This Melbourne artist survived 9/11. It made him live life to the full

Michael Makatron watched the second World Trade Center tower collapse, then spent four hours making stretchers to help those in need. The experience would impact the choices he made in the future.

Michael Makatron

Michael Makatron in Melbourne. Source: SBS News

In his Collingwood art studio, life and death are juxtaposed in Michael Makatron’s painting of a big apple and a skull.

Days before the 20th anniversary of 9/11, he dismisses the symbolism. "It’s a coincidence,” he says; the work was commissioned by a collector.

But the themes - of life, death and regrowth - are part of that unforgettable morning in September 2001.

Makatron was a 21-year-old on an art scholarship in New York City, happy to have found a community around the bicycle couriering job that took him occasionally to the World Trade Center.

Michael Makatron was in New York on 9/11.
Source: Supplied/Michael Makatron

From his flat on the Lower East Side, he saw both buildings on fire, then rode to within three blocks of the North Tower before it collapsed.

“When that second one started falling, everyone started screaming, 'it’s falling down, it’s falling,' and running north," he says. 

"And there are hundreds of people around, people covered in glass, covered in blood.”

When that second one started falling, everyone started screaming.

“One of the scariest things for me was seeing people jump out of that building before it fell. It seemed like every 30 seconds there’d be a person falling, or two people jumping, holding hands.”

"Quite an unreal moment when that building is falling, realising that a thousand people are getting crushed in that moment."

A photo taken by Michael Makatron as the north tower collapsed.
Source: Michael Makatron

Through his courier mates, Makatron was told of a place in the West Village where he could donate blood in order to help those injured in the attacks.

He tried, but the available services were full. He then joined hundreds of volunteers, marching into the rubble to dig for survivors, until his group was turned back.

How surviving 9/11 changed this Australian artist's life

“We had to write our social security numbers on our arms," he says.

"We got to a block from the site, but a fireman on top of a letterbox told everyone to go back. So we headed back to that spot.”

“I ended up volunteering the rest of the day, building stretchers in a small park near the court building."

Volunteers making stretchers in the aftermath of the attacks.
Source: Supplied/Michael Makatron

A few days later, he headed out of town, returning briefly before leaving the US around two weeks later.

“It seemed a good time to go,” he says. 

Makatron didn’t immediately opt for a full-time career in art. First, back in Melbourne, he reached the final selection for a sideline in firefighting, inspired by the community spirit he witnessed on 9/11.

"Building these stretchers, it was all types of people helping out," he says. 

"There were old ladies coming with sandwiches and orange juice, and there were tradie-type people giving instructions. Tools were coming from everywhere, and we ran out of nails.

"I guess New Yorkers are not necessarily known as being so friendly ... sometimes."

But always for Makatron, there was art.

Eventually, he threw himself full-time into the uncertainties of that work over the financial security of graphic design.

He stands now before his jungle-themed mural covering the entire wall of a building in central Melbourne. 

“An ongoing theme with me is replicating nature in all its glory", he says. "This mural is all about life and freshness.”

“I think it’s fair to say that 9/11 experience has perhaps opened my mind to taking more risks in life, and to living life to the fullest because in the end we all only have one life.”

Published 8 September 2021 at 6:23pm
By Rena Sarumpaet
Source: SBS News