Written by: Melanie Wong
It’s January 2020 and Australia has already seen one of the worst, if not the worst, bushfire seasons in recorded history. With an unusually early start to the season in mid-November, fires have been burning for two months already, with NSW and Victoria being especially affected.
This bushfire crisis is not normal and both humans and the environment are feeling its impacts. 10 million hectares of land has been burnt already and 28 people have lost their lives, including firefighters, with the death toll feared to rise in the second half of the fire season. Many native species may be endangered in the aftermath, such as koalas, quokkas and the glossy black cockatoos of Kangaroo Island, which has suffered from severe bushfires this month. In addition to these devastating consequences, with the severe drought making fires increasingly hard to control, the south-east coast of Australia has been facing months of fire-induced smoke, bringing air quality levels down to hazardous and the ash reaching as far as New Zealand.
It’s been a sobering summer, a far cry from the expectation of sandy beaches, music festivals and weekend road-trips. Within Healthcare HQ, a large percentage of the team come from all over the world and the images and videos that are constantly on the news, on our social media feeds and being discussed by friends and family are both heartbreaking and terrifying to not only those who are relatively new to the country but for those who have called Australia home their whole lives. When there is such an oversaturation of suffering everywhere we turn, it can be really easy to feel hopeless, especially for those of us who have dedicated our lives to helping people.
It can be easy to feel angry that the situation is happening in the first place, to fear for the safety of the people we care about and for the future of the country. It’s so important in times like these to channel our energy and emotions and efforts into doing things that will help us cope, whether that be donating money to an organisation that is actively fighting the fires, supporting those who have been displaced by the fires, contacting those who can make a bigger difference or just removing yourself from the onslaught of news on social media. Everyone’s method of coping in a crisis is different but it’s crucial for you to look after yourself first so that you can help others.
In times like these, we get to see both the worst and best of humanity. While there may be stories about properties burning and wildlife being trapped, there are equally important stories about neighbours helping each other and teenagers saving koalas. There are so many ways we can help, even if we’re far from where the action is. As a health professional, friends and family may look to you for guidance on things like how to best avoid inhaling smoke. Reassuring them can be as simple as telling them the facts about P2 masks, which are the only masks that can filter out harmful particles and are infinitely more protective than simple cloth masks.
If you’re in a position where you can donate things, consider donating money to WIRES, the NSW Rural Fire Service or Port Macquarie Koala Hospital. Alternatively, there are options for starting and donating to Facebook fundraisers, such as Celeste Barber’s brilliant fundraiser that raised over $50 million. If you can’t give financially, consider giving your time by volunteering at local organisations that may be helping, such as Vinnies, or broader organisations like the State Emergency Services (SES). Otherwise, it’s always useful to write to your local member and communicate with those who are representing you, who have the power to ensure that we’re better prepared for the next fire season.
This bushfire season has been exhausting so far and the rest of the season can seem hopeless. But if we all give what we can, whether that be time, money or just love, it can be. a little less daunting.