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Tribute to the lost shows Australia’s true colours

In the streets and churches, Sydneysiders are united in preserving their peaceful way of life despite the shock they experienced during the deadly Lindt café siege and the sorrow they feel after it.

A steady procession of mourners laid tributes of flowers, cards and chocolates outside the café in Martin Place in the hours following the deadly climax of the 16-hour stand-off. Strangers hugged. Dignitaries came and went without fanfare. Children looked on in comprehending silence.

The usually noisy lunchtime rush in the CBD was subdued. Many queued for hours to sign condolence books and lay their bouquets on a growing bed of flowers.

It was eerily quiet despite the large crowd, a strange continuation of the day before when the surrounding streets were choked police cars, ambulances and fear.

People began paying their respects at around 7am. Florist kiosks in Martin Place had sold out by mid-morning but people continued to buy simple bunches of greenery and add them to the makeshift memorial.

Office workers expressed their sorrow and disbelief, numbed by the reality that the victims could have been any of them.

“Four people in our office were in that café just five minutes before the gunman entered. Another staff member tried to walk in as the door was locked,” said Vivek Bhatia, CEO of WorkCover, whose office is directly above the Lindt Café.

Mr Bhatia said he knew the brother of siege victim Katrina Dawson and spoke to the café manager Tori Johnson when he went to buy his coffee.

“Tori was always pleasant and helpful.”

Pastry chef Steven Peel worked for five years with Mr Johnson, who is now being heralded as a hero.

“When I saw his photo on the TV this morning I was devastated. The Sydney CBD catering industry is relatively small. I shared a lot of laughs and good times with Tori,” Mr Peel said.

Still others had closer connections. Christian Sarkis, the cousin of injured siege victim Marcia Mikhael, came to write a message of peace for the families of the bereaved.

“I wrote: rest in the arms of the Lord and as Jesus said, we must forgive those who persecute us,” said Mr Sarkis.

Mr Sarkis said Marcia had bravely informed the world about her ordeal with Facebook updates and news of her torment had spread quickly through her large extended family.

But even those who didn’t know the victims expressed alarm that such an event could happen in a safe, familiar place like Sydney.

“It’s scary. I kept looking over my shoulder last night on the way home. But we need to stand together, strong and united, as a community against these sorts of acts,” said one office worker who didn’t want to be named.

That sentiment was echoed in the hallowed halls of St Mary’s Cathedral during a lunchtime mass for the victims. Addressing the 1500-strong congregation, Archbishop Anthony Fisher paid tribute to the bravery of the victims who had died just three blocks away.

“Today the heart of our city is broken by the death of two victims and their tormentor,” he said.

Movingly, he warned against people hardening their hearts and undermining what we love most about our society – our freedoms, our way of life, and our respect for one another.

The very things, in other words, that crazed gunman Man Haron Monis was attacking.

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