the devil’s servant. A monster. In league with jihadist forces head-quartered in Syria and on Facebook. Gushers of hate-speak spew forth from public orifices to seal the deal. Pure Evil. Under the influence of pure evil, Tony Abbott says, of Jihadist forces abroad. Pure evil.
But wait, there’s more. There may be others like him, waiting to strike.
A heightened sense of alert feels very much like a paranoid panic attack, however, well the PM’s strategic communications unit may package it. Or the PM sells it. It strengthens the arm of central government. It sells newspapers. Boosts Rupert Murdoch’s income. No wire-tapping needed. It boosts ratings. Sets the hounds after the hares. Yet it also tears us apart as a nation. Tears at the very fabric of our social being. Turns us against them.
A young man is killed. Only now, forlornly, belatedly, do some of us seek to know him. Know who he was. What drove him to such desperate behaviour? Seek to find what went wrong. Discover the story. His story. Our story. For the rest, it seems, there is an easier way to deal with the facts.
‘Scum’ is the word many Aussie Bloggers are using in their rush to judgement. Too many.
Such simple-minded but savage attacks feed on ignorance and emotional immaturity but they now receive oxygen from the top. They are nurtured by a dominant public discourse in which we are under attack. Under attack not from our own lack of charity, compassion and concern for others but from the other. Evil is not in all of us. It is disembodied. Out there. In the young jihadist. This shameful, wilful black and white political narrative does none of any good.
It is a dangerous but familiar story which seeks to band us together against an enemy within.
It is the narrative of the witch hunt. We must root out the evil within us and destroy it. It is both infantile and lethal. It does not become as a nation. It does not serve us a people. It is a fiction which story which distorts our social conscience. It wilfully blinds us to the responsibility we must all bear for one of us has been lost. The flames of bigotry are fanned.
Now outbreaks of racist intolerance are reported in some quarters. No real surprise here. A litany of lies and wilful blindness is publicly broadcast. The deceased has become the enemy. Not ourselves. This boy’s death, we are told in the subtext, is not our loss. He was not one of us in his growing up. We did not take him and give him succour. We did not nourish him, guide him, take care of him in every way we could as he grew into a man.
Instead of showing leadership, The Prime Minister’s spin on the story is to call it ‘a nasty incident in Melbourne’. Absolved, assuaged in this way is the fear-mongering unleashed in a terror alert upgrade. Absolved are those who resort to terms such as ‘pure evil’. Condoned is a primitive blood-lust for revenge and counter-attack.
A reporter calls on a neighbour in Narre Warren last week. A few doors away is the young man’s home. Blinds and curtains darken this house, with its untidy teenager’s room, a room that only yesterday was filled with music, life and laughter, friends and bits of gym equipment. A room whose emptiness is now eternal. No-one will call on him now. The dark angel has flown. Forever.
The neighbour turns the reporter away. He will not give his name. Mr Go Away does not want to get involved. None of my business. Fear is in his voice. And anger.
Leave me alone is the gist of what the neighbour is saying. Just as the boy was left alone. Police covered his body with a tarpaulin. Left him on the road where he fell. Until the next day. The corpse could have been dangerous, they said. Lethal. A risk to our safety and security.
Mr Go Away is but one voice of the ‘community’ which surrounded, supported and educated the young man who has died. But it is not a helpful voice. This is not the voice of neighbourly concern. It is not the voice of any true community. Rather, it is just one representative of what has come to usurp community. A post-modern aggregation of self-absorption, self-interest, irrational fear, mistrust and indifference.
Sadly it is this voice which is privileged. It is this voice that appears to be in the ascendancy, nurtured, called forth by our national terror alert and all its eager handmaidens.
Narre Warren is another Endeavour Hills in the making. A cheap knock-off. Only the buildings are newer. The general idea is the same. Knock them up cheap. Sell them dear. The quality is the same or worse. The dead flat blocks are smaller. There is a sense of a future slum evolving before your eyes. A ghetto. It rises on stony ground: the stinginess and greed of its developers’ and builders’ hearts. Kids’ cars clutter streets and drive ways. Doors slam. Dogs bark all day. You feel instantly that you will be forever on the outer. Unwelcome. Uninvited. Unconnected.
There is no neighbourliness, no community speaking in this man’s voice. It is the voice of denial. Go away. In these words, we deny ourselves, our love for one another. That part of others that makes us whole. Our delight in another’s company. Another’s joy. Grief in another’s sorrow. Our humanity. Go away? We cannot go away. We are not made that way. Not one of us.
