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These are extraordinary times with extraordinary responses

A message from Red Cross CEO Judy Slatyer.

Red Cross volunteer Soraya handing out a care package to Shaun in Bairnsdale, Victoria during the bushfire emergency.

On December 21, as family gathered for my beautiful niece’s wedding, an eerie feeling surrounded us: 43 degrees, serious smoke haze, and rapidly approaching fires.

The deteriorating conditions dominated talk by everyone at the reception. Our family discussed if we should go to a special family spot at Guerilla Bay, or was it too dangerous? We decided not to go. The risk was too high.

Yuin country, the NSW South Coast holds a dear place in my family’s heart. We often migrate there for the summer months. It’s what we’ve done for decades.

Fresh fish from Terry’s at Tomakin and great coffee at Mogo. The heavenly blueberry ice-cream at the Moruya market and the best muffins at Mossy Point.

Movies in Batemans Bay, trekking around Tuross, Tomakin, Mystery Bay, Mollymook, Malua Bay and Rosedale.  Wandering the quaint shops in Narooma, Bega, Cobargo and Cooma.  

As this unprecedented disaster rapidly unfolded, we saw images and heard stories of the very people and businesses we know and love, who would have lost everything. 

The heartbreak of a friend who had to shoot three of their horses. Relief at hearing friends were safe.

We’ve seen the fires spread across multiple states, tragically taking lives, including brave firefighters battling this horrible beast.

More than two thousand homes, filled with irreplaceable memories destroyed, hundreds more damaged this fire season. A million wildlife have perished, some possibly close to extinction, with their habitat erased. Ten million hectares of land of ancient trees unique in the world, burnt to ashes. Farms and businesses we all depend on, damaged beyond recognition.

The impact on 60,000-year-old living museums of First Nations peoples is unknown. Songlines and creation tracks, sacred sites, totems, art and artefacts and more, still to be assessed.

The fires have hit Australians, and the world, so deeply. Our hearts so heavy with the scale of destruction.

As communities in the fire’s path face their darkest hour, humanity is shining bright.

Amidst the shock and grief, kindness and hope. Australians are rallying together, spontaneously, rapidly, innovatively and compassionately, on a scale like never before.

Eleven-year-old Arham forgoing toys to give all his pocket money to support bushfire victims.

Social media finding Aboriginal Elder Aunty Gloria a caravan in Mogo, so she can stay on country.

Raj from Batemans Bay who lost his home, keeping the only chemist in town open, working in the dark for his patients.

Our own volunteers in Mallacoota who bunkered down and then emerged to help others rather than worry about their own property.

People helping people. Of all ages and walks of life, donating money, resources, skills, time, hugs, a listening ear, walking pets, anything practical and possible to help, to say we are here for you, to say you are not alone.

Across the country, people are coming together, fundraising and volunteering, knitting mittens for injured koalas and making water feeders for wildlife. They all now share an invisible thread connecting them to impacted communities.

Over time we will hear more incredible stories of brave, selfless, thoughtful acts by once strangers, who are now friends. Caring humans rescuing injured and orphaned wildlife. 

These unbreakable bonds, no matter how far or wide, will be important to healing and recovery. Family, friends, colleagues, businesses and more, who have all instinctively sprung into action, continuing that support, whenever they can, however they can.

The firefighters, emergency services, agencies and our people are working collaboratively and efficiently as possible in dangerous conditions, without power and communication. Supporting people who have lost everything, who are frightened and anxious. 

Being among first responders, our volunteers are highly trained to provide psychological first aid, for people who are feeling a range of emotions from grief and anger, to hope and happiness. 

Every community has been impacted differently, we are all working together to provide the right support. This is early days.  More communities are still under threat, others are trying to understand the scale of the impact.  Individual and community needs will continue to change at various stages of recovery.

Because this is far from over. We are yet to see the domino effects of these fires. The impact of smoke across our cities, the thick ash that will spill into the rivers and oceans when we have substantial rain.

My family, along with so many other Australians, will continue our treks to the impacted communities we love. The landscape won’t be the same. It will be emotional. There will be confronting signs of this disaster. We will listen to stories of survival, we will do our part to help in the healing.  

We will see familiar and new faces, who are rebuilding and recovering. We will see Red Cross people. The same ones who dropped everything, cancelled holidays, to help fellow Australians. They will remain there for as long as it takes, for as long as needed.

None of this is normal. The social, economic and environmental impact is going to be incomprehensible, threatening much that is unique and special about who we are, and the nature we share this country with.

John Richardson, National Resilience Manager, recently wrote “These are extraordinary times, with extraordinary responses.”

They certainly are. And while these extraordinary times are shocking and heartbreaking, the extraordinary responses are inspiring and enduring.

Judy

More on the Emergency Services blog

Australian Bushfires Report

The impact of your generosity.

Australian bushfires: how we’re using funds

Our plan to help people and communities recover well.

When life throws another curveball

Marianne was four when she learned to swim. Every weekend her grandmother took her and her brothers to the Mitchell River in East Gippsland.