Hope emerges from the depths

Hope emerges from the depths

Matthew Findlay  

Imagine a little boy, about eight years old. He’s your son. Now imagine having to tell that little boy that your home, his home, has been destroyed. His bedroom, all of his toys and possessions have been lost, swept away forever. Imagine having to tell him through his veil of tears, that there is nothing left. 

This is the prospect that hundreds of thousands of Queenslanders faced after floodwater ravaged the state in December 2010, and early 2011. 

Eighteen months has passed since and the recovery effort continues, and is set to persist well into the foreseeable future. 

Throughout the ordeal which claimed thirty-five lives, with others still missing, affected over 200,000 people and caused over $2.5 billion dollars worth of damage, there was still one constant, apart from the ever-flowing floodwater of course. Sport.

 Any number of celebrities pledged their allegiance to the flood appeal, even Sesame Street star Elmo conveyed his support to the victims. Plenty donated but it must be said that not alot compared to the hope, and support that sporting elites provided throughout the disaster.

It has been well reported in the disaster’s aftermath how many sporting stars, organisations and clubs entered the fray when it came to rebuilding, but cynics remained adamant that reports were doctored, and the sports people were only there for show.

It has to be conceded that yes, a lot of news reports were wrought with spin, but really, what difference does that make?

Try telling a Queenslander that the sport star who helped rebuild their house didn’t really care.

Try telling one family in Ipswich – one of the most heavily affected areas – that while Billy Slater, a native of the city, shoveled debris from their driveway, he was only there to improve his reputation.

Try telling an elderly man that Shane Watson, another Ipswich local who lost his own childhood home, was only playing cricket in the street with his grandson to enhance his public image.

John Devlin and his wife Jan moved from Ipswich to Cape York in October 2010, just two months before the floods hit, and were among thousands of volunteers to come to or return to the city, including an abundance of well-known sport stars.

It was hard to believe they had been living in the city approximately sixty days before the floods arrived, and it was hard for people, many of whom had lost everything to find motivation, John said.

That’s where sport comes in.

“One memory that comes to mind is seeing one of my closest friends break down in the middle of the street after he saw what was left of his house,” John said.

“Just a week later he was laughing and joking around with (NRL player) Cameron Smith while they moved debris.”

“What people don’t realize is how seriously Queenslanders take sport. Tribal is the only way to describe it. Queenslanders live and breathe sport, especially rugby league.”

“Getting to meet their heroes, working alongside them to rebuild people’s homes. You’ve no idea how much that helped everyone. It provided hope,” he finished.

It wasn’t just the physical help of those sports people who volunteered, or the monetary support clubs and organizations provided that injected hope and motivation back into the community, John said.

“We needed sport,” John said.

 “People just being able to throw themselves behind their team, whether it be the Broncos, the Cowboys (two of three Queensland based NRL teams), or the Bulls (Queensland’s cricket team), it provided an avenue to get away from it all.”

While it was widely publicised how many sporting stars, organisations and clubs were involved in volunteering during the original clean-up effort, but what was never reported on was how much they actually did for Queensland residents, physically and mentally;

The Australian Football League (AFL) and it’s 16 clubs combined to donate $500,000 just days after the floods ran through Brisbane, with the AFL players’ association giving another $150,000 on top of that.

A spontaneous charity tennis event was organized within a week to be held the day before the 2011 Australian Open. Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Kim Clijsters were among a throng of superstars involved, and along with the 15,000 strong crowd they raised over $750,000.

Former rugby league superstar Mark Geyer organised the Legends of State of Origin match, which included former New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland players Geyer, Ben Elias, Brad Fittler, Gorden Tallis, Wendell Sailor and Gary Belcher among others. The game, which Queensland Legends won 20-16, raised almost $400,000.

The nostalgic match which was organised in just eight short days, was sold out within 32 hours of tickets going on sale, every penny went to the flood appeal.

Every single NRL club sent support, physical or monetary. Players from the Wests’ Tigers, Parramatta Eels and Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs converged on Ipswich and other disaster zones in Brisbane and Toowoomba to provide support.

In fact Tiger’s players Robbie Farah, Chris Lawrence and Benji Marshall along with club legend Steve Roach helped to clear, and then rebuild the framework of several houses and a gym in Goodna.

It wasn’t just professional sportspeople supporting the cause either though.

 Two rugby union clubs from Central Western New South Wales shirked their traditional rivalry to support the flood appeal.

Orange Emus and Orange City Lions came together and created a combined Orange team, who took on a combined Dubbo squad in a bid to raise money for victims in Queensland.

Plenty of people in Orange and Dubbo had ties to family or friends in areas affected, and it was an easy choice to make when deciding whether or not to organize the event, player-organiser Ben Parkes said.

“Even though we may not be recognised much outside our own area, every little bit counts, especially to the victims I’m sure,” he said.

“How can anyone not want to support this cause, regardless of whether someone they know or loved suffered?

“The Dubbo boys jumped on the bandwagon straight away. It just goes to show, regardless of rivalries, or disliking different blokes, when a good cause comes around every one pitches in.” Parkes finished.

Despite his modesty, people took notice of the game, and not just because of the $5,500 they raised. Similar charity events sprung up all over the nation, simply increasing the funds provided by the sporting community.

In fact, upon hearing mention of the charity game, John Devlin acknowledged that he had known about it, having heard the news from a family member who lived in Forbes, a town close to both Dubbo and Orange.

“No one could believe that the sporting community from such small cities so far away, would go to those lengths to let us know they were thinking of everyone who was suffering,” he said, not bothering to hide his emotion.

“Those towns should know how much everyone appreciated it.” 

These sorts of acts prove how effectively sport can be utilized for good. Just four examples and almost $2,000,000 dollars in donations raised.

And so, to any remaining cynics who would still suggest that all these sporting superstars, organizations, clubs and charity events – professional or not – were simply a publicity stunt, I ask you;

Do you remember that little boy, who lost his home?

Picture him again, this time beaming with delight. He’s just spotted Benji Marshall helping out the clean up efforts, and worked up the courage to ask for his autograph. Instead, Benji’s cleared debris from part of the road, and is playing touch footy with him, and his mates.

Despite this boy having no home or possessions, he is smiling, because he just caught a pass from his hero.

If that is naught but a publicity stunt, I hope there are plenty more where that came from.

Images from www.dailytelegraph.com.au

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