Perhaps Mr Go Away senses this. Perhaps he dimly realises that we are all in this together. Perhaps in some way it disturbs him. Traps him. Perhaps even he suspects that there is no easy way out. Senses that we are all involved for better or for worse in the end. All he would say for the record was that of course he knew of his neighbour. He knew of is a form of words you choose when you don’t know a person at all. Knew of is the Judas kiss of death to any real community.
Abdul Numan Haider’s knife attack on two policemen and his subsequent fatal shooting outside Endeavour Hills Police station at 7:45pm, Monday 23 September troubles us for many reasons. What caused this eighteen year old to attack police when they called him in for questioning? He clearly intended to harm them. He took knives. He set it up. He phoned to arrange the meeting outside the station. He reversed his Nissan Pulsar into a park as if making for an easy get away.
He did not get away. Whatever plans he may have had of escape, his actions have unleashed a perfect storm of hatred, recrimination, discrimination and revenge. And evasion.
Who knows what disordered thoughts ran through his teenage mind? Martyrdom? Revenge? Anger? Suicide? We need to ask hard questions of the evidence. We need to look into ourselves, our own hearts. Avoid boarding that juggernaut of popular opinion on its rush to judgement.
Media reports describe Haider as yet another desperate Islamic fanatic, an ISIL extremist obeying instructions to decapitate. A jihadist carrying out a fatwa. An automaton programmed to destroy and self-destruct. Or a lone wolf. A lone wolf who chooses to carry out the fatwa rantings of a jihadist madman. The two are logically opposed but either fits well within the PM’s national scare strategy. Serves its purpose. Purpose? The euphemism is ‘team-building’.
Other journalists looking for the person discover personal stressors: his relationship breakdown. Some report his anger at having his passport cancelled, his resentment at being visited at home and hassled. They write of a good kid from a decent family. They report his parents’ grief and disbelief. They write of his becoming a target for investigation of terror suspects. Earlier that day the police called at his home. They searched his bedroom while he was out before issuing their invitation to join them at the station when he returned. His parents tried to prevent him from going to the station.
Few trouble to raise some basic questions. A lethal trap sprang shut last Monday. The consequences are tragic. Was it entrapment? Was it a random act of madness? What efforts had police made to assess risk? Could police have not sensed the suspect’s psychological instability? They made many visits to his home. They quizzed him about his contacts his networks. Did they follow these up? They raided his room while he was out. They then requested that he attend the station. Could they not have reasonably foreseen a confrontation brewing? What steps were taken to defuse a volatile and potentially lethal situation?
The tragic events will not, of course, yield to any quick and easy explanation. Their origins are highly complex. Some would have us begin with the story of a migrant boy from Afghanistan and his family. Deep in this story are wounds of the heart and soul. Wounds of loss. Of deprivation. Dispossession. Betrayal. Conflict. Wounds that are slow to heal. If they ever really heal. No outsider can measure the pain and suffering. Embedded in the refugee’s trauma is the damage inflicted by a war torn homeland on all its people and especially those who forced to flee for their lives as refugees.
Others will talk of influences and radicalisation. And it is true, part of his motivation will be found no doubt in the ideologies of hate and killing that ensnared him. But these are catalysts more than causes. To be radicalised, it helps first to be alienated, unwanted, marginalised, dispossessed, and discarded. Cast off to one side. Made to make do with a place on the edge of things. It is not the influence itself so much but everything that has led to his vulnerability to such propaganda that should be our true concern. We do not need to cast him off. We do need to accept what is ours in this. Accept at least some of the responsibility.
The important questions are less easily explored. But they must be explored. Located deep within the fabric of our social being, they involve us all. Who took care of this family? Who took them in? Who made sure they were OK? Provided for. Taken care of beyond the basic needs.
When a young man begins to act strangely, it is seldom a sudden event. Who was there who was prepared to get alongside this young man when he began to act so bizarrely? Who was there to take him to one side and untangle his snare of unreason? Which one of us made time to listen? To help bind his hurts? To move him out of harm’s way before he attracted the attention of the police? There will be hurts, wounds, hardships and other causes deep within that we need to acknowledge. Investigate. For our own sake. For the sake of the many strangers in our midst. For how we look after those at the margins, those on the edge is in the end the true measure of our humanity.