opinion

"When ordinary Australians are doing their absolute best, we need to lay off."

In the first 10 days of 2020, the world accidentally demonstrated what it’s capable of.

It began with scenes of an apocalyptic New Year’s Eve.

Thousands of Australians found themselves trapped on beaches or in coastal towns, without power or phone reception, huddled under a blood-red sky.

Fires reached towns they were never expected to, destroying homes and businesses and entire main streets.

As the days wore on we heard the death toll had reached 27. Half a billion of our wildlife were dead. Wildlife you won’t find anywhere else on the planet.

Watch: Celeste Barber’s mother-in-law calls out inaction. Post continues below. 

Video by Celeste Barber

And then, three days into the new year, a comedian famous for parodying the world’s most beautiful people, decided to pick up her phone.

Celeste Barber’s mother-in-law lives in Eden on New South Wales’ South Coast. Her husband, Api Robin, sat on the lounge, head in his hands, waiting for news that his mother’s house had burned down.

She couldn’t put the fires out. She couldn’t make our Prime Minster publicly acknowledge the link between climate change and bushfires, and commit to zero carbon emissions by 2025. She could, however, raise some money.

Barber created a fundraiser, which appears to be the first she’s ever made.

She pressed a few buttons and read a little bit about the New South Wales Rural Fire Service, the world’s largest volunteer fire service, who, according to multiple reports, need more resources.

And then she asked people to donate.

While so many of us walked around in circles, nursing our own spectator anxiety, asking ourselves who we were meant to donate to and where and how much and what would it go towards, Barber made it easy.

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By the time this article is published, Barber’s fundraiser titled ‘Please help anyway you can. This is terrifying,‘ will have likely hit $50 million. The single biggest fundraiser in the history of Facebook.

But, alas. We have found ourselves in an era where you can even raise money for bushfire relief wrongly.

The money won’t be released soon enough, some have cried. The RFS is only a NSW based service, others have argued, entirely ignoring the crisis in Victoria. And don’t forget, they’re meant to be government funded, so why are we throwing money at them? And now, the very best argument, founded on no evidence in particular, the RFS has too much money and it shall all go to waste.

Barber herself has been the subject of ridiculous scrutiny, the specifics of which don’t bear repeating here. Her crime though, just to remind ourselves, has been to donate $50 million.

Whispers circulated after Chris Hemsworth announced his donation of $1 million. “Did he have to post about it?” some sneered, while publicly criticising others for, as far as they could tell, not donating anything at all.

When billionaire Andrew Forrest donated $70 million, he was called “stingy” by a Brisbane Greens Councillor.

It’s performed activism and virtue signalling and most of it likely isn’t coming from a bad place. We’re just desperate to show everyone how much we care and maybe then it won’t all feel so bad.

But going after those doing their best is misguided at best and counterproductive at worst. When donating to a cause that matters becomes politically dangerous, celebrities and billionaires will cease to do it. Simply, it’s too high risk.

Just because someone hasn’t posted anything about the bushfires on social media or been transparent about their donation doesn’t mean they don’t care. And just because someone shares exactly how much they donated, doesn’t mean they’re not sincere.

What we’ve seen, not just in Australia but around the world, might be one of the largest fundraising successes of our lifetimes. And (without wanting to wear my donation badge too proudly) most of us have been a part of that.

The end goal is good. Giving a shit about something is good. People who want to help are good.

We live in a world overflowing with things worthy of criticism.

People trying to help though? They don’t even begin to qualify.

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