OPINIONDoing what we can … until real leaders rise again

UNITY TRUMPS DIVISION: Flood-hit pupils from Picton’s St Anthony’s School being welcomed to Campbelltown five months ago. When people back each other up, not seek to divide and manufacture hate, is when magic happens.I was asked at an event this week what was the most heart-warmingnews story I saw in 2016.

I think it was when I snapped these photos.

Anxious students from St Anthony’s primary school in Picton–victims of the big main street flood in that township–were being bused up to temporary classrooms in Rosemeadow.

To see the smiles on their faces as they were welcomed by a parade of cheers, waving hands and streamers by the youngsters at Our Lady Help of Christians primary school was, I reckon, one of the most genuinely moving scenes.

I loved the simple message of unity. And in a week like the one we’ve just had–with naked hate and manufactured division being rewarded on the world stage–things like that are important.

Dunno about you, but my “battery” is constantly recharged by this incredible, big-hearted, artistic, and diverse community we live in.

It’s been more than a year since I quit as the editor, a bitburned-out, but the wonderful team at theAdvertiserhas held me close as a part of “the family”, getting me to write this weekly opinion column, and asking me to helpthem at events as diverse as Australia Day, the Fisher’s Ghost parade and the centenary of Tahmoor.

As I meet and chat with other locals, and photograph their smiles, I get the overwhelming vibe that much more unites us, than divides us. And, I’m still surprised by the unexpected.

I was at the John Therry High School’s Remembrance Day ceremony on Friday, and expected the solemn respect for our war dead. What I didn’t expect wasanother part of the assembly – including a clever film made by students – highlighting the importance of “random acts of kindness”. Brilliant.

But what do you say to idealistic young local people who say they despair at the hate and racism being rewarded and emboldened at ballot boxes around the world? All I can do is relate it to my time in newspapers.

The easiest thing for any journo is to write bad news. Crime, vandalism, stuff ups. Any cadet can do a story like that on their first day on the job. What really takes hard work is good news.

I mean backing causes, highlighting our schools, shining a light on quiet achievers, building campaigns, fighting broken promises and telling tales that make a difference. That takes time, hard work, research, community links and extra staffing resources where there are none.

Frustratingly, it is often the bad news that is rewarded, getting the big reactions or online hits. But, in thelong term, does it build communities and morale, and accurately reflect the depth of our amazing community? No.

That’s why it is such a credit to our tightly-staffed local media that it strives so hard to take the high road. That’s why, when stretched by other breaking stories, the big-hearted editor, Roma, will ask me to, say, cover kids from one flooded school being welcomed at another. Stories like that enrich us.

In contrast, the easiest thing for any grubby politician to do is take the low road.

To deliberately foster hate and racism and whip frightened or sidelined people into a frenzy of slogans. Like bad news, it too will be rewarded in the short term. But, in the long term, we need to believe the high road will eventually endure.

In the meantime, I suggest the best way to fight against big acts of hate is by doing small things with great love.

WE NEED REAL LEADERSWhen people feel unheard, ignored and unappreciated they often fall prey to snake oil salesmen.

There are manydecent hard-working families everywhere gettingscrewed by politicians and greedy bosses, while elite billionaires pay no tax. The real genius of Donald Trump, is that he’s an elite billionaire playing politics who pays no tax and reportedly screws his workers, but has convinced many battlers he is their messiah.

To quote a famous movie, he’s not the messiah, he’s a very naughty boy.

And no leader. Real leaders bridge gaps, unite and make most people feel included. On a local front, I immediately think of the late Greg Percival. A former Campbelltown mayor (and namesake of the Ingleburn Library), he was one of our greatest statesmen. Why?

Well, Greg was a Liberal Party man by leaning, but instead of using that to buildwalls, he built close and respectful friendships with Labor mayors such as Aaron Rule and Bryce Regan. He was from one of our oldest pioneer families, yet warmly welcomed new residents and got them involved. Most tellingly, Greg was a World War II veteran who fought the Japanese, but in 1984 was at the forefront of creating the sister city bond with Koshigaya.

Campbelltownwas richer from his presence, not poorer. More true leadership and decency than some world leaders.

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