Tell Us Your Story Winners 2021

Relationships Australia, as the home of Neighbour Day, acknowledges the role of all Australians in helping to tackle loneliness.

Australia is full of amazing stories of connection and kindness, and this year’s winners highlight the many acts Australians are taking to support each other throughout the pandemic, and beyond.

We encourage all Australians to take inspiration from these stories and to seek opportunities to connect with their neighbours in safe ways and to support each other.

We hope these stories give the reader confidence to try something – whether small acts of kindness or big neighbourly actions, to create connections and stay connected.

WINNER NATIONAL & NSW – Michelle

Memories of those mowing days bring smiles to our faces…

We don’t always see our neighbours, but each year at Christmas, we get together for street drinks so that we know who lives around us, and we can help each other out if needed. Our street is cross-generational and cultural, and we all get on really well, but often don’t have the time to have meaningful conversations throughout the year.

At the Christmas 2019 street drinks, some of the men in the street made a pact. That they would mow the lawn in dress ups for the year. At first, it was a bit of a laugh that we thought would last two weeks. But, as the year progressed and Covid hit, it became the highlight of the weekends. Even our quietest neighbour got out there in his daughter’s Minnie Mouse outfit! The street saw a man in a full tux mowing, a skier, a lifesaver, a snorkeler (the street probably saw too much that time!), Scooby-Doo, a hot dog, a koala and many more. It really brought our community together and gave us a laugh in a tough time.

Following the mowing event, we also implemented driveway drinks. Tea or wine on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, socially distanced, hollering across the street. As tough as last year was, we have really gotten to know our neighbours much better, and feel like we can call on them anytime if we need. And the memories of those mowing days bring a smile to our faces.

QLD WINNER – Theresa

Single life, a share house, and people to rely on…

I live in a wonderful share-house with a single mum, two rambunctious 4-year old twin boys and a mischievous, yet adorable black Labrador. The house swells and contracts regularly with extra housemates, family members and guests. [This adds to the fun and frivolity of a share-house].

The share-house extends beyond its walls in that we are surrounded by a neighbourhood of ‘comings and goings’, which makes the house feel even larger and full of love. The three immediate neighbours are all godparents to the twin boys. The interactions between our share-house and the neighbours include Trivial Pursuit playing, egg sharing, mango gifting, compost tossing, child sitting, friendly waving, pub dinner sharing, BBQ hosting, music jamming, joke-telling, car-washing and ‘Uber’ driving.

On Xmas Eve, we came together to exchange festivities, gifts and to surreptitiously sneak the twin’s trampoline ‘Santa’ present into the backyard just after they had fallen asleep. It was a rowdy and fun task for the many adults to achieve together, lifting the trampoline over the side fence.

As a single person, living in a share-house I feel surrounded by people that I can rely, and do rely upon if needed.

Neighbourliness is an action and a vibration that extends beyond immediate neighbours. It ripples to our local cafe/bar, and to the mechanic on the corner. We have recently welcomed neighbours across from us to our next shared BBQ.

I feel very blessed by neighbourliness and community. This is especially important for those of us who are single and don’t have our own family. 

Photo by Brandon Morgan on Unsplash

WA WINNER  –  Debra

Technology maintained social connection…

During lockdown, we set up a What’s App group for our street.  Then people could communicate and offer help and support where needed.

Since then we’ve used the What’s App group to organise two street get-togethers – a farewell for people that sold their house and shifted off the street, as well as an End of Year / Christmas get-together (which doubled as a welcome to new people who moved into our street).

Photo by Alexander Shatov on Unsplash

VIC WINNER – Maria

I was lonely and decided to reach out…

I live in a Court consisting of many different family composites, cultures and financial status. During 2020, I had times when I was feeling really sad, lonely, completely isolated and not at all myself.

I have an elderly lady next door who lives alone and I would often reach out to her.  I would take food to her door, do some grocery shopping for her and call her for little chats, but I realized she too was lonely and feeling the same way I was.

I decided to reach out.  I sent a text message to all of the other ladies in the court inviting them to BYO chair, facemask and a cuppa and meet me in the street for a chat. To my surprise, about ten ladies showed up, all feeling the same and all extremely thankful that someone had reached out. We each had a much-needed opportunity to talk about how the pandemic was affecting us and to hear about how our fellow neighbours were coping, or not coping.

This small gesture had a huge impact on each of our mental health and you could see the relief and joy each woman felt as they returned to their homes afterwards with their head held high and shoulders less slumped.  It also helped us to think of ways that we could further reach out and support each other in small but meaningful ways.

I now see that other neighbours are stopping to chat with the old lady next door or taking her food or shopping. I see some of the husbands are cutting her lawn or bringing in the bins for each other or even having a chat in the street. Some of the ladies have started walking together and others are just comfortable to smile and wave.  Either way, small gestures are having a really positive impact after the terrible year we have just experienced.

I am thinking of organising a dinner out for the ladies, now that we are allowed to.  To keep the connection would help my own mental health, so I am guessing others would benefit from it too. To walk out of my house and know that if I needed someone they are there and willing to help, it truly is a lovely feeling.

ACT WINNER – Allan

What makes a well-connected and supportive neighbourhood…

I’ve been thinking about what makes ours such a well-connected and supportive neighbourhood. Ours is the corner property at the entry to our cul-de-sac of 11 other blocks in Lyneham. Our side of the street backs onto a park (“Magpie Hill”) and we are within walking distance of the local shops.

We’ve been here for over 30 years; most of us raising our children, often in each other’s homes. A few homes have changed occupants, but the “newcomers” have always readily eased into the community.

For example, when our oldest resident at the top of the street went into aged care, a single mum moved in and we all became very fond of her daughter. She speaks so gratefully of being embraced by our small community.

