Way back in the early eighties, my brother owned a VW Kombi van. It was a classic mustard colour and I can distinctly remember, when I was lucky enough to be allowed to sit in the front seat, that other Kombi drivers used to be very keen to wave to us as we drove past. My brother also waved at other Kombi drivers, of course, so it all seemed like a very friendly affair and left a good impression with other drivers. Now it may just be a simple case of confirmation bias but Kombi owners will swear to you that Kombi drivers do this more so than drivers of any other brand or model. The story goes that in one of the early Kombi owner manuals there was a line thrown in – by one of the few people at the German factory with a sense of humour – that said to make sure you wave to other Kombi drivers. And it caught on. I don’t want to put the story in the urban myth category, and I searched through several manuals chosen from the sixties, seventies and eighties but I couldn’t find any evidence of this instruction. Having said that, I admit that I haven’t read every word of every manual so it may well be there. There’s a part of me that hopes it is because it is such a simple, little, funny line that ultimately made the entire experience of owning a VW Kombi a much more enjoyable experience.

The bottom line is that it doesn’t take much to make a positive difference. You would think that the decision about buying a car would come down to cold hard data – engine power, features, price – but I am sure many Kombi owners bought their vehicles on the feeling it gave them.

In terms of a city, we all have the potential to make the same, feel-good impact. I boarded a plane this week and, for as long as I can remember, when I first reach my seat on a plane I have introduced myself to the person I am sitting beside. I am about to rub shoulders with them for the length of the journey so it seems polite to at least tell them your name. I don’t ask them twenty questions – it is just a simple hello with a handshake. People typically respond with their name, some will have a chat and others will go back to staring intently out the window. This week I had a gentleman who said that he worked in the mines and spends approximately five weeks of every year travelling and has done so for the last fourteen years. He said that in that time he has never had someone introduce themselves. We chatted about Dubbo and what a wonderful place it is. He had no idea that I am the Mayor but I can guarantee he was left with the impression that Dubbo is a great place full of friendly people.

Similarly, Rob de Castella, the Commonwealth Games Gold medallist and former marathon world record holder, was in Dubbo at the end of last year for the opening of Barden Park and he commented to me how many people smiled and said ‘hello’ when he went for a run on the Tracker Riley Cycleway. After our discussions both on the day and in following conversations, he confirmed with me this week that he is bringing a Try Out for the Indigenous Marathon Project to Dubbo. This is something that is typically only held in metropolitan areas.

I noticed some road etiquette rules for road riders that were posted in a shop this week. One of the rules was instructing people to wave to other riders, runners and walkers. Maybe the person who wrote these rules used to sit in a Kombi van in their youth?

The point here is that we can all play a part to make a different impression of where we live. You may not think much of a friendly smile or a wave to someone. You may not think it is that big a deal when you hold a door open for someone and let them go through before you. You might think that the world is moving too fast for these things to make a difference but when I speak to new residents of Dubbo, one of the items they constantly raise is how friendly and helpful the people of Dubbo are. Some might only visit for a weekend and end up moving here. Many long-term residents tell me they moved here for a short-term project and they are still here twenty years later. Of the seven interns we have taken in at the hospital this year, five of them attended the University of Sydney School of Rural Health here in Dubbo and wanted to come back.

All of these small impressions combine to make a large impression and that reputation for our city is growing and making a difference.

So my challenge to the people of Dubbo is to make sure you send a smile to at least one person every day. There is absolutely no doubt that people will remember and it will make a difference.

Tell me if you have ever noticed the Kombi wave at mayor@dubbo.nsw.gov.au.

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