2019. Bushfires raged through many parts of Northern NSW and continued to the south in the early parts of 2020. When the welcomed rains came in the early parts of 2020 they bore a similar burden of excess and the floods carelessly washed the now fragile land and bushfire debris into our river systems. Then Covid-19.
As we grappled to come to terms with the ‘what next?’ the anointed leaders in our regional communities juggled policy changes, government initiatives and community opinion that shot at them like a game of dodge ball. They worked with their teams around the clock just to stay on top of the incoming information. And as they did so new faces rose up to ‘hold the space’, if you will as we settled into the new normal.
Let’s face it. Life wasn’t easy for our leaders at this time. In the regions they mayor still needs to drop into the supermarket for milk. And how do you do that when there are 35 angry, traumatised residents desperate to share their opinion on the way you’ve handled things? And as the toilet paper and household necessities disappeared from the supermarket shelves the questions about who was doing what were palpable.
Meanwhile, the grassroots leaders started to raise their voices in honor of their many and varied communities. Their messages hit the airwaves and social media skipping across local government desks, coming to rest on Ministerial benches.
These authentic community voices became a media commodity and politicians of the highest caliber drove shiny government vehicles to shake their hands (or not), to nod as they spoke and to endorse the uprising.
Need became defined as the demands of the squeakiest wheel and rooms filled with the question;
“What about us?”
As they lobbied using whatever tools were available these grassroots leaders leaders delivered hampers, set up recovery centres, gave people lifts to essential services and held off red tape wielding bureaucrats with one strong arm lending the other shoulder to a devastated community members to cry on.
And then chaos got normal.
The new leaders were hived off via thanks in various Australia Day celebrations, or missing invitations to ‘the table’. Some left their now public realm empty, used up and disgusted; others satisfied in the understanding the job was done; and many just broken.
Is it possible there’s something we’ve missed in the uprising of these community leaders… After all, these are the super-human beings who for whatever reason found themselves in the right place, at the right time, with the wisdom to know what to do.
Sure, they didn’t always get it 100% right, and there’s no doubt a rule or two (or maybe more) was broken as they did their best to serve their comunities.
But there is one thing that goes beyond doubt. These people led with their heart first across a time where the only new normal was catastrophic change.
And not everyone has the wearwithall for that.
While there is a lot to be said for ‘order’ as we know it, where the leader gets a title and the chains of command are clearly understood, there is also something important to be considered in those who selflessly serve. Because without them, where would we be?
It takes a lot of guts to lead in Australia, land of the tall poppy. And if you are one of those selfless community leaders I speak of, please know you are valued, treasured and needed. Find your place, listen and know your community and find the ears that will listen to you (not shut you down).
And most importantly, find some time for you too. The world is changing and it needs you. Be strong.
Kerry Grace, Director Evolve Network Australia