The old lady would step out of her house, and look up and down the rows of terrace houses with a scowl. When you passed her in the street she would glare at you, and the children in the street would talk about her as the scary old lady. I would sit in our small front garden and watch her comings and goings, the twitching of her curtain as she returned our gaze. One year, as Christmas approached, I realised I had never seen anyone visit the house and I had never seen the lady smile. I decided it would be my mission. In the quietness of my room I gathered my craft bits and pieces and made the lady a Christmas card. I remember feeling nervous as I opened the gate and tip toed up the path, slipping the card as silently as I could through the letterbox. A couple of days later, on my return from school, my mother told me we had a visitor that day. A small neatly wrapped parcel sat on the kitchen table. It contained a small ornament: a fawn lying down, curled up with a small face peering into the distance. There was also a note, warm and friendly. After that the old lady would always smile at me and stop to talk. The lady wasn't grumpy, just lonely after the loss of her husband and guarded from what she perceived to be a harsh world.
I learnt a lesson that day. It is so easy to look at someone and decide what they are like. But everyone has a story and when we make the effort with others the reward can be great. I learnt not to walk around with my eyes closed and to look for ways in which I may be able to help neighbours and friends. When we moved to New Zealand it was not all easy. We had a one, two and three year old and no family to help. But family comes in many ways and often those around us grow to become family, become our community.
It is often the little things that mean the most. Recently I returned home to find our letterbox had been knocked over. Summer is such a busy time for us with work, and for a few days it stayed on the ground, waiting for us to have a day off. One morning I looked out to see our wonderful neighbour, Pat, tools in had fixing it for us. He came quietly and left quietly. Not wanting anything but just to help a neighbour. What a wonderful gesture, what a wonderful neighbour, and what a wonderful community we have.
On two occasions I have come across one awesome group of volunteers. A group that goes about their business quietly, not seeking reward, and giving of themselves. The first time I met them was two weeks after I moved to Diamond Harbour. A noise had alerted me to something was wrong, drawing back the curtains to see flames licked the side of our home, reaching up to the roof, under the eaves and into the loft. We quickly got the children out of bed and to safety before trying to tackle the blaze. As I threw buckets of water at the house I heard the wail of the sirens, I cannot put into words how comforting that sound is when it is you in peril. Before long the Diamond Harbour Volunteer brigade had dropped everything and were at the scene. They wrapped my cold and frightened children in their coats, all the while talking calmly and soothingly to them. They saved our home from complete destruction and forever endeared themselves to our heart.
The second time they came to my aid I was lying in a paddock, a horse kick had smashed my quadriceps and torn it along its whole length. Being treated, while, lying in a pile of horse muck, having you trousers sliced, may not be the most dignified experience ever. But they made me feel at ease, they took care of me, in a personal yet professional manner.
I am sure there is not one of us who has not felt great pride in our fire services or thankfulness for what they do with the fires of recent days. Most of these men are not paid, yet they put themselves through rigorous training, answering the call of the siren in the depth of the night and then returning to the demands of work and daily life when the job is done. When I talk to them, they are always humble and treat every callout with discretion. Often we hear the siren but we don’t hear the fire fighters talking about what they have seen or done. Quietly they serve our community with dedication.
So this month I just want to say thank you to all of you who volunteer, official or unofficial to help others in this community, whether you feel what you do is big or small. Each act is what makes this community strong and a wonderful place to live.
Thank you to all of our brave fire fighters. Thank you to those who volunteer for civil defence, who rise up in a time of disaster to help keep us safe in a disaster. Thank you to those who organise Live at the Point, and who want to bring us all together to celebrate life and summer each year. Thank you to those who cook for those who are sick and new mothers, who lend your trailer to those moving house, thank you to those who share the bounty of your gardens. Thank you to those who help jumpstart a stalled car, or give lifts up from the ferry. Thank you to the people that put up fallen letterboxes. It takes all of us to make this place what it is.
Individual we can't do it all, but together we preserve what makes this place special, a place we all love, it really is a Diamond.