Once upon a time, there was a big lake that crossed two suburbs, Ambarvale and Rosemeadow. Surrounded by ticky-tacky public housing, the murky lake was home to eels and ducks that those local residents who couldn’t afford the cost of movies for entertainment would feed with stale bread. The children of the areas would group up with friends and hang out around the lake, playing in the marshes and poking random things found floating in the reeds with sticks.
Until one day a few kids found a suitcase floating in the lake.
They dug it out, opened it and discovered what they thought was a dead pig – but it wasn’t. As time and months of police investigation would reveal, the kids had found a child. A 2-year-old named Dean Shillingsworth who had been beaten to death by his own mother.
If truth is stranger than fiction, then this news story was. However, what makes any story like this even more shocking is when it happens close to home. On one level, that means it could happen to you, or someone you directly know. On another level, it means it could happen where you live. And this happened at our local big park in Rosemeadow and Ambarvale, NSW, really close to my own home, just one suburb away.
Rosemeadow has a large amount of public housing. Small 1970s townhomes and condos, all the same, bunched up together, populated with people who cannot afford to buy or rent in a competitive marketplace. It’s choc-a-block. And what makes it even more garish is the fact that it is bordered by what is sold by local realtors as the best housing estate in the Macarthur region – Glen Alpine. The estate where the Labor party’s champion couldabeen Prime Minister, Mark Latham lived while he was pitching for the land’s top job. Glen Alpine has 1200 houses and a small community shopping centre with tennis courts for hire – all in great condition. Instead of the McDonalds of Rosemeadow, Glen Alpine features McMansions. And the only real thing separating the two areas is one road, Englorie Park Drive. Oh, and quite a few thousand dollars.
The discovery of this poor neglected child saw media reports that ran the story into the ground. The locals began to refer to him as The Lake Angel. Local clergy attempted to bring peace to the area, and saw this as an opportunity to get the people of Rosemeadow to hold those dear to them, and create a sense of community sadly lacking from an area where people were basically living on top of each other. There were candlelight vigils around the lake for the child, attended by over 1000 people. Stuffed toys, flowers, memorials that stayed for many months after the discovery reminded the community of the type of tragedy that can happen in our own backyard.
But within a few short months, media reported the local bus company declared it would not run buses through parts of Rosemeadow due to people throwing rocks at the drivers. There have been regular incidences of fights in the streets, and today the Sydney Morning Herald reports on another massive escalation of violence.
It is clear to me that if Australia had the same gun laws prized by America there would be many more dead people in Rosemeadow to date. Anger appears to run through the veins of people living in this suburb full of public housing.
But with the same breath I would assert that the type of sense of community I have seen in Boulder could do much to assuage this anger and pain. This Christmas, the amount of goodwill shown by the community of Boulder to those in need was remarkable. The collections for charity in retail stores were overflowing with goods donated by the general public – I saw them everywhere. And many retaillers added an extra dollar to your purchase which went directly to charity over the season. And everyone was happy for it to happen.
I am left wondering if only Australia could combine this sense of community, of general concern and caring for other people, with its admirable gun control laws…. perhaps there’d be less tears.