Ms Bird (Cunningham) (17:58): Summer is an evocative word for Australians. We anticipate Christmas functions with family and friends gathered; holidays at the beach on golden sands and crisp, blue waters; caravan parks full of kids on bikes; backyards taken over for riotous cricket games; and sizzling sausages on barbecues in the evenings. This summer, across our nation, we were watching emergency apps over Christmas. Our beaches were either on fire or blanketed by smoke and covered in the blackened remnants of fires burning elsewhere, sometimes hours away. We couldn't sit outside for a meal as smoke choked us in our towns and our capital cities. It was nothing like we had ever seen before. It was unprecedented and so was the extraordinary response of communities across the country as people desperately wanted to do something to help, and this included my community.
I tried to keep up with sharing social media posts about fundraisers and donation points, and I just couldn't, as there was so much going on. I just want to share a sample of these with the chamber to indicate how deeply moved my community was and how they rallied to help. On Sunday 22 December, locals supported the Southern Highlands bushfire appeal by collecting and packing hampers in Russell Vale. The Russell Vale Connect Facebook group organisers were kept very busy organising and delivering toys, books, crayons, board games, gift cards, nappies, toiletries and non-perishable food items. Members of the Illawarra RFS region, including Mount Kembla, Mount Keira, Austinmer, Otford, Stanwell Park, Helensburgh and Darkes Forest in Cunningham, had been at so many fire fronts outside our area, fighting for communities in the mountains and along our coast, and indeed many of them are off today to the Cooma area. At the same time, local brigades such as Helensburgh, Austinmer and Mount Kembla were holding information sessions to ensure that our local community was bushfire ready, particular those along our escarpment and near our national parks, as well as providing one-off assistance to elderly, infirm or disabled residents living in bushfire-risk areas to make sure that their properties were well-prepared.
Surf Life Saving Illawarra were on standby several times during the fire at Sussex Inlet. Together with lifesavers from Sydney, the Northern Beaches and the South Coast, they had 14 inflatable rescue boats as well as defibrillators, oxygen and first aid kits ready to deploy. So many locals who work for organisations such as the SES, other state emergency services and federal agencies, such as Centrelink, were deployed in a wide variety of ways to provide support to the affected communities. The Illawarra Aboriginal Medical Service established a South Coast Fires Indigenous Response page to coordinate efforts in southern New South Wales and collect donations of cash, food and other essential supplies. Lifeline and headspace in our local area regularly reached out to bushfire-affected communities and volunteers. Both Lifeline and our local headspace provided vital mental health advice on social media. Organisations such as Greenacres Disability Services also used social media to ensure that people who are NDIS recipients and who were affected by the fires had information and knew where they could go to get assistance. Illawarra Retirement Trust and Warrigal care acted to provide support to residents in their aged-care facilities in the affected areas and to provide information for their families, many of whom are in my area.
Local families and community organisations were active across our community in raising funds, collecting donations and helping however they could. I will just give some examples. Unanderra Public School put out a call for back-to-school packs for South Coast students. They were soon joined by Woonona East Public School, Corrimal Public School and Figtree Heights Public School. The team at Tradies Helensburgh also got in and backed the fundraiser. Figtree Heights Public School also collected books in a partnership to help Mogo Public School. My office and the offices of my state colleagues, Paul Scully and Ryan Park, helped collect donations for this effort.
The Maritime Union of Australia, including our local branch at Port Kembla, put out a call for a fundraiser and collected cash and non-perishable food, including pet food, toiletries and clothing. Over 100 locals turned up to the Thirroul bowling club to participate in a sewing day for injured wildlife at the Shoalhaven Bat Clinic & Sanctuary/Wildlife Rescue South Coast. Many who couldn't sew contributed blankets and towels to be used to make pouches for joeys. Other sewing groups, such as those at the Warrigal care facilities, did the same. In Mangerton, Riley Hart, Lennox Gripton, Jude Smith, Sage Dawson, Ginger Smith, Blake Gripton and baby Alba Dawson, all primary school students, held a lemonade stand to raise money for the local Rural Fire Service, and it was wonderful to see them there. They looked so proud of their efforts.
