The terror of the Sydney stabbings is because it took place in the most ordinary of settings. It could have happened to any of us. ANGELA MOLLARD's dispatch from Sydney – and the attack that's shaken Australia to its core

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Autumn in Sydney is the best time of the year, so it’s no surprise Ashlee Good was having an idyllic Saturday.

Walking in the sunshine with baby daughter Harriet in her arms, she realised she was wearing the exact same outfit she’d worn nine months earlier when she was still heavily pregnant. She snapped a picture and uploaded it to Instagram alongside the picture she’d taken last July, shortly before she went into labour. ‘9 months in vs 9 months out,’ she captioned the happy snaps.

And then, because it truly was a gorgeous day, with the surf pumping down the road at Bondi beach and the smell of barbecued sausages wafting from kids’ footy grounds and the clarity of light that makes all of us who live here think it’s the best spot in the world, Ashlee also uploaded a cute video of adorable Harriet sitting in her car seat nibbling on a piece of bread. As the sunbeams danced on the little girl’s face, the song My Girl by The Temptations played in the background.

In years to come, those images – proud moments captured by a loving mum – will mean more than Ashlee could have ever imagined. Just hours later mother and daughter were stabbed in the horrific attack in the Westfield shopping centre in Sydney’s Bondi Junction. With blood pouring from her wounds, the stricken mum’s final act was to reach into the pushchair to scoop up Harriet, who had been stabbed in the stomach, and thrust her into the arms of two men. In shock, and with her life ebbing away, the only thing that mattered to the 38-year-old osteopath was that her beloved only child was safe.

Ashlee Good, the 38-year-old who died while trying to protect her baby daughter Harriet

Ashlee Good, the 38-year-old who died while trying to protect her baby daughter Harriet

As baby Harriet fights for her life after surgery, with her dad, Dan Flanagan, by her bedside, what’s chilling about the stabbing rampage that killed six and left several others in a critical condition, is that it occurred in the most ordinary and relatable of settings.

We all shop. We send our teenage kids off to Saturday jobs at Sephora or McDonald’s or to make tea in the hair salons in these huge retail centres. We give our youngsters their first taste of independence by leaving them to wander with their friends.

Or, as I did that same afternoon at another Westfield, as the stabbing frenzy was taking place on the other side of the harbour, we separate and arrange to meet half an hour later. ‘Love the nail colour,’ I said to my daughter, as I left her having a manicure while I returned a shirt to TK Maxx. It’s inconceivable that in that simplest, most prosaic of moments, I could’ve been waving goodbye to her for ever.

The stories emerging from Saturday are hard to process because it’s a tragedy that could’ve happened to any of us. Those killed were not in a war zone. They weren’t in an American school where random killings are the sad consequence of weak gun laws. They weren’t in a skyscraper or at a concert where cowardly killers know they can wreak the most damage. Rather they happened in a shopping mall amidst scenes so ordinary they could play out anywhere in the world. A dad taking his kids shopping for gifts for their mum’s birthday. A mum sending her 11-year-old son back to Woolworths to grab one supermarket item she’d forgotten. Teenagers marking the first day of the autumn school holidays by trying on Selena Gomez’s new blusher range.

And then into that ease, that normality, comes a scuffle, a movement out of the corner of an eye that doesn’t chime with the rhythms and routines of shopping. Some see a man with a knife. They start running. Others freeze. One shopper will later say she felt a sharp pain in her back. Only later will she learn it came from a knife. And then there’s the panic. Is there one attacker? What if there’s more? And what if there’s a bomb? It was only six years ago that this city suffered the horrific siege in the Lindt café where an Islamic State-inspired gunman, believed to be carrying a bomb, kept 18 hostages trapped for 17 hours. Two lost their lives.

Police are continuing to investigate at the scene of the mass stabbing at Bondi Junction in Sydney, which left six dead and several others in a critical condition

Police are continuing to investigate at the scene of the mass stabbing at Bondi Junction in Sydney, which left six dead and several others in a critical condition

On Saturday most ran into shops where staff raced to slide down the aluminium roller doors to keep those inside safe. Some hid in bathrooms or stairwells. And because there are multiple levels on this flagship Westfield some grabbed their phones to record the pandemonium unfolding on the floor below. It’s those videos, of the knife man charging at shoppers and being confronted on an escalator by a hero with a bollard, that bring the danger home to us like never before. Social media cops much criticism but it also tells the story, in real time, of the world we find ourselves in.

