OPINION

My darling, one person can change the world

SELFLESS: Our nation's brave volunteer firefighters are among the many people that we have to be thankful for.
SELFLESS: Our nation's brave volunteer firefighters are among the many people that we have to be thankful for.

Looking out the car window to where we used to see mountains - but now all we could see is an opaque grey nothingness - I talked with my 11-year-old son about the fires ravaging our nation.

We spoke about the impact of this national emergency on the people affected; about homelessness, loss of identity and a sense of having roots, the loss of animals and homes, memories and life.

He's already passionate about social justice and he is a worrier - he worries about how people will survive, recover, rebuild. He threw his hands up in the air and declared in desperation: "What's the point? What difference can one person make? The problems out there are so big."

He's right, the problems are big. And the lack of national leadership in these areas of social justice and natural disasters he's so anxious about is not helping any of us find our way out of the smoke cloud.

But in the gaping hole that the absent national leadership has left, everyday people, small businesses and corporations have stepped up.

Our volunteer firefighters have donned their golden uniforms and marched towards the danger they are warning all of us to run from. They have been fighting to save our land, our animals, our homes and our lives for months as our fire season has ravaged our land. They have lost lives, precious lives, but this doesn't stop them. They have been on the frontlines of these hellfire infernos and fire tornadoes, protecting us over the festive season. They have stood up when our leaders have sat down. And they have asked for nothing in return but to be heard about the way our nation manages our land and responds to emergencies.

Our volunteer firefighters are an incredible troop of fire-front soldiers, but they aren't the only first responders we can feel grateful for.

Our police and our paramedics are there, closing roads, escorting people to safety, responding to injuries and saving lives. Our military has mobilised, rescuing people stranded on beaches, flying in supplies and firefighters, and opening their barracks' doors for emergency accommodation. The operators driving machinery along the frontlines are unsung heroes as they too fight the fires alongside their first responder brothers and sisters.

Each individual involved in this massive effort has made a difference, has been a cog in the wheel, a pair of boots on the ground. Each one of them matters.

We are not deprived of leadership in this crisis. We are just finding leadership where we perhaps least expected it: within ourselves.

Some of our big businesses have come to the party with a major telco wiping the phone bills of volunteer firefighters. The manager of a major supermarket in Victoria has provided supplies to a local evacuation centre for free and worked tirelessly to restock the shelves for locals by New Year's Day despite the severe emergency warnings in place in the area.

But it doesn't stop with big business. Small businesses are offering free services to volunteer firefighters, people with food trucks have travelled to affected areas to provide food, and small teams of people are coming together to fix fences, clear land and repair infrastructure.

Chemists are donating medical supplies and encouraging their customers to add to their donation. People are donating furniture, clothes, food, and community organisations have mobilised very quickly to try and get supplies into affected areas, including the famous Burrumbuttock Hay Runners who have loaded up to bring hay rolls for starving livestock. Then we have individuals like Joshua Collings, who lost everything on New Year's Eve in Cudgewa but started a GoFundMe page to help others that has raised more than $60,000 in less than two days. All over Facebook, people like you and me are asking how we can help, where we can take donations and where we are needed.

Everywhere we look, the Anzac spirit is rising to the surface, people are stepping up and we are coming together across multicultural, social and economic divides, identifying only as Australians.

We are not deprived of leadership in this crisis. We are just finding leadership where we perhaps least expected it: within ourselves.

So when my son asked me what difference one person can make, I told him: "My darling, one person can change the world."

Zoë Wundenberg is a careers consultant and un/employment advocateat impressability.com.au