They say ‘it takes a village’, but you don’t know what kind of village you are until disaster hits. We have just found out that our villages are amazing. For years in our region, as the housing crisis hit, people started to say ‘this community is gone’. And sometimes I believed it. I’ve been here over 30 years so I have seen the region transform. I’ve seen the gap between rich and poor grow as real estate prices soar. I’ve seen the emptiness of affluence. I’ve despaired over homelessness, and at times I’ve felt like I’ve been shouting into a vacuum. ‘Does anyone care?’. Sometimes I thought ‘No’. But I was wrong.
This loss has given us hope. It is what we have found in the mud. It is what cannot be lost. It is what remains when all else is gone.
So many have lost so much. Photos, precious memorabilia, the painting your mother gave you, the box of the kid’s best drawings, favourite chairs, well tuned pianos, the very bed on which you lay your head. Gone. For many it’s more than that, it’s loss of home, of school, of the assurance of what comes next. The loss is profound, and it’s painful to witness. It’s a loss that has reached out into the comfortable lounge rooms around our country, a loss that implores people to feel responsible. To give. To come together. To be that thing they can be when they stop being a society of disconnected competing consumers: community.
So community has turned up. Community has stood in the muddy waters. They’ve climbed impassable roads to deliver food and supplies. They’ve rescued babies from mudslides. They’ve held an old woman in embrace as she wept. In one queue I met a couple from Melbourne who had come here on holidays but became part of our mud army instead. I worked alongside a builder from Brisbane. I met young people from Byron who had taken the day off work to come help.
Community is remarkable. They have been the quiet heroes of this disaster. They rose up as quickly as the waters. Some risked their lives to save strangers. Others have given hundreds of hours to clean or co-ordinate or innovate. They have stood strong where government faltered.
Unlike government, community is not paternalistic. It doesn’t reach down, it reaches across. It lifts. Community in action is a profound act of love. It is humbling to witness. To see people you thought you knew just step so easily into the service of others reminds you never to judge who you think a person is. It shows that we have capacity for something beautiful. After two years of arguing about vaccination we stopped arguing. We came together as one.
People who work together are powerful. Let’s not forget that.
We have put aside our personal values or beliefs, our identities, and worked for the common good. We became better than we thought we were. So let’s stay that way.
Let’s not need a crisis to be a community of action. Let’s see this through.
Let’s harness this moment to create stronger, better and more resilient communities.
Let’s not leave anyone behind.
The Flood height of 2022 that you will see on poles and buildings, that will become a reminder of how good people are. A reminder of how we can collaborate; how we are moved by the suffering of others. How we can transform disaster into hope.
So, to all of you who have turned up – whether in body, in heart, in intention – however you have given, you have become enmeshed in this giant organic pulsing heart of our bigger, broader, inclusive community.
It really does take a village. Not just to raise a child, but to raise a future for all; the future is the child who belongs to all of us.