TRIGGER WARNING: an account of violence follows.
SOME experiences in life are rare, and some others are so unique they promise never to be forgotten. I hope to God that the 1240 from Woy Woy is a once-off.
I have possibly never been so terrified in my life, with the young male mob aggression and violence that I saw and overheard — and I am a physically capable 230lb man. They were a number of twenty, with some loud female hangers-on. They sounded like fifty or more and were camped in the bottom portion of the double-decker carriage. There were about a dozen individuals with me on the top portion. I saw a range of confusion and terror responses that confirmed to me the imminent danger we felt like we were in. Occasionally one or two of the mob would walk through our carriage, and for the entire 75-minute trip I constantly felt a serious injury could take place. I prayed the prayer, “Father, keep everyone on this train safe… bring justice officers… keep every person who is made in Your image safe…” probably several hundred times, just over and over again.
Earlier, having bought my ticket from the station concourse, I made my way down to the platform to wait. The train was only eight-minutes away. I prepared to receive a planned call from a friend. I noticed the mob descend to the platform soon after I had, and within minutes the train pulled into the station. I was conscious at that point to move away from the mob, but as it happened we all ended up in the same carriage. Instantly, with the entire 71-kilometre trip ahead of us, I sensed an awkward dread rise-up in my spirit. Within minutes, I was positioning myself for safety, for escape, and for retaliation if necessary. I looked around the carriage and there were two elderly gentleman, a young couple, her mother, another man my age, and another young lady. Only two of these people other than me represented any protection and potential resistance to force.
This is what was happening. The mob entered with much alcohol in their possession and were clearly intoxicated. They were yelling at each other and constantly shouted obscenities. Bottle tops were removed and thrown around the carriage. The smell of cigarette smoke wafted (it is illegal to smoke on public transport in Australia). As they frequented the toilet, if one of them stayed in there for too long others would attempt to kick the door in, and twice there was the ongoing threats of violence for minutes at a time. At one point there was shrieking that came from a female, and I prayed, “Please, no God, please let that not be a sexual assault…” but the noise died down and it didn’t appear that my assumption was right — thankfully.
As I prayed that no harm would come to anyone in the train I watched outside and noticed people safe in cars on the Pacific Highway, and in a plane in the sky, completely oblivious to the drama unfolding for those of us in the train carriage. Another thing I noticed as I counted down the stations was vacant blocks of land when I craved to see buildings, tall ones, and lots of them. Then I would notice the sign of panicked thoughts and then redirect them into prayer.
We arrived at Epping and a silence came over the whole cabin. An armed officer walked past. He walked below. He then walked off the train with one empty whiskey can in his hand. To our dismay the train left the station, and the party recommenced. More shouting, more swearing, more yelling, more abuse. I recommenced my prayers, praying Strathfield would soon be in sight. At this point one of the mob began to yell, “What are you looking at, [expletive]…” and I wondered if he was starting to abuse those outside the mob. More of them walked through our portion of the carriage. I noticed a young woman enter the carriage and sit down. I was immediately taken with the image of one of my daughters. How precious and vulnerable we all are, but how much a target for violence, in these situations, are women? Apart from the real threat, just the aggression alone induced thought of trauma.
Text message explaining why I could not call
Having left the host venue for the event I’d attended — a keenly precious time with spiritual kin — I was driven to the train station by a colleague. The great irony of all is I had to leave promptly for this train, and I could have avoided the fracas by choosing a later train. I was in no hurry to catch my plane.
Another irony regarding this experience is it followed a peacemakers train-the-trainer event. I had been with fellow ministers talking and training about biblical conflict resolution.
What I have learned from this experience is the force of the male voice to evoke fear in everyone. The threat to do violence is almost as bad as violence itself, and even though they didn’t seem to physically harm any bystanders, they represented a source of trauma.
The young lady I witnessed was visibly panicked, and I could tell her partner was terribly concerned for the situation. One of the elderly gentleman was also very anxious. I asked God what I should do. I felt led to sit where I was and pray vocally under my breath.
The 1240 from Woy Woy was a terrible experience, and it made me aware of the tremendous harm alcohol and other drugs do when they fuel violence.
This experience highlighted to me, all the more, how important a peacemaker ministry is for our troubled society.