Alexis Bajada
Alexis Bajada Tony Martin

Bartender was tied up and robbed at gunpoint

EVERY day Mackay bartender Alexis Bajada returns to the place she once thought she might die.

The strength that drove her back to work at the Boomerang Hotel after being robbed at gunpoint and tied up during a shift last year, was fuelled by a love of the job and a determination "not to let the gunman win".

The resilience of the 21-year-old was recognised earlier this month when she was named a finalist in the Safe Work and Return to Work Awards 2016.

While she doesn't care if she wins on October 18, she said it was an honour to be nominated, particularly after all the work she'd put in to get over the terrifying experience and trauma that followed.

At 2.20am on December 17, 2015, Alexis was nearing the end of an unremarkable shift at the Boomerang Hotel.

Then she turned and saw a person dressed in camouflage, pointing a firearm towards the ceiling and her life changed forever.

Through a mask came the words 'get on the floor'.

Alexis froze, struggling to come to terms with the situation, before the demand was yelled again, and she dropped to the ground.

Another co-worker was with her, but Alexis did not want to comment about her experience.

Every Monday since Alexis started at the Boomerang in June 2013, the morning had begun with a management meeting.

Different topics were covered each week but consistently the staff had been told how to react if there was to be an armed robbery.

Comply. Don't look at them. If they want a rum and coke, give them a rum and coke. Alexis had heard the message at least 100 times.

Despite finding it difficult to stop her body from shaking, and the thought she was "going to die", she focussed on that training.

She was calmer than she anticipated.

Occasionally she caught glimpses of the gunman's knees as she tried to sense his whereabouts, although her hair was loose and fell around her face, blocking most of her vision.

For roughly half an hour, he looked for money, waited for safes to open and peppered her with questions about the hotel security.

 

The rattling sound of stolen money was the only warning the gunman was returning, after marching Alexis into the gaming room and making to leave.

She was terrified, thinking he might have decided to come back and shoot them.

It turned out, he couldn't find an exit and had opted to double back through the gaming room.

The second time he left, Alexis didn't dare to move for somewhere between five and 10 minutes.

But the desire to get out was overwhelming.

She made her way to the duty manager's home, who lived on the premises, jumping at "every creak of the roof" along the way.

The police were called, and after the first car pulled up, Alexis reckoned she was soon surrounded by about 50 officers.

The sheer relief at surviving kept her on a high for the next 24 hours.

Alexis had always wanted to be a bartender.

It suited her personality- she's bubbly, easy to talk to and smiles easily.

And it had always looked like fun. She first started at the Boomerang when she was 19 and loved it. Her colleagues had become to be "like family".

Never, not even after her first anxiety attack two days after the robbery, did she even consider quitting.

She said that would have been like letting the gunman win and "that was never going to happen".

But on December 19 the happy cloud of relief that had carried Alexis since the attack dissipated, during a shopping trip.

The crowds set off a panic and she "had to get out".

She took two weeks off work but four days into her return the crowds continued to cause her stress.

Recovery took another 10 weeks, where she gradually increased her workload up from an initial two hours, two days a week.

As a person who naturally puts on a tough exterior when she's struggling, Alexis said learning to talk about the attack was key to getting better.

Even after the attack, she didn't really cry.

But as she lamented on questions like 'How could a person do something like that?' and found no answers, she began to feel more and more angry inside.

After a while anger was the only emotion left. But with the help of a psychiatrist Alexis found that talking about the incident was important.

While she now believes she is a "different person", it appears she only allowed it to change her for the better.

"I feel a lot more confident. You'd think going through something like that couldn't possibly make you more confident but it really does," she said.

If it happened again, she said she'd be more of the mindset 'I've been there, I've done that, I'd be okay'.

Since August 2015 there have been 23 armed robberies in Mackay, with seven in June this year.

Alexis said her message to other survivors was to "get back to where they were" in a way they felt comfortable with.

"You can't let it beat you. My thing is, you have to face your fears. If you let it beat you then he wins," she said.

A man is awaiting trial on charges related to the heist.



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