Let’s reach out to the Australians

2009-02-17 00:00

I have an idea. And as an ideas person, I hope someone else will run with this. We need to reach out to the Australian people.

Last week, Australia experienced the worst bushfires in its history, with more than 180 people dead. Police fear the toll could reach 300 and thousands have been made homeless. The latest death toll surpasses that from the 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfires, in which 75 people died in Victoria and South Australia, and the Black Friday bushfires of 1939, which killed 71 people. And the threat is by no means over, with raging winds and heat in excess of 45 degrees celsius.

Let’s reach out to the Australians through their visiting team. My idea is that we raise funds for those who have lost their homes, their businesses and even their loved ones. The vehicle for this fundraiser could be radio, television and newspaper pledges, run over the duration of the visiting cricket team’s tour. (I am hoping some big head honcho will read this and present the idea to a board and voila, a campaign is born.) And think of the goodwill we will be sharing.

The Black Caps did a wonderful job of expressing their sympathy by donating a portion of their match fees to the bushfire relief fund. “Our deepest condolences go out to everyone affected. Hopefully, the small part we can play through NZC and our own contributions can help in some way,” said captain Daniel Vettori in a touching moment that expressed solidarity.

According to the New Zealand Herald, “Australian players announced they would donate all of the team’s match fees — about A$67 000 — from today’s [Adelaide] match, as well as hold an auction of signed playing shirts after Friday’s series-ending match in Brisbane”.

We have a chance to make cricketing history, but we also have a chance to send a message of caring friendship to our old sporting rivals. The Proteas were humble in victory in Australia and I hope they will continue in this vein, especially in light of the pain the wonderfully unique country down under is experiencing.

When I watched television footage of burnt-out vehicles, I could not help but imagine the horror these people felt as the flames engulfed them. Tears ran silently down my cheeks. Images of charred bodies, burnt-out cars and the skeletal remnants of homes tell a story of Australia’s worst yet “natural disaster”. It appears to be the combination of human malice and global warming. Droughts have left Australia a veritable tinder box and some demented mind decided to light it, resulting in hundreds of human deaths, thousands left homeless and countless deaths in the animal kingdom. I have seen pictures online of the blackened bodies of horses, kangaroos and cattle, and little creatures like koalas with bandaged paws and burnt noses.

When South Africans think of Australia, we tend to put on our sports rivalry caps and get into competitive sledging mode. And so we should, as the Aussies have beaten us many times in many sports, especially in cricket. But for this visit we need to put on a different cap, one of compassion.

Good luck to the Proteas. I trust they will play in a spirit of goodwill and I hope South Africa will take this opportunity to reach out to our favourite rival sporting nation, whom we love to beat, but whom we also love.

• Kate Richards is a full-time mother and freelance copywriter.

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