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Bushfires, Helplessness, Hope and Charity

Since September 2019 (Spring for us), Australia has had bushfires happening around the country, starting in New South Wales (NSW) which is on the east coast of the country, moving up to Queensland, then South Australia, Western Australia and Victoria. In short, most of the country has been on fire, except the major cities – for a couple months or more now!

In watching the ever growing disaster unfold, (that truly is on biblical proportions) I’ve been considering the Eden Alternative framework and the parallels of this disaster and forced change, with the culture change work that we all do with Elders, families, staff, care partners, volunteers and the broader Elder care community every day.

In early November 2019, I flew from my home town Melbourne to Brisbane for work, visiting a new Eden registry member. On the plane, and out the window you could see the smoke billowing along the NSW coast around Port Macquarie. Sydney was enclosed with smoke clouds that obscured the city and breathing fresh air became a difficult situation for many in that city. In Brisbane, Queensland, there was smoke haze from other fires from that State. The feeling of dread and helplessness was beginning to grow, not only for myself, but for many others around the country, and ultimately the rest of the world.

At the same time, one of our Board members rings to tell me she might have to evacuate from her house. We discuss the logistics and the process of determining ‘what you take, and what you leave’. In discussing this, we both agree that this selection of what is important is tied to emotions and not necessarily ‘things’. Her animals and partner (not necessarily in that order) are most important to her. There was purpose and meaning in all her considerations.

How many of you have also given thought to the ‘what if this was me’ scenario?

These decisions also reflect on one level, very similar choices that Elders make every day when they are moved into residential care from their home and don’t necessarily have the opportunity to choose what they want to have with them or where they want to live.

What would you select to pack into your car at a moments notice ie less than an hour, if that is all the notice you have? Where would you go? What would you do? What if your house was burnt down?


I decided that I needed to ‘do something’, but didn’t know what that might be. My feelings of helplessness were not good and I had a profound sense of ‘what the hell is going on” as I couldn’t ‘fix’ the problem. I wanted to do something that would make a difference. Sound familiar?

I found the Animal Rescue Craft Guild via a Social media outlet we all use https://www.facebook.comgroups/arfsncrafts/ (FB is often times considered public enemy #1, but in this case, a great source of good information). I joined up and immediately looked at what could be done. This crafting group at that time was approximately 3000 members. The aim of the group is to up-cycle, reuse and re-purpose items for orphaned, injured, displaced animals of all sorts, and particularly the Australian Native Animals. I answered a call out for 5000 batwraps the first time – my contribution of 49 cotton burrito bat wraps for bats that drop out of trees due to extreme heat events went to Fly By Night Bat Rescue in Olinda. That time, we overshot the need by another 1000 batwraps by the end of December.

At the time of writing, the membership has grown to 224,000+ members since the beginning of January. The guild has less than 20 volunteer admin people trying to wrangle all the goods and good will from people around the world. This is one unfunded volunteer group (of many) who are trying to do something practical for Australian wildlife. We see the human cost, but people are now also seeing the impact on native flora and fauna. The sense of helplessness continues but my faith in humanity and kindness increases significantly. I’ve also seen people sign up to Facebook for the first time so that they can also do something.

Many people from around Australia, New Zealand, Europe, USA and Africa…all the continents really, have signed up to make a difference.

In late November I fly to Perth to visit other Eden Registry Community Care Members. At one centre, Mary Chester House, a care partner who is also a wild life carer, has brought in two joey kangaroos to the house on a daily basis. Imagine my surprise and joy when my colleague, Marlene Benson (she’s holding the Joey) and I meet these 2 precious animals (see above), whilst at the same time, I’m trying to do something tangible for critters such as these. (They will eventually be released into the wild). In the meantime, when I’m on a plane, I can knit…so knitting it is.

In December there were rumbling warnings that in Victoria we would be facing some really bad hot weather and bushfires occurring later that month. It’s hot, anywhere between 40C (104F ) -42C (107.6F) or hotter, depending on where you are in the country. These predictions came true and the east and north east of the State start burning, mostly from a mix of extremely hot weather, years of drought leading to dryness of the land, too much undergrowth which couldn’t be removed, and general lack of moisture in the soil. Coastal communities have been isolated and it takes the navy to move people back to the city. Many of these towns continue to remain closed off as road access is impasable.

It’s now, Happy New Year and there’s been debate about the use of fireworks on New Years Eve. Not too much to celebrate and the general feeling of joy of a new decade is muted by the tragedy that has unfolded over the previous three months.