For as long as I can remember, one of our residents has organised our annual gatherings on the last day of school – I remember the kids all being a little too enthusiastic around the wood-fired BBQ (sensibly removed after the 2003 bushfires).

A few years ago, my wife and I travelled to Totnes, Devon to learn about the Transition Streets movement, which aims to bring communities together to work towards a low-carbon lifestyle. We subsequently commenced regular Sunday brunches in each other’s homes. The local network gradually expanded with over 50 addresses now on our email group “grapevine”.

Early last year, one of our residents with international experience in crisis management, called a meeting to mobilise our community in preparedness for the pandemic. We subsequently set up Zoom meetings, which kept us all connected over the year.

We are excited to be resuming face-to-face brunches this weekend and will be discussing our upcoming Magpie Hill Suitcase Rummage, to be held mid-April. We have cast a wider net for this event and will be letterbox dropping around 900 households.

These more public events enable more members of our extended community to attend, some of whom would be reticent to come to a private home. It has been particularly gratifying to engage with the more ‘invisible’ members of our neighbourhood and to see a more diverse range of ages participating.

I can’t always remember everyone’s names, but I try not to take for granted the comfort provided by so many familiar faces, the regular kerbside greetings and spontaneous gatherings that enrich each of our lives in our neighbourhood.

Allan and his neighbours planning their upcoming event – a ‘suitcase rummage’!

SA  WINNER – Nomia  

“A man is not a believer who fills his stomach while his neighbour is hungry,” saying of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

Coming from ‘Zinda Dilan-e-Shehar Lahore’ (Live-hearted city Lahore) to Adelaide was not easy at all, leaving my parents, childhood, friends, colleagues, career and my city was so hard on me. However, thriving in my whereabouts has been a part of me as well. Every evening, around the playgrounds, in the library, during the McDonald’s visits, I never miss a chance to know the people around me.

Living in a group of small townhouses, I used to have close contact with a young Australian working girl.  Living next to each other, we used to share our emotional moments and celebrated our cultural events. We had a strong connection with each other.

Then I have to move to a bigger house where I am blessed with amazing neighbours like my own family, very next door.  A young Indian couple whom we cherished our lives like pre-partition time of Indian sub-continent which we used to read in our history books.

Then a couple of minutes away, I am having another kindest elderly couple neighbour, Australian born and bred, what wouldn’t we have shared, the food, our arts & craft, our feelings, special cultural occasions, the love and care for each other. We all have gradual, strong, long-lasting, trustworthy relationships, which we celebrate each day. That’s my very own new family, new city, new culture and of course my children’s childhood time.

Photo by Pille-Riin Priske on Unsplash

TAS  WINNER – Janine  

The border closed and she was frightened she would never see her grandkids again…

I have an elderly neighbour across the road who lives alone and has family interstate. During Covid, I shopped for her and took her for drives so that it broke the boredom. For her birthday, I invited other neighbours to come to her house for lunch to make her feel special. We did the same for Mother’s Day.

When it was announced that the borders would be closed until Xmas, she told me she was scared she would never see her grandkids again. I tried to keep her busy and made sure I saw her every day. I cooked her special meals and took her out for lunch or dinner. Sadly, the isolation continued to take its toll, and one day it became apparent she would need medical assistance. After calling her son, I took her to the hospital.

A period of hospitalisation followed. I kept in touch with the family letting them know what was happening. She was transported to a care facility. I visited every day trying to cheer her up and worried about her decline.

I did her washing and took her fresh berries, which she loved. It was a long slow process to recovery, which included some difficult treatment. Two of my neighbours were very supportive and kept telling me it is a good thing I am doing. I did this for four months up to Xmas when the family came for a visit.

I had been organising video chats from the hospital, so they could be in contact with their mum and see the changes in her. I was scared for her thinking she would never recover, but then all of a sudden she was back! We brought her home on Christmas Eve. I had decorated the house so that it would surprise her and the family, and we gave her the best Christmas ever.

I included my other two neighbours in Christmas lunch, as they had helped with visits and supporting me, even though they themselves were dealing with a family illness. We all came together with gratitude. She is now doing well with her life back in order. I still shop for her and make her meals, as well as supporting my neighbours. We cook for each other and I am there to support and listen.

Photo by Jed Owen on Unsplash

Special Commendation  – Lynda (QLD)

Persistence and a gold heart…

Three years ago, I left Sydney and moved to Cairns. The transition was difficult and when I moved into the neighbourhood, I was not met by the level of friendliness one would usually anticipate. In other words, the neighbours were unfriendly.

At first, I was disheartened and felt I had made a huge mistake but then I decided to make a conscious effort to make a difference. The neighbourhood is located in a cul-de-sac so there are only 10-or-so houses altogether.

To begin with, I placed greeting cards in their mailbox to introduce myself and to say they are welcomed to come over for a cup of tea anytime.

Next, whenever I saw them I would smile and wave. After some time they began to wave back. Moreover, I enhanced the neighbourhood with pretty flowers. It would attract a conversation whenever they walked past.

On every occasion, I would place cards in their mailboxes to wish them a ‘Happy Easter’ or a ‘Happy Christmas.’ My kindness extended to free plants in pots, usually marigold, pentas and daisies, for the neighbours to take to grow in their own yard, as well as free passionfruit and ferns.

Basically, I had to win them over with a gold heart.

Over time, I believe they’ve grown to like me and know me as a person. Nowadays they come over for a ‘cuppa’ and offer me a plant or fruit in exchange. To add further, they wave and smile every time they pass in their cars. In a few words, with small acts of kindness, you can bring people together and communities closer. It may take hard work, but the payoff is all worthwhile. Small acts of kindness can go a long way, especially with neighbours.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

There were no entries received from the Northern Territory.