By Ruth Limkin
Published in the Courier Mail 14 January 2011
As I write this, it’s after midnight, and I’ve just returned home from volunteering at a Brisbane City Council depot, helping with sandbags.
I have volunteered for many things, but never for sandbagging. My husband and I, hearing that people were needed, decided to go and do what we could. Just a few months ago, we were affected by local flash flooding, and from my limited personal experience, I knew that sandbags can mean the difference between heartbreak and some solace. Helping others was, quite simply, the least we could do, particularly as our city and our state was staring down an unimaginable natural disaster.
We arrived at the depot and huge queues of cars were waiting for sandbags. We were given brief instructions, handed a high visibility vest and were asked to wait for a few minutes.
As I waited, I watched. And as I watched, I became increasingly proud to be a Queenslander. More and more volunteers were arriving. There were men, women, and teenagers – Australians pulling together in a crisis.
One of the volunteers was a young lady from Ascot. She lived close to the river, on a ground floor apartment. After moving everything she could, as high as she could, she decided to come and volunteer to help others. One young man was cut off from his home in Caboolture and would be spending the night on the couch at a mate’s house. They both came down, to do what they could.
The council workers at the depot were exceptional. Though obviously weary, they just kept working. Some had been there for more than 14 hours yet weren’t leaving while there were cars to supply.
At one point during the evening, I noticed the Lord Mayor had arrived. He was on the phone, and then in conversation with council employees, before a quick thank you to volunteers as he rushed back to his car. I was reminded of the immense responsibility he carries at this time and silently and quickly shot up a prayer for him.
We worked continuously throughout the evening, waving cars into the loading zone, passing sandbags down a human chain and putting them into the boot of car after car.
It’s interesting the way a crisis makes us forget our differences. The same people who were working side by side tonight may have never normally met, separated by social circles, status or something else. Perhaps, in other circumstances, they may even have deliberately avoided each other. But tonight, we stood shoulder to shoulder and helped our community.
Jean Vanier, who founded the L’Arch communities for people with developmental disabilities, said, “Life is a succession of crises and moments when we have to rediscover who we are and what we really want.”
We are so often disconnected from those around us, yet tonight, and in the days ahead, we are rediscovering each other. It seems that what we really want is to help each other, to love our neighbour and lend a hand. That’s not really a Queensland or even Australian trait. It’s a human one. If you need us, we will come.