The Aussie Mateship Gene

(C) Julie Boyd

Why is it that Aussies are so good in a crisis, but then we forget? Is there a mateship gene we have that gets triggered by a disaster, then turns off again as soon as it’s all over?

Many of us have watched in horror over the past couple of weeks as the flood disaster has unfolded across Queensland, NSW, Tasmania and Victoria, affecting our friends and family – destroying their homes, families and lives. The rest of the world has been watching with awe as the Queensland Premier became a national hero for her leadership – as well she should; as the news media and social networking media worked together with 3 levels of government, countless charities, community organisations, us regular folk, and the defence forces, to help those devastated; how a ‘mud army’ formed itself and marched on Brisbane to start the cleanup; and how many brilliant new ideas have been hatched in the process. A new industry was created in Australia last week where we showed the rest of the world how a major natural disaster can be managed, and led. And good on everyone who has been involved. Your money or your muscle – the ‘Uncle Sam needs you’ type call put out by the Premier saw a humbling response by thousands as those affected felt the kindness of strangers.

While I have family in Brisbane being helped by the ‘mud army’ to clean up their house, I wait anxiously for other immediate family members in Victoria to see if they too, will be washed out – some have already been affected; and friends in Tassie start their cleanup.

While Brisbane has seen an ‘outbreak of magic’ as the Premier did a brilliant job of leading rescue and now recovery efforts, I can’t help but wonder if the goodwill will last. The rest of the world may have been watching with awe how the ‘mud army’ banded together over the weekend but the news cycles have moved on. It’s now Monday. Hoons are back on the roads, soaps are back on TV, scammers have started their work, looters are about, and more developments are being proposed for flood plains.

The scale of this disaster provides us all with an opportunity to accept that we, and our systems, need to adapt – quickly. Everyone needs to take a good look at their own accountability and intention. We need to ask why 4000 mattresses could be provided instantly, at well run evacuation centres for those who lost their homes, yet homeless people struggle to find a safe place to sleep; why 12,000 people per day volunteer their sweat equity to clean Brisbane while looters are at work; why perfect strangers suddenly become your best friend in a crisis, when they may be neighbours you’ve never spoken to before.

Insurance companies need to stop arguing about what constitutes a flood, developers need to stop building on flood plains and be required to accept long-term responsibility for their developments, development company directors need to be required to give personal guarantees for at least the first decade of their constructions, and politicians need to be required to accept long-term responsibility for their decisions.

It’s not OK to take money for a policy you have no intention of paying out on. It’s not OK to throw up a quick development, grab your money and run, leaving unsuspecting buyers to bear the brunt of your shortcuts, and it’s not OK to make decisions in council or government, then walk away leaving future generations to wear the consequences while you shirk any responsibility at all.

We all have to share this small planet and, if we don’t learn quickly to live with each other and our environment, the consequences are abundantly clear. Bertrand Russell once wrote ‘The only thing that will redeem mankind is cooperation’.

I, for one, live in hope, and watch in despair.

About Julie Boyd

Julie was told by her Year 8 Catholic boarding school mistress that she couldn’t write, so she’s still trying, and groups like Writers in the Ruff are a terrific support. Julie has had a number of incarnations in all echelons of education, business and community across local, national and international divides. Her adventures provide plenty of fodder for stories which, fortunately, no-one believes to be true. Born in the wild mountains of Victoria, she moved to Tasmania to raise her children away in civilised surroundings before absconding to the beautiful Tweed Coast in northern NSW. She’s been published by Heinemann (education) and has self-published a further 18 professional development books for teachers. Julie has completed three manuscripts of stories and is still trying to decide what to do with them!