The events of 9/11 changed the world forever. It was one of the first times in history, when we could watch a significant tragedy unfolding before our eyes – even from as far away as Australia. Our strong ties to the United States meant that we also felt this attack deeply. Australian lives were also lost, among the nearly 3000 victims; and as allies, many felt it was also an attack on our culture and liberty.
At the time, I was a newsreader for Channel Ten’s 5pm news, my life was consumed by the events that unfolded. One night we ran a story about a mother talking about how her son rang her from one of the hijacked planes to say he loved her and to say goodbye. My son, Tom, was only four at the time and this story broke my heart. For the first time in my news-reading career, I was no longer able to hold back the emotion, choking up on-air as I tried to read the next story.
When I heard about the musical, COME FROM AWAY, I had reservations. How could a musical deal with such an overwhelmingly emotional and complicated tragedy – treating all those who suffered and died with respect? Then I saw the musical and was moved beyond any production I’d seen. It is such a wonderful and inspiring story of open-hearted generosity and acceptance that it will move the most hardened of souls. To see a show like this – based on a true story – proves that the most heart-warming of stories can stem from the greatest of tragedies.
The people of Gander will make any audience member want to visit their island. I think Australians in particular will relate to the townsfolk because like them, we’re known for being down-to-earth and will go to extraordinary lengths to help those in need. When the people of Gander learnt of the challenges that lay ahead – looking after nearly 7000 people who were arriving on their island – they got together and worked out a plan to make it happen. More than that – they went above and beyond – opening their hearts and their homes – to complete strangers. In the toughest of times, they used humour to get them through – another quality Aussies will relate to.
It’s a huge credit to the talented writers, Irene Sankoff and David Hein, that they spent three months living on the island to get to know the people and learn the depth of their stories. Their musical is bursting with genuine characters and soulful moments as a result.
Proof of the stories ability to resonate with Australians is the fact that the musical has been recognised by the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority to be included on the VCE Drama and Theatre Studies play list for 2019.
There are so many lessons to be learnt from the people of Gander. While Australians will relate to many of their wonderful qualities, it’s good to be reminded of the fact that good old-fashioned hospitality, food on the table, a generous spirit, acceptance of all cultures and creeds and a good hug – can go a very long way to healing damaged souls. And that even in the world’s darkest hour, when evil seems to be casting a long shadow – we can still find beauty in the kindness of strangers to shine a greater light.