The Mercury asked a number of people in various roles across the city for their take on the strange year that was 2020. We started with Mayor Loretta Baker, who found silver linings in the troubled times.
When I was a tour operator, I remember one of the first things that the flight attendant would say in the safety briefing in relation to the oxygen masks was: "Please adjust your own mask before helping others."
In 2020, while no one is doing much flying, we still need some support and breathing space - our own "oxygen mask". Like you, I've missed all the school presentations and community events of this year. It's been hard to keep in touch with everyone!
This year I have had more people contact me looking for help than at any other time in the last six years I have been your representative. It has been truly humbling to be able to assist people who have been in very important moments in their lives, trying to navigate the challenges thrown up by the pandemic. I thank my team: Chris, Eve, Garry, Jayden and Debbie who have all worked so hard (often day and night) with me to help everyone.
There are many people in Maitland who are busy helping others. I was overwhelmed by the many people who responded to my Christmas Toy Drive, Share the Dignity Campaign and the donation drive for our local Rural Fire Service volunteers.
I have tried to recognise people through Community Recognition Statements in Parliament, and you can read about some of them here: https://www.jennyaitchison.com.au/community-recognition-statements .
I thank the Rural Fire Service, Fire and Rescue NSW, NSW Police, NSW Ambulance and the State Emergency Service as well as Local Land Services staff, Soil Conservation Service and army personnel who assisted in the recovery. I thank our local Business Chamber, and community services - particularly the Maitland Neighbourhood Centre, Carrie's Place and the Financial Counselling Service.
As Shadow Minister for Primary Industries and Investment & Tourism, I started 2020 doing briefings with farmers, tourism operators and small business owners across the state, hearing first-hand how they had been impacted by the NSW fires. I travelled to places including Kiah, Toothdale, Nowra, Milton, Batemans Bay, Narooma; Kempsey, Willawarrin, Port Macquarie, Mogo Zoo, Pappinbarra, Bega, Forbes River, Wauchope, Taylors Arm, Batlow, Tumut, Tumbalong, Sutton, Johns River, Bega, Wyndham, Merimbula, Eden, Armidale, Guyra and Tamworth.
Deb, the Manager of Boydtown Beach Holiday Park, had to evacuate her park twice. She said to me, "Jenny, I don't know how I did it. I told 900 people what to do and they all listened and did it. We didn't lose anyone."
David and Carolyn, cattle farmers from Willawarrin told me: "I never thought that I would be in a situation where in four months I would have lost animals on my property to fire, flood, drought and wild dogs ... it's like the plagues. What's coming next?"
Certainly 2020 has felt like a Pandora's Box was opened. The challenges have been unrelenting, and recent storms have been an unwelcome reminder of the challenges ahead.
But we have to remember to look inside that Pandora's Box again because, just as in the Ancient Greek tale, "Hope" is still in there.
I see hope all around me in people helping others, caring for them, and making sure they are all right.
And it is important to make sure people are feeling okay. Have a chat with family and friends about your experiences and feelings, and if you find yourself feeling more emotional than usual (teary, angry, irritable, anxious) reach out for help to organisations like Lifeline, Beyond Blue, Kids Helpline, Mensline, Open Arms, Thirrili, or Headspace for professional help.
The contacts for these organisations are on my web page: https://www.jennyaitchison.com.au/mental-health .
When you have been through such a difficult time, it is always good to speak to someone you don't have to feel "strong" for - to unload some of your own stress and tension. Again, remember to "adjust your own mask" before helping others.
Finally, I wish you and your loved ones all the best for the holiday season, and hope that you are able to celebrate together with friends and family. And I share our collective hope that 2021 is a much better year for everyone!