Since our ancestors rapidly transformed a wilderness into a first world country, Australians have always been quietly proud of their ability to rise to any challenge, and that traditional pride is still a source of strength. The popular song "We Are Australian" is a very compressed history of Australians and the challenges they have risen to.
How well the early British settlers built a new country after their arrival in 1788 can be gathered from a report of 1828 in "The Australian" newspaper of the day. A ship arrived from England with smallpox on board, which was immediately notified to the appropriate authorities. The ship was sent to Neutral Bay in quarantine and the Sydney population warned. Thousands of people had cowpox vaccinations as a result. After official investigations, the ship was allowed to disembark on August 5th. So Sydney was a pretty sophisticated place by that time. A "visiting English gentleman" also writing in "The Australian" around that time was surprised to find Sydney comprised of substantial brick and stone buildings instead of the mud huts and log cabins he had expected. He found it "a bustling, elegant and extensive city" with shops as good as London's but with much cleaner air. So the early settlers (many of whom were convicts) had built well in just 40 years. I personally am descended from a convict who arrived on the ship just mentioned
"We Are Australian" plays at the memorial service in Melbourne, and in Whittlesea, two Salvos stand. Slowly, uncertainly, about 300 others around them rise to their feet and start clapping. At first it is in time to the song, but soon it is applause - for themselves, for everyone.
For most of the 90-minute service, Kinglake evacuees and Whittlesea residents have listened, mostly heads down. It is respectful and expected, but they seem more bowed by the weight of thoughts. Some weep at the sight of a wreath, others at pictures of a green valley shrouded in fog, not smoke.
But a change comes near the end of the broadcast. They hold hands and smile. Behind the seating, a new mum dances with her babe in arms. The strength has come from somewhere and everywhere, from each other, Melbourne and around Australia. It is strength to go on.
From 10am, mourners at the Whittlesea service trickle in gently. One girl wears a T-shirt with the message: "Together in strength we can rebuild Victoria". Some wear wrist bands that give access to the mountain and what's left there of Kinglake. Many Kinglake residents, though, are behind roadblocks at their own service on their mount. At Whittlesea, Australian flags fly from prams and are draped over shoulders.
About 400 plastic seats are under marquees beside portable party hire cool rooms. For a fortnight life has been makeshift like that. Walker Reserve, the cricket oval, is a mass of dust and dead grass. Two Sundays earlier it was a car park for emergency vehicles and refuge from the blazes. A smoke haze still hangs over the hills and fire helicopters fly overhead.
As the many tributes end, a wiry looking bloke with a beard strokes his wife's arm. Peter Petkovski, wife Lena and boys Ricky, Paul, Tony and Mark lost their Long Gully Rd, Flowerdale, home and much more. Mrs Petkovski can't bear yet to think of returning there. She says the service was overwhelming. "This has just made me stronger," she says.
Her husband can't bear the thought of not going back. "There's too much history. A lot of my friends died there. You can't throw that away," he said after the service.
Posted by John Ray. For a daily critique of Leftist activities, see DISSECTING LEFTISM. For a daily survey of Australian politics, see AUSTRALIAN POLITICS Also, don't forget your daily roundup of pro-environment but anti-Greenie news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH . Email me (John Ray) here