Greyshirt Reflections: Compassion, Empathy and Hope

I leave Lobethal in the Adelaide Hills after spending a week volunteering on Operation Hannaford, proud of the work we achieved and inspired by the teammates and residents I met. 86 homes were destroyed by the Cuddlee Creek bushfire that tore through the area just before Christmas.

Driving through the hills to reach our base, you could see whole swathes of land charred and barren from the bushfires. It wasn’t until our first task though that I began to understand how terrifying it must have been for anyone near the fires. We were working on a hillside where the bushfire had been particularly intense. All that was left were bare blackened tree trunks and an eerie quiet, no birdsong or animal calls, none of the vibrant bush plants my teammates said should have been there. And just the lingering smell of smoke that seeped right into you.

But once you looked more closely you began to notice the tiny patches of bright green, new leaves growing on the trees or shoots coming up from the ground. And the chill that I’d first felt was replaced by hope that the landscape was gradually coming back to life. As we spent time talking with the people we’d come to help, they would all mention hope. You could tell they were looking ahead, gradually clearing away all that the bushfires had damaged and making room for the new.

I learnt never to underestimate just how much you can achieve with a few tools and a good team of people. You may look at the task and feel overwhelmed by what you’ve got to do yet by working together well, in just a few hours you can make a massive difference. It feels so good to look back and see all you’ve done. Then when the residents tell you how grateful they are because you’ve just finished one of the jobs they’d been dreading, you know that every scratch and bruise was worth it. As one man told us in his strong Aussie accent “you did in a day what it would have taken us a bloody month to do”.I never anticipated the incredible warmth and generosity of both Team Rubicon Australia and the people we were helping. Our fellow Greyshirts made us so welcome and we quickly became strong and capable teams. I have made friends for life and learnt so much from them. But the kindness and gratitude of the local people, even those whose homes had become a pile of rubble and ash covered by the heat twisted metal roofing, was overwhelming. It felt like they were the ones looking after us and on several nights, other volunteers from local organisations cooked dinner which was much appreciated after the physical work.  Another afternoon a lady dropped by with homemade cakes and Anzac biscuits. One key member of the Lobethal community told us that Team Rubicon are different because alongside the clear up work we are doing, we also bring compassion and empathy as well as hope to the people we work with. And I am extremely proud to be part of such a team.

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