On Friday lunchtime, I was flicking through the paper on my phone when I came across a blaring headline: MASS SHOOTING IN CHRISTCHURCH.
My first thought: there must be a town in the USA called Christchurch. Surely, I reasoned as I opened the article to read, they can't be talking about Christchurch, New Zealand, the beautiful little city in the South Island, a lively yet peaceful place of which I have so many fond memories.
Except they were.
In my horror I left work to call my mother, asking if we still had family living in Christchurch and wanting to know if they were safe. By evening it was confirmed that everyone we knew was OK, yet I couldn't shake a bone-deep sense of loss, of fear, of feeling that something precious and sacred had been defiled.
And, of course, it had.
49 (at most recent count) precious lives have been stolen by the wanton, senseless violence of a terrorist (I will not - cannot - name him, he does not deserve to be identified), more than thirty have been injured, while eleven of those are in a critical condition, fighting for their lives in hospital. Families have been torn apart, lives will never be the same again, and while I believe New Zealand as a nation and Christchurch as a city will come through this, it will take time as we work out how best to pick up the pieces.
As a white, Christian woman I have never had to experience the (unjust, undeserved) hatred or racism thrown at the Islamic community, and I have tried to be there for my friends who have had to deal with these bigots intruding on their lives. Australia, I had no trouble believing, was a racist nation. I never personally experienced it, but I saw it, I witnessed my friends go through it. I was walking down the streets of the CBD one day with my Australian friend when a man from across the road screamed at her 'GO BACK WHERE YOU CAME FROM!' His assumption: her skin was dark, therefore she was the immigrant, but my white skin immediately identified me as an Australian, even though I was not. If I felt sickened by this, however, I know it was nothing compared to how she felt: she was born and bred in this country, I am the immigrant, yet I am allowed to fit into the stereotypical fold of being 'Australian' (I'll actually pass on that one, thanks, as I don't want your version of 'Australian', it's filthy!), where she has to spend her days proving that she belongs here.
It came as no surprise to me, therefore, when it was revealed that one of the terrorists from Christchurch was an Australian. While other Australians may not have stooped so low as to open fire in a place of worship, murdering innocent people exercising their right to freedom of religion, the gross hypocrisy on display from Australian leaders has cemented to me, more than ever, that this country has gone backwards and will continue to do so.
Scott Morrison, our current PM, was quick to agree with New Zealand PM Jacinda Arden that these were the actions of a terrorist, but this is also the man who once said during his tenure as Immigration Minister that Islam was a 'disease to be vaccinated'. Australia's current Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton has stated on numerous occassions that 'all Muslims are terrorists' and that 'Islam encourages and approves of terrorism' (both statements are blatantly false), using his position in parliament to throw insults at the approximately 1.3 billion people who adhere to the Islamic faith. And as for Fraser Anning... All I will say is that it is a sad, sad indication of how low Australia has fallen that this man ever reached parliament and was ever given a platform for his views. If ever a man was going to hell, I believe he is.
If these are the views endorsed by Australian leaders, is it any surprise Australia has become a hotbed for racism? That the far-right has got a foothold in this country that precious few are willing to denounce? That far-right speakers attempting to enter this country to preach their hate and division are only barred after massive community backlash?
Australia is racist, it has a long history of racism that it refuses to face, it has ignored and continues to ignore the realities this history and its results. White Australia as a policy might be dead in theory, but it lives on in practice.
And so the fear I felt as I read of the terrible thing that had happened in Christchurch, the dreadful sense of loss was not for myself, but for my beautiful country of New Zealand. The place I grew up, the wonderful, wonderful Land of the Long White Cloud, a place of peace and tolerance and safety.
Was it slipping the way Australia had done? Was it sliding into the muddy pits of racism and intolerance? Was it's progressive, forward thinking history (the first country to give women the vote, a country that has signed and abides by a treaty with its Indigenous people, a land where climate change is seen as a real threat and policy is in place to tackle it) about to be swamped by the filth and bigotry that is white supremacy?
And the place I wanted to be on Friday - desperately, achingly wanted to be - was back home. I wanted to be in my country, with my people, because if the ugly tide of racism is coming to our shores I want to stand with my country and beat it back.
Those innocent people shot on Friday were New Zealanders, you cannot tell me otherwise. They made their homes their, raised their families there, and peacefully practised their faith, just as hundreds of others across New Zealand do. Of the terrorists who stole their lives, one has been confirmed to be Australian, while the nationality of the others remains unknown, but I will echo the words of my Prime Minister in saying this: They are not New Zealanders. There is no place for them in New Zealand. They are not welcome and they do not belong.
I am a New Zealander, not because of the colour of my skin or the religion I adhere to, but because it is home. New Zealanders were killed on Friday, New Zealanders were terrorised on Friday and on Friday New Zealand's Prime Minister did what no other world leaders have done when a white man has committed a terrorist attack: she called it for what it was. I commend her for this, I stand with my brothers and sisters in New Zealand. I condemn terror and racism.
Kia Kaha, this is not who we are.
You don't have to like me. I'm not a Facebook post.
Me With No Apologies.