Posted by: jkirkby8712 | December 12, 2010

Sunday – 12 December 2010 – Unsung heroes and their stories

I’m reading, off and on, a fascinating little book at present, called ‘Outback Spirit: Inspiring true stories of Australia’s unsung heroes’, edited by Sue Williams [the author herself, of 11 books].  These ‘heroes’ are the volunteers, who most times, work behind the scenes and out of the public spotlight, who often, against difficult and seemingly insurmountable odds, help out those who inhabit Australia’s outback areas and ‘untamed’ frontiers – usually where government and welfare services are non existent and/or negligible.  That fact alone is a sad indictment on our society, but nevertheless true in so many areas,  that the welfare and health of so many disadvantaged has to be so heavily dependent upon volunteer and not for profit individuals and organisations.

There are great stories of such people in this book. One concerns such an organisation and individuals who for many years have been going to remote Aboriginal [and sometimes non-Aboriginal] communities and carrying various forms of maintenance to their’ homes’ in order to try and improve the lifestyle, health, and general well being of those communities.  For years, there has been a common perception that the houses which Indigenous commnities live in, are not cared for, and are purposely damaged by the occupants with little pride for theoir circumstances. This particular group of ‘unsung heroes’ put paid to that perception quite clearly, from their personal findings of the kind of maintenance and other issues common to the communities concerned. This is best illustrated by the following extract from this particular chapter of the book.

“The reasons for such a poor state of public housing in communities is depressingly familiar. While popular myth has it that deliberate vandalism is the cause of much of the problem, the long years of careful research done under rigorous conditions has revealed quite the opposite, that the incidence of deliberate damage is absolutely miniscule. Instead, 65 per cent of housing defects are a result of normal wear and tear, often because poor quality fixtures have been installed in the first place, and a lack of regular maintenance by housing authorities.  Paul and his team found that inferior products are regularly installed in kitchens and bathrooms in remote areas – flimsy fittings simply not up to the harsh environments in which they’re used – and, in rural areas, the supply of bore water eats the heart out of poor-grade water systems. Pipes that can no longer carry water as they’re become so encrusted with salt, shower roses completely clogged and the cheapest of taps that simply fall apart when used regularly for more than a few weeks are very common stories. In most cases, there are much better, more suitable products available that could have been used to avoid most of the problems occurring. The second major problem, accounting for 25 per cent of faults, is poor initial construction, and incorrect products or specifications…………..These problems are probably a result of poor supervision, the fact that it’s hard to get people to inspect work done in rural and remote areas, and self-certification, where trades certify their own work……………..As a result of all these factors, some of the houses we see are highly dangerous’. p. 189-190]

It goes on to say that ‘There’s no point talking about the bigger issues like better housing design if someone’s standing in three inches of shitty water,’ says Paul, matter-of-factly. ‘We’ve found if you solve the simple problems first, then you can focus on the more complex problems later. The things that will kill you today, we fix first: electrical faults, bad wiring, crumbling walls; things that affect you tomorrow we’ll fix as a second priority. The problem is that many people believe the situation with Aboriginal housing is too complex to tackle, and that sense of hopelessness underpins much of public policy. But what should be done isn’t a mystery. It can be very simple to improve people’s houses in a very fundamental way and, in so doing, you can have a huge impact on people’s health’. [p191]

Some examples quoted of unsuitable and dangerous [to life and health, and quality of living] included the wheelchair bound man living ‘outside’ his house because of narrow doorways and steep steps – he couldn’t get in;  the single dad with five children, and no hot water, meaning the children were constantly sick with bacterial infections because of inadequate washing facilities, etc; dangers created by uncovered wires, or water too close to electrical sockets, potential for gas explosions, or structural collapse of a building where repairs have never been undertaken; and so on. As another comment on this story revealed – “I think it often comes down to a lack of supervision. If people think this work is never going to be inspected, it’s no surprise that some might do such a bad job. They might say, ‘Oh, it’s only a blackfella house’.

A terrible state of affairs to be allowed to continue to exist. Reports and research have clearly indicated the relationship between poor housing standards , and health & physical and mental well being of the occupants.  The people [heroes] at the centre of the program which is the subject of this chapter have so far repaired over 6,000 houses and transformed the lives of many thousands, but until the mindset of the broad community and authorities is changed, the need for such work will continue. As Paul says ‘People don’t want a lot, they should just be able to demand the basic things: a good roof, taps and electricity that work, a place to wash themselves and clothing,  and a clean place to prepare food’ [p15].  Many of these things were non-existent before this group’s repair work was carried out!

That story is just one example of the many tales portrayed in this book, of men and women who embody the spirit of remote and rural Australia – as indicated, those people we never hear about, and who generally don’t seek the publicity – simply have the desire to help others in need of assistance, who generally will not go looking for that assistance, and have become attuned to  accepting circumstances as they are!

 

 

 



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