In Towradgi, Jett Cervoni and his family and classmates held a lemonade and cupcake stand—so the stakes were rising—to help endangered animals affected by the South Coast fires. Jihad Salem and the Iman Foundation have been taking their barbecue to fire affected Indigenous communities. They partnered with Ripe Mentoring to raise $3,500 for the Indigenous crisis response and recovery. Local businesses donated directly. They helped raise donations. They provided raffle tickets and prizes for events. There are just far too many to name.
I do want to give an example of how wide participation by our local businesses was. Jania, George and Elie at Thirroul Fruit Barn donated fresh produce, including many boxes of sweet potatoes to Wildlife South Coast to help feed the many animals affected by the fires. They are still taking donations and organising activities. Local Thirroul resident Michael Lavilles organised local Thirroul cafes to give away free coffee and other items to customers who made a cash donation to the bushfire appeal. That included Saffron's Milk Bar, Leading Edge Video—as an aside I want to offer best wishes to John and Marian Wallace, who have been running that business for 40 years, on their imminent retirement—Cucina Cafe, Black Market Cafe, Two Mountains Merchants, Seafoam Cafe, the Old School Cafe—there's a very strong cafe culture in Thirroul so, if you're ever in town, drop by and see these wonderful businesses—Revive 2515, Buck Hamblin, Finbox Cafe, Blackbird Cafe and Honest Don's cafe. Chase Murray, the owner of Alexander's Cafe at Dapto raised $30,000 and gathered 300 weekly scoop lunch packs and 30 school bags with stock and supplies for kids to start the year at school.
Ash Fisher, owner of the Art House Cafe at Port Kembla collected bottles of water, clothing, toiletries and other items. The cafe also hosted a 'Live and loud for the fireys' event, with performers Grace Mae, Marley Fox, Estelle, Emily Koumakis, Jamie Walsh, Dear Violet, Zayden Spinelli and Kayla Shea. They raised $2,500 for the New South Wales Rural Fire Service. Wollongong Music Foundry and Mark Lenzo did a similar event—a 'Playing for fireys' concert—and raised about $5,000. Our local Rotary clubs, Lions clubs and sports clubs helped neighbouring communities in the South Coast through assistance and donations. Rotary Clubs of the Illawarra held a community collection at Wollongong City Council's New Year's Eve celebrations and donated $3,162 to the Rural Fire Service. Twenty thousand dollars was raised at a special charity football match at Kembla Grange, organised by Football South Coast, the Wollongong Wolves and Albion Park City FC.
This week there was a fundraising golf day called 'Illawarra codes combine', with the Wolves, St George Illawarra Dragons and the Illawarra Hawks. Figtree Bowling Club donated $2,000 to the Mount Keira brigade. You could buy lemonade, you could buy cupcakes, you could buy raffle tickets, you could go to a concert, and you could go and watch a sports event. Our community was so creative in the many, many ways they found to enable people to come together to help those who were affected and that they were so concerned about.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge the critically important role our local media played in supporting affected communities by providing fire information, sharing information about community fundraising activities and helping raise spirits with amazing and heart-warming stories.
I saw this in the pages of the Illawarra Mercury, I heard it on the radio from i98FM and Wave FM and I saw it on our local WIN TV and Channel Nine news. But I want to give a special mention to the amazing people at our ABC locally, across our region and indeed the national team. Their professionalism and compassion were on display day after day—and continue now.
My community would want me to express their deepest condolences to the families of the firefighters who lost their lives in this battle, to the community members who died fighting to save their homes and to the wonderful three aerial firefighters from America, killed when their plane went down while helping fight our fires.
Lives have been lost, properties destroyed, businesses smashed, communities gutted, wildlife lost in unimaginable numbers and the land deeply scarred. We must learn the lessons of improved response. We must put all effort into support during rebuilding. We must listen to the local people about their experiences. We must heed the knowledge and deep understanding of land of our First Australians. We must come together to rebuild but also to ensure we are protecting our land for the future—by listening to the science, acting on climate change and giving our beautiful land and animals and our amazing people a future that doesn't see these unprecedented fires as business as usual.
Watch Sharon’s speech here.