Ballina Port Arthur survivor finds peace at last
PORT Arthur massacre survivor Cathy Gordon can finally say she's found some peace over what happened on that fateful day, but it's taken 20 long years and every fibre of her being to do so.
Ms Gordon was having lunch in the Broad Arrow cafe minutes before Martin Bryant opened fire signalling the beginning of the terror that killed 35. It was a strong feeling of impending dread that prompted her and her party to get up and leave.
Minutes later she came face to face with Bryant when she left her group's hiding place to venture outside to help others.
Bryant first shot at her, missed, and then proceeded to murder a nearby mother and two young girls in front of her.
It was those awful few moments which left the deepest scars.
"I had a lot of guilt for a number of years that I saw two little children have their life taken away from them and I survived," Ms Gordon said.
"Seeing people murdered in front of you is something you never get out of your head."
Earlier this year Ms Gordon undertook her own deeply personal pilgrimage to the the Port Arthur site, which included retracing her steps during those fateful minutes.
"I re-walked where I was on the day and had a look at it as the person I am now," she said.
"I suppose a big part of me was still there, and what I wanted to do was find that part of me and bring it home with me.
"I know now that there is absolutely nothing I could have done to save those girls lives.
"That's a huge thing, because until I went back, and rewalked it and looked at it, there was always a shadow of a doubt."
The ordeal left her with post-traumatic stress, and she says without the support of family, friends, her beloved horses Whale and Ben, and the treatment of Ballina GP Dr Colin MacDonald she would not be who she is today.
On today's 20th anniversary, she said she was satisfied that respect had been given on a national level to those who were impacted by the massacre.
"I think a great credit must get extended to Stephen Large, chief executive of the Port Arthur Management Authority, because that man has never given up on what Port Arthur and the history of the place is," she said.
She has her own series of "deeply personal" rituals she observes each year on April 28, which begin with calling her father - whose birthday falls on the same day.
She said one of the things difficult about trauma, is that everyone is affected in a unique way, and her own message to others is to "never sweep things under the carpet.
"I think society needs to realise that every individual deals with traumatic situations in their own way - no trauma is lesser or greater than another.
"No one has a right to judge other people's level of distress or the impact that it has on their life because it's such a personal thing.
"The one thing nobody can take away from them is who they are."
For Cathy, finally now, the present and the future holds more than the past.
"There are moments where I am sorry that has happened, but I suppose what I've got to is that I'm happy I'm alive.
"It took me the full 20 years to deal with it."