Today I leveled out ground, dug out ground for a soft surface play area for kids, babysat, and then dug some more. Our church held a working bee to put in a new playground. We worked from 9:00-11:30, broke for morning tea, then worked until about 2:00 and broke for beer and pizza. Well, I'm not really much of a beer drinker.
One of the outreach missions our church provides is a playgroup. Stay-at-home moms or dads can come, bring their kids for a couple of hours, socialize while the kids play, or draw, or sculpt (with play dough) or paint, or run amok at someone else's place for awhile. Many of the women who come are new to the area and, like I was, have few connections. The playgroup is bursting at the seams. We've added a day and now see a need to make upgrades to the playground area. Hence a working bee.
Working bees are a staple of life here on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, I can't honestly say if it exists within the whole of Australia to the degree that it does here. Caleb's school has several working bees and working bees are the reason it has landscaping, and beautiful murals on the sides of all it's portable buildings and inside it's bathrooms. I can't imagine a public school in the states handing a bunch of paint brushes out and letting the kindergarten parents paint flowers and beach scenes on the sides of the buildings. Granted, obviously they had some sort of criteria to who was qualified to paint because they did a good job, but it still has just enough of a Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland let's all chip in and do a musical type look to make it look like a bunch of parents got together one day and over pizza and beer painted mermaids all over the girls bathroom, which, in fact, they did.
This sort of volunteer-ism is not only expected, it's demanded. If your child participates in Nippers you are expected to be there in board shorts ready to assist with boards or relay races. My neighbor just informed me that Caleb and her son are on the same soccer team. She also told me that she's the manager/coach. I asked her if she'd coached soccer before, she told me no and that she hadn't volunteered to do so, but neither had anyone else on our team (I'm thinking we may not be in contention for the pee-wee league soccer cup, if there is one.) The idea is that if you want your kid to play soccer, you'll meet and find someone to do so. Good luck.
One Monday a month, I arrive early to school to collect the paper bags that kids drop off with their money for lunch. They write their order on the front, with the total circled, I take their money, tape any change they might get back to the paper bag and put it in a large box. After the kids go to class, I take their orders along with their money across the street to the other campus where the women who are volunteering to work in the canteen fill the orders which are to be taken back across the street by another set of volunteers and distributed in time for lunch. The most popular volunteer job is that of the ice block vendor. For thirty minutes a month it is as if you are a Wiggle--the kids just love ya.
This sort of community didn't exist for me in the suburban Dallas Metroplex (though we lived in a town that was doing it's best to build a sense of community). This type of community reminds me more of my growing up years in Athens, Texas. Pop: 10,000. 4-H clubs, and churches with Wednesday night services that included dinner. It was a one high school town and so people shared a sense of community there. Here we are hardly in a small town, but it certainly seems like it. I think one reason this area retains a sense of community as opposed to many of the suburban communities in the States is because American suburbanites demand a sort of excellence that isn't required here. Regular, everyday people, are a little too intimidated to help out because, well, they can't meet the perceived standard of excellence . Better to bring in professionals and have it done right. Australians, perhaps because things seem a bit more relaxed here, seem willing to forgo a bit of the slick appearances in order to allow people to "have a go" at something--to use a very common Aussie phrase. If it doesn't go as smoothly, "no worries"--there's another. Of course that is probably what they told my friend when they also told her she was the soccer coach.