18 February 2019
Tragedy at Fox Glacier
Two young men, brothers, Akshay, 22, and Ashish Miranda, 24, visiting with their parents, were killed by an ice fall at Fox Glacier in January and the initial fall-out in the wider community was a sad commentary on our news media.
It was fuelled by the media, no doubt because of the lack of news when the nation heads for beach, bush and voluntary seclusion with family and friends. The first report was loaded. The terrible tragedy of an Australian family on holiday was somehow twisted and turned.
It was first reported that the young men walked for a long way past, well- signposted danger signs – implying that they were irresponsible and arrogant.. Where did the reporter get the story about warnings on the path? Well …ummm the department who are responsible for putting them there. When we finally got a picture of the actual “clearly signposted danger signs” all we saw was a sign with a picture of falling ?? rocks? ice? on it. To me it looked similar to those signs which were on the waterfront by Bastion point which had “beware falling rocks” and I always wondered, apart from it being an effective no parking sign, what one was meant to do as you passed by. Look up? Go faster?
Yes, those young men were impulsive, and placed themselves in the danger. Does that mean they disqualify their grieving parents from receiving help. Have YOU ever been a stranger in a strange place? WE know about the extreme dangers of glaciers because we are familiar with them. I know there are signs there which I would have seen and followed, but when we are not aware of the nature of the dangers we need more of a clue. For example, only the frequent and dramatic signs on the North Australian rivers [Achtung!] made me realise that even something as simple as wading into the beautiful river to launch your boat at the boat ramp could be highly dangerous.
Whether the signs need improving, no doubt, will be part of the coroner’s report but I suspect the reporter should have been a little more careful in encouraging us to absolve everyone else of any responsibility.
The car hire firm had to retrieve the car. I felt for the owner of that business, by now the villain, painted as a hard-hearted money grubber. His frustration at the keys being in the pocket of one of the victims was reported, without further investigation, and led to the innuendo that the young man – not an official driver - must have been driving. It was much later that a simple question to the distressed family got the reasonable explanation that he had the keys to get his jersey from the car. Any of you who have been at Fox glacier know that there is always a cold wind, even on a hot day, as you approach the glacier.
The heat turned onto some of the business people involved. The car hire firm had had to incur considerable expense to retrieve the car – surely they would have a spare key - but to actually expect the family to pay! And the other motel – expecting the family to pay! Interestingly there was no criticism of the motel they did stay at and had to pay [even if it was at a lower rate nor was there any about the funeral director, etc being paid.] This churned up a public backlash against the tourist businesses who were involved. They, possibly struggling to make ends meet in a very slow economy, apparently were expected to pay the total cost for a caring response. By the time a practical caring response flowed later from others to help this family and spread the cost of caring for them the reporters had lost interest in that story.
What is this saying to us about our society and to us as members of our society? At least it is clear that we do think we in New Zealand should be a community with a compassionate response. But what sort of hospitality was being given to visitors, strangers in our land, a family in extreme distress? Who should foot the real bill for immediate human need in a community? Certainly our overall compassionate response was different from some countries with a different ethos?
I wonder if we shouldn’t read the parable of the Good Samaritan again [Luke 10:25 -37]. O I forgot! It is about the visitor, the stranger doing the helping. And whom did he help? Well it could have been anyone, you or me even? The parable had a great deal to say about prejudice too, that different ethnicity and culture have no part in whom we help and there is no excuse to leave someone wounded beside the road.
The news reports were so busy trying to apportion blame, dodge responsibility and use stereotyping to reinforce the images we have of people, that we almost lost sight of Ronnie and Winnie Miranda, bereft of their lively sons and their future hopes who needed us to claim our common humanity and show mercy for them. We did hear, in a small news item, that they were grateful for all the help they received.
Jesus told us that the one who is a neighbour is the one who shows mercy? Let us be people who are good neigbours and show mercy to others as we go into this New Year.
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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