The past months have been incredibly tough. Australia is fighting an unprecedented bushfire crisis which has burned across an area of at least 10.7 million hectares. Over 1,700 homes have been destroyed and 23 people lost their lives.
Over 1 billion animals are estimated to have died in a country where over 1,800 native plant and animal species had already been at risk of extinction. Conservationists fear that we may have lost some of them forever. Meanwhile, the bushfires are still burning across vast areas with no real end in sight.
Each day seems to bring more bad news. And while there are countless stories of incredible generosity and community, it’s still hard not to feel overwhelmed and helpless at times. Donating to causes that provide immediate support and relief is fantastic and vital, but I have spoken to many people who still felt they were not doing enough.
Managing the emergency right now still must be the priority. Yet the reality is that we will have to deal with the fallout from the current fires for many years to come – long after the haunting images will have disappeared from our newsfeed. This blog posts provides some ideas on how you can help long-term.
It’s by no means an exhaustive list, but I will keep adding to it over time. If you have any other ideas on how to get involved, please add them in the comments below or drop me a line for it to be added to the main article.
Donate your skills to those affected by the Australian bushfire crisis
You might not have the money to support the relief efforts financially, but you might have the time and skills to help where it’s needed the most. What’s more, lending an active hand to bushfire victims will feel a lot more productive than continuously refreshing your social media feed.
Blazeaid is a volunteer-based organisation that works with families and individuals in rural Australia after natural disasters such as fires and floods. They organise camps in fire-affected communities and help them rebuild fences and other structures that have been damaged or destroyed across Australia. You can register here to receive alerts for upcoming camps.
The Animal Rescue Crafts Guild is a volunteer-run Facebook Group supplying charities with much needed items for animal rescue. If you can sew, knit or crochet, head over to their group to find patterns for joey pouches, nests, bat wraps and more. Before you get started make sure to read this post first.
Tradies for fire affected communities is a Facebook group for tradies of all disciplines around Australia, to donate their time and skills to those affected by bushfires. They are currently building a platform to link tradies with the people that need them. The aim is to work closely with state governments, the insurance industry, local councils, and various charities to make this a reality and coordinate efforts effectively. Fill in this online form to offer help.
Creatives for bushfires is an initiative by Jane Metlikovec, founder and managing director of Melbourne-based creative agency Upstride. The group is bringing together freelance creatives and agencies with the aim to help bushfire affected people, businesses and communities. This could be through storytelling, making and placing future ads, assisting with community engagement, promoting fundraising events, photography and more. They are also currently in the process of setting up a directory-style website to connect the over 300 agencies and freelancers already signed up with those who need their skills. Learn more.
Become a wildlife carer in your state
It will still take some time to assess the full impact of the Australian bushfire crisis on our native wildlife. What we do know though is that it will take many years for native animal populations in bushfire affected areas to recover.
Not only have we lost countless animals in the fire, the destruction of our native forests also means that food and water will be in short supply for the animals that did survive the fires. Add to that the ongoing drought across Australia, the continuous threat posed by feral cats and foxes, as well as habitat loss through population expansion and it is clear that it will take a lot of resources to nurture our native fauna back to health. One way you can help Australian wildlife long-term is by completing training for native wildlife rescue and care.
WIRES is the largest wildlife rescue organisation in Australia. In addition to coordinating rescue and care for native Australian wildlife, they also offer a comprehensive training program for their volunteers. New WIRES members need to complete a Rescue and Immediate Care workshop to ensure they can safely rescue and identify Australian wildlife, provide first aid, complete initial physical examinations and care for them within the first 24 hours after rescue.
Once qualified, you will get access to an app that alerts you to wildlife incidents in your local area. Volunteering with WIRES is extremely flexible and you can set alerts to suit your schedule. For instance, if you can only help on the weekends, you can customise your alerts accordingly.
If you are interested in providing more long-term care for Australian wildlife in need, you can continue to build on your knowledge through WIRES Advanced Species Courses.
Up until now WIRES have been operating predominantly in NSW but have announced that they will use donations received to support all states and territories where needed. If you live in other states, the following organisations also offer ways to get involved with the rescue and care for native Australian wildlife.
- Wildlife Victoria
- Wildcare (QLD)
- Wildlife Darwin (NT)
- Native Animal Rescue (WA)
- Fauna Rescue (SA)
- Bonorong Wildlife Rescue (TAS)
Learn how to provide mental health support
Our firefighters, first responders, fire-affected communities and wildlife carers have shown (and are continuing to show) a tremendous amount of resilience in the face of the ongoing bushfire crisis. And as the video below demonstrates, we can still appreciate the comic relief a good old-fashioned prank can provide in even the direst of circumstances.
