Like Australians generally, bloggers are donating generously to the Victorian bushfires relief appeal, over at John Quiggin’s place and LP. And this morning news here in Darwin praised the old diggers at Darwin RSL for raising $20,000 over the weekend, while earlier news revealed that local philanthropist and former Senior Australian of the Year Tony Milhinos has donated an astonishing half a million bucks.
The compassion is heart-warming. But I can’t help asking the obvious question that no-one in the MSM has bothered to consider. Why? Why at least are we still being exhorted to donate when the Red Cross Appeal total has already passed $100 million? That’s almost $15,000 for every single one of the 7,000 men, women and children made homeless.
I certainly don’t begrudge them that sort of assistance after such a horrendous ordeal, but is any more truly needed? After all, they’re also eligible for a range of federal and state government assistance, and the vast majority will receive insurance payouts that will allow them to rebuild their homes.
It’s hard to imagine how the Red Cross will actually manage to spend all the donated funds on causes connected to the fires. One suspects that they’ll end up diverting much of it to other unrelated charitable causes, which is fine but they should be telling people now that this may be the case.
I can’t help wondering whether this remarkable (if arguably excessive) outpouring of community generosity has as much to do with primal fear and an existential sense of dread as with heartwarming compassion; dread caused by the traumatic realisation that our comfortable, wealthy lives are actually subject to sudden and unexpected hazard and even horrible death . Existential hazard is something humans in past ages couldn’t help but comprehend, but for we citizens of the 21st century life seems so cossetted and safe.
Maybe a similar refusal to confront the fact that life is unavoidably fraught with hazard also explains the seemingly universal urge to find someone to blame. The righties blame the greenies for opposing hazard reduction burning, while the lefties blame the neoliberal righties for failing to combat global warming and privatising power utilities (supposedly leading to the Kilmore/Kinglake fire), and everyone blames the arsonist(s). Despite the more sober analyses of the CFA, few people seem willing to comprehend that the immediate conditions probably made a fire cataclysm almost inevitable. The combination of 4 days of temperatures above 40 degrees C on top of a longstanding drought with the fact that Black Saturday itself involved a record temperature of 46.7 degrees C and hot winds from the north switching to south at over 100 kilometres per hour meant that the smallest spark from whatever cause was going to ignite an uncontrollable inferno.
It’s certainly essential that there be a Royal Commission into all the factors people have been blaming for the fires, from insufficient back-burning regimes through inadequate building regulations for fire-prone areas and even the adequacy of construction and maintenance standards for power lines. Maybe the hazards can be reduced. But they’ll never be eliminated, not in my lifetime anyway. And truth be told, all the people who chose to build or buy in the Victorian bush knew it too, just as we in Darwin know that our homes might be blown away by a cyclone at any time in any wet season.