By Alison Brook | Chief Executive Officer | Relationships Australia Canberra and Region
8 January 2020
Writing from the ACT at a time when we’ve had extensive fires for more than a month in several states across Australia, and devastation in the past week over large tracts of the country, it’s fair to say we’re in the midst of an unprecedented disaster – to humankind, to our forests and farmland, to our beloved fauna and to property.
It’s also fair to say that not many Australians have been unaffected, either directly or through the experience of family, friends and colleagues. We are facing unprecedented climatic conditions. We’re facing a devastating level of fire activity. We’re in uncharted territory as a nation and are the focus of the eyes of the rest of the world. This event may be a game-changer the world has been waiting for, to change political and economic systems, in order that we can collectively channel resources and scientific expertise into saving what is left of our natural world. This is indeed the globe’s existential problem.
In the midst of the turmoil, the political posturing, buck-passing and human-induced mayhem, there are a number of wonderful things that transcend the disaster.
The first of these is love. There are so many stories already of people who have lost everything but, homeless, have turned up at their neighbour’s home to help put out spot fires there, of those who have gone straight back from their own devastation to evacuation centres, volunteering their services to others. The word ‘love’ has even been used by hard-nosed journalists, moved by the kindnesses they have encountered in fire-ravaged communities. It is a beautiful reminder that love is universal and that in times of disaster, love helps to balance the world.
The second is heroism. Those who fight fires supported by other first responders are astounding in their professionalism and courage. Theirs is the task of facing the terror of fires that are unstoppable in their fury, guarding people’s lives and property against the fires’ unforgiving onslaught. Theirs is the courage to leave their own vulnerable homes to secure the homes of others. Their heroism outclasses fictional superheroes – role models all people can hold in the highest esteem.
The third is generosity. Led by many around the world who see the Australian disaster as the clarion call to international action on climate change and the protection of our natural world, there have been countless donations aimed at alleviating the destruction from this current event and starting the process of building resources that will help in our fight to stem the impact of rapidly changing climate in this country and globally. Whether it is a crowd-funded contribution of tens of millions of dollars or large or more modest individual donations depending on capacity, people are opening their hearts and their wallets and giving with incredible generosity. Generosity other than through cash donations is also everywhere to see. In individual and collective acts of kindness and selflessness.
The fourth is community – and our innate need to belong and contribute. There are countless tales of communities being drawn closer together, supporting each other to face a future together that is bleak, but bearable if faced collectively. Neighbour helping neighbour. Local businesses giving freely of stock, cash or services. Local community organisations providing support from communal facilities. In many places, people in the past week have spoken about their communities becoming closer than ever before, members knowing truly that they belong and are loved.
When I look back on the first week of January 2020 in future years, I hope that the horror and devastation open to the world on TV screens, social media feeds and countless websites are countered by the natural beauty of community, belonging, generosity, heroism and ultimately, of love.