I was in luck. I had gone out without a backpack and the bin had long gone, but there was an ‘I Love Salvos Stores’ cloth bag on the road below the lookout, still intact. I shook it out and stepped off the road onto the lookout over Melbourne’s Yarra River off Studley Road, Kew.
The rubbish wasn’t too bad today.
Discarded activewear crumpled beneath the lookout seat. Water bottles, Coke bottles, sanitary wipes, McDonalds drink cups, some unused pink balloons. Strange slender green glassy objects that I assumed went with the balloons. Cigarette butts, everywhere, ground into the sedimentary soil. A festive sprouting of vodka and energy drink cans underneath a sweet bursaria bush in bloom. Over the bank, more bottles and beer cans.
I manoeuvred myself over and down among the fallen branches and native grasses covering the scrubby bank, fished them out, dropped them into the Salvos bag and scrambled back up the bank. Better, I thought. And it was starting to spit rain.
As I started across the side road with the bag, an SUV pulled up at the lookout and a man stepped out with a camera. He climbed up and disappeared over the bank. I was pulling up some glass shards half-buried in the clay soil below a stand of scrubby trees when the man reappeared among the trees with some bottles and cups. I clambered up the low bank with the bag.
‘It’s not too bad today’, I said. ‘And thank you’.
‘There’s still some stuff down there,’ he said. ‘Can I take the bag? I have a car’.
‘Thank you,’ I said again. ‘That would be great. And Happy Christmas’.
‘See you’, he said, and jumped down back to the pathway. I followed, edging down the shallow bank. He turned back, hesitating. ‘Are you okay?’
‘Could you give me a hand?’ I said, holding out my right arm. As he paused, I slithered clumsily onto the path, grazing my left hand on the stony soil.
‘Are you okay? You’re not hurt? You should make sure’.
I did a little ‘checking’ dance, wiggling this way and that. ‘Yes, I’m fine. It’s all good’.
‘Do you do this every day?’ he said.
‘No, I do sometimes,’ I said. ‘I walk around here a lot and people leave rubbish. So I pick it up. Lots of people do’.
‘I’m Muslim,’ he said. ‘Do you know what Allah says? He says that we must care for this place – it doesn’t belong to us. And when you go out and you pick up just one thing, you save the life of another thing’.
I nodded and smiled. I liked that.
‘You know’, he continued, ‘I see so many people who keep their own place just beautiful. But then they go out and they drop their rubbish everywhere. They don’t care about the world around them, all this’. He waved his hand towards the lookout and the scrubby summer bushland and shrugged.
‘It’s true,’ I said. But then you know, you get people who really care about the environment, and human rights and all that. But these same people can neglect their own place and the people in it’.
‘Yes! That is true’, he said. We both stood, nodding and contemplating the scene.
Then we said goodbye. There were no selfies, no banners, no corporate social responsibility fanfare. He drove off his way with a bag full of rubbish. I walked off my way with an uninspiring graze on my hand. We’d done just one thing.
Here’s to many other such ‘one things’ in 2018.
Anna Ridgway helps people overcome their own deeply-held cultural resistances and fear of making mistakes in different cultural settings to adjust their behaviours and pursue their business objectives without ‘losing themselves’. Contact Anna at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.