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Together, we can help achieve our next good season

This Opinion Piece was published in The Australian on 26 August 2019.

During the first two years of my term as Governor-General, Linda and I have visited and engaged with communities afflicted by drought, floods, cyclones, bushfires, and the COVID-19 pandemic. As I have often remarked, I sometimes look to the skies to see if four horsemen are appearing.

I am not one to deliver Churchill-like speeches. I try to support and uplift Australians face-to-face, one-on-one or in small groups. Countless conversations and moments with people from all walks of life and in every situation you can conceive. That approach has given me the opportunity, with Linda alongside me, to acknowledge, celebrate and thank many Australians for what they do for our country and its people.

I recall visiting a cattle property north of Julia Creek about six months after the devastating January and February 2019 floods in the Gulf Country. In discussion with a group of cattle station owners and managers I made the comment that they had a lot of hard work ahead of them. Their response was something that has stayed with me: ‘We are not afraid of hard work, just give us a good season.’

That response told me so much about Australians. In almost 50 years of service life I have never heard such a concise explanation of who we are.

I know from countless visits to Australian organisations – businesses, charities, schools, not-for-profits, and institutes – that Australians are not afraid of hard work and that they will take on the hard questions and issues. I also know that we are kind and community-minded: I have witnessed first-hand the generosity of neighbours and strangers alike in times of need.

We are in a period right now when that willingness to work hard and to address the complex issues is extremely important. We now face a tough struggle with the more infectious Delta variant of the coronavirus. We are also trying to understand what the ‘new normal’ of living with COVID-19 will look like, and how to achieve that ‘new normal’. There are ongoing economic and health issues, including the significant mental health impacts. These are hard issues. We all must participate in finding solutions. There can be no ‘She’ll be right, mate’ or ‘I’m looking after number one’ attitude. Australians know and understand the many blessings of living in this country. If we want these blessings to continue then we all need to ensure that ‘a good season’ occurs in the not-too-distant future.

The immediate way ahead is simple: for those of us currently in lock down we must limit our physical interactions and, for all of us, we must be vaccinated. Limiting physical interactions, though, requires personal sacrifice and discipline. We must draw on our national characteristics that have been so evident in previous difficult times and use them to bolster and support each other as we also deal with our own privations and disappointments. I witnessed an outpouring of such behaviour in response to the Black Summer Bushfires. That behaviour cannot have been lost or just disappeared because of our current circumstances. That behaviour is part of us. We need to ensure that it finds expression with our neighbours and within our communities. It can be a simple check-in on a neighbour or friend – the smallest act of kindness can have a big impact on the mental well-being of the recipient.

Some might say that I speak to you from a position of privilege. True, perhaps, in the sense of where I live. But like many of you, my family - children, and grandchildren - live in lockdown. Linda and I haven’t seen our grandson in months and we are not sure when will we be able to meet out granddaughter who was born just a week ago. FaceTime helps but it is no substitute for the human touch. I mention my circumstances because I want to stress that overcoming COVID-19 and its adverse impact on many sections of our community is a national effort conducted at the personal level. We are all involved, we all bear the consequences, and we all have a role to play to reach the ‘new normal.’

I urge you all to help achieve our next ‘good season’. None of us alone can defeat COVID or eliminate all uncertainty but the things that are in our control: listening to directions, getting vaccinated and being considerate to those around us, can shape both how we get through this and what we look like on the other side.

You know what to do, the tools are available. It is up to all of us to ensure that we emerge from this period successfully.