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Is our kind human spirit ebbing away?


After experiencing the best and the not-so-great of human behaviour, Ali Clarke asks whether our community today would unequivocally open its arms in the case of the unthinkable.

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There’s a ripping musical playing Adelaide at the moment, called Come From Away.

Without giving you too much of the plot and spoiling it, the show is set in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

I know… Nothing quite says ‘song and dance’ like one of the most horrific things to happen this century.

But, against those odds, it’s a brilliant story about the kindness of people and how, in the face of the worst of us, goodness will shine through.

The characters are based on (and in many cases share the names of), real people from a town called Gander, Newfoundland.

It had me blowing the dust off our globe.

Find Canada, go east, locate the island of Newfoundland and it’s south of Twillingate and east of Grand Falls-Windsor.

Household names right?

Think of a place with a population a little smaller than Port Augusta and buried under a larger measure of snow and ice.

I was fortunate enough to meet the Mayor of Gander, Claude Elliott, who was in charge when 38 planes were sent to their airport to get them out of the sky as the rest of the world worked out how four passenger planes had been turned into instruments of terror.

The challenges he and his constituents faced were immense: clothing, feeding and sheltering thousands of scared and tired people.

There were challenges he had to work through – things no-one could have predicted. I won’t spoil it for you here – you will have to see it for yourself.

Suffice to say, when I finally met this grey-haired, sparkling-eyed man, the first thing I asked was if I could hug him.

He just laughed and said, ‘Of course’, and then we sat for a while and spoke about human nature.

I just couldn’t help feeling – worrying – that the unequivocal kindness shown by the people of Gander more than 20 years ago would not be repeated now.

Yes, we see people pulling together in the face of bushfires or floods here, but we also see looters, TikTokers who are primarily interested in documenting their own kindness, and politicians and media outlets searching for soundbites.

Would sweary-bogan-bloke and pissed-as-a-newt-lady open their homes and arms to people in need?

While nostalgia might be at work in some parts of the scripting, Claude told me he believes human kindness will always shine through and that his little town is no different to any other part of the world.

That has always stuck with me, and I’ve hoped since then that he’s right. However, his words came rushing back last week, while heading to our plane after a four-day holiday in Bali.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I think air travel is a petri dish for bad behaviour, where some seem determined to be the worst versions of themselves.

Take one twenty-something Aussie bloke, who finally turned up, got on the airport bus with the rest of us, and proceeded to slur-swear at the top of his voice.

“How the f*&k are we lads?” he started.

(And no I hadn’t accidentally gotten on a bus heading to an English Premier League game).

“This is f*&king going to take a long time if we’re on this f*&king bus all the way home to f*&king Adelaide.”

Mothers holding pyjamaed toddlers, older couples and some young girls looked away.

I was transfixed.

“Let’s get away from these f*&king people and get home. How about we hurry the f*&k up,” he continued.

By this time I was busy comparing the sunburnt red of his shoulders to the red of his eyes and feeling a little giddy from the fumes emanating from his mouth.

His mates were more measured and only threw in the occasional curse, but overall I was thinking there was no way our plane was taking off in time.

It didn’t in the end.

But not because of him, but because of another couple who wouldn’t sit down once they boarded as they needed water and the toilet.

She might have just been a nervous flyer, but my gut feeling was that the reason she could hardly stand up might have been more courtesy of some duty-free gin.

I just felt so embarrassed that these were my people.

These people coming home to Australia, coming home to Adelaide, were representing all of us.

That might make me sound like a snob, or maybe I’m too old fashioned and should be sent to an island where courtesy, manners and thinking of others trumps foul-mouthed yelling, but I couldn’t help but wonder if these people, the people coming home with me, would be as kind and as generous as those who lived in Gander, should the worst happen.

Would sweary-bogan-bloke and pissed-as-a-newt-lady open their homes and arms to people in need?

Conversely, would people feel safe and welcomed by them if they arrived here in Adelaide with nothing but fear and the clothes on their backs?

Maybe, I just got them at the wrong time.

Maybe, I was the one being the worst version of myself by being so judgemental.

But I can’t help but feel our sense of community is teetering at the moment and we’re being pulled further from each other as our standards slip, so that what happened in Gander back in 2001 might be a thing of the past.

I hope I’m wrong, and if you’ve seen Come From Away, I’d love for you to tell me so. In the meantime, for me, coming from away, certainly didn’t have the same appeal.

Ali Clarke presents the breakfast show on Mix 102.3. She is a regular columnist for InDaily.

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