Neighbourhood TerrorismI never imagined I would write an article with this title ‘Neighbourhood Terrorism Alive and Well’. The fact that I am is a sad reflection of recent events which have rocked my family. We have found ourselves targeted by hatred, ignorance and, quite frankly, absolute stupidity – Neighbourhood Terrorism

Yes, we’ve experienced hurtful words before. We’ve felt the sting of racism and the bite of careless comments made in poor taste, but never before have we needed to deal with such a torrent of vicious abuse, literally on our own doorstep. Never have we been faced with terrorism in our neighbourhood.

We love the community we live in. We’re not perfect, but we do our best to be good neighbours. So, it was a complete shock when I returned home a few days ago to find my youngest daughter clutching a vile and poisonous letter which had arrived through the post, claiming to be from our local community. Its accusations ranged from insulting and outrageous to downright ridiculous.

It’s hard to believe that someone in today’s progressive society would go to such lengths to anonymously vent their anger, and for that reason, I have included a full transcript of the letter at the end of this article, but, to summarise, it labelled us “filthy, disgusting, lazy animals” who needed to get help or move out!

Its author continued the vicious tirade claiming we did “not deserve to live there or in our lovely community, where everyone is talking about the lazy, dirty people,”and accused us of putting “our dirty mark” on the house and neighbourhood.

Now, we’re no neat freaks, but these accusations are pretty wide off the mark. If they weren’t so hurtful, they would almost be laughable! As I absorbed the contents of this poison pen letter, I could not help but consider that its language and hatred smacked of racism.

My husband, Philip, is Korean and I am Canadian. As a young, mixed race couple we endured the stares and ridiculous comments. People would ask me if my husband could speak English and, if so, was it with one of those weird accents. Ironic really, given that he’s fluent in three languages and can get by successfully in another two. Even more bizarre when you learn that he was educated at King George V international school in Hong Kong and went on to study at Rhode Island’s Brown University before launching his career in the financial markets. My son too has heard words of hate on the soccer field, being referred to as the “f***-ing Asian c*#%”.

None of this is okay!

The definition of ignorance is lacking in knowledge or training; unlearned, lacking knowledge or information as to a particular subject of fact; uninformed; unaware.

So, as with many sayings that bounce around our conversations, I would suggest that, in this context, the phrase “Ignorance is bliss” is not correct. In fact, ignorance is empty, shallow, lacking in any depth or deserving of notice.

I feel compelled to respond to the ignorance that has literally fallen at our doorstep. Having lived in Hong Kong, USA, Canada and now Australia, it is in this country that we have experienced some of the worst expressions of ignorance in more than 20 years together. The New South Wales region we call home is geographically stunning and enjoys a strong sense of community. Our family has made so many amazing friends here who have welcomed us with open hearts and open homes.

It’s disappointing then when a letter like this reflects such ignorance in our society. It comes only a few weeks after a Korean shop-keeper in our neighbouring town was beaten up amid a tirade of racial abuse: Korean-born shop owners bashed in racially motivated late-night attack at Terrigal. Another horrific example of neighbourhood terrorism that is NOT ACCEPTABLE.

The anonymous letter we received was delivered one week ago. I have taken time before responding to consider its contents and speak to many in our community whose views it claims to represent.

Not one of them has endorsed it, nor do they have any knowledge of it being sent. In fact, all of those I spoke with were extremely disheartened by it. Their collective expression was that we were wrongly represented. It was through these conversations that I was prompted to go to the press, to send the letter to the newspaper and radio stations. The lovely people in our community were outraged on our behalf and for that I’m grateful. We have taken a little time to respond as we wanted to make sure the ‘sting’ was gone from our voices and, more importantly, that no bitterness had landed in our hearts. You see, words like this can hurt and for a moment they did, but when you consider the source and the motivation, the sting lessens.

As with anything that comes your way and rises against you, it’s often wise to take a look at yourself, own what you need to own then reject what you need to reject.

So here’s my response to the author of that letter:

Gardening: I don’t enjoy it. In fact, none of us do. We like the challenge of growing food and planting what we will eat but regarding mowing the lawn and trimming trees on a weekly or bi-weekly basis – I’m happy to give it a miss. We do have a gardener who comes and takes care of the lawns and trees for us. So, if you walk by and struggle with the grass that has grown a bit too long or the trees that need trimming, perhaps instead of looking at our garden you should tend to your own. Your words would indicate that much work needs to be done.

Indoors: The inside of our house can get messy. It’s never dirty because we love our home, and our amazing cleaner comes every week to help us keep everything in check. But, when it comes to things getting untidy at times, we love it because it means life is happening. Family coming together with friends and truly living in a community. We celebrate, we cook, we sing, we dance, and we enjoy life. We don’t live in a show home; we simply live in a home, and we endeavour to create a haven for family and friends to run to.

Interestingly, the week you sent this letter our kitchen was bursting with mess. It was bursting because I took a day off work and cooked. I cooked for a family who has just lost a husband and father far too early. I cooked for a mother of three who is in desperate need of back surgery and can hardly move. I cooked and made a mess so our family could bless people in our lovely community, so we could lend a hand and fill gaps when life was hard. So, for the extra garbage that may have come from that – because I’m sure my bins were bursting over – I’m not sorry, because that reminds me that the pain we all feel through loss means that we can love deeply. The time it took to cook and the sacrifice of a day off work means we care beyond ourselves, and we are happy to let go of pride and what our life may look like to help others put the pieces of life together. May our bins forever overflow!

