Say you're at home. Doing whatever it is you do at home. Reading, we hope. Or sprawling on the couch watching TV, that's fine too. Now, say something terrible comes on the news. War, plague, fire... flood. It seems to happen more and more these days. One unimaginable tragedy after another.
What do you do? Do you sigh, shake your head and change the channel? Do you talk to your kids, or your partner, or your dog about it? Do you maybe jump on the laptop and search for more information, find some action you can take, or somewhere you can donate money to the cause?
Tough Guy Book Club does that. When Queensland and northern NSW vanished underwater in February 2022, goons across the globe stepped up to the tune of more than $17,000.
But suppose instead of a globe or a country or even a state away, you live only a couple of hours down the road from said tragedy. Do you drop everything and go to help in person? What kind of a goon does that?
Tom Giles is a TGBC lifer. He doesn't really have a choice now that he's branded himself with multiple TGBC tattoos. He heard about the club from an old mate in Footscray, was drunkenly talked into giving it a go, and has cursed us ever since for making him a better person. He lives and attends on the Gold Coast, but the thing is... he used to live in Lismore.
All the happiest moments of his life, he says, happened in Lismore. His daughter was born in the local hospital and he bought his motorbike there (no comment on which is more significant). As soon as the floodwaters receded enough for safe travel, Tom hit up the Lismore chapter Facebook group, told them he was on his way, and jumped in his Toyota Rukus. He drove to the first address on his list, said hello to a dude he'd never met before, and started picking stuff out of the mud.
That's all it takes. It's really that easy. Of course, it doesn't always go to plan.
Rob Walsh lives about the same distance from Lismore but in the other direction, in Coffs Harbour NSW. He is a man with an incredibly vast knowledge of incredibly random shit. Like a lot of us, he starts a lot more projects than he finishes. But mostly, he just likes to keep busy. So when he heard about the devastation and had time on his hands, he packed the wheelbarrow, broom and shovel (none of which ended up being used) into the van and drove north.
One of his first jobs was delivering fuel, which has been a scarce resource for flood-affected communities. He was given a couple of jerry cans and a list of addresses - first up, someone named Tim. But of course, Rob is a stranger in town. So when he turned up at the end of a driveway, shook hands with a grateful someone, and exchanged the full cans for empties, how was he supposed to know the addressed had been mistyped? He delivered fuel to Tim's neighbour.
Know what? Who cares. Tim's neighbour needed fuel too. Call it an anonymous gift from TGBC - and he didn't even have to do the monthly challenges.
Tom's first excursion to Lismore was a day trip. Rob was planning to stay longer until he was named a COVID close contact and had to cut his rescue mission short. It didn't matter - both of them would be back and forth multiple times in the coming months.
There was plenty of work to do. Tom and Rob were our boots on the ground, spending the money that was coming in from goons across the world. Tom raided Bunnings at Ballina and found dozens of petrol generators sitting around on the shelves - the situation was so desperate and chaotic that folks didn't even know what they had. Rob was the one with the bright idea to buy a few industrial-strength extractor fans, because it's hard to dry your shit when there's no sun or breeze. That was a moment of inspiration. We're big fans of those big fans.
One of the projects Rob had been working on was to pimp his Transporter van into the Toy Transporter - snowboard and surfboard racks, smart heating and cooling systems, the works. Naturally he hadn't finished, but it turns out the extra batteries and converters he'd ordered were exactly what the Lismore goons needed. Connected to some solar panels they were just enough to run a fridge, charge laptops and phones, and pump water through a solar system for lukewarm showers. They were in use until a couple of weeks ago. The Toy Transporter, as far as we know, is still a work in progress.
Meanwhile, Tom was going from house to house looking for shit to shovel. He went and stood on the levee to see where the water would have risen, almost a metre above his head. He saw statues with pieces snapped off, familiar houses that aren't there anymore, shopping centre car parks that once hosted local markets but are now in danger of being demolished. Lismore is an art town and a music town, he says, and much of what they've lost is irreplaceable. A fridge or a washing machine can be chucked in landfill (or opened up, hosed out and fixed up, if you have Rob handy) but what about the guitar or 40-year-old electronic sampler that's more like an old friend than a gadget?
For both of these guys, and for so many affected by the floods, much of the labour here is emotional. Lifting and carrying and spraying disinfectant is important, but so is driving a dude to the service station so he can have a packet of chips and just... breathe for a while. Rob saw some very raw emotions and found - for all his practical skills - that often the best support is simply being there to talk and listen.
Tom doesn't like to admit it (though he gave his permission here) but providing that kind of therapy was therapeutic for him too. He was going through some pretty horrific times after the breakup of an 18-year relationship. So, he says, he had two choices: a) pace up and down the kitchen wondering why the world was so fucked, or b) channel that manic energy into helping other people.
We all have that same choice. Remember that next time you see a tragedy on the news. It sounds like some hokey shit you'd read in a book... but we're Tough Guy Book Club, dammit. We like hokey shit you read in books.
Watch this space, and take care of each other. More updates to come.