Neighbour Day

Extracted from Hansard - House of Assembly 29 April 2020

I thank the member for Elder for introducing this motion. One of my favourite days of the year is Neighbour Day and I have been going for several years now. I have been in this house for 10 years, and probably for most of those it has been widely celebrated in the Adelaide city council area, in particular. 

As we have already heard, this started out of a 2003 tragedy in Victoria when there was a story of a woman found dead in her home; she had been there for three years. That sort of sparked the movement by Andrew Hislop and he came up with the idea that was then taken on. 

A similar thing happened for me not long after being elected. I vividly remember in 2011 hearing a story on the news of a woman in Sydney who had also died in her home and had not been discovered for eight years. I remember being a local member thinking, 'I do not want that to happen in my electorate. I want my community to be connected, I want to know what is going on for them, I want to be part of including them and connecting them back into the community.' 

One of the things that I set about doing early on as a local member was to put together information sheets by council of everything that was on because, as a new member of parliament, what I found not only through my doorknocking was that I was finding little halls and sports and things that I was not aware of, and I had grown up in the area. I thought, 'If I had known there was a ballet school down this side street, maybe I would have joined.' There were so many activities and things that happened. 

As a local member, you are invited to functions at the local churches, there are eat-and-greets, there are different exercise activities, there are all these things, and I thought, 'How does everyone else find out about this?' Unless you are good on computers, which many elderly people are but not all, and not all of them have computers, and unless you know what it is that you are actually searching for, how do you know what to look for and how to find it? 

Back in 2010 and 2011 when I was new, there was not really much hard copy information, or any that I saw, going out to people in my electorate, so I put together a directory that was hard copy, posted out that told you what was on, when it was on, how much it cost, whether there was a free local bus in Prospect—they have a community bus and there is one in the city—that could take people. Walkerville and Prospect often share. They have combined community lunches for the seniors and they also have pickup with bus services. 

I put that together and posted it out to give people an idea and try to connect my community. Again, through working with Meals on Wheels, I was quite surprised by how many people live alone and that the only visitor they had was the Meals on Wheels person. We put their blinds down and re-fixed their television stations that had stopped working and did little odd jobs for them because there were no other visitors. In the Adelaide electorate I believe we have the highest number of single people living alone, so social isolation is a huge issue. As a local member, I have really sought to do what I can to connect people back into the community. 

Because I try to get out and meet people, I went to one of the cooking classes in North Adelaide at the community centre that I had actually put on my list. One of the ladies I sat next to said that she had not actually left her house for two years after her son had died by electrocution. She was so upset, distraught and traumatised by that she had not left the house. It was actually receiving my information in the mail that gave her the idea and told her what was on and when it was on in a very easy format—she did not have to go online and find it—that actually prompted her to leave the house for the first time to do a social activity.  

I was absolutely thrilled that the information that I had put together was actually beneficial and it had achieved its intent, which was bringing people together as a community. I went on further to develop a directory for parents and babies, which was well received, particularly by new migrants who do not have families or connections here and who are not aware of the kindergyms, the rhyme times, the library readings and the free creche at the Aquatic Centre, things that were available to them.  

Many of them contacted my office to say that it really gave them their life back and that they could actually connect with the community in a way and meet other people because they did not know anyone here. That was the same for people who grew up here as well who were used to being professional working women and were then at home for the first time, particularly women who had children later, who did not have a cohort of all their school or uni friends having children and were really pleased to get information to help connect them back into the community. 

It is a real shame that this year, for the first time, we did not have Neighbour Day. However, over the years I have been able to go to some wonderful events. I commend particularly the Adelaide city council for the work that they have done and their support in closing off side streets and laneways and providing giant chess sets and Jenga sets and all kinds of things. The council has been very supportive and proactive in encouraging that connectedness throughout the community, particularly in the city and North Adelaide. 

I recall there was a regular community movie night and sausage sizzle in the Wita Wirra park (Park 18), which is on South Terrace. Everyone was set up, all comfortable with their beanbags and chairs. The city council had forgotten to turn off the automatic sprinklers. When they came on, everyone grabbed all their gear and took off very, very quickly. That was fixed for the following year. Everyone was a bit hesitant to get too comfortable before they made sure that the sprinklers were not going to come on. 

I have been to Neighbour Day events on Claxton Street, which included garage sales and tree planting. Reeces Lane also included planting one year. Stanley Street has an amazing function. They actually close off part of the street every year. The kids ride their bikes around and do chalk drawings on the road, and they have several different barbecues. A couple of years someone has even brought their horse down to go for a bit of a ride along the street. It is wonderful to see neighbours meeting each other for the first time and people who have moved into the street making wonderful connections. 

I have been to barbecues for newly arrived students of St Mark's College. Common Ground had a wonderful morning tea. I have met people at Uno who now are still my Facebook friends and I see the pets that they have. It has been a really wonderful connection. The Box Factory has shared meals and barbecues. One year they had a quiz night that I attended. There are really some wonderful ideas, particularly when they have gardening and shared meals. Some of them set up very formal, long tables down the middle of their street. For others it is more casual, but it is a really good opportunity. 

As we know, we could not celebrate Neighbour Day this year—and the theme, ironically, was social connection—as we are now living in an era of social distancing and social isolation. However, we are learning new ways to connect. We are having driveway dinners. I have had several Zoom dinner parties where we all compare what we have cooked and what we have been doing. I have now started to go to Teams and Zoom meetings for Neighbourhood Watch, Rotary and different community meetings. I went to a Kiwanis Zoom breakfast meeting yesterday. There are people dropping off notes in letterboxes, offering help and meals. It is really a different way of showing neighbourly love and community spirit. 

Being home more often than I have ever been before on weekends because there are fewer community events, I have been able to see my neighbours and give them some of my eggs from my bantam Minorcas that are producing more eggs than I can eat personally. It is wonderful. We are looking at a new way of community. I think there are a lot of positives that we can take into the future of ways that we can connect. With Zoom dinner parties I am catching up with friends from interstate that I often do not see for several years, so you can actually connect—it is just in a different way. 

As we come out of this COVID crisis, we are doing a fantastic job as a community by keeping our distance from people, remaining healthy, keeping our hands clean and doing all the right things. In South Australia we really are leading the country, if not the world, in our outcomes. Let's just hope that we can come back after this, stronger than before.