By Gary Mallin
Over the Great Divide in the north-east of Victoria and tucked into the conjunction of the Maroondah and Goulburn Valley highways is Alexandra. But the locals never call it Alexandra, neither do those nearby at Acheron, Taggerty, Yea, Molesworth, Cathkin, Yarck, Eildon or as far south as Marysville, Buxton, St Fillans, Narbethong and Healesville.
They call it Alex, a familiar, crisp and cosy short-form for the district centre that has been pivotal for the thousands devastated by the bushfires in the past week.
Alex has a hospital and ambulance service, shops, banks, farms, rural businesses, stock agents, and is headquarters for the Murrundindi Shire. What belongs to Alex, belongs to the district. And what belongs to the district belongs to Alex.
The community spirit, the care for their neighbour, particularly now, is something to behold in these areas. The people don’t wait, they don’t have to be asked, they don’t have to be told, they simply roll up their sleeves and get stuck in. This makes the locals a fascinating breed: they’re as tough and crusty as old cow pats because they have to be living on the land, but they’re as gentle as the lambs and calves they breed in crisis times such as this.
They’re competitive on the sports fields, they have a combative and natural distrust of city clickers, but they will still make you welcome to their place and offer you a cup of tea or beer or give you a g’day and toothy grin.
Is this the true Australian spirit? Maybe. Is this the true human spirit? Possibly. Would you react similarly in this or any other circumstance? Imagine if there were no crises; would you still give of this spirit?
Most of us have been to historic Marysville, taken of its hospitality, stayed in its pensions, eaten in its restaurants, been seen in its coffee shops, or ogled at Steavenson Falls and other tourist attractions.
Now it is a ghost town, its population of 500 evacuated, missing or dead. Estimates are that 100 people have died in and around Marysville.
Thank goodness my friend Susan, one of the warmest, kindest people I have met, is not among the dead. She moved for good from Melbourne to Marysville only on December 29. She had no warning of the fires and only just made it to the open spaces of Gallipoli Park and its attendant lake before the fires wiped the rest of Marysville off the map.
She says she moved there because she adores the community spirit, but is back in Melbourne, taking stock, for a while. She wants to go back to Marysville and will as soon as she can. Her little house backed on to the state forest near Steavenson Falls and was only walking distance of the village centre. Now, it and much of Marysville is a pancake of ashes.
But from the ashes, rises the phoenix.
I might be putting words in her mouth, but Susan’s love for the community and her fellow man will drive her to rebuild in Marysville. I suspect many others will have a similar attitude. It is this attitude, this positive force, that has come to the fore in the mayhem.
I have no time for those of the opposite, who bellyache because a few ants made it into the pantry or who complain that it was too hot because the air-conditioning broke. Get a life — look, observe and learn from Susan.
It is the Alexes and Susans of this world who have earned my utmost respect. I hope they earn yours.