Few Australians will forget this summer. We have faced some extremely challenging times as millions of hectares burned, lives and houses were lost, towns lost their businesses and our wildlife was left decimated. It has affected and touched many of us deeply, and continues to do so.
While many towns in areas of New South Wales such as the South Coast and Blue Mountains are still picking up the pieces as they face loss, difficult circumstances and fresh starts – and will continue to do so for months and years to come – our sense of community spirit has emerged as one of the great positives from these tragedies. In the face of adversity, Australians chipped in without hesitation, and so did the world.
Our instinct to help and show some neighbourly concern kicked in almost immediately as people jumped in their cars or utes filled with food, clothes, blankets and other staples to help communities who were doing it tough as soon as it was safe to visit these areas.
If catastrophic conditions have shown us anything it is that all it takes is for one individual to reach out to a complete stranger to make a real difference.
While many charities and NGO organisations have rallied to help, so, too, have individuals who have wanted to show complete strangers their care, concern and compassion. Anyone who thought it was just a passing phase might be delighted to know that the need to help others hasn’t abated, even though many of the major fires are now out in NSW thanks to recent rainfall. A recent televised concert with both local and international acts raised nearly $10 million to help and more events are being planned.
Similarly, the call from these bushfire-affected communities to ask people to visit these devastated areas such as the NSW South Coast to boost tourism and local businesses is now being heeded.
As well, so many of us have been touched by the number of people who have put their own lives on hold to care for injured wildlife such as koalas, wallabies or birds, or help a friend or neighbour – or a complete stranger. That is our community spirit at its best.
It is also likely that many of us in those communities or those connected to them such as family and friends are still coming to terms with recent events and it may still be having a big impact emotionally, mentally and physically. As a result, Relationships Australia NSW is offering free face to face, online or phone counselling for anyone affected by the fires. To find our more about this, call 1300 364 277 or go to our website, relationshipsnsw.org.au
Perhaps all these community spirit events has prompted you to want to do more closer to home for the rest of this year. With Neighbour Day on March 29, it can act as a reminder to let you and others nearby know they are a part of the community and they are not alone.
Neighbour Day, which began in 2003, aims to strengthen communities, build new relationships, promote respect and tolerance and break down barriers. The theme this year is Social Connection. Our research has found that people feel better when they feel they belong and older people experience better physical and mental health if they have strong social networks.
So, how can you be a part of it? You can make it a small or big event on March 29 in your street, for example asking your neighbours to have a street party and BYO food and drink; organise a game of cricket in a nearby park; have a BBQ with your neighbours or plan to have tea over the back fence.
Or check out the NextDoor local neighbourhood app, which you can download on your smartphone. You can set up a profile to find people in your street or neighbourhood to connect with. People in your suburb or nearby ones will put up posts about local events and services that could interest you, including ones about Neighbour Day.
If the timing is not right for you to join in on Neighbour Day, perhaps you may want to reach out another way in the vein of keeping the community spirit alive by meeting people in your suburb.
It could be as simple as saying hello to neighbours to your street who have just moved in; checking in on an elderly person who lives alone or organising a casual coffee gathering to get to know people in your area better.
If you have been affected by the bushfires and would like to speak to a counsellor, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1300 364 277.