CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand In a heartfelt tribute to the victims of the tragic 2019 Christchurch attacks, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the New Zealand Police came together in a solemn commemorative ceremony. This event not only honored those who lost their lives in the devastating attacks but also paid tribute to the resilience of emergency services and communities affected by the tragedy.
On Wednesday, September 20, 2023, AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw, accompanied by members from the AFP Southern Command Community Liaison Team (CLT), made a special journey to New Zealand to participate in this significant event held in Christchurch.
One of the highlights of the ceremony was Commissioner Kershaw's presentation of a meticulously crafted mosaic artwork to NZ Police Deputy Commissioner Wallace Haumaha, the families of the victims, and the Christchurch community. This artwork, a symbol of solidarity and remembrance, was created by Australians from diverse faiths, beliefs, and backgrounds, all united in their desire to honor those deeply impacted by the tragic incident.
The horrific terrorist attacks on March 15, 2019, targeted the Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch, resulting in the tragic loss of 51 lives.
In 2020, in a gesture of support and remembrance for the victims of these devastating attacks, the AFP Southern Command CLT initiated the Christchurch Mosaic Project. This initiative aimed to create a large-scale artwork acknowledging the profound loss of life and the global outpouring of support for New Zealand.
The mosaic's design featured New Zealand's iconic silver fern emerging from a central mandala, symbolizing the enduring growth of a resilient community.
Leading the charge in this project was CLT team member and artist Anisa Sharif. The project involved a series of workshops held across Victoria, Australia, to create several expansive mosaic artworks intended for presentation to the New Zealand community. The project also sought to counteract Ideologically Motivated Extremism (IME) through community engagement.
The creation of the artwork was a labor of love, taking two years to complete, even amid the challenges posed by the COVID-19 lockdowns. Hundreds of Australians, including AFP and emergency service personnel, contributed to its creation. The artwork traveled extensively throughout Melbourne in a police vehicle, allowing members of diverse faiths and ethnicities from the community to participate in its assembly.
Commissioner Reece Kershaw reflected on the AFP's unwavering support for New Zealand during the trying times in March 2019, stating, "Our hearts were heavy, but our mission never wavered, further strengthening the bond between our blue family."
He continued, "The AFP was honored to stand with our New Zealand counterparts, who, like the broader New Zealand community, demonstrated exceptional resilience and unity in the wake of such a senseless tragedy. I am honored to present these memorial artworks in recognition of the families of victims, the police, and other emergency services who responded to this tragic event."
Commissioner Kershaw emphasized that these artworks symbolized the AFP and the Australian community's enduring support for the people of New Zealand. "Just like our communities," he said, "they truly do symbolize thousands of individual pieces coming together to create a unified whole. We hope that they remain a poignant reminder that together we are stronger."
New Zealand Police Deputy Commissioner Wallace Haumaha acknowledged the importance of partner relationships during the response to the tragic events of March 15, 2019. He stated, "The support of our Australian Police partners contributed to the wellbeing of the Muslim community and wider Christchurch communities at a time of great need. The gifting of these taonga (treasure) today is a true example of the strength we take when we all work together. We thank all those who have worked so hard to create this symbol of our shared commitment to building peaceful, safe, and inclusive communities."