Opinion: Aussies bowled over by our enthusiasm

Peter Cardy

Last summer two Australian friends of mine spent six weeks touring the UK and Ireland, starting and finishing with me. Never travel light if you can travel heavy is their motto, and on their return their luggage had grown into a monster that covered every level surface and most of the vertical ones in my small flat, threatening to engulf us all. Their visit was punctuated by outrageously expensive days at the Ashes series, for which I provided traditional high-fat picnics of pork pies, scotch eggs and brown ale, though I avoided the games and the picnics myself.

As I explained, I believe there are two ways of getting brain damage from cricket - playing it or watching it.

This confession wasn't the point of this piece - it was how impressed Macca and Margaret were at the extent and profile of charitable activity in these islands. This took me by surprise, because I've been to Oz a good many times and I've been impressed by the extent of Australian charity.

Macca has worked in the voluntary sector for 25 years - but when they attended a dozen or more charity events, from a hospital fete in Cork to the Rother Raft Race in Sussex, they were bowled over by the ingenuity and enthusiasm of the volunteer organisers and the supporters who rowed rafts, threw wet sponges, barracked (cheered) their favourites, ate ice creams, entered raffles and bought white elephants.

They were especially struck by the number of charity shops on the high street, the mobilisation of volunteers to run them and the long opening hours compared with those at home. The Op Shop (opportunity shop) selling second-hand goods is an institution in Australia, but a town might have one or two. They were surprised to find Oxfam next to Cancer Research UK, next to Save the Children, and so on down the high street. (They also wondered where you went for essentials such as bread when there were otherwise only estate agents and hairdressers in some of our hamlets.)

Given the terrible exchange rate for the Aussie dollar at the time, they were glad of the value of the second-hand goods as well as the new products, which suggests tourists are the next charity market. A lot of their gift problems were solved, although I don't know how they explained the carved African giraffes to their friends. The £5 prize was a leather-bound family bible dating from 1820, complete with births, marriages and deaths through to 1952. Hence the luggage monster.

- Peter Cardy is chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support.

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