My home town waxes and wanes in temperature. We can go from 40C to 15C in an hour when the change is on. The bushfires continue to burn and there are prayers for rain that doesn’t cause too many other issues. Volunteer Fire Fighters in all States have given of their time (for weeks or months), in some cases their lives, to help people. We’ve got firefighters from the USA, New Zealand, Canada and recently Papua New Guinea assisting with fire effort along with the reserve defence force. It’s all hands on deck!


Over Christmas I begin my crafting projects for the Animal Rescue Craft Guild. My trusty 40 year old sewing machine burrs away (not too much purring) and I learn to sew joey hanging pouches, 3D joey pouches, liners for said pouches, knit a few more pouches and plunder Op Shops (Thrift Shops) for flannel and cotton items. They are a great source of ‘stuff’…I highly recommend them to you all for cost effective upcycling opportunities. Elders in some of our Eden Registered Homes have taken up the challenge as well and sewed Koala Mittens. How cool is that. (Not many needed now due to plentiful supply from crafty crafters).

People around the world have taken up the challenge and bought sewing machines and taught themselves to sew; started knitting and crocheting or sharing their skills with others to continue the good that is occurring. There has been a collaboration of older people teaching children and other youngers crafting skills that many have never attempted before. Those living with a disability also want to ‘have a go’ to help the animals. Meaning, purpose, companionship, giving and receiving care, educating others and sharing the load is occurring on a grand scale.

So what you can do?

1. Help create habitat and give care – please Donate money.

Donations are coming in from all parts of the globe and every little bit helps. Whether its $1or more, it does help. I’ve seen fundraising initiatives from Elders and youngers – bake sales, cordial sales, craft sales, art sales etc. Anything that can contribute to the financial impact of these bushfires.


The experts say it is easier to distribute money for what people and animals really need. As we’ve been in drought for a number of years that lack of feed and food has diminished. With the bushfires, there is a major loss of habitat – human and animal. There is now little if any food for the native animals. For example: Koalas (not Koala bears) eat specific gum leaves and live in trees mostly; kangaroos forage on the ground; wombats burrow underground forage also. Fruit bats are pollinators and their habitats have also been decimated.

  • Animal Rescue Macgyver Makers guild – animal nests & habitat boxes (great for Men’s Sheds; Community Care groups etc
  • – the government is subsidising the admin fees so 100% of your donation goes to the people and animals in need.
  • Kangaroo Island – Go Fund me –
  • bushfire-fund

2. Add Joy and spontaneity to your life and plan a trip to Australia.

Yes, in spite of what you might read, the country cities remain open…it’s a short 13-14 hour flight from the west coast of the USA…a bit longer from Europe…and shorter from Asia. Tourism is a BIG part of many small towns in this country and they are going to need our and your help.

3. Grow your community and Empower the Elders – adopt a Koala today

Discuss with your Elder communities what they might like to do to contribute to this cause. Fundraise, reach out, plan a celebration of life, whatever event that will connect you all.

4. Understand Meaning, Purpose and Connectedness

This catastrophic event has drawn people together across the country and the globe. The extension and creation of communities globally is astounding and heart warming. We see what happens when everyone pulls together – when they act as a collective; when they work as a team. People are knitting, sewing, crocheting, creating animal nests, water troughs, making goods for and doing bake stalls for fundraising etc. They’re driving 1000’s of kilometres with animal and human food and water needs.

The creativity that is being expressed to meet this need to give care to others is phenomenal.

A recent article in Hello Care, talks about all of this and more:

If you think about the elements of the human habitat, what can your Elder community do to contribute? Trust me, they want to help…let’s make this happen. You can do this!

The peak tourist summer beach season has been hammered on the east coast in two States, with many small businesses probably going to the wall along with their small towns. Kangaroo Island’s Koala population is almost wiped out. Financial and operational commitments by the State & Federal Governments to do what needs to be done are ongoing. Discussions around climate change and it’s real impact continue.

We have an overwhelming sense of loss – of innocence, of homes, towns, businesses, of life (human, animal, flora and other species) and individual and collective wellness. We have an awakening that together we can do more together, with your help and that of others.

The outpouring of care, love and support from strangers, near and far, has lightened the mental and emotional load of everyone in this country. There has been a connection of hearts and minds as well as a collective connection and creation of a global community of purpose. This is on a scale that I’ve rarely if ever seen, until now. The giving far outweighs the receiving of care. And yet it is reciprocal in the very sense of purpose. The response from the world is truly amazing and humbling.

Sally Hopkins, EARC, Executive Director Eden in Oz & NZ