Yesterday our team at work had a corporate development day, the first part of which included a talk by Peter Hughes, a building contractor who was critically injured in the first Bali bombing in 2002.
It was a remarkable presentation and you really get a sense of just how much Peter’s life changed for good and ill after the bomb went off.
One of the most notable things Peter said was about the immediate response of people to the blast and how so many young Australians went straight in to help those who were injured. Peter, burned and maimed by the blast had staggered outside only to be blown back inside by the explosion of the car bomb outside the Sari nightclub. He made it back out - with 13 people in tow that they had collected as they moved out. He then went back inside the burning Paddy's Pub to bring out more injured people.
Peter reflected on the others he say helping out right after the blast and later in the hospital in Denpasar.
Peter Cosgrove later referred to the young Aussies who helped out in the immediate aftermath and for some weeks afterwards as ‘diggers without uniforms’.
Australia’s history does seem to have a strong streak of mucking in when help is needed and we seem to be at our best when the situation is at its worst.
There was another example of that yesterday when a young bloke, Brock Curtis, jumped on his surfboard and paddled out to rescue his mate who had been bitten by a shark.
Imagine going out in the water to the very place a shark has just attacked someone. That really is the most extraordinary thing, and the tragedy of his mate’s death does not lessen the enormity of the act.
A quote, sometimes attributed as an old Norwegian folk saying and at other times to George S. Patton goes; “Courage is fear hanging on one minute longer”. Regardless of the origin, the truth of the statement is evident. Most people who are heroes are heroes because they transcend their fears for the brief time required to do what needs to be done.
I don’t think the fear is gone – and I imagine that the later nightmares that many people have after such an event are reflections of the enormity of that fear, but the fact that a person can push through the natural desire for self preservation is remarkable.
I don’t know that Aussies have this capacity more than other people, I hope we do as it makes up for some of our other national flaws. I do know that we see it more often when the need is greatest, just as we see greater community strength and charity when times are toughest.
I wonder sometimes whether the very fact of our current affluence has led us to complacency and isolation and whether if we had to struggle together a little more we might be more successful as people.
It seems that the true spirit of Australia was born in adversity and is renewed in adversity - may we never become afraid of a little adversity.