But once the flames are out, the adrenaline has dropped off and people start to get a sense of the full extent of their losses, mental health struggles are going to make the tough job of rebuilding a life even tougher.
From those who have to overcome the trauma of seeing their whole community go up in flames, survivors of previous traumas who are triggered by the crisis to those of us riddled with anxiety about the future in the face of a rapidly heating climate – the bushfire crisis is taking a big toll on our mental health.
There are many organisations across the country that provide Australians in crisis with mental health support. And many of them depend on volunteers to offer emotional support to those in need and to raise funds.
The Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health is an initiative of The University of Newcastle’s Faculty of Health and Medicine and the NSW Ministry of Health. With staff in rural and remote NSW, the CRRMH delivers evidence-based programs and services that improve mental health and wellbeing. One of these programs is called Rural Adversity Mental Health Program (RAMHP) through which they provide training that may be suitable for people in communities recovering from bushfire and affected by drought. Learn more about their training programs here.
Lifeline is a national charity providing all Australians experiencing a personal crisis with access to 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention services.Volunteering for Lifeline can take many different forms, including:
- Lifeline Telephone Crisis Supporters
- Lifeline Retail Volunteers
- Book Fair Volunteers
- Administration Assistant
- Professional Volunteering
- Corporate Volunteering
Buy from regional and fire-affected communities
Many of our regional communities depend on income from tourism. It is now estimated that the bushfire emergency will cost the tourism industry $4.5 billion by the end of 2020 and cancellations in recent months have exceeded 60% – even in regions that are not affected by the fires.
What’s more, many retailers and food producers have missed out on crucial income from what’s normally their busiest season. You can help regional tourism operators and small business owners by visiting their communities (once it’s safe to do so) or buying through their online stores. And there are quite a few initiatives that help you track down Australian small business owners in need of support.
Spend with them (#spendwiththem) is an Instagram account by endurance athlete and bushfire survivor Turia Pitt that features small businesses from across Australia that have been impacted by the bushfire emergency. Follow the account here.
Stay with them (#staywiththem) is an Instagram account featuring accommodation and tourist attractions in fire affected communities with the aim to inspire followers to pay them a visit. Follow the account here.
Empty Esky (#emptyesky) is an online movement encouraging foodies to visit fire-affected areas with an empty esky – and to do your grocery shopping with local food producers. Follow them on Facebook or Instagram for ideas on businesses to visit.
Buy from the bush (#BFTB) was created in October 2019 and began as an Instagram account showcasing the beautiful things available to buy from rural communities facing drought. The account called on city friends to look to the bush for their Christmas shopping and by so doing, invest in keeping rural communities alive through the drought. The impact has been measurable – and continues to spread awareness and drive income for regional Australian businesses. Follow them on Facebook or Instagram
One day closer to rain – rural cottage crafts is a Facebook page allowing rural Australians to sell their handmade crafts. The idea is to remove the geographic barrier of face to face sales and connect regional talent with potential buyers. You can give them a follow here.
Get involved with climate advocacy groups
2019 has been Australia’s hottest year on record, with average temperatures over 1.5 degrees Celsius above the 1961-1990 average. Our second hottest year was 2013, followed by 2005, 2018 and 2017.
There’s no doubt that a heating climate will lead to longer and more severe bushfire seasons in Australia. And it’s time to demand more immediate action from government to reduce the country’s carbon footprint and to transition to a clean economy. Joining or supporting a climate advocacy group can be one way to demand policy change.
There are many groups working in this area, including:
The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) is an independent, non-partisan and donation funded national environment organisation who run several different campaigns evolving around their four big goals of solving the climate crisis, standing up for nature, redesigning our economy and fixing our democracy.
Seed Indigenous Youth for Climate Justice is building a movement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people for climate justice with the Australian Youth Climate Coalition. Initiatives include ant-fracking campaigns in the NT and Step Up for Climate Justice.
The Citizens Climate Lobby is a not-for-profit, non-partisan, grassroots climate and democracy education organisation with a focus on education and for effective national policies to address climate change.
Farmers for Climate Action is a movement of farmers, agri leaders and rural Australians working to ensure farmers are a key part of the solution to climate change. The independent, non-profit and non-partisan organisation works with farmers on building climate and energy literacy and advocating for climate solutions both on and off farm
Write to your local MP and demand climate action
Democracy depends on its citizens – and one way to get your voice heard is to write directly to your local MP and demand climate action. The ACF website makes it easy to find your local MP, simply by entering your address. The site also provides some useful tips for writing a polite, yet clear message to your local representative.
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Hero image: robdownunder via Flickr