Three events are foundational to my interest in my current field. Two date back to the 1990s and are relatively obscure, the other couldn’t be more well-known.
As a 10-year old walking home from school, my regular stop in the local newsagent hangs in my memory as the time I learnt about the murder of a local MP named John Newman.
Newman was assassinated in what was one of Australia’s very few political assassinations. In itself, that is quite terrible, but there was a link closer to home that made its mark.
Newman, as I discovered that afternoon, taught my father karate at a local gym. I remember standing near my father as we watched the evening news and seeing him visibly shocked.
Later study into the life of Newman revealed he was a confident, dogged and passionate MP – he was so driven to campaign against the drugs which were flooding into his electorate. The bravery and courage he had inspires me to this day.
I have also learned that Newman was no stranger to grief or loss. Many years before his assassination, he lost his expecting wife and young son in a terrible car accident. The effect of this on a man cannot be underestimated.
Years later, he was happily engaged to a Chinese woman named Lucy Wang. This same woman, Lucy, watched with utter grief as he bled to death after being gunned down in his driveway the night of his assassination.
The fact he was open to living a big life after so much hurt and pain I deeply respect.
The second event occurred two years later, in June of 1996. Again, stopping at my newsagent, I glanced at the newspaper headlines. These informed me 18 men had died in a terrible helicopter accident north of the Queensland city of Townsville.
Commonly known as the Blackhawk Tragedy, the men who died were at the very pinnacle of not only their lives (many were young fathers) but also of Australia’s armed forces. These SASR soldiers were on a counter-terrorism night exercise when two Blackhawk helicopters collided.
By this time at age 12, I had a keen interest in the army. I was very close with both my grandfathers who served in World War II, my Uncle was a reservist and a close family friend (whom I idolised for a while) was an engineer in the regular Australian army. But beside that, what pre-teen boy isn’t into acts of courage, guns and general adventure?
So when I remember these 18 very courageous men died on that July night, it serves to inspire, sombre and embolden me. I am not a soldier, nor am I in law enforcement.
I am a man, however, committed to being courageous in whatever sphere I find myself. To stand tall, to breathe big and be a spacious person.
I accept and embrace my masculinity by being upfront, open and direct with people.
The final event is commonly known as 9/11. In my field of study, it stands as the defining security event of the 21st century (thus far). I am aware terrorism has a long history, but this event really bought it into vogue (if that’s the right word).
As a 17-year old on his way out the door to school, I noticed a rarity that day: The TV was on. That never really happened in the morning at my house. So I saw the re-runs of the planes hitting the World Trade Centre. At the time, I had no idea how much that event would shape the world.
In hindsight, the event has changed so much. As a student of security (which includes terrorism and counter-terrorism), I have delved very deeply into the events of that day for my assessments. But on an emotional level, the fact that almost 3000 people died that day has a profoundly strong impact on me.
Even more so, is the fact that Americans are very good at honouring their fallen, enlisted or not. This is something that appeals greatly to me, and as Australians I don’t believe we do it enough. Perhaps it’s because we might be a little unsure of ourselves as a young country.
But you cannot move powerfully forward unless you remember and honour meaningful things.
It has taken me years to recognise the impact of these three events on me. I didn’t sit and list them; they unravelled over time and each event carries its own emotion.
The reality is that several events, experiences and people from my past and present inspire and impact me. It’s just that these three are the memorable doors behind which all the others can be accessed. What are your doors?