As for the surfboards around our pool, the dog-chewed soccer balls and the odd abandoned beach towel, may there be many more. They remind me that my kids and our family and friends have had a fun-filled day. That we are all exhausted and have squeezed the last moment out of the day before collapsing, exhausted but content, into our beds.

For the noise we make, whether it be contagious laughter, a fight or a dance party, I hope you will one day/night join us. We laugh because we love, we fight because we love and we dance because we love and we celebrate. May your home be filled with the beautiful sounds and sights of a life well lived.

As for the ignorance in your letter, the toxic words intended to hurt and instil fear, we reject your terrorism. We choose to live beyond ignorance and we are proud of that.  Your letter defines you more than it does us. We hope you will take a good, hard look in the mirror and choose to be kind, to love and to respect. To understand that terrorism never wins. And although you think your letter and your opinion of us matters, you need to know that it doesn’t. Your opinion of us in no way changes who we are and in no way impacts us. In fact, you’ve given us a beautiful opportunity to look once again at life and teach our children how not to behave. Your letter has reminded us that we need to stand up, to use our voice and to speak for others who suffer from the words, hands and actions of ignorant people.

So, thank you for showing us that right at our back door, in our neighbourhood, there is so much work to be done. That we need to do better. That we as the human race (because there is only one race) need to live stronger. Thank you for giving our family the opportunity to grow and for motivating us to be an even brighter light in our community.

You hoped your letter would devastate and distract us. For my 10-year-old daughter, it momentarily did, but she has been raised in a family where love prevails. So your words fall on dead ground. They take no root and they will go only to the place they belong – the garbage.

The truth about our family is that we are kind. We are compassionate. We do our best to speak life everywhere we go. We choose, even in this situation, to love you, but we expose this event because when the truth is out, you can walk through anything. I believe that you do not speak on behalf of our entire community in North Avoca. In fact, I believe that when the whole community learns of what you are endeavouring to do and spread, you will see the community come together. There will be a loud voice that lets you know that Neighbourhood Terrorism will not survive in our lovely community. May I suggest, that when walking by our lovely home, please feel free to wave, stop for a chat or, if you want to, look the other way. Either way, we are fine.

A quote by J.M Barry is one we should all remember: “Be kinder than necessary because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.”

Below is the letter that was sent to us anonymously through the postal service and a beautiful reply written by our 17-year-old daughter.

To The Animals that live at no ** Surf Rider Ave.

 The locals of North Avoca are disgusted that you can live in this once beautiful house and live in it like housing commission.

 We drive and walk past every day and are so ashamed of how you have let this property go, (are you not embarrassed.) 

We all watched on as this house was transformed for many years into a unique home, and the hard work that was put into it, and within a month you put your dirty mark on it and this is how our neighbourhood watches you live.

You obviously have absolutely no pride in your house, your gardens, (OR YOURSELVES) so why don’t you get some help.

Or better still move to housing commission as that is where you filthy lazy animals belong.

We all hope you can start to pick up the newspapers and stop leaving shit everywhere, you do not deserve to live there or in our lovely community, where everyone is talking about the lazy dirty people in Surf Rider.

Would hate to think what that pool and inside looks like, maybe we should all pray for you.

THE MOST FILTHY DISGUSTING LAZY ANIMALS. PICK UP YOUR ACT OR MOVE TO MOUNT DRUITT.

And the reply written by our eldest daughter:

To the residents of North Avoca,

 I am very sorry if this matter does not involve you, but this letter is intended for the group of individuals or the sole person responsible for the rude, abusive, anonymous letter delivered to my home. 

Seeing as you were too much of a coward to identify yourself, I am afraid that the whole neighbourhood needs to become aware of the situation at hand. Your letter would have been deemed inappropriate regardless of the circumstances. However, it is even more so seeing as the content of your letter was discovered by my 10-year-old sister who is now very distressed.

First off, I would like to apologize to the neighbourhood that our council clean-up was not picked up promptly. I understand that for whoever wrote this, it is an aesthetical inconvenience for you and must cause much angst seeing as you suggested that my family and I move to a “housing commission” where us “filthy lazy animals belong”. I am very curious as to why you have no issue writing these statements that are offensive. Statements that hold extremely derogatory implications for those who actually do live in housing commissions, in my opinion living in one DOES NOT result in you being a “filthy disgusting, lazy animal” but I wonder if you would feel this strongly and have the courage actually to say this to our faces. Would you be able to approach me (a 17-year-old girl) and tell me that I need to pick up my act “or move to Mount Druitt”? 

In fact, this situation would not have caused this complication if you had simply knocked on our door and let us know that this bothered you so greatly. If you had done that we would have invited you in and let you know that the solution was in the works. You might even learn that we do have pride in ourselves, pride in ourselves that you accused us of not having. 

Not that you deserve any form of explanation because of the way you dealt with this issue, but I understand that the stuff on our lawn could have been of a burden to others in our community. So I apologize that we were not more vigilant in booking our council clean-up, and that issue, as you can see, has been resolved. That fact does not make us lazy, I think that everybody has jobs to do, school to attend, and lives to live so sometimes things get busy and as a fellow human being I think that fact is a fairly easy one to grasp. 

So to whoever believes that we are leaving “shit everywhere” and “do not deserve to live there or in our lovely community”, I simply wish that you would have had the decency to come and address this matter maturely. It is hard for a family who has moved across the world multiple times to continue with our lives and also to get settled in a new home. Develop some compassion and maybe next time you have to deal with something like this, offer a helping hand not destructive, hurtful words that contradict the “lovely community” you described. You told me I should be ashamed, but perhaps you should, “maybe we should all pray for you”. If you have any questions or issues, please feel free to pay a visit but leave your hostility at home.