Lest we forget

The Christchurch massacre, five years on

Friday was the fifth anniversary of the Christchurch massacre.

It’s understandable if it passed you by. Anthony Albanese seemingly forgot, as he has since 2022, when he last released a statement about it.

“It is vital that we do not let this date go unmarked,” he said at the time.

He’s not the only one. The anniversary wasn’t marked by Foreign Minister Penny Wong, Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil, or seemingly any member of Cabinet.

There was virtually no media coverage of the anniversary by most major media outlets either, except in the Guardian, which ran an opinion piece from a survivor of the attack.

This is maddening but not surprising. As I’ve written before, forgetting is what we do best.

The Aotearoa Royal Commission of Inquiry into the massacre has a chapter profiling Tarrant, the murderer. It picks through his upbringing, looking for potential clues as to what he would become.

A lot of people — Australians especially — have tried to argue that Tarrant was an aberration, or that he was radicalised elsewhere. On one of his international trips, maybe, or by the internet’s dark corners.

I understand the urge to look for some proof that Tarrant was a horrible once-off that couldn’t have been predicted or prevented. What we haven’t begun to grapple with is how normal he was. How much of his hatred came from the people and places around him.

At times, reading about Tarrant’s upbringing feels like reading an account of my own childhood and adolescence. He was born four months before I was. We both grew up in small coastal towns on NSW’s north coast. We’re both children of divorce. We were both picked on at school and spent a lot of time alone, playing MMORPGs and on message boards. We both had periods of intense isolation after leaving school. We both had trouble connecting with other people.

None of that explains why he became who he became, I don’t think. At least not as much as the fact that, in the time and place where we were both born and raised, hatred was everywhere. It was in the air. It was in the mouths of our teachers, our friends, our friends’ parents. If you grow up with it you don’t think about it. It’s just there.

The first time I slept over at a friend’s house I was maybe ten or eleven. I was really excited because I’d never been allowed before. Me and my friend sat up late and watched TV.

After his parents told us to go to bed, we lay awake talking some more. At one point there was a lull in the conversation as he wrestled with something. Eventually he spoke up.

“I don’t think I like Aboriginal people,” he told me.

He knew this wasn’t something you could say outright to just anybody. To show your hand like that, you had to trust someone.

I said something noncommittal. I remember feeling uncomfortable but not really understanding why. We drifted apart eventually. I think he owns a car dealership now.

I still remember the jokes about Aboriginal people told by kids in the playground who’d heard them from older kids, or from their parents. I didn’t know what “Aboriginal” meant, but the punchlines filled me in — wife beaters, car thieves, petrol sniffers. I was five I think, or six.

A little way past the Pacific Highway turnoff to Port Macquarie there’s a spit of land that juts out into the Hastings River called Blackmans Point. There’s a strawberry farm there. Families take their kids there to go fruit picking.

In 1825 or 1826, the superintendent of penal works at Port Macquarie, Henry Wilson, wrote the following:

“… three men were sent to ... Blackman's Point to split shingles, and two were killed by the blacks. When the survivor reached the camp and related the circumstances, a party of Buffs [soldiers from the 4th Regiment] was sent out to chastise the blacks, and right well was the work carried out. The soldiers surrounded the aborigines [sic], and shot a great many of them; they also captured a lot of women, used them for an immoral purpose, and then shot them. The offending soldiers were sent to Sydney for trial, but managed to escape punishment.”

The state government only recognised it as a massacre site last year. It’s about five minutes’ drive from the house I grew up in.

There wasn’t something in the water in northern NSW when he and I grew up there (except a lack of fluoride). Sydney’s “elite” private schoolboys would have fit right in.

Five years on there’s been no kind of reckoning. If there had been, maybe we’d be able to admit that we produce Tarrants by the thousand. The only thing unique about Tarrant was that he was given around $450,000 in compensation after his dad died of mesothelioma. He didn’t have to work so he travelled instead.

If he’d had to work he would’ve done what guys like him always do. He would’ve joined the army and kicked Afghan civilians off of cliffs for smiling at him. He would’ve become a cop and been put on paid leave after shooting a Black kid for wearing a hoodie. He would’ve become a prison guard or gone to work for Border Force. We’d see him on Border Security, going through some woman’s underpants and telling her to speak English.

He’d be one of the Australians who flew to Israel to fight in the IDF. We’d be reading profiles of him in the Herald.

Happy Harmony Day, I guess.

What I’m looking at

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