When I was 16 years old, I burned my parent’s house down by accident.
I say “burned it down” but it was really only the vast building-site of open space that made up the top floor, plus the roof and window frames; and a bit on the ground floor where things collapsed and fell through. I lost everything I owned, Dad lost his magnificent Scottish eyebrows and I’ve never lit candles next to my bed again. What can I say, I was a teenage goth and The Forest just sounded better that way.
As punishment, I was made to join the Rural Fire Service, the volunteer organisation that covers the great swathes of Australia not considered part of the metropolitan areas, including the beautiful bush on the outskirts of Sydney that I grew up in. They’re amazing – attending not only fires and fire prevention but as first responders to car accidents and other emergencies with incredible dedication. And as you’ve seen over the last few months, they’ve provided the backbone of the firefighters across the country during this year’s unprecedented season.
It’s a tragedy that’s been compounded by ridiculous temperatures due to the climate crisis, by not putting in place many of the fire-control practices that indigenous fellas have developed over millennia as traditional custodians of the land, and the incompetence and downright contempt that government and industry have displayed.
But this isn’t about politics, it’s about solutions. And as my great mate David Nobay says, “there’s only one good thing that can come from a tragedy like this, and that’s ideas”.
So this month I’ve been taking a look at some of the best ones – from raising money to supporting the ‘firies’, to bigger and bolder concepts that sprung from the devastation but could have longer-lasting impacts on society.
So in February as the fires still burn and the world turns away towards other tragedies, here are the best of the green shoots of creativity in Australia.
There have been some large personal contributions, from celebs and people like The Naked Philanthropist who raised $1m AUD (in what personally I find a quite disturbing way - charity porn).
There have also been people all over Australia and around the world knitting and sewing pouches for our precious marsupials.
Airbnb has offered free emergency accommodation to those living in the 2176 homes that have so far been destroyed, and Coca Cola has donated thousands of welcome ‘Share a Coke with the Firies’ cans to the volunteers on the front lines.
There have been brands like Balenciaga donating sales (and rearing the serious ‘wokewashing’ conversation around the validity of donating profits VS simply donating money).
Even One Minute Briefs has run a competition for ideas to support us Down Under.
There has been creativity from agencies all over the world – with particular respect to Anomaly who “fired” all their Australian staff worldwide by matching their salaries in donations to some of the charities below and challenging other agencies to follow suit.
There are bigger campaigns afoot too, as issues around indigenous voices, accessibility and climate change step into the public consciousness in a way that has eluded an Australian media and government in the pockets of mining, prior to the devastation.
The South Australian Tourist Commission launched #BookThemOut to encourage visits to Kangaroo Island and beyond, but the most powerful campaign has got to be the brave twist that Tourism Australia has had to take, just a week after launching their biggest global campaign in years, based on their new “PhilAUSophy” brand platform. Kylie Minogue ribbing the Brits for Brexit was a well-timed launch but left an increasingly unpleasant taste in the mouth the fires consumed the news.
So, M&C Saatchi and Tourism Australia showed strength to pull a piece of creative they were so obviously proud of; and launched a quick, honest and clear call to “Holiday here this year” instead. This change in direction was no doubt expensive, and painful in many ways, but a principled decision that not only helps those in need because of the fires but also elevates both Tourism Australia and M&C Saatchi in my book.
Shout outs to my folks this month. My dad who’s been up the fire tower (basically an open shed on stilts) in 47 degree heat spotting fires with the RFS. And my mum who has been looking after the littlest Australians, volunteering with Sydney Wildlife Rescue as an animal carer. Her house is currently full of possums.
If you’d like to assist with bushfire recovery, relief and rescue efforts, Aussies still need your help: