It was with broken hearts that we watched our country burn. Fires started in September and every day seemed to be filled with more devastation, more bad news. The overwhelming generosity of the Australian people, and our friends around the world, has been the biggest positive to come out of this summer where Australia was all over the world’s media for the wrong reasons.
With the Australian summer almost over and the worst of the bushfire season now behind us, the focus turns to rebuilding the communities devastated by the fires. Financial support through donations to charities, such as the Australian Red Cross and WIRES, or directly to fire services around the country are a great way to help those in need. But what else can we do to help?
Donations of non-perishable foods and handmade items for the care of wildlife are now in abundance and only being accepted by a limited number of places. We look at some of the other ways that you can contribute.
1. Lend a hand
Giving practical help is a great way to participate. If you live close to an area that has been directly impacted, the practical help required is easier to identify – cooking meals, putting up displaced people, helping to rebuild. Volunteer organisations such as Foodbank and Red Cross are also wonderful ways to help. They do require you to undergo a training program and so it’s best to sign up for a reasonable commitment to make their investment in your training worthwhile.
As a response to the increased workload to get farms in fire-affected areas back on their feet, the government is allowing international backpackers to stay longer in Australia on working visas if they work on farms in fire-affected areas. There may also be working bees or cleanup days you can get involved with in your area. Check local social media pages for activities to get involved in, or search for volunteering in your state to find other ways to help.
If you’re not in a bushfire zone but would like to directly help those who are, a website called It's My Shout allows you to purchase a gift for someone in need, with the added bonus that it is bought from a local business in that area. You can Pay It Forward with everything from a coffee or a beer, to meals and clothing, even dog food or a car service.
Help isn’t only needed in areas immediately impacted by the fires. Check for local opportunities to give back to your own community or check out organisations like Givit that help connect generous people with people in need. Check out the opportunities near you via their website: http://www.givit.org.au/
Volunteering is a fantastic way to meet like-minded people and set a good example for the community, while also doing something practical to help someone in need. Even a small act of kindness can mean the world to someone who has lost everything.
2. Help local wildlife
We have an amazing array of wildlife here in Australia. Even if you’re not in a bushfire area, leaving out bowls of water can assist wild animals in need. It’s always good to keep an empty box and blanket in your car in case you come across injured animals in your travels. If you don’t have a smartphone where you can look up the number on the road, find the number for your local wildlife rescue and pop it in your phone.
You can find information on local numbers at: https://kb.rspca.org.au/knowledge-base/who-should-i-contact-about-injured-wildlife/ You can also contact your local vet if you find an animal in need.
3. Travel to support the communities impacted by fire
As the fires are put out and the communities try to get back on their feet, another practical way to help is to go to these areas and spend your money with local businesses. Stay a few nights in a caravan park or hotel, buy your meals and some souvenirs. In the aftermath of the Black Saturday fires, many businesses, whether directly affected by the fires or not, struggled to survive as the usual tourists who shopped in their towns had stopped coming.
To help the general public find out what towns are open for business, numerous campaigns and websites have been set up to provide visitors with up-to-date information. Keep on Camping lets you know what caravan parks are open or closed in affected areas, allowing you to plan your trip with confidence.
Roadtrip For Good is another site helping visitors to plan a journey through areas in need of tourists. It provides details of food, drink, activities, shopping and accommodation that are have re-opened. It even provides suggested itineraries for your journey.
GoWithEmptyEskies started as an Instagram account encouraging people to take The Empty Esky pledge and travel around these areas, purchasing items as you go.
Campaigns like BuyFromThe Bush and SpendWithThem are providing connection points for people all over Australia to make an immediate impact and help keep businesses in these towns alive. Ordering online from businesses suffering at this time helps make up for the lack of tourists while providing you with great produce or interesting gifts.
4. Share messages of support & encouragement
Another way to help without leaving the comfort of your own home is to use your own social media accounts to spread the word about ways others can help. You might not be close enough to participate in a Roadtrip For Good or Empty Esky pledge, but one of your friends or family might be.
When you hear a positive news story or a way to help others, share this around too. There’s so much negativity and bad news out there that you can help create balance. When only the negatives are shared the impact can be immense. News reports suggest that people overseas think the whole country is on fire, which can stop tourists coming here, even if they weren’t headed to fire-affected areas. It’s also worth mentioning, that negative stories with false information spread like wildfire themselves, so it’s worth checking the facts on information before sharing.
Another way to provide a positive impact is to leave reviews for places you’ve visited in these areas. Think of your review as you providing free advertising for a business you love.
5. Find out about climate change
We’ve always advocated that knowledge is the best way to arm yourself for the future. That’s why we blog. Whether it’s information about keeping yourself safe while travelling, or how we can help reduce our negative impact on the planet, finding up-to-date and accurate information is important. Find out what the experts are saying and learn ways you can help reduce your carbon footprint and make a positive impact so that our planet can thrive for many years to come.
6. Join a cause
There are countless online petitions and groups that you can join to connect with people passionate about the same causes as you are. It’s important to take this further than just the keyboard and show your support in person. Non-violent rallies and protests are a way to voice your concerns. You can also find groups that make a practical impact as well.
A cause doesn’t need to be political. You can join with groups in your local area to clean up rivers and parklands of rubbish and weeds. This will help provide improved facilities in your area and encourage others to come and enjoy the spaces. Friends of Merri Creek in Melbourne, which began in 1988, work to keep their local environment beautiful and encourage people to enjoy the outdoors through litter removal, planting days and birdwatching events.
Further afield, the Friends of the Mitta provide the same cleanup and rejuvenation for the Mitta Mitta River in country Victoria. This group has created new campsites along the river and funded a toilet block to be installed, along with improving signage and road access to the river. They hold fundraisers and a Give Back Day to help improve the river and its surrounds.
For other similar volunteering opportunities in Victoria check out ParkConnect or in other states you can go to Volunteering Australia. Facebook is another place to find local volunteering events or you can search for Friends of the Area groups in your community.
7. Make your impact last
The immediate response to the bushfire crisis, from people within Australia and abroad, has been truly inspiring. We need to find ways to make the positivity and spirit of giving back ongoing, making it a way of life, not just a temporary response in a time of crisis. Become a volunteer on an ongoing basis. Make real change in the way you consume electricity and deal with plastic waste. Support environmental causes. Buy sustainable products. Travel to small towns and support their stores. And do it over and over again.