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The power of mateship when disaster strikes - Andy McCourt

The northern Sydney storms of two days ago took out all power to WFOL's office, which as of now still is yet to be restored by Ausgrid. As batteries and patience slowly drained, we had to seek assistance.

Just one example of the devastation wreaked by this week's Sydney storm


As someone who went through the Christmas 1974 Darwin Cyclone Tracy, I saw first hand the way Australians pull together and help each other without fuss and bother. I helped with the clean-up and, while reports of looting spurred one householder to put up a sign 'Looters will be shot,' I heard of no actual shootings! I did have a rifle pointed at me inside a darkened Coles store where we were sent to clear out the freezers and put the putrefacting produce into thick green bags for taking to the tip and spraying with DDT. Someone had forgotten to tell the security guard we were coming - no mobiles back then.

So, it is with humble gratitude I thank Peter Harper and his wonderful team at Visual Connections for finding a desk for me to work from on Wednesday and, still without power or interent on Thursday, Peter Scott and the Screen team, from whose office I am writing this. The storm was brief but fierce and the nearby school where our grandkids attend, was hit badly and put in lock-down. It's still closed. Dinners were by torch and candlelight, cooked on a gas camping ring. Bunnings had sold out of generators so we stocked up on camp lanterns and batteries.

The SES did a rapid and fantastic job of clearing trees and branches off roads and chain-sawing them up ready for private chipping firms to remove and chip up. Debate is occuring as to Ausgrid's speed of response and efficiency. Remember Ausgrid is privatised and has come under criticism for under-resourcing and pushing up prices to consumers. Ausgrid very nearly fell into Chinese state hands (State Grid Corporation of China and Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings), in 2016 when the NSW government's privatisation push was in full swing and they accepted the bid only to be blocked by Canberra 'in the interests of national security.' Ausgrid is now majority owned and managed by two superannuation funds. The murmur on the street is that, while not doubting the earnestness and hard work of Ausgrid employees to restore power safely, perhaps the privatised organisation was not fully prepared or resourced for a large-scale disaster recovery such as this. The state-owned SES, on the other hand, was almost Olympian in its response.

Should essential services continue to be privatised? Some refer to the debacle surrounding the new Northern Beaches hospital, a fully privatised project where the NSW government appointed the project to Healthscope. Even medical practitioners are warning people away from going there. Others refer to the SA electricity blackouts last year.

Essential and disaster recovery services are intrinsic parts of communities and many people give their time and skills freely to help their neighbours. Privatisation is a questionable path to take. The RFB is a classic example of a highly efficient and successful network, that has performed miracles in containing the bushfires of late. The post-storm lengthy outages from Ausgrid will no doubt be analysed by more qualified people.

Which brings us back to mateship in both male and female forms of the word. Our industry is blessed with a good measure of it, which is often put to the test, as with Mick's Sign Shop in Foster recently. I could recall dozens of instances where signees have banded together to help otherwise competitors when in trouble. Taking work on to help out in floods, personal and financial support when family tragedy hits, such as McDonald Signs in Young, NSW.

The list goes on and there are many unsung heroes and heroines. It's a great, people-based, industry to be in because we are still SME -centric. Let's keep it that way.

Thanks again to Visual Connections and Screen for letting me work out of your offices. And the coffee was perfect too!