In October this year I attended TEDx Canberra and had a wonderful day listening to many inspirational speakers on a whole range of topics, loosely fitted into the four themes of society, knowing, empowerment and change. I blogged about my general thoughts from the day here, but the purpose of this post is to explore further the ideas raised by one of the more emotional and popular talks : Pete Williams (aka @rexster) talking about rebuilding community.
In the February 2009 Victorian bushfires, the town of Flowerdale was one of the three towns virtually destroyed by fire. Because of a family connection with the town, Pete Williams was involved in the rehabilitation and rebuilding of the town from the very beginning – a process that literally started the day after the fire swept through. Pete’s talk is here and well worth watching:
Pete’s talk stayed with me largely because of the focus on community. This was a small, close knit community of ordinary people achieving extraordinary things – because they had motivation and focus. Pete talks about the importance of a community staying together and working together through the rebuilding or other recovery phase of something they have shared and believes passionately that such a community will recover more quickly and more completely.
The concept of successful and sustainable communities is one I keep coming back to (just look at the list of blogs on my blogroll to see where my interests lie!) and one I will be blogging about much more into the future as my ideas and thoughts continue to develop. However, today I wanted to tell you a personal story of community.
I had the privilege to be involved in a community project a number of years ago that also brought out the best in a large range of ordinary people. It was on a much smaller scale and was triggered by the diagnosis of a terminal illness of a child, but the Flowerdale theme of community, working together and facing impossible challenges resonates with me because of this experience.
We too used our networks in a couple of specific projects. The parents of this child spent 30 days driving him to and from radiation therapy across town so the community swung into action picking up the slack with their other children, getting them to sport, to school, to music lessons, to school excursions, to play dates with friends. We cooked enough meals for this family to last them months – one neighbour volunteered to collect the meals in her freezer, select one each evening and put it in the family’s oven ready for them to eat when they arrived home. Another neighbour went in the next day, collected the leftovers and distributed the containers back to their owners.
The other project was a swimming pool. There had been a hole in the backyard ready for an in-ground swimming pool for a number of years and and in the space of 8 weeks (idea to completion) our networks and community had gained council approval, organised plumbing, building, concrete pour, decking, Water Board approval, raised over $45,000 and built a swimming pool for the family to enjoy. It was the most amazing project I have ever been involved in. The family enjoyed two summers with their child in that pool before he eventually succumbed to his illness at the age of 9, in January 2006.
We often hear stories of the community spirit of rural and remote areas of Australia. In these parts of the country everyday life can be a challenge that is better faced as a group, with us city dwellers taking for granted many services and opportunities that just don’t exist outside metropolitan Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane or Adelaide for example, although as Pete Williams pointed out, technology enables a lot of solutions now that wouldn’t have happened 5 or 10 years ago. It fills me with hope for the future of sustainable communities that the experience I was part of happened not in a small country town, but in a suburb of Sydney.