Guest speaker Cathy Gordon (right) with Convenor of the Alstonville Community Coffee Club, Michael Hobbs.
Guest speaker Cathy Gordon (right) with Convenor of the Alstonville Community Coffee Club, Michael Hobbs.

From tragic headlines to happy Headliners

WHEN Cathy Gordon first heard the "boom! boom! boom!" she knew it was not only gunfire; it was nearby and it was the sound of live bullets.

Cathy was at Port Arthur on April 28, 1996, when Martin Bryant opened fire, killing 35 people and injuring 23.

On Tuesday Cathy shared her story with members of the Community Coffee Club, who meet one Tuesday a month in Alstonville.

Cathy was 28 in 1996, a successful music administrator in her role as concert manager for the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra.

"That Sunday was our last day off before a tour of NSW and Victoria with 12 members of the Australian Opera," she told her audience, after warning that her talk would contain descriptions of events some people might find distressing.

"I really wanted to stay home and do my washing, but six of them wanted to go to Port Arthur, so I hired a bus."

Cathy told of how she had seen a yellow Volvo drive in and park before going in to the Broad Arrow café with her group; they all got food and when she lined up, Cathy saw a young man she'd seen previously in Hobart; he'd hung around the orchestra's rehearsals and she'd had to kick him out.

"There was something about his eyes - the pupils were dilated and suddenly I had this incredibly strong feeling that I had to get my people out of there. I told them we had to leave immediately, and got them all out of the café.

"We were about 80 metres away when I heard the gunshots - it was a split second that seemed to last a lifetime.

"I hid my guests in some buildings and saw there was a lady behind me with two kids - I went back to help her and saw Martin Bryant getting out of his car (where he had changed weapons).

"He shot at me and missed, then he took the lives of the woman and baby. Her other child ran away up the road and he killed her instead of me. I have to live with that."

Cathy then described how she and her group hid as the massacre continued around them, and how she was able to keep her numbing adrenalin flowing by giving instructions to keep everyone around her safe. None of them were hurt and they finally got away.

But in the ensuing weeks, after the tour, as the effects of what she had experienced kicked in, Cathy rapidly became dysfunctional in her personal life and at work, finally succumbing to serious post-traumatic stress disorder.

The gift of a horse saved her from taking her own life. She (and the horse) relocated to Ballina where a horse trainer friend made a home for her. Now with two horses as best friends, she's healed enough to allow music back into her life.

Cathy is now the musical director of the Headliners Chorus, an all-female singing group founded in Lennox Head which won first place in the a cappella category at last year's Lismore Eisteddfod.

"Do I hate Martin Bryant? - No, I don't," she concluded.

"I don't like what he did, but I have found loving kindness and compassion helps this world to be a better place."

The Community Coffee Club meets on the second Tuesday of each month, at 10.15 am at the Anglican Ministry Centre next to the church in The Avenue, Alstonville.

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