Stranger. What does that word mean to you ? Maybe it’s the way I was raised, but for me the word ‘stranger’ has always conjured up a lot of negative feelings.

First there was ‘stranger danger’, then don’t talk to strangers, and whatever you do don’t ever get into a car with a stranger. Admittedly all very good pieces of advice. However, this week 23,000 people have convinced me that ‘strangers’ get a bum rap.

Recently I’ve been doing a lot of reading about the tragic floods in Australia. As a Queenslander myself, and with most of my family and friends living in flood affected areas, I’ve shed quite a few tears looking at images of towns and cities which now resemble muddy swamplands.

Sadly, (and I blame that sentimental streak I’m getting as I edge closer to 40) the thing that brought the biggest tear to my eye was a Facebook update from one of my friends thanking the people who had helped them evacuate their house.

At one point there were over 10 ‘strangers’ carrying their furniture and valuables to safety. To this day they have no idea who these people were. They literally materialised on the street as word spread.

In among the many sad stories of lives lost there are now many uplifting stories emerging of people who risked their own lives to warn strangers of the impending doom. And as for those who waded into fast moving flood waters to rescue people they didn’t know, I only hope that if I ever found myself in such a position I’d be so brave.

But do you know what has really warmed my heart the most? The completely un-heroic offers of help from people just like you and I. While looking for news of home online, I stumbled across a Queensland Police information page on Facebook on which hundreds of people were offering anything from free accommodation for families, pets, livestock, and even use of their cars.

Several women were even offering to collect and do laundry in their own homes for anyone unable to do their own.

But what of the ‘opinion changing’ 23,000 people? Last weekend in the flooded city of Brisbane, the council asked for volunteers to help clean up areas which had been devastated.

They had hoped a few thousand would turn up, but were floored when just over 23,000 arrived at registration points carrying their own buckets, brooms and mops. These people then happily queued for hours to board buses to areas of the city many of them had never been before. There they spent hours cleaning and clearing the homes of complete strangers.

How lovely. It just seems a shame that something so tragic had to happen in order for something so wonderful to take place.