Cover image courtesy of Mustard Seed
Photos of orange-tinged New Zealand skylines have been lighting my social media newsfeed, as plumes of smoke from Australian bushfires have pushed their way to New Zealand (my home country), enveloping the skies in an eerie, orange-glow.
Naturally, social media was alight capturing the phenomenon, with my Kiwi friends writing messages of goodwill to accompany these images, in a show of solidarity with Australia, as the country continues to battle large bushfires sweeping across three states—New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia.
To date, the bushfires have claimed 25 lives, and it’s also been estimated that half a billion animals have perished in the fires. And then, there’s also the untold emotional and mental toll these fires will have on those affected, who have had to abandon homes or put down livestock as they flee for safety.
Amid this tragedy are also stories of great courage and heroism as firefighters (mostly volunteers) risk their lives battling the inferno, while many local residents rallied to support each other and rescue wildlife from the raging fires.
I’m currently living in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, Victoria, and apart from the grey, hazy skies with whiff of smoke lingering in the air, I’ve been unaffected by the fires. The Victorian bushfires are around the north-east Victoria and in Gippsland (a region in southeastern Australia, extending from Melbourne’s eastern suburbs to the New South Wales border), and none are at an emergency level.
However, it did come terrifyingly close to the northern Melbourne suburb of Bundoora, where an old school friend lives, 16km away from the Melbourne Central Business District. Watching the threat of a bushfire in Bundoora prompted me to message her to see if her family was doing okay.
I could feel the tension she felt as she recounted her story of waking up to the sound of helicopters, prompting her husband to jump online to see what was happening. That was when they realized a bushfire was happening about 500 metres from their home.
This was followed by a flurry of packing and huddling their young child and her parents, who were visiting for the holidays, into the car. They spent the night at a friend’s home in another suburb, but sleep eluded them, and a large portion of the evening was spent checking the emergency app for updates.
She has since moved back to her home, and even though nothing happened to her home eventually, the family is still on edge, especially if hot temperatures are in the forecast.
As for me, the closest brush I have had to the heat was when the mercury sat at around 40-44 degrees Celsius, and I sat sweltering in my own sweat as a power cut hit my streets, due to an overload in electricity as Melbournians turned their air conditioning units up to cool down.
But this doesn’t mean that the threat of a bushfire happening around my area (the eastern Melbourne suburb) isn’t real. A workmate who was leading a church summer camp in the same area, with about 70 children at the camp, had to evacuate both the camp’s leaders and kids on its third day when weather conditions rose to 42 degrees, with a wind of 100km/h.
“I was a bit scared,” he said. He had grown up in a fairly fire-prone area, and his father’s family lost their home in the Ash Wednesday Fires in 1983. Hearing their stories have put a face to the tragedies, and suddenly I felt more connected to the fires than when I had first watched them on television. Here are people I care about, and had the bushfires ravaged their homes, I would be the one reaching out to help them.
Reading and watching the devastation caused by these bushfires in various parts of Australia is heartbreaking, and can leave one feeling helpless, especially if you’re yearning to help those in need. I have resisted posting a goodwill message on social media or offering to pray for the victims because now feels like a time for action, and not just merely typing up nice words and thoughts.
At times like this, I’m also reminded that Scripture says we are not to withhold good from others when it is within our power to act (Proverbs 3:27) and that faith without actions is dead (James 2:14-26). So what practical steps can we take to help those in need? Below are some ways you can pitch in your support, whether you’re based in Australia or watching the news overseas.
1. Cash Donations
Australians are a generous bunch of people, and the tragedy has seen an influx in donations of food and clothing. However, while clothing and food aren’t bad, the best way you can support the bushfire relief efforts is to dig deep into your wallets to help the various organizations that are on the ground providing relief to the victims. Organizations such as the Australian Red Cross Disaster Recovery and Relief, Salvation Army Disaster Appeal, and the St Vincent de Paul Society Bushfire Appeal (NSW) are among the charities you can donate to. I do a monthly donation to the Salvation Army, and am glad to know my monthly support will now go towards those who need them the most.
Australia’s rural volunteer firefighters are also putting their every effort into containing the fires, and your donations would go a long way in supporting them. Both the NSW Rural Fire Service and Victoria’s Country Fire Authority have their own donation campaign going, so visit their website to see how you can help!
2. Aid in Wildlife/Animal Recovery
Pets, livestock, and wildlife are often the most vulnerable in the wake of a natural disaster as they are unable to fend for themselves. Fortunately, you can help in the recovery efforts as dedicated animal protection staff work tirelessly to evacuate animals from danger zones. The NSW branch of the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals (RSPCA) have set up a bushfire appeal, and your donations can help keep inspectors on the road responding to emergencies and assisting animals in need. The Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, dedicated to the preservation and conservation of koalas, is another organization you can support. They have set up a GoFundMe page, with funds raised going towards the treatment and care of koalas injured in the bushfires. To date, 31 koalas have been brought to the hospital from various fire grounds.
3. Set Up a Long-Term Sustainable Plan
According to Australia’s leading climate change communications organization, The Climate Council, climate change is super-charging these mega-fires. “The burning of coal, oil and gas is driving up global temperatures, leading to hotter Australian conditions,” the Council said on their website. Greenhouse gas emissions must be cut to reduce the impact of future bushfires and other extreme events.
All the above can sound pretty overwhelming for us, but on a smaller scale, we can do our bit in reducing greenhouse emissions. For example, we can start by restricting the use of our air-conditioning or heat pump units, swap your car for public transport (if it’s feasible), or if you are Miss Green Thumbs, seek out a community group that might be organizing tree-planting days near you that you can be a part of.
The Australian bushfires have left a devastation beyond anything words can describe, and it’s probably hard to quantify the true cost of this tragedy. Over the coming weeks and months, as communities and families come together to rebuild shattered lives, let us also remember to support them in other ways. If you know anyone who’s affected by the fires, be the friend who rolls up their sleeves to help mend burnt structures, or lend a willing ear as they work through their grief. After all, Scripture tells us to rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).
No matter which part of the world you are in at the moment, let’s do whatever we can to help affected Australians in this time of need.