It is Tuesday 22nd February, 2011. I have spent the better part of my day today glued to the television but it is not what you think. I have been watching the rolling coverage of the earthquake that hit 10km south-east of Christchurch, in the South Island of beautiful New Zealand, At 6.3 magnitude, it has been deemed to be less severe than the earthquake that hit the same area last September, where there had been no loss of lives. However, the devastation has been unprecedented this time – the quake hit at 12.51pm local time on a Tuesday afternoon, when people were at work or outside having lunch, and kids were in class at school. Christchurch was still rebuilding from the September earthquake, and many buildings had been weakened by that quake, exacerbating the impact of today’s quake. As I write, the confirmed death toll stands at 65 and is expected to rise as more than 200 people remain unaccounted for.
Our Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, spoke in Parliament earlier, announcing that a search and rescue (SAR) team was already on its way to help our neighbours across the Tasman (NZ is approximately 3hrs south-east of the Australian east coast – even closer than we are from Central and Western Australia). She reminded us of the ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) spirit, that we rise to the occasion and provide whatever assistance we could to help our neighbours, as they experience one of the “darkest days” in NZ.
It would seem that 2011 started with a tremendous and tragic bang in our region. Barely 6 weeks ago I was similarly glued to the television as we watched cars, trucks, houses, people, swept away in the floods that hit Brisbane and its nearby areas in Queensland. A week or so later, we were watching Cyclone Yasi sweep through Far North Queensland. Then the rains and after-effects of the cyclone blew south and hit parts of Victoria. Not long after that, Perth, in Western Australia, was experiencing major bushfires (although some were caused by arsonists and not Mother Nature).
This is not exactly how we like to put Australia/New Zealand on the world map. We prefer to make headlines winning sporting events (Aaron Baddeley’s winning the Los Angeles Open golf over the weekend), acting awards (Geoffrey Rush winning BAFTA’s Best Supporting Actor for his brilliant turn as speech therapist Lionel Logue in The King’s Speech) or Nobel Prizes (Elizabeth Blackburn for her work in chemistry and genetics in 2009). But life is not always hard work and glamour on the red carpet.
Just as we applaud those winners, we must also equally applaud those who risk their lives to save others – the police and ambulance services, emergency services, search and rescue workers. Perhaps even more so, we are grateful for the passersby who rise to the occasion and help their colleagues, friends, strangers. The television coverage of these tragedies never fail to bring tears to my eyes, but it is not just to mourn the loss of lives or of property. No, it is much more than that. It is because just when you wonder how one person can harm another, the strength of the human spirit when strangers help strangers through tragedies that gives me hope that all will be good with the world.
If you would like to help:
Queensland Premier’s Flood Appeal: click here to donate
NZ Red Cross: click here to donate
Love and peace to everyone,