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Are Our Community Strengths of Resilience and Volunteerism Mirrored in Our Governments?

By Dr Marjorie O'Neill, Member for Coogee on February 2, 2022 in Other

Marj and the team on patrol at Clovelly. Photo: Thomas Hetherington

As the summer holidays wind down, our children return to school and we go about our lives with COVID-19 still present, many in our community are anxious as to what this year will bring. The pandemic has taken its toll, with lives lost, many businesses facing considerable financial difficulties, and so many key life events postponed including marriages and much needed visits to loved ones abroad. Most people I know were impacted directly by COVID-19 over the summer holiday period and many, including myself, experienced a Christmas unlike any other, with family members and friends unable to celebrate and join our important annual rituals because they returned a positive result.
Yet it is important to recognise that we made the most of our lovely summer here in the East. A great many people enjoyed the beaches, our lovely parks and our beautiful environment. As a volunteer lifesaver at Clovelly Beach, I was thrilled to see the many children who participated in the annual pudding race, as well as the young and old who swam and relaxed each day at the beach. Summer was enjoyed, albeit in the shadow of rising numbers of infections and hospitalisations, as well as mounting difficulties with accessing COVID testing clinics or even rapid antigen tests (RATs). Many of us experienced hours of queuing for tests – sometimes to be turned away – and having to wait days to get results, as well as difficulties accessing RATs. But we did what we could to enjoy the summer holiday celebrations. My family and many others Zoomed Christmas lunch to bring together those separated by the virus. My neighbours postponed their celebrations while waiting for a negative result. Those who completed a quarantine period quickly turned to enjoying the season.
As we look back on the past few months, there are two traits evident in our community that define our strength and have significantly influenced our ability to deal with challenges and try to live the best lives we can. The first is resilience, a characteristic which shouts out as a key determinant of our capacity to enjoy our lives despite the challenges. We have all had our life plans disrupted over the past two years. Some of us have lost people we loved, jobs we enjoyed and businesses that encompassed our dreams. Our plans and hopes for marriages, graduations and introducing newborns to our families have been put on the backburner. But we changed our plans, got on with life and did the best we could. The second trait is volunteerism. Its presence is everywhere in the East. We see it on our beaches, in our schools and in all of our community organisations. At a local level, our volunteers keep us safe at the beach, raise funds for our schools and hospitals and protect our natural environment, our historic records and so much more.
Resilience and volunteerism, although very evident in our Eastern Beaches community, also define our strengths at state and national levels. Consider the legacy of the resilience of our Diggers, of the Holocaust survivors and the many refugees who have built a new life in Australia, not just for themselves but also contributing to the lives of many others. People who have experienced significant loss in their lives but moved on to contribute to their communities. Volunteerism is also a powerful state and national force. In 2020, according to the national census, 6 million Australians volunteered their services through an organisation. Some of these bodies are small and relatively relaxed in their functioning but some are highly professional, strategically focused, structured and trained, such as our Surf Life Saving and Emergency Services organisations – both organisations that could assist in dealing with the pandemic.
Resilience and volunteerism are traits deeply embedded in our community that will contribute significantly to our ability to move forward. It is evident that the Liberal state and federal governments have failed to utilise our great professional volunteer organisations to assist in the management of COVID-19. Are they relying on our resilience to ensure that we forget their failures when we next face the ballot box?