When the going gets tough

Picture of David Ahern

David Ahern

David is the editor of The Majellan

Originally published in The Majellan magazine Winter edition, June 2022  It’s been an arduous couple of years for many Australian families. Drought, bushfires, a pandemic and then the floods that ravaged parts of Queensland and NSW in March.

One has to wonder how much more people can take. The almost never-ending cycle of bad news has been hard to bear. Cities and towns including Brisbane, Ipswich, Maryborough, Lismore, Ballina, Woodburn, Grafton and Sydney were flooded. In Lismore alone, about 3,000 homes were declared uninhabitable.

And three weeks after the first flood, south-east Queensland and northern NSW were hit with more heavy rain and many residents in Lismore, Ballina and Byron Bay were forced to evacuate to higher ground.

The television footage of swollen rivers and submerged cars, homes, and whole suburbs and towns going under was heart-breaking. Also distressing were the pictures of families on roof tops clinging to hope, desperate to be rescued.

Twenty-two people perished in the floods and the insurance bill topped more than one billion making it one of the country’s largest natural disasters. More than 5,000 Australian Defence Force personnel were deployed to help in the clean-up efforts.

While it was a dreadful experience for those who lived through it, the tragedy shone a bright beacon on the best of human nature.

As with previous disasters people stepped up to the plate at a time of adversity when their neighbours were in trouble, offering a helping hand or a hug when one was needed. There were many examples of food basket drop offs to neighbours, people sweeping debris from the muddy homes and front yards of strangers and offers to shelter the homeless.

Amidst all the heartache there were incredible acts of kindness. A truck driver, himself stranded by floodwaters, helped transport food for charities at no charge. Robert Novak was travelling south from Bundaberg when he became stuck in Gympie. “On Sunday morning they came and tapped on my truck door and asked me if I could use the truck for fridge food,” he told ABC News. 

“I went down to Coles and loaded it up and came up here to the evacuation centre. They’ve been looking after me, and vice versa.”

Sunny Grace lives in Ballina Heights on a hill so her house was safe. She related her ‘act of kindness’ in a story she wrote for the Sydney Sentinel. She said she needed eye drops from the chemist to manage a thyroid eye condition but with no Internet and no phones eftpos was down.

Sunny took eye drops to the counter to be told it was cash only and she had none on her. “I was going to put them back when the woman standing beside me with $50 in her hand offered to pay for them.

“Just lost my house in Lismore but I have money,” said the woman.

“Thanks so much but I can’t,” said Sunny.

The woman handed the money over “Too late!”

She smiled at me. “We stood there a moment together and I could see it meant a lot to her to help me,” Sunny added. “To not be a victim but a member of a community where we are all affected in one way or another. To feel like she hasn’t lost everything.”

Then there was John Cochrane whose factory on the Sunshine Coast was threatened by floodwaters. He says he couldn’t reach his business so, “I made three phone calls and I had 20 people there in 10 minutes: locals, just volunteers.

“They got in and packed everything up a metre higher, which was really good. They finished packing and it stopped rising … we dodged a bullet. The way people are cooperating … it’s just marvellous, it really is,” he told ABC News.

There were also numerous stories of people rescuing distressed animals. Steve Waldren helped rescue hundreds of his neighbours’ hens from drowning in south-east Queensland. Using a kayak, he and his neighbour ferried the chooks to higher ground. Steve’s neighbour is an egg farmer and their efforts helped save hundreds of hens … and his business.

Just some of the any unsung heroes who were more than happy to help their fellow Australians at a time of great need. In the words of Winston Churchill, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.

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