Coping through the fires
Bushfires sweeping through Australia have impacted us all
Sadly lives have been lost, homes destroyed and the ecological impacts are unfathomable. The emotional trauma is and will be hard to process. Rolling live media coverage and extensive social media scrolling is all consuming.
For many people who volunteer with Landcare, wildlife rescue and other environmental organisations, the current challenges are overwhelming. As doers, taking action at any scale will make a difference.
Young people in affected communities have put together this evolving list of ways that we can make a difference. We would love feedback and invite you to discuss with your friends and networks how we can start to rebuild our communities and ourselves to do stuff that matters.
This is a living resource and we will be updating it as ideas and information comes through. If you have resources, tips and ideas you would like included on this page, please feel welcome to share it with us at email@example.com so we can collectively help each other through these times.
We would like to acknowledge Melissa Huntsman from Western Sydney Intrepid Landcare for initiating this resource.
Action for mental health: put the oxygen mask on first, look after your own mental health and then of those around you
Looking after your wellbeing and the wellbeing of those around you is the single most important action you can take. One of the best ways to nurture and manage mental health is to keep in contact with your friends and family and connect with your community.*
Here are some steps that you may choose to take to look after yourself and others:
- Message your tribe. This could be as simple as making contact to acknowledge the pain and stress that the bushfires are causing or share tips on mental health resources that others may find useful
- Switch off when it is safe to do so. Social media is an important tool for those who have been or may be impacted by the bushfires. When you do not need rolling coverage give yourself space to focus on yourself and those closest to you
- Talk with friends and family who are able to support you and that you can support
- Seek out help where it is needed. Be brave and access support and resources to support you
If you are in a fire affected community, there are free immediate support services available to support you. Watch out for Mental Health officers in green jackets in community groups, evacuation centres and other disaster assistance points, and check out the list below on organisations you can directly call for support.
If you are not in a fire affected community but feel like you need more professional support for your mental health, be sure to visit your GP and work on a mental health plan together. This can help make visits to a mental health professional more affordable.
Allow yourself to walk away from conversations
Conversations with friends and family, and on social media about the causes and responsibilities for the bushfires may be fuelled by misunderstanding, fear and anger. You do not have to be part of conversations that upset you or where others are not listening or acknowledging science and expert opinions.
We recommend, if you choose to be part of these conversations, you spend your energy having conversations with people who are happy to listen and those who may need support.
*For more information on the importance of social ties and community organisations in fire recovery head to ‘10 Years Beyond Bushfires’.
support networks you can call:
Disaster Welfare Assistance Line
1800 018 444
NSW Mental Health Line
1800 011 511
1800 55 1800
1300 224 636
Grand Pacific Health (free face to face counselling)
1800 228 987
Relationships Australia (Grief counselling)
1300 364 277
Here are some more helpful networks and resources that you could share with your tribe.
Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health
Resources, information and support for fire-affected individuals and communities in rural Australia.
Australian Psychological Society
How to deal with the distress and stress of not just knowing that climate change is a threat, but also feeling that it is a threat.
Coordinate Primary Health Network (PHN) South Eastern NSW
Resources, information and support for bushfire affected areas.
Headspace offers free support for young people aged 12-25.
Information and links for young people affected by a natural disaster such as a flood, bushfire, earthquake or cyclone.
Action for the environment: ways that you can make a difference right now
If you are ready and want to take action, remember to think globally and act locally. There are so many groups already doing stuff. By collaborating with these local and national groups every action adds up and makes a difference.
Here is a list (certainly not exhaustive) of the great work already being done by the community you and your tribe could support.
- Leave out water for our wildlife and take steps to support wildlife
- For information on how to help wildlife during a fire, access the WIRES Bushfire Factsheet
- For information on how to help wildlife during a heat wave, access the RSPCA How I can Help Animals in a Heatwave factsheet
- See if your local wildlife rescue group needs resources or fundraising. You can promote their requests for resources via your social media, arrange a collection of required goods or organise a working bee
- Example patterns and instructions for making pouches and other resources can be found on the Animal Rescue Collective Craft Guild Facebook page. This page will also share what is highly needed. It is also ideal to contact your local WIRES branch or wildlife rescue group to confirm what is most needed locally prior to making
Contact your Local Landcare Coordinator (or equivalent) to find out what needs to be done and where you can support existing action.
Start arranging a future weekend road trip and Landcare project blitz. You could contact a local Landcare group within a bushfire affected area and offer future Intrepid Landcare support when the time is suitable. Remember to also exercise patience as many people are experiencing different levels of shock and trauma and may not be ready for this conversation yet. Simply reaching out and letting people know you are there and ready when they are might be the simplest act of kindness you can offer at this time.
Organise a brainstorming meeting with your tribe for 2020, so you are ready to collaborate when your community is.
If you are wanting to be part of a tribe, start a tribe or become a volunteer in other ways, see the following helpful links.
- A list of Intrepid Landcare tribes ‘Find a Tribe’ or how to 'Start a Tribe'
- Landcare groups can be found by searching Facebook and the Landcare Australia ‘Find a Group’ webpage
- Every local council in Australia has a list of Bushcare, Dunecare or other relevant action groups. Search your local council’s website and pick up the phone or send an email to find out how to get involved
Collaborate: local, inclusive, collaborative action is going to be crucial in how we move forward and heal
Things to think about when planning a project in a bushfire affected area
If you are looking to help ecosystems recover from fire, get in touch with your local knowledge holders and Traditional Custodians and be sure to collaborate and seek support in planning your projects.
Ecosystems vary in their response to fire. This can be dependent on the intensity of fire, time of year and conditions prior to and after fires. Immediately after a fire, natural areas can be extremely dangerous, especially with falling limbs. We suggest that you collaborate with your Local Landcare Coordinator, landholders and other appropriate organisations and networks who have local knowledge to help determine and prioritise action. Actions may involve replacing fencing and other infrastructure, invasive species control, preventing and controlling erosion and planting endemic plants.
Landcare Victoria, along with many other Landcare groups and government departments have lots of free tips to download. We think Landcare Victoria’s Fire Recovery resources are super helpful.
Action for the community: authentic responses in times of climate emergency
There are many ways you can reach out to help your community. And being in action with a tribe can bring hope to the fore. Here are some ideas that you and your tribe could get involved in:
Get among the Return and Earn schemes. In NSW and QLD you can donate your return and earn cash to charity. One of these charities is Rural Aid who support rural families affected by drought and bushfires. Check out the following link for more info at the Return and Earn ‘Bottles for the Bush’
If you are able to assist with housing those who have been directly impacted with being evacuated or lost their homes FindaBed.org has been set up to match people who have a bed and those who need a bed. This includes rooms, entire homes, backyards to camp or park a camper and paddocks for livestock and places for domestic pets.
Clean out your wardrobe, kitchen cupboards and garage and donate clean, handy and working stuff to GIVIT. Again, they match what you have to offer to someone who needs something.
Wise words from our community to help others through these times...
There are many people sharing their own stories and strategies of how they are taking action and coping through these times. Below we share the links to some of those stories and information we feel may be helpful.
Firefoxes Australia: Documentary "Creating a new normal"
Firefoxes Australia in conjunction with Black Saturday survivors, filmmaker Helen Newman and the Victorian Women’s Trust, launch a new documentary “Creating a New Normal”.
Creating a New Normal follows the extraordinary story of Firefoxes as they try to rebuild their community from a grassroots level. Featuring candid interviews about the rollercoaster ride of recovery it’s a story of passion, vision, hope, love and leadership.
Advice to self: action I can take
Bill Pigott - Berry Landcare (NSW South Coast)
"With kindness and kind words, establish what the facts are, choose not to pass on or amplify alarmist posts, false posts, incomplete information. Let such stuff ‘stop with me’. Passing things on amplifies them. I will pass on the good news, the good advice, the reassurance of others."