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Remembering our heroes on Australia Day

We are one, but we are many

Sydney Opera House Thanks Firefighters

As Australia Day was approaching, it was my intention to write about putting aside our grievances and celebrating out greatness. I felt it was time to do away with the “tall poppy” syndrome and embrace who we are and what we have achieved. Celebrating our national day on 26 January has become a topic of controversy and heated debate. Many people question whether or not we should be marking the anniversary with the arrival of the First Fleet of British ships. Perhaps the underlying issue is really about caring for all Australians, listening to their opinions and treating them all with respect.

There was a time when we were led by statesmen who inspired us with their vision of a future that brought us hope. It was a nation we could be proud of with great leaders we respected. For some time now I have been concerned about the seemingly uncaring attitude of Australian politicians who seem more focused on character assassination, than they do about making important decisions affecting people and policies.

Being “a good sport” was once seen as a disciplinary guideline for what was acceptable behaviour within sporting circles and society at large. It was about “fair play” and was regarded as a part of being Australian. Now it seems all manner of behaviour is acceptable with lying, cheating and sledging becoming commonplace within both the political and sporting arenas. There was a time when we were proud of our sporting heroes. Nowadays it seems we are happier to focus on their individual flaws, instead of remembering their success.

When I was in India I was impressed at how many cricket enthusiasts would ask you which state in Australia you lived and then recite the names of our best cricketers who came from each state. Despite Australian reputations having been tarnished in recent years, the Indians preferred to remember our cricketers’ achievements and focus on their “greatness”.

With the majority of us having parents who were born in other countries, we are indeed a multi-cultural nation. For the original inhabitants and those who came later, we should all have the same vested interest in Australia. We all care about our country and this should be enough to unite us. Isn’t this what gives us our national pride and our sense of who we are?

Several weeks ago I was going to write about the shameful deeds of the early settlers, who were also subjected to harsh treatment by those who incarcerated them. Some were only children when they were sentenced for petty crimes and banished to a foreign land. The ability to survive those tough conditions forms the basis of the culture that we have today. It is what makes us tenacious, hardworking and dependable. Never before have these qualities been more evident than witnessing the devastating bushfires and the people who risked their lives fighting them.

As I watched news coverage of the events unfolding I was shocked and speechless. The earlier disappointments I was going to write about faded into insignificance as I saw our panoramic landscapes become raging infernos and blackened silhouettes,

Instead, I thought about the descendants of the original “Aussie battlers” who toiled tirelessly to clear this land. They were the heroes of today volunteering to fight bushfires when they should have been enjoying their holidays elsewhere.

Complete strangers reached out to help the homeless and those in distress. Many gave shelter to families and shared their homes with those who had lost everything. Others provided food and respite to the exhausted firefighters. The willingness to help others in times of hardship are true displays of what we have come to know as real Aussie “mateship”. But there has also been endless help from other nations who have flown in fire-fighters and much-needed supplies. Sadly, it often takes a disaster to remind us that “we are one, but we are many”.

Never before have we appreciated our iconic national emblems than now with the threat of them becoming extinct. Seeing stark images of blackened kangaroos and burnt koalas looking back at us from the TV screens has struck a tragic chord with us all. The thought of losing these unique animals is unimaginable.

It seems that the wildlife too have been showing acts of empathy towards each other. Wombats have been allowing other animals to shelter in their burrows to keep them safe, as well as herding them towards their underground havens.

With half a billion wildlife having perished, everyday Aussies are setting up animal shelters in their living rooms. Others are providing food and water stations for animals in the burnt out bush. There have been stories of people wiring fruit kebabs around trees while others are making water fountains from pvc tubing. These humanitarian acts are part of what we recognise as being “true blue”.

We are one nation but we are also one land, one planet. Let’s be kinder to our land, protect our heritage, the life-giving earth. Let’s take greater measures to prevent more disastrous droughts and bushfires and let’s cherish our wildlife. Let us also extend our compassion to people of all nations, at all times for it is during such disasters that we realise how much we need each other.

On this Australia Day let us remember those who have made us proud to be Australian. Let’s continue to use our “mateship” to bring out the “true blue” in us all and give everyone “a fair go”.

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