Friday, February 20, 2009

Thoughts from the Week

I continue to be amazed at how Australia has come together in support of the victims of the bush fires, and also the floods in North Queensland. Slade's school had the sausage sizzle and collection boxes on Thursday and raised over $6500. Our church collected about $3000 on Sunday. This week Sunday has been declared a national day of mourning and services are going to be held around the country, including in South Bank in the centre of Brisbane.

The kids have had a good week at school. Slade has settled a little -- his teacher is encouraging him to do lego which he's really enjoying as it's definitely a strong point. In fact, after saying goodbye to me this morning he sat down with the lego, but when I started to talk to another mom he came and said that he wanted me to leave! I felt really good that he was happy for me to leave. Kai has been asked to bring anything from South Africa -- books, music, pictures -- that the teachers can show to the class so that they can teach the other children about South Africa. We're going to put some things together for her to take on Monday. She's really excited about that. The teachers are really good about encouraging whatever the children enjoy and good at turning everything into a learning experience.

I've spent a lot of my time with Sabona this week trying to help people trying to help people in need. We've set up an appeals website where we're posting details. Many are in Australia on 457 visas, which means that they are sponsored by their employers. With the current economic situation, they are being made redundant and, according to the provisions of this visa, they have 28 days from the day the one job ends to find another company to take over the sponsorship. There are also others who are here as permanent residents, but at least they don't have time pressures relating to the visa. Some of the people on 457s that we're hearing from have been in Australia for years, while others have recently arrived. The one email we got today related to a man who arrived in Australia with his family just over a month ago. He has been made redundant and is desperate to find another position. Otherwise they'll have to return to South Africa.

There is a good side to all this, and that is the response that we've had from people trying to help. There are quite a few recruitment agencies who are trying to help the individuals find jobs, and then there are many people who've made themselves available to provide counselling or even just have a cup of coffee or a chat on the phone.

A few other excerpts from The Australians, that I've really found reflect some of the things that I've found here. The first piece was written in 1966 by Craig McGregor: "Australians are generally free of the extreme forms of snobbery, rudeness, and deference which are the outward signs of social antagonism in older countries. The bus driver and conductor regard themselves as equal to any of their passengers. The skilled tradesman regards himself as every bit as good as the white-collar worker, and sometimes gets paid more. The subtle distinctions in the behaviour of people of one class to another which bedevil European social relations are comparatively absent in Australia. Often the first things visitors notice about Australia is this apparent classlessness and social equality: the easy relations which exist between people of all walks of life, the absence of gross privilege, the pleasant sense of camaraderie."

The book also refers to 'mateship' -- such an Australian term that! And how people have in the past responded to bush fires and floods. Amazing to read at such a time as it really reflects what is happening now. In a book called The Future Eaters, which was written by Tim Flannery in 1994, reference is made to mateship emerging during the times when floods and fires have devastated parts of Australia. Flannery says that this has resulted in people doing extraordinary things to help those whose lives have been affected. He describes some of the amazing things that people did to help others. "As a result -- in contrast to the aftermath of the Los Angeles earthquake of 19 January 1994 -- there was no tent city, indeed not a single tent in Sydney following the fires (of January 1994). For the people of places like Jannali, the prospect of a tent city housing their neighbours would have been a deep insult to their sense of mateship. They would have done anything in order to avoid it."

Another characteristic that was highlighted in the book and has also been evident is the general honesty of people in Australia and that people expect that others are honest. There was an item on a TV recently showing foreigners who had tried to scam their short term insurance company and got caught out. Their behaviour was referred to as "un-Australian"! Ok, it's not always the case. As I've been writing this there's been a report in the news of one lady who as tried to get money from the bushfire appeal by saying that her father had died when, in fact, he hadn't!

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