Our family home in the Batemans Bay suburb of Lilli Pilli was under threat, with fires drawing ever-nearer on either side. The beautiful, community-oriented village of Mogo, where I’d spent long Summer days since before I could remember, was utterly decimated. In its place stood a blood-red ghost town. A wasteland of despair.
At nine months pregnant I wasn’t excited about the future, I was scared of it.
But over recent days my mood has shifted to one more hopeful, and there’s a reason for it. Australians are not alone. Our communities are united. And, in the absence of any semblance of leadership from our Prime Minister, several exceptional women are taking charge and leading us through an increasingly desperate situation.
NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian has maintained a constant presence at RFS headquarters over the past week, only deviating to update the public on latest developments or meeting with communities directly impacted by the inferno.
She hasn’t sought to diminish the severity or breadth of the crisis, but her steady hand and clear, compassionate voice has been vital during a period of mass panic.
Former Labor NSW Premier, Kristina Keneally put it best when she tweeted yesterday that despite being on “different sides of politics” she revered the Liberal Premier’s quick response and leadership. Hard to imagine any current male leaders putting politics aside to share the same sentiment.
.@GladysB and I are on different sides of politics, but I respect that she’s been on the ground every day of these fires. The Premier is also speaking directly. @ScottMorrisonMP clumsy attempts to blame to the Berejiklian Govt lack credibility. The people of NSW won’t buy it. pic.twitter.com/mDaBAwjElM
— Kristina Keneally (@KKeneally) January 4, 2020
As well as Berejiklian of course, other female leaders have been pivotal during this now national emergency. Bega Valley Mayor, Kristy McBain has been at the fire front for days. She’s held emergency meetings across Bega Valley, Eden and Bermagui, relaying critical information to her constituents and soothing terrified families.
Unlike our Prime Minister, who made the seriously baffling decision to holiday in Hawaii during the midst of the crisis, as well as David Elliott, the Emergency Services Minister who also embarked on a personal trip to Europe, Kristy McBain postponed her beach holiday with family to stay at the frontline.
She’s called on the Morrison government to open up the chequebooks and supply necessary resources; in particular requesting more generators and aircraft support.
During a community meeting in Eden, she assured residents that they would not be forgotten.
“We are speaking to state and federal counterparts. That is part of the emergency operation that is taking place behind the scenes. My priority is with this community, it is with you,” she added.
At all times, McBain’s words have been backed by action. Others in higher roles should whip out their pens and start taking notes.
And while they’re at it, they should speak to Celeste Barber.
The Aussie comedian has used her dominant platform and influence to lead a fundraising effort that’s so far brought in a mammoth $25 million for the Rural Fire Service.
Sharing a picture of her mother in law’s fire ravaged home on social media, Barber launched a campaign and implored her Facebook followers to donate. By 11am on Sunday, more than $19.5 million had been raised, with more than 400,000 individual donations.
Other celebrities (principally women) have used their platforms to get the message out or announce financial support.
Singer, Pink pledged $500,000 to the crisis, as did Nicole Kidman and husband Keith Urban.
I am totally devastated watching what is happening in Australia right now with the horrific bushfires. I am pledging a donation of $500,000 directly to the local fire services that are battling so hard on the frontlines. My heart goes out to our friends and family in Oz ❤️ pic.twitter.com/kyjDbhoXpp
— P!nk (@Pink) January 4, 2020
Ash Barty announced that all prize winnings she earns from the Brisbane International will also be donated to Red Cross relief efforts– a possible $360,000 if she wins the tournament.
No doubt there is a long way to go. Fighting the remaining fires and then rebuilding, will take decades. We should get used to the idea that Australia will never be the same.
But, in the midst of desperation, we should also take solace in the kind of leadership and community goodwill which has stemmed from profound tragedy. We are not alone. Thanks largely to a number of brave women who know implicitly how to lead.