Photo: RFS Southern Highlands team
We are living in remarkable times. Every day we are witnessing tragedy on a massive scale – environmental and personal. The intensity of the bushfire crisis has put Australia on the global agenda in the worst way possible. And yet there is another agenda which has risen quite literally like a phoenix from the flames – an astonishing sense of unity and community, and a willingness to turn thought into action.
Our rural communities have been doing it tough for quite some time, years of drought creating an environmental vulnerability that has challenged livelihoods and wellbeing. The devastation of a catastrophic fire event in addition to this, is nothing short of tragic.
And yet, there is a remarkable sense of camaraderie – volunteer firefighters consistently working 18 hours straight to try and minimise the impact and the spread of the fires, individuals stepping up to support each other, saving property and livestock wherever they can. Acts of astonishing generosity; people opening their homes to those in need, mobilising their own community and providing supplies that will help the firefighters efforts, everything from air filtration masks to high energy snacks. The generosity of time, resources and spirit has been staggering.
As with any major event, social media has played a significant role; showing us the devastation quite graphically. We’ve witnessed incredible acts of bravery from people trying to save our remarkable wildlife from catastrophic conditions, the anguish over loss of livelihood and property, and most tragically the loss of life. The brutality of being ‘there’, seeing the whirling fire tornadoes and skittish uncontrollable embers, has connected with our humanity very deeply, and we were driven to help. The nature and extent of that help has been astonishing.
With donating money as one of the easiest and quickest ways to provide support, the ‘donate now’ button started to appear. Hundreds then thousands of dollars started pouring into all types of organisations, from small local animal rescue centres to large national charities. Every cent was welcome, every cent meant the ability to continue to aid those in dire need.
Then the magic really started to happen. Social media bought out the big guns. Celeste Barber, the Australian comedian and writer, put out a very personal call for help to her over-7-million Instagram and Facebook followers. Her husbands’ family were directly in the path of the fires, prompting her to use her platforms to highlight the need for more resources. Celeste created a fundraising page to support the NSW Rural Fire Service – thousands of dollars started pouring in almost immediately – that amount has now broken a truly staggering $50 million, an all-time record in Facebook’s fundraising history.
Other high-profile figures also started to step up, those with an Australian connection demonstrated astonishing personal generosity – Pink, a regular visitor to Australia, pledged $500,000, as did Kylie Minogue and family, Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban another $500,000, The Hemsworth family pledged a massive $1million, with many other big names taking a leading role in fundraising efforts – all came up with their own cash or an inventive way to stimulate donations. And with every one of those high-profile donations came the powerful message that we are not alone, that this crisis, the effects of which drift far beyond our own atmosphere, is being noted.
We often hear about donation fatigue, about the inertia of feeling like our small act cannot truly make a difference – don’t you dare believe a word of it. We’re seeing a real-time example of the power of engagement, of action. Those donating their time or their money, from the smallest level to the greatest, and at every socioeconomic level, have proven that false. The funds that are being raised will quite literally bring our damaged communities back to life in time.
We have found a strength, a motivation and a purpose in our collective grief, and have stepped outside of our detachment to act. What a remarkable moment in history to be part of, and a beacon of hope for our own future and generations to come. We are a nation changed by crisis; we’ve seen what we’re capable of when we mobilise our resources and voices, the pride in this should be immense, heartfelt and permanent. Let’s make it our new normal.