Most Australians remember where they were and what they were doing on December 15, 2014, when gunman Man Monis took 18 people hostage in Sydney’s Lindt Café. Selina Win Pe remembers all too well; the lower North Shore local was one of those hostages, and she has endured years of torment while on her road to recovery. Now she’s planning a special tribute at Balmoral Beach to Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson who lost their lives in the incident… and she wants the community’s help to turn it into a memorable and joyous event.
Selina Win Pe is determined. The survivor of one of Sydney’s most haunting tragedies has endured a tough road to recovery in the four years since that terrible December day. A range of physical and emotional scars have left her unable to work, and often unable to leave her home – until now. She has always believed there was a purpose to her being involved in the horror; an opportunity to turn the tragedy into something positive. And she has always hoped to honour the memories of Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think of them, and wish them peace,” says Selina. “It’s important for me that they are never forgotten, that their loss of life was not in vain. Now, my only focus, aside from keeping my own wellness a priority, is this Tribute for them. So I can really move forward, with difference.”
On December 15, 2014, Selina was about to head into a long day of meetings in her job at Westpac. She also had a number of Christmas presents to buy for colleagues and friends. So she popped into the nearby Lindt Café to pick up some gifts and a hot chocolate to sustain her through her list of appointments. It wasn’t until she tried to leave that a waitress told her to remain seated. She refused, and went to find manager, Tori Johnson. In a back room, she discovered him with Monis who had a gun in his hand and was forcing Johnson to write on a large white piece of paper. This would later appear in the window of the café, alerting passers-by (and eventually, the world) of what was going on inside.
Throughout the 17-hour siege, she had several interactions with both Tori and Katrina, and she remembers their humanity in looking out for her. Tori was stoic and reassuring to all the hostages for the entire ordeal. “He was so composed throughout the whole thing. I could see he had taken it upon himself that we were his responsibility.” At one point, Selina and Katrina were forced to stand at the window holding the ISIS flag, when Katrina put her arm around a shaking Selina and comforted her. Together, they could see snipers and police through the windows of the opposite Channel 7 building. “This terrified us because we thought it would set Monis off in a rage if he spotted them.”
Survivor’s guilt has played a large part in Selina’s life since the siege ended. She was the last one to leave the building, the last one carried out by the police in the bloody aftermath of the siege’s end. It’s unfathomable to her why she made it out and Tori and Katrina didn’t. She phones their mothers once a month to touch base, desperate for them to know that they are remembered.
It’s only in recent months that a path forward has emerged in the form of a community tribute event honouring Tori and Katrina, to be held at Balmoral Beach on Sunday, December 9. The tiny seed of an idea has grown into a fully fledged plan and the birth of ‘Will of Courage’, which is the name of the organisation under which Selina hopes to assist those affected by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. There are future plans to aid not just those impacted by the Lindt Café siege, but other victims, including the farming and rural communities of Australia.
At the first Will of Courage event at Balmoral there’ll be a free community yoga session, as well as food and merchandise for sale. Proceeds will be gifted equally to the families of Tori and Katrina. Donations from local businesses have been flowing in steadily in the lead up to the event. “It’s been overwhelming to me the community support. Shops are putting my posters in their windows, offering goods and services. It continues to impress upon me, the incredible power of our community that continues to help me heal, through good will, understanding and kindness. I truly consider my community to be my family and I’m so so grateful to be part of this community.”