While covering a protest for The Wire yesterday I got to interview former Australian of the Year Ian Kiernan. Since then I have been thinking about the spectacular idea that is Clean Up Australia Day, and how it has greatly impacted both Australia and myself.
When I was a kid I used to hate Clean Up Australia Day (CUAD). It was the day when I had to beg my Mum for some plastic gloves. If I forgot or if She didn’t have any, then I had to face the gruesome day completely unprotected. During school we would spend a good half hour to an hour combing the grounds for trash – discarded wrappers, cans, bottles, cardboard, etc. Sure it got us out of the classroom, but all those muddy wrappers, wet plastic bags, and bottles and cans filled with suspect fluid, were horrible, horrible things to comprehend, let alone touch. They were dirty. They smelled horrible. It was all around an unpleasant experience. Back then if I had known who Ian Kiernan was, I probably would have been wishing him a great amount of ill.
But now I see what a valuable experience that was, and how valuable CUAD is. In Australia we don’t have as stringent antilittering laws as places like Singapore, but the environment in many of our big cities is still an incredibly good one. There aren’t burning piles of trash everywhere, and the streets don’t smell. Barring a few spots, our cities are incredibly clean. You can argue that this is because of our laws, the widespread availability of trash cans, and rubbish pick up, etc. But I believe a lot of it has to do with CUAD. Especially the form that can be found in our schools. More than just ensuring a school environment free of rubbish, CUAD has seeped into our subconscious. At the very least, it has seeped into my subconscious.
CUAD has fomented an antilittering culture in Australia. Anyone who did it as a child consciously realizes that rubbish will eventually have to be picked up. We know what our environments look like without the rubbish. We realize that it is an incredibly unpleasant experience to have the rubbish around, let alone have to clean it up. And we all know that if we do our bit every time we have a piece of rubbish the clean up will be that much less, and that much less unpleasant. I would have hated Ian Kiernan when I was a child, but now all I can do is appreciate what he has done for Australia and what he has taught me. I have my wonderful environment to show for it. Thank you Ian Kiernan. Thank you Clean Up Australia Day.
For those wanting to know more, the Clean Up Australia Day website is: http://www.cleanupaustraliaday.org.au/