A Christmas marred by Devonport tragedy but blessed by the kindness of strangers

A mountain of flowers and heartfelt notes continues to grow outside the school.

A mountain of flowers and heartfelt notes continues to grow outside the school. Photo: AAP/Ethan James

A 12-year-old boy donated his $10 of pocket money.

Parents of young children, all over Australia and around the world, who cannot comprehend the agony of losing a child, have donated small and large sums.

Businesses, already hit financially by the effects of the pandemic, opening their hearts with cash donations. One has pledged $30,000.

People from all walks of life, Devonport locals, Tasmanians and people from all over Australia and around the world, shocked and saddened by the loss of five children in a school jumping castle tragedy, have poured out their feelings.

In acts of incredible generosity and kindness, they have donated large and small amounts of money to a GoFundMe campaign set up by a stranger in the hours after the Hillcrest Primary School break-up day was plunged into mourning.

Zoe Smith is 18. She has lived in Devonport her whole life and works in a local law firm. She says she has only ever lived in two houses in the town. She doesn’t know anyone at the school or the families of the children.

But after the incident, she was so moved that she decided to set up a funding page, to raise a little bit of money to help the families, especially as Christmas is around the corner.

Zoe tells me she set an initial target of $1000. That was reached in the first hour. So her boss told her to increase it to $10,000. Zoe did so, but didn’t think it would reach that figure. Within an hour it had surpassed $10,000 and just kept going up.

Beyond all expectations

When she woke up on Friday morning, it was sitting at $250,000. By the afternoon it was just short of an incredible $900,000 and still rising.

“It has shown how caring the community is, especially Tasmanians and the wider community in Australia,” she says.

“I am not connected to the school in any way, I saw myself as an external figure, someone who was not connected, and I thought it would be good to organise some financial support for the families.”

Zoe hopes the money will be used in the coming weeks, months and years to support the school and counsellors for all the children affected, along with their families and everyone touched by the tragedy.

The comments which accompany each of the donations, both large and small, are beautiful, simple and from the heart, full of kindness and compassion for the families of the five children whose lives were cut short by the awful incident.

“From my 12 yo son who wanted to donate his pocket money to the families who need it more than him at this tragic time. RIP,” the boy’s mother wrote on the fundraising page, signing with a simple red heart. The boy donated $10.

“My heart is shattered for everyone involved, nothing can compensate or can take away your pain, but please know that all of Tasmania are behind you, you are in our hearts and thoughts. Fly high beautiful angels,” another wrote.

Someone else wrote: “Absolutely heartbroken for the families and friends and school community of these beautiful kids about to embark on the next chapter of their lives. Just devastating.”

One family of migrants donated $100. Australia, they said, was their home now and supporting Australians in the difficult times should be the first priority.

A nation grieves

The nation is grieving with the families and with the school staff and with the extraordinary men and women, the first responders from the ambulance, police and fire services, who arrived at the scene and tried so desperately to save the little lives.

A photograph, of two distraught police officers comforting each other at the school, defines the tragedy.  It is one of those images that, once you see it, you can’t unsee it. Too sad to describe in words.

An event like this, bringing together so many people in a united grief, has reminded us all of the fragility of human life.

And reminded us of the importance of kindness.

At a university graduation I once attended a long-term paramedic gave the keynote address. It was powerful and it was all about the importance of kindness in our lives.

“Kindness is the glue that holds communities together, kindness is an essential core attribute we all need, kindness is fundamental to being a decent human being.”

Studies have been done all around the world about kindness and its impact on our health and wellbeing. Overwhelmingly, they show that even small acts of kindness can change a person’s outlook, whether the beneficiary of the kindness is a stranger or a close family member.

Kindness makes us happy, helps our mental health, reduces anxiety and stress, improves relationships and contributes to a longer life.

For days now we have been hearing of the escalating COVID-19 case numbers, all of us focussing on the latest government broadcast about new restrictions and how these might affect us as we prepare to celebrate Christmas.

Many families are reuniting for the first time since the pandemic began, overjoyed by border openings, but afraid of quarantine or being locked down.

These are special times, for sure, as we navigate the world in the midst of a pandemic.

But what the events in Devonport have shown us is the importance of looking outside our own lives and caring for others. Kindness costs nothing but means so much.

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