Thursday, February 16, 2012

Ash Wednesday Revisited

On the radio this morning I heard the announcer say that it was today, 29 years ago that the Ash Wednesday Bush Fires erupted in South Eastern Australia.

I was living in Melbourne in 1983 and I remember the day well.

Like today, it was sunny although, unlike recent Sydney weather, February 16, 1983 was the continuation of a hot, dry period of late summer. I was working quietly in my home office and scarcely noticed the wind rising. However, as the day progressed, the wind got stronger and the sky darkened - but not with rain. I turned on the radio and was quickly aware of the fact that fires had started in various parts of Victoria and South Australia. With the strong winds that had developed, these fires were racing across farm land and through the bush. All available fire crews had been mobilised to fight the various conflagrations.

It was late afternoon when I was contacted and asked to report to the State Relief Centre in Melbourne to help out there. On reporting I was asked to coordinate the Centre's operations and ensure that, as far as possible, people and communities affected urgently received the support and assistance they needed. I'm still proud of the work done by the team with whom I was privileged to work.

As I think back over that period, several things come to mind:

First, apart from those who were already part of the various emergency and relief organisations, the absolute commitment to help and the generosity of so many "ordinary" people was amazing. All support agencies in Melbourne were besieged by people offering time, money, and goods to help those in need. The contract drivers for a major trucking company volunteered their vehicles to transport goods wherever they may be needed - and that included all costs involved. Quick food chains arrived with food for the volunteers both wherever they may be. In affected areas, accommodation, food, clothing, and all other forms of support miraculously appeared. There was no need to appeal for help - in so many cases, it simply arrived.

Second, that all too often we give only lip-service to the dedication, courage, and commitment of those in the front line of disasters - how often are we quick to criticise the police, the "fireys", the "ambos", and the others who are actually face-to-face with the issues and doing whatever is necessary for as long as necessary in order to achieve results. We praise them on the day then return to simply treating them as part of the scenery until the next major disaster occurs. We are happy to use them when its to our benefit but largely ignore them the rest of the time.

What my experience with the Ash Wednesday Bush Fires taught me is that, when made fully aware of an issue and given the opportunity to contribute, most people will willingly put in astronomical amounts of time and effort to being about a satisfactory solution. Most people want to contribute to something worthwhile and, given the chance, will become fully engaged with achieving results. When they believe that something is worthwhile and their energies are correctly harnessed, ordinary people achieve extraordinary results. Those with specialist training and roles will draw on all of their knowledge and skills while unskilled generalists will go out of their way to provide whatever additional support is required.

The tragedy is that our politicians and business leaders (totally supported by the media) seem to forget this. We are surrounded by walls of spin that seem to assume people either cannot handle the truth or that we cannot be trusted to do anything satisfactorily unless we are rigidly controlled. Our politicians seem to believe that only they and their bureaucrats know what is best - the strongly and rightly criticised legislation from both the Howard Government and the present government affecting Aboriginal communities in Australia is but one case in point. Our business leaders seem to believe that only they know how what are the issues needing to be addressed in their organisations and how to address them. Vested interests from those "in charge" dominate what is done and how it is done.

As I said, my Ash Wednesday Bush Fires experience taught me that, when made fully aware of an issue and given the opportunity to contribute, most people will willingly put in astronomical amounts of time and effort to being about a satisfactory solution. When people are fully informed with the "truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth" and then are empowered to help bring about desired results, amazing things happen.

Isn't it about time we really learned this?

What do you think? I'd love to know. Please make your comments below.

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