The spring racing carnival is the time when Melbourne sheds its winter veneer of dark clothes and the city takes on a different feel as the well-dressed head to the track.
But in a different part of town they gathered, quiet and respectful, to look for answers where ultimately there may be none – or at least, not the ones they really need.
It is Court 3 at the Supreme Court and they are the relatives of those killed and injured when a Holden Commodore ploughed into pedestrians in Bourke Street on January 20, 2017.
They chat to each other, having shared the same experience during previous court hearings.
An hour before the trial was due to start, three elegant racegoers in beautiful frocks and large hats were waiting for a lift to the races outside the entrance, unaware of the drama about to unfold.
It proves Melbourne will never be defined by mass violence.
The car that drove 850 metres along Bourke Street ended up just 316 steps from the Supreme Court’s main entrance after the driver was stopped and shot by police.
The bloody event, that left six people dead and dozens injured, took only a couple of minutes, although the activities of the accused, James Gargasoulas, and that of the police in the hours and days preceding will no doubt be examined.
On Thursday morning, Oaks Day, a Supreme Court jury heard the opening submissions in a trial that may be mercifully brief – anticipated to take less than two weeks. It is 657 days since the Commodore driven by Mr Gargasoulas turned left into the Bourke Street Mall from Swanston Street and ploughed into pedestrians.
The case has been delayed, first due to the size of the police investigation and then by a debate on whether the accused was mentally fit to stand trial.
Mr Gargasoulas now faces six counts of murder and 27 of reckless conduct endangering life. The judge who began hearing pre-trial arguments, Justice Lex Lasry, has retired and so the case has been taken by Justice Mark Weinberg, one of the most experienced in the land.
Justice Weinberg retired earlier this year from the Court of Appeal and is now listed as a Reserve Judge. He has come off the bench to be on the Bench for this case.
In many ways, the case is like any other homicide investigation – a slog to find witnesses, record what they say and weave it into a moment-by-moment account of what happened. Then the detectives place an overlay of forensic, scientific and expert evidence to provide a virtual three-dimensional version of events.
In the modern world, every part of the street was covered by CCTV and backed by citizen footage from smart phones.
As Justice Weinberg told the jury: “A lot of what occurred on that day was recorded on CCTV footage, which you will be shown, so there really won’t be much dispute as to what actually happened.”
At 10.25am, the accused entered the court wearing a white shirt, sneakers and tracksuit pants and walked calmly to the dock. He showed no sign of nerves.
A relative said she would not be in the gallery if he chose to give evidence. “I don’t want to hear his voice,” she said.
Justice Weinberg gave family members the option to leave the court for the seven-minute video opening. Some left, others chose to bow their heads and look away from the screen.
The 13-person jury – seven women and six men – and those in the body of the court watched raw footage on a screen that shows real people dying and others suffering horrendous injuries. This is the sort of vision not shown on our television news because it is simply too traumatic, and when it is shown in the sterile surroundings of court it is even more confronting.
The only noise is the hum of the court air conditioner that is punctuated by gasps from relatives as they see people violently flung into the air after being hit by the car.
Then you understand why, for those present, the events of those two minutes and the agonising aftermath will never leave them.