100 per cent pure pain, 100 per cent pure mateship
This summer of Australian natural disasters has been book-ended by two New Zealand disasters, both of which claimed more lives than all of the Australian weather-related calamities put together.
In late November, the Pike River mine blast claimed 29 victims. Various Australian weather events – most notably the SE Queensland floods – then claimed around 25 lives, while the death toll continues to rise rapidly from yesterday’s devastating Christchurch earthquake. At last count it was 65 and early morning reports suggest this could reach as high as 200.
There are no lessons in all of this, except one. New Zealand’s pain is our pain. And ours is theirs.
Here are some quotes from Christchurch resident Gavin Blowman:
It felt like I was running on jelly. We saw a giant rock tumble to the ground - from a cliff - a rock that had been there for millennia…It was terrifying.
And this from fellow Cantabrian Jaydn Katene:
When it hit we were knocked off our feet. Everything in the house fell down, nothing was left still standing,’’ he told local news reporters.
“There’s more damage than the first earthquake, the roads are completely torn up….The next-door neighbours around us were all bawling their eyes out, it was horrible. People can’t get out of their houses.
We’ve seen cars halfway sunken into the road. We’ve heard there’s a bus which is sunken halfway into the road just around the corner. Buildings are half-collapsed everywhere. It smells horrible..
Here at The Punch, we have several TV monitors at our disposal, but one is religiously tuned to Sky News all day long. Around 3pm each day, the New Zealand news comes on, read by a dapper bloke with a silly accent. It’s remarkable how much of the NZ news is actually Australian news.
For example, just last week, Sky ran a World Cup cricket story about the Australian cricket team and never even mentioned their own Black Caps team.
They also frequently cover our political stories, in the mistaken belief that what happens on Capital Hill is somehow more edifying and world-shaping than what happens in their own Beehive in Wellington.
And of course, in the soggy summer of 2010/2011, the NZ news has been dominated by events in Queensland, NSW and Victoria, as well as the bushfires in the west.
We don’t do NZ quite the same favour in the day-to-day news cycle. In fact, most Australian media outlets do a reasonably good job of ignoring their day-to-day affairs entirely, although we do tend to grab the occasional humorous, light news story, such as the deliberate torching of the giant Springfield donut.
But when it comes to the serious, the shocking or the heartbreaking, New Zealand becomes a de facto state of Australia. We send our rescue teams and other experts. Our news cycle is their news cycle.
The faux rivalry we nurture on the sporting field disappears. There are no sheep jokes. In its place, there is an overwhelming sense of what you might call bro-hood and – yes, you have to say it – the ANZAC spirit.
Julia Gillard spoke yesterday of “our New Zealand family”, while opposition leader Tony Abbott said that “the bonds of love stretch tight and close across the Tasman”. The line was a little corny but he’s right. She’s right. They’re both right.
In many ways we are lucky to have New Zealand as our neighbour. Show me another country, anywhere in the globe that shares so many common values, or sees eye to eye on so many important issues as the Kiwis and us. Put it this way: I bet England would rather have New Zealand than France across the channel.
After the blackest day in New Zealand history, we should indeed be mindful of the bond our nations share.
And we should pray like hell for those still stuck in the rubble, and do what we can to help both the victims and the wider community - whether it’s through a donation, a message of support, or booking a nice expensive ski holiday to boost the south island economy this winter.
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