Gillian Bouras
An Australian
Writer
Living in Greece

July 2016

At the end of June, the world is in a mess. I suppose it always is, but in my lifetime I have seen it get steadily messier: I have to remind myself we have made progress in some areas. I also have to remind myself as to what they are. I think, for example, we are more conscious of the planet’s frailty, which does not mean to say that the majority of the population takes heed of this frailty and acts accordingly. But on this very day of writing, the BBC news service has informed its audience that there is evidence of the hole in the ozone layer actually shrinking. This hole, as most people know, is situated over Antarctica, and has been a source of concern for a long time. And the shrinkage/healing is a slow process. But at least it is progress.

What can one say about Constantinople/ Istanbul? There seems to be a distressing kind of acceptance of terrorism as a fact in the world, a fact we can do little about. I’ve always thought it well-nigh impossible to cope effectively with fanaticism, particularly fanaticism that has a real sense of grievance and injustice to dwell on unremittingly. But in this eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth scheme of things, the innocent inevitably suffer. The people who suffered and died in the airport were simply going about their travelling business. And the rest of us are left fearful at the chaotic nature of life.

Then there’s the matter of the Brexit. I admit that last year, when the Greek people voted in a referendum about EU membership, I was inclined to yearn for a return to the time when I first knew Greece, those pre-Europe days: I’ve always felt that Greece was forced to look westwards far too suddenly and far too soon. But I soon realised that the past is the past, and that my nostalgic view was an oversimplified one. I’m not at all politically savvy, as readers may have deduced, but I did tell anybody who would listen that in my opinion the consequences of a Brexit were very uncertain. And now look! Chaos is a fair description, I think. Who would be in politics? And tomorrow we will learn the result of the Australian election. Everybody I know is voting Green, having become thoroughly fed up with the major parties: one acquaintance has moaned that it’s a choice between Tweedle Dum, and Tweedle Even Dumber. But those loyal to the mainstream are muttering about the Greens’ Trotskyite agenda, about which I confess I know nothing.

My attention generally is shifting from the major players to the more minor, concerned as I am about the so-called Celebrity Culture: I know I’m not alone in this concern. An English friend tells me she recently asked a little boy what he wanted to be when he grew up. He was at an age when most little boys used to mention policemen, soldiers and firemen, but now things have changed. ‘I want to be famous,’ he announced. But was stumped when asked ‘Famous for what?’

I’ve been thinking lately about unsung heroes, to use a well-worn phrase. Those I have in mind are the vast numbers of volunteers everywhere who do so much to keep society functioning, and who are also often a jolt to the collective conscience: witness the recurring demonstrations against immigrant detention policies, and the constant efforts to help refugees undertaken by organizations such as Grandmothers against Detention of Refugee Children and Befriend a Child in Detention. These movements are Australian ones, but such efforts, of both an informal and formal nature, are evident on both sides of the world.

In Australia, it is hard to imagine what the population would do without volunteer organizations like the Country Fire Authority in Victoria and the State Emergency Service, and their equivalents interstate: many volunteers are on call 24 hours a day, even while holding down full-time jobs. Each state has its own Emergency Service, groups that were begun in 1955, in a natural evolution from what had been the Civil Defence Service, while fire services, in one form or another, date back to the 1850s: Victoria’s CFA was formed in 1945.

The SES, the service with which I am most familiar, supports police, ambulance and fire services, as well as assisting in numerous other ways. As many as 40,000 volunteers throughout Australia organise evacuations and mine rescues, and  help in cases of storm and flood damage, building damage (making roofs weather proof seems to be a specialty), traffic hazards and road crash rescue, where they are often first on the scene. Country teams can be expected to attend about seven road accidents a year, but one unit I know of has attended six in the last six months. And there have been callouts for windstorm damage, and a couple of searches conducted as well.

As one would expect, the separate state services help each other when need be. In April 2015 the Wyong area, 90 km north of Sydney, was hit by the equivalent of a Category 2 cyclone. Three people lost their lives, and the NSW SES had to try to cope with an overwhelming number of requests for help. The Victorian SES sent a convoy of thirteen trucks as their gesture, with the result that 60 crews from all over the country were able to clear approximately 1200 jobs in one weekend. Victorian teams crossed the border again in May, 2015, when they went to Lismore, then threatened with severe flooding. Although the danger proved not to be as grave as initially feared, the Victorian mission involved relieving the NSW teams, so that the latter could get some much-needed rest.

These people are unsung heroes, if you like: they do not expect kudos, but simply want to help people. And they do. So the rest of us have to think of these bright spots in a dark world, and help them if we can.

 

 

Gillian Bouras

 

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