Uniting Church representatives were on hand for the solemn task of taking away the hundreds of flowers, cards and toys that expressed an outpouring of community grief and support following the random running down of pedestrians in Bourke St Mall earlier this month.
Premier Daniel Andrews, Lord Mayor Robert Doyle, Chief Commissioner of Police Victoria Graham Ashton, emergency service workers and chaplains, Red Cross volunteers, office workers, tourists and city residents were also among those attending the removal of the floral tribute left by members of the public on the steps of the GPO building.
Television news cameras captured the Indigenous smoking ceremony prior to the painstaking removal of the makeshift memorial . The premier and lord mayor picked up the first tributes left by members of the public, and were followed by emergency service workers and chaplains.
The flowers will be mulched and incorporated into the Victims of Crime memorial near State Parliament. There has not been any decision yet as to how to appropriately preserve the many photos, teddy bears and messages.
Emergencies Ministry chaplains with the Victorian Council of Churches (VCC) have been a visible presence since pedestrians were mowed down as they wandered through the Mall and along Bourke St to William St. Six people were killed, 30 injured and hundreds more witnessed the terrifying assault on Melbourne’s CBD.
Uniting Church ministers Rev Ian Cayzer and Rev Mark Dunn have volunteered their time at the Mall and in the VCC emergency control centre. Mr Cayzer, a regional coordinator, said the ministry exists to be a compassionate voice in the middle of a crisis.
Mr Dunn, who has worked five shifts at the site including the Friday evening, spent some time with a group from Adelaide who had been first responders to the incident. He referred the three people to a support service in Adelaide as they were clearly traumatised by the event.
Stuart Stuart, CEO of the VCC Emergencies Ministry, said the feedback from the community and government for the work of the chaplains has been overwhelmingly positive.
“This kind of experience is not just psychological and emotional, this is a spiritual response, and there is a great acceptance and appreciation of our presence,” Mr Stuart said.
“The sharing of a tissue when a person weeps is a prayer of compassion and of hope.”
The VCC Emergencies Service is one of a number of vital services that are called to attend at critical moments in a community’s life, providing a calm voice to people in distress.