It also relayed to us the astonishing bravery shown by one senior female police officer. Inspector Amy Scott was working alone that afternoon when she heard reports of a man with a knife. Footage shows her sprinting through the shopping centre, followed by a bystander who’d grabbed a chair as a potential weapon. As she came up behind the attacker, later identified as 40-year-old Joel Cauchi, she shouted at him to put the knife down. He didn’t. So she shot him in the chest.

Westfield Bondi Junction covers 1,412,860 square feet. It boasts 331 stores over seven floors. There’s gyms and cinemas and 3304 parking spaces underneath. It’s a village within a village, offering Chanel to the wealthy and sushi bars for the surfers who come in barefoot from the iconic beach just over a mile away. My elder daughter lives in the area and was shopping there the day before. Her friends were in the centre on Saturday. They heard the gun shot and hid in a shop.

Dawn Singleton was two years ahead of my daughter at the same high school. She’s the daughter of one of Australia’s best-known businessmen, John Singleton. On Saturday 25-year-old Dawn went shopping at Westfield for makeup for her upcoming wedding to childhood sweetheart Ashley Wildey. Ashley is a New South Wales police officer and had finished his shift before the attack but was recalled to duty as police scrambled to deal with the unfolding crisis.

He arrived at Westfield Bondi Junction unaware that Dawn, who’d only bought her wedding dress last week, was inside. As a source told the Daily Telegraph: ‘He had arrived at Westfield when officers realised his fiancée was one of the victims.’ He was taken from the scene to be comforted by family and friends. With the shopping centre still a crime scene 24 hours later, neither he nor Dawn’s parents had been able to formally identify the body by Sunday afternoon.

Among the other victims were architect and mother of two, Jade Young, who was yesterday being remembered at the Bronte Surf Club where she was a much-loved member. Also killed was 30-year-old security guard Faraz Tahir, a Pakistani refugee who came to Australia a year ago, and 55-year-old local woman Pikria Darchia.

With 3,000 cars still parked under the shopping centre on Sunday morning, the pressing question was why? Initial fears that the attacker was Jewish or Muslim were quickly allayed. Joel Cauchi was a man with a mental illness. He’d never been arrested or charged with a criminal offence but was ‘street checked’ by officers on the Gold Coast in December. Police believe he lived with schizophrenia and used drugs including methamphetamine and psychedelics.

People, including emergency workers, have been leaving flowers opposite the scene of the crime in memory of those who lost their lives

People, including emergency workers, have been leaving flowers opposite the scene of the crime in memory of those who lost their lives

Somehow, combined with the setting, it makes the attack even more senseless. How do you protect yourself when tragedy can strike anywhere, anytime? Is it safe to shop for winter socks? A new TV? Nappies for your baby? And what do you do if something does happen? Today I’ve discussed with my daughters where is best to hide, whether to run, whether to help and what trauma you might experience seeing events like those that occurred on Saturday.

But along with this horrible barbarism came the best of humanity. Much praise has gone to ‘Bollard Man’, Ukrainian Silas Despreaux, who fought off the attacker with a bollard, preventing him from accessing a play area where dozens of young children were playing. Silas, who moved to Sydney from the Ukraine three years ago, works as a tradesman. ‘He’s OK, just shaken,’ said a friend. ‘He says he is no hero, he is just an ordinary guy.’

And then there’s the dad who appeared to have grabbed eye masks from a store so that he could place them over his young children’s eyes to shield them from the carnage as they left the shopping centre. If horror comes in the most unlikely of places, so does common sense. Psychological scars can run deep.

We’re grateful the King and Queen and the Prince and Princess of Wales sent messages. Camaraderie, community, Commonwealth – they matter, as the family of Ashlee Good so eloquently expressed in the hours after her death. Little Harriet, with her strawberry blonde hair and big eyes, was doing well after lengthy surgery, they said. And while they were reeling from the terrible loss of ‘a beautiful mother, daughter, partner, friend, all round outstanding human’ they also wanted to thank the two men who held and cared for Harriet when Ashlee could not. The little girl will grow up without her mum, but as Ashlee’s adoring photos attest, she was ever so deeply loved.