Saturday, January 25

One good turn deserves another

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Think of the relatives or friends of Colonel Walsh or of Major General Wootten, or of Brigadier-General Eastick and the American Navy who liberated us. — AFP file photo

SARAWAKIANS should spare a thought for the Australians who have lost their homes and animals to the catastrophic forest fires.

Precious human lives have already been lost to the fires or to fire-related accidents. Pray, no more loss of life. Our sincere sympathies and condolences go those who have lost their loved ones.

The damage to the infrastructure is colossal – roads, powerlines, forests, national parks, and tourism facilities. In monetary terms losses will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. To rebuild or restore all these will cost many millions.

Watching all these fires on our TV screen, we feel so helpless to do anything about extinguishing the fires. In our desperation we wish for the impossible: why can’t the extra rain clouds over Sarawak move away to Perth, Victoria, Kangaroo Island, Queensland, and New South Wales?

That, of course, is impossible. On the other hand, it’s perfectly possible to send a man to Mars – do you ever wonder how research money is apportioned? Yeah, me too!

We can only pray that there will be rain there to help the firefighters; they must be exhausted by now. There is no rest for them very soon. The fire season will last for at least another month. No thanks to climate change.

Firefighters from New Zealand and Canada have come to the rescue but the bushfires are more powerful than human power. The helicopters and planes may drop tons of water during the day but the fires are spreading relentlessly every minute of the day and night. Scientists should invent better and more effective firefighting methods.

Watching all this Australian tragedy on the TV screen is all that we can do in the circumstances.

What is possible, however, is that we raise funds for the fire victims and send the money through the proper channels. I think the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur and our High Commission in Canberra would be able to advise which of the proper channels through which to remit the funds in order that the help gets to the target on time. Just beware of scammers!

At the time of writing, the government, state or federal, has not made any announcement about sending help to the fire victims in Australian. I’m sure they’re thinking about doing something to help the Australians.

We can specify that the funds that we collect from donors in Sarawak will be given direct to the fire victims and the volunteers.

Kangaroo Island, a tourist destination, looks like a place that has been devastated by an atomic bomb. Thousands of hectares of prime alpine forests, national parks, and holiday resorts have been destroyed. People haven’t just lost their homes and hotels; they’ve lost their livelihoods! Costs of rebuilding all these faculties will be tremendous. However, funds for rehabilitation will be provided by the Australians themselves. So, not our responsibility … ?

Our responsibility is to be charitable in thought and in deed. Sarawakians have a lot to thank the Australians for. The young generation of Sarawakians may not remember how Australian soldiers helped liberate Sarawak from the Japanese Occupation, and defend Sarawak during the Sukarno-Subandrio-initiated Confrontation in the 1960s.

To recapture the spirit of the moment (jubilation of liberation) when the Australian troops landed in Kuching, it would be good to read the book ‘Three Came Home’ (Published by Michael Joseph, London, 1948 and written by Agnes Keith).

She and her son George were among the detainees at the Prisoners of War (PoW) Camp at Batu Lintang, Kuching, for the duration of the war (1941 to 1945).

One can well imagine how Sarawakians were feeling over the end of the war at the time: relief and gratitude to the liberators.

In the chapter entitled ‘September 11th, 1945’, Keith describes her feelings of the moment: “At four o’clock that afternoon we were told by Dorie Adams that the Australian occupying forces had come up the river and landed at Kuching. They were on the way to us now, and would take surrender of the camps as soon as they arrived … At five o’clock the call came. GO TO THE SQUARE.THE AUSTRALIANS TAKE OVER IN THREE MINUTES …

“For one minute then I stood quite still. I knew in my bones that this time it was true. With all my being I gave thanks to God. It was over … Then the camp became madder than ever. Most of the women tore off their patched old clothes and hurried into the one decent dress which they had been saving for years, for this day … I look about me for the Australians, for we have heard that five hundred of them are here. But there are a few to be seen, tall, straight-featured, strong young men. There are more American sailors to be seen than Australians. I have said in the past, ‘When I see American soldiers in Kuching Square, I will know we are free. We learn later that most of the Australian soldiers are busy moving about the city of Kuching, trying to appear like five thousand rather than five hundred. The Nipponese still have under arms in Kuching, and unsurrendered, five thousand soldiers.”

Sarawakians of all ages should remember this day – those Australians AND those Americans who landed at Kuching. Colonel Walsh was the highest ranking officer among the Australian prisoners of war. It was he who introduced to the crowd Brigadier General Eastick, the Australian in command of the landing forces, and who relayed the good news from another Australian, Major-General Wootten, Commanding Officer of the 9th Australian Division.

Sarawak’s association with Australia was not confined to war time. Since the early 60s many students from Sarawak have gone to study in Australia under the auspices of the Colombo Plan or at their own expenses.

If you shop in the malls in Sydney, or Melbourne, or Perth, or Brisbane, you are bound to bump into a Malaysian. There are several Sarawakian families living or working in those cities.

So how about reacting to my proposal to raise funds among Sarawakians for the fire victims in Australia?

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