There’s something about a map that brings people together. When children see our maps they tend to clamber over themselves to spot places they have been, countries they recognised and impress us with their geographical knowledge. I remember at school, the process of learning the capital cities of the world and reciting the countries, oceans and continents.
Adults, love to examine the maps, recount tales of travels and discuss the wish list of places on their holiday bucket lists. Depending on the current news, then seeing a map will trigger political and environmental conversations and the fires in Australia have made us examine this vast country closer than ever before.
Blue Monday is supposed to be the day of the year that people feel more down than any other. This new decade has kicked off at full speed; the evacuation of thousands of Australians from their homes due to the fires that have been burning more and more out of control since the fire season began back in September 2019 and the devastating images of wildlife on the side of the road, an estimated 500 million animals and 26 people killed.
The scale of the event is hard to comprehend, with everyone from knitting groups in the UK creating foot and hand mittens for burnt koalas bears, to children holding cupcake sales to raise funds for the fire fighters, the world is shocked and wants to help. So many people have been sending mittens to Australia that they have been overwhelmed and have more than enough for their current needs, an idea of how much people want to help.
The area burnt so far is more than 6 million hectares; this is about twice the size of Belgium. The fires in the Amazon in 2019 were around 2.5 million hectares, and whilst obviously catastrophic for people and wildlife, the disaster in Australia is far bigger in scale. Several towns have been burnt down with 1500 homes wiped out, people grabbing only their most precious items before heading to evacuate as quickly as possible. At the time of writing, 26 people have died in the fires, several were volunteer firefighters; heroes working 18 hour days to save the country they love.
One of the digital maps available to show where current fires are happening
People with families and friends are pouring over the live fire maps of Australia for news of their loved ones when power is out, seeing whether their homes will be burnt down.
The fires bring stories of hope, not from the fires themselves but the human stories being told. Comedien, Celeste Barber, a lady who spends her time trying to make people laugh by doing parodies of celebrities, using Instagram as one of her main tools, decided to start a crowdfunder campaign to raise some funds for firefighters. Her mother in law was trapped in the town of Eden and watching her stories on Instagram showed a very human element to the reporting from the fires. This could have been any of our parents,or families. There were not enough firefighters on the ground, no support for the people, they were left on their own, the scale just too big for the local firefighters to deal with.
Titled, “this is terrifying, please help in any way you can”, Celeste broke down in tears when her campaign hit $50 million Australian dollars within a week of launch. The money was raised by individuals following her story, the live reporting via Instagram and the brightest side of social media, when people share their common desire to help others. $10 from a granny in Scotland, $20 from a teenager in Texas, these are regular people giving what they can and the sheer volume of donations has meant this incredible total to date, offering firefighters masks that they were running low on, water supplies, food, temporary accommodation and other aid needed.
Mogo Wildlife Park in New South Wales went above and beyond to save all of the animals in their care, and one ranger even took monkeys, a panda and a tiger to his home to keep them safe. Paul Sefky had his house saved from fires in November, the fire fighters left him a note on his fridge “It was our pleasure to save your house, sorry we could not save your sheds. PS we owe you some milk.” On blue Monday remember stories like these, the kindness shown to animals and each other, people who go above and beyond to help and a growing sense of the world being united in times of crisis no matter how far away